The Benton Harbor native who grew up listening to Chicago blues also ‘rocks out’ with a full band. He’ll play Jake’s Music Festival at Wealthy Theatre for the third time on April 11.
THE ARTIST: Otis Blueswell Jr.
WHAT HE PLAYS: Blues, vintage rock
WHERE YOU CAN SEE HIM: Jake’s Music Festival on April 11 at Wealthy Theatre in Grand Rapids.
Growing up in Benton Harbor in the 1960s and 1970s, Kevin Murphy would listen to the usual rock hits of the day, from The Yardbirds to Cream to The Rolling Stones to Led Zeppelin.
But tuning in to Chicago blues radio stations also opened up his ears to a world of seminal American blues artists who helped shape modern music.
“It was like the real deal,” he recalls of hearing songs by Leadbelly, Brownie McGhee, Sonny Terry and Robert Johnson. “Just the feel of it, the passion, just the soul they put in to it – the heart and soul.”
That experience of “opening up a lot of new doors” to formative blues music gave birth to Otis Blueswell Jr. – Murphy’s stage name – and nearly a decade of performing acoustic blues as a solo artist or with harmonica player Tomas Esparza.
A few years ago, the Grand Rapids-based guitarist and singer formed a band with bassist Ron Boot (Truckstop Cobras, PotatoeBabies) and drummer Jim Saltsman (TruckStop Cobras, The Willeys).
“It’s almost a different thing with the band. We rock out,” says Murphy. “It’s fun. We can do a lot more different stuff.”
UNEARTHING AND UNLEASHING OBSCURE AS WELL AS FAMILIAR TUNES
That “stuff” includes original material, old blues tunes and songs by the likes of Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and even The Black Keys. The band, he says, does a rendition of “Statesboro Blues” that most folks familiar with the Allman Brothers’ version might not recognize because the original dates back to the 1920s (credited to Blind Willie McTell).
During this week’s edition of Local Spins Live on News Talk 1340 AM (WJRW), Murphy dug up another gem from the past, “Shipwrecked Blues,” which he performed on the air. Listen to the show podcast here and watch a video of his performance below.
Interestingly, Murphy has never heard anyone else ever perform this particular song. He stumbled across some sheet music for the old tune and has been playing it ever since for audiences.
It’s part of Murphy’s mission to have Otis Blueswell Jr. spotlight obscure material.
“I wanted to kind of have a repertoire that everybody else wasn’t doing. If you’ve ever been to a weekend blues festival, you’ll hear bands covering the same songs because everybody likes those songs, like ‘Sweet Home Chicago,’ ” he says. “I kind of wanted to do stuff that was different and that nobody had really heard.”
On April 11, Otis Blueswell Jr. and his band will play Jake’s Music Festival at Grand Rapids’ Wealthy Theatre, the 11th annual fundraiser for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and an eclectic showcase of regional music.
The 6 p.m. event, headlined by the Grand Rapids Spinal Tap tribute band, Sext Farm, also will boast performances by Emma Loo & Sam, PotatoeBabies, Fathom 19, JOE, TruckStop Cobras, Greg Nagy and Lipstick Jodi. Admission to the one-day festival is free, but donations to the cause are encouraged, with a silent auction also on hand. An after-party takes place at Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill.
It will be the third time that Murphy has performed at Jake’s Music Festival, something he considers a special event for West Michigan’s music scene.
“It’s a blast and they treat us really good and we get to hang out back stage,” he says. “It’s really fun.”
VIDEO: OTIS BLUESWELL JR., “SHIPWRECKED BLUES”
Copyright 2015, Spins on Music LLC