Bluesy Enough

Charleston City Paper | September 20, 2005
“I wouldn’t say that we work from a traditional blues style at all,” says harp player and bandleader Jason Ricci. “We’re bluesy enough just from the instrumentation alone, so we don’t alienate traditional blues fans … but that does happen!”

Ricci, 31, may not look much like a first- or second-generation Chicago or Delta blues cat — in fact, he looks more like a character out of an alternative rock magazine — but his expressive harp style, gravelly singing voice, and keen sense of rhythm and syncopation stand up to any lofty blues qualifications.

Described by critics as one of the top “virtuoso” harmonica players in the South, Ricci’s gruff and passionate harp style has been compared to the talents of Howard Levy, Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman, Toots Thielemans, John Popper, and Paul Butterfield.

“I was in a traditional kind of teenage punk rock band and I wanted to do something in addition to singing, so I got a harmonica,” says Ricci. “My mom was a big blues fan and she arranged someone to teach me to play, and he was really into a lot of old blues stuff, so it started from there.”

As a teenager, Ricci studied with former Johnny Winter Band harpist Pat Ramsey and eventually landed gigs with veteran blues singers Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside, Son Phillips, and Nick Curran.

“I’ve been in Nashville for about six years now,” he says. “I took a job with a locally-established band called Big Al & The Heavyweights and played with them for a year and a half. I’d been living in Nashville and playing with Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside a bit, but there really wasn’t much interest in those guys at the time, and they never traveled much at all. I’m really grateful that those guys finally got the recognition they deserved, but they rarely toured. Playing with Big Al was my first serious road gig.”

The New Blood lineup features Ricci on lead vocals and harmonica, veteran bassist Slim Louis, guitarist Shawn Starski, and new drummer Steve “Swingin’” Johnson, who replaced the recently-deported Argentine drummer Maki Bergara.

“Generally, we go over great with young crowds,” says Ricci. “In fact, we’re as much a jam band as anything else — in the tradition of Derek Trucks or Gov’t Mule or String Cheese Incident. Our music is definitely rock-oriented and funk-inflicted. It’s influenced by bands like War, The Meters, and Galactic as much or more than by B.B. King or Muddy Waters and that stuff.”

The band has a new, independently-released studio album available titled Blood on the Road, a sharp follow-up to last year’s fiery live collection, Live at Checkers.

“We always end up doing newer original stuff, but there are a couple of old tunes that leave the repertoire,” says Ricci. “We never take them out of the set list. Like Slim Harpo’s ‘The Hip Shake’ and ‘Scratch My Back’ and stuff like that that I’m known for playing. We’ve been doing 300 shows a year on average, so it’s pretty tight.”

Jason Ricci & New Blood emerged as one of the most memorable highlights of this year’s Lowcountry Blues Bash. They might just shake the feet and hips of local audiences again this weekend with their electrified blues jams.

Charleston City Paper

Founded in 1997, the locally owned and operated City Paper is Charleston's only weekly alternative newspaper and the second-largest publication in the metro Charleston area. Reaching a strong mix of active, affluent locals and tourists, the City Paper has thrived...
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