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Jason Ricci

Not your grandpa’s bluesman

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Blues is alive and well in the 21st century, and while there might not be any bluesmen left from the cotton fields of the Mississippi, thanks to a batch of young musicians who are dedicated to keeping the genre alive, the sound of the Delta can still be heard like a distant train whistle on a dark night. Jason Ricci is one such artist who plays with respect for those who rose out of the oppressive South and changed music forever, but his surprisingly fresh take on the blues opens a new chapter for the time-honored music. Jason Ricci and New Blood will bleed onstage at Jazzbones Thursday, Dec. 13 at 8 p.m.

Ricci is definitely not your grandfathers’ bluesman, or for that matter, your fathers’. Sure, he found inspiration by way of Paul Butterfield and Canned Heat, but was initially influenced as a teen by punk rockers the Sex Pistols, the Ramones and the Dead Kennedy’s.

“Punk was the most exciting to me at that stage in my life and seemed to be the most sincere lyrically, emotionally and politically at the time,” explains Ricci.

But his musical explorations didn’t stop there, and he found further inspiration with the psychedelic ‘60s and ‘80s alternative with bands such as the Pixies, Fugazzi and the Replacements.

His first band, Farm Dog, drew from the melodic punk scene and such as the Dead Milkmen but didn’t follow the movement’s fashions or mantra’s, “Most of the lyrics to my songs were about how people follow trends, fashions, and entertainment blindly and dogmatically even if the trends and fashions they’re following were founded as rebellion to that same dogma.”

It was by the urging of his band-mates that Ricci started blowing the harmonica in between his campy lyrics.

The harp was Ricci’s introduction to the blues, and he studied recordings of some of the greats to develop his technique.

“I started out only liking the music just for the harmonica, but after my Mom took me to see a few good blues shows, namely James Cotton, I started to actually fall in love with the music itself,” says Ricci. “I realized I was witnessing some of that same sincerity I heard in punk music in the music and performances of some of the blues artists I was hearing and seeing.”

After the band broke up, Ricci would find out what the blues were as he was kicked out of house, kicked out of school and found himself with a crowd of street kids. The Portland, Maine teen would later find refuge with a group of Dead-head-hippie kids playing harp in a blues style with an acoustic guitarist at parties.

“We put together like a little Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee type acoustic duo where we played a bunch of old folk and blues tunes as well as some Dead covers and a few originals,” says Ricci. “That was the real beginning I guess.”

Ricci, who was now consumed with the blues more than ever, started a blues band with another Portland blues enthusiast by the name of Nick Curran — now on Blind Pig Records — and blew his way into playing alongside the great RL Burnside while in a band led by David Malone Kimbrough, son of Junior Kimbrough, after relocating to Memphis, Tenn., in 1995. He has been the recipient of countless awards and has toured with many of today’s top blues acts, including Susan Tedeschi and Billy Gibson.

The 33-year-old vocalist and harmonica wiz kid’s latest venture, New Blood, was formed in late 2002 and has made a name for themselves by way of their high-octane shows, “I do really enjoy live shows,” says Ricci. “I love playing loud and changing the tunes up as well and just making up new things on the spot.”

The band has released two discs. Their debut, 2005’s Blood on the Road, combined all of Ricci’s influences and explored new ground as New Blood flirted with some jazz and funk grooves. The band’s latest CD, 2007s Rocket Number 9, crisscrosses many genres as they take the listener on a sonic journey, which melds a punk rock attitude with a blues foundation.

“What sets us apart from traditional blues bands is we’re not in the practice of practicing tradition,” explains Ricci. “We observe, study and incorporate tradition from various forms of music as well as blues, but we’re not in the business of ‘recreating’ a form of music as it was done 50 years ago or more.”

Jason Ricci can play the blues because he’s lived the blues. As he and his main collaborator, guitarist Shawn Starski, continue grow, they are rewriting the rules of what blues music can be. “We have an affinity for all types of music, and we can’t help but need to incorporate those influences into our music, thus inadvertently changing it,” says Ricci. “Of course blues is the main canvas in which we paint outside the lines of. As I get older I will probably find new canvases to stray from ... maybe we already did?”

[Jazzbones, Thursday, Dec. 13, 8 p.m., $5-$8, all ages, 2803 Sixth Ave., Tacoma, 253.396.9169]

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