Band: Jamell Richardson’s Album Release Party featuring The Red Clay Strays
Date: Friday, Sept. 8, with doors at 8 p.m.
Venue: Soul Kitchen, 219 Dauphin St., www.soulkitchenmobile.com
Tickets: $10 in advance/$12 day-of-show; available at Soul Kitchen, its website or by calling 1-877-866-8932
Jamell Richardson is getting ready to give Soul Kitchen and the Gulf Coast a new taste of the blues. The “Gulf Coast Blues Boy” is on the cusp of releasing his latest album, “Blues How I Wanna Blues.” With its mix of blues and soul highlighted by impeccable work on the guitar, Richardson lives up to the album’s title. His exhilarating stage presence and audience interaction make this release party the perfect environment for experiencing this music for the first time.
Richardson’s conversation with Lagniappe is a chance for readers to step inside the bluesman’s world for insight into the album, his life and, of course, the blues.
Stephen Centanni: I’m not going to ask you about what the blues means to you, but I do want to talk blues. I’ve heard a lot of old-schoolers, such as the late T-Model Ford and the late Robert Belfour talk about how blues is dying. You also hear these people who scream, “Keep the blues alive!” like it’s going somewhere. What do you think about the current state of the blues? Is it on life support?
Jamell Richardson: I think the older generation has a hard time accepting the new generation’s feel of the blues. Like I often say, I pay homage to the old school blues all the time, but I wasn’t born in the ‘30s and ‘40s, so I can’t relate to cotton-pickin’ blues. The way I feel, the way for the blues to really evolve, it has to be able to appeal to the younger audience. That’s my outlook on it, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.
Centanni: You started out at a young age in gospel and made a transition into the blues. There’s such a connection between gospel and the blues. Musically, there’s a commonality, but there is a definite difference between the scenes. What was it like making that transition from the gospel world to the blues world?
Richardson: My grandmother was a pastor, God rest her soul, and now my mother is a pastor. I grew up in church dealing with the opinionated people who see blues as the devil’s music. I said to myself that if I had to choose a career other than gospel, it would have to be the blues, because that’s what the traditional sound reminded me of. Like you said, gospel and the blues are neck-and-neck. Once I got my mother’s blessing to do it, that’s all I really needed. I was going to do it anyway, but her blessing and support behind it meant a lot to me. Really, it wasn’t hard at all.
Centanni: I didn’t know about this until recently. You spent time on the road with the late, great Mel Waiters. You had to pick up something from him. What did you learn from being a part of Mel Waiters’ band?
Richardson: Honestly, man, the crazy thing about it is that I grew up in church, and I always prayed and asked God for a sense of direction. When I was with him, I didn’t understand why I was playing the blues or the soul blues. My first real blues job was playing with Mel Waiters. I really didn’t understand making that transition from gospel with him, not knowing that two or three years later I would be doing the exact thing that he was doing.
It was crazy, but when I look back on it, he was my mentor. I learned a lot about what not to do. I’m a very observant person. I sit back and learn from mistakes and learn the business. I learn by asking questions. All you gotta do is look and listen. He was a really big mentor to me. I learned a lot about what not to do in this business, God rest his soul — and I miss him every day.
Centanni: As far as the new material, the title track is like a personal testimony. With all you lay out in that song, how do you want to blues?
Richardson: I blues how I want to blues. If you’ve ever been to my show, it can be a very spur of the moment thing. It’s not the ordinary blues. If I feel like jazzing it up, I’ll jazz it up. If I feel like making it funky, then I’ll make it funky.
People have their own opinion of what the blues is supposed to sound like. I can truly say that once I got it in my mind and in my heart that I was gonna do it how I wanted to do it, that’s when the doors started opening up to me. Once I let go and did it how I wanted to do, the people started responding to it. I’ve been blessed to have played for little kids, older people, white, black and young. I’ve been able to entertain my crowds. I sit there, and I strategize the scene and seeing the music work on every type of crowd and race. I knew it had to be it. So, I do it how I want to do it.
Centanni: That’s such a hardcore blues track. Then, you have “Hero.” It’s a pretty sweet and gentle piece of soul blues. Where did that song come from?
Richardson: I left the song open. Being a hero, it can go all kinds of ways. When I wrote that song, we had just found out that my step-dad had dementia. I was in a real deep place where I had to take care of him and my mom at the same time. I was in a real emotional place when I wrote that song.
Centanni: Those are the only tracks I’ve heard so far. What else can we expect from this album?
Richardson: Man, I’m gonna groove you. I’m going to make you want to kiss on your wife and make you want to dance. I’m also going to try to take you on an overall journey. I’ve got one song with a Jamaican/Latin feel but [it] still has that blues soul. All the songs have a soul base. Once again, I’m gonna do it how I want to do it and how I feel it. I even have a wedding song on that album.
Centanni: Your live show is crazy. Your music is awesome, and the live show makes it better. What else can we expect? Do you have any surprises for the crowd?
Richardson: Other than me jumping off the stage, I don’t know, man [chuckles]! It’s gonna be up in the air. I don’t know what the surprise is until I actually do it.