Louisiana has given the world some great music. Tab Benoit, Bobby Rush, Buddy Guy, Professor Longhair, Guitar Slim, Slim Harpo, Lightnin’ Slim and Allen Toussaint are just some of the great musicians hailing from this great state. In fact, it has been said that all music in America began in in Congo Square, in New Orleans. Louisiana boasts vibrant jazz, Cajun, and Zydeco musical communities, along with an enthusiastic blues scene.
Since music is such a huge part of the cultural fabric of Louisiana, it should come as no surprise that another generation of musicians would step up to have their voices heard. This new blues is spearheaded by a wave of musicians that are talented, powerful, and willing to take risks. They are not boxed in by predefined expectations, and they are driven to push the envelope. These artists are not satisfied with maintaining the status-quo.
Known as the Bourbon Street Bluesman, Jeff Chaz has been paying his dues for a while now. Mentored by the great Little Milton, he has played from New Orleans to Memphis, and everywhere in between. Born in Lake Charles, his early years were spent in Creole, where Chaz began the life of a musician playing the trombone, and later switching to the trumpet. His earliest influences were the big bands of Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, and Glenn Miller, along with the jazz of Louis Armstrong and Jack Teagarden, and the instrumental works of George Gershwin. He counts his first heroes as Tommy Dorsey and Jack Teagarden.
Attending high school in California, Chaz played dances, parties, weddings, and the like. After graduation, he traveled with a band playing trombone, and opportunity reared it’s head when the band’s guitarist left, allowing Chaz to take his place. Over the years he has performed with Cab Calloway, Albert king, and Jerry Lee Lewis among others. In the late 1990s, he moved back to New Orleans where he began to draw huge crowds in short order.
Chaz has five albums to his credit, the most recent being Chronicles, issued on JCP Records in late 2014. The album is a compilation of tracks culled from his previous albums, and is a perfect picture of the incredible talent he brings to the table. Paul Bradbeer has described him exclaiming, “Jeff Chaz may well be the missing link between B.B. King, Albert King, Roy Buchanan, and Frank Zappa.” While this is certainly true, it is by no means a complete assessment. Chaz brings his heritage to every performance, which by necessity channels his knowledge and appreciation of swing, the Big Bands era, Gershwin, and the blues of the “Golden Era.” Accordingly, his music and playing reflect this, being at once lyrical, with moving blues lines that honor Ronnie Earl, B.B. King and Little Milton, even as they share NOLA accents and Memphis soul colorings with us. Always thoughtful, Chaz is a beautiful melting pot of yesteryear’s best and tomorrow’s promise.
Hailing from Tab Benoit’s hometown of Houma, Louisiana, Josh Garrett is another of the new wave of talent sweeping forth from this great state. He has quickly gained the respect of fans and peers alike. In describing Garrett, Kenny Neal has said, “Josh is our next generation with an old soul and he’s playing it with his heart. That’s what we need more of today.” Garrett is a composer, singer, and guitar player who brings a unique perspective to his blues.
Garrett began playing guitar at the age of 12, and by the time he was 20 he was playing gigs several times a week in his hometown. He recorded his first album, Changed Man, on the CDBY label in 2008 at the age of 24. In 2009 he released a double live album full of Louisiana goodness titled Live on Printer’s Alley. In 2011 he followed up with String of Problems, and he has recently released Honey for My Queen.
This newest release shows just how far Garrett’s journey has taken him. Each song is it’s own story, presented in varying musical settings that grab the listener’s attention, so they can take part in the drama unfolding. Of course there is blues, but this is nuanced blues, rich in a variety of flavors. Garrett ably delivers everything from country colored blues, to funky, soulful blues, to deliciously slow, indulgent blues that moves people.
Regardless of what he is playing, Garrett never beats listeners over the head with unnecessary notes. There is an air of Louisiana in everything we hear, lightly sprinkled throughout, giving the music a friendly, comforting feeling. This is not to say that Garrett can not mine serious blues, which he certainly does, with passion. He is definitely someone to keep an eye on.
Currently residing in Jackson, Mississippi, Kern Pratt brings rocking blues that tips a hat to the sounds of the Delta in his inspired performances. He brings the blues to life in a vivid, captivating fashion, always with a new wrinkle.
Pratt has been inspired by, and performed with Mississippi Slim, Hubert Sumlin, James “T-Model” Ford, Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds, Percy Sledge, and Eden Brent, just to name a few. He has also opened for B.B. King, Delbert McClinton, Deborah Coleman, Elvin Bishop, Dr. John, and Johnny Winter.
His strong debut album, Broken Chains, has just been released on GigTime Records. A favorite in these parts, Pratt will no doubt be touring the region behind this new release.
What makes Pratt’s music so inviting, and so unique? Start with a good helping of rock, add just the right amount of inspired blues, and season it with a couple of pinches of delta echoes and country swagger, and you have the Kern Pratt sound. Pratt’s music has a loose, juke-joint feel that is inviting, to say the least. His slightly gritty vocals add an edge that sets things off perfectly. Be on the lookout for Pratt at a venue near you.
New Orleans based Peter Novelli and his band are stirring the pot with their latest album, St. Amant Sessions. This new work highlights the traditions of Louisiana while combining them with deep blues, NOLA flavors, touches of jazz, and strong Southern backbeats; it is a just summation of everything that is Peter Novelli.
Along with the blues and NOLA accents, there is a love of country music that shines throughout Novelli’s work, as well as a reverence for the bayou. Now just because he loves country and blues, doesn’t mean that he can’t funk. He can. Have mercy!
Novelli is a potent force in the emerging wave of Louisiana talent because he is so flexible, so competent. He seamlessly blends strains of Southern influence with those of the Bayou State, and the Delta.
It is encouraging to see such an abundance of new blood carrying the blues forward from a region steeped in America’s music, and it’s history. This fine group of musicians bodes well for the blues, and emphatically affirms that Louisiana has no dearth of talent moving the blues into the future.