Blues guitar iconoclast Jarekus Singleton’s is fast becoming a sensation. His name is being as highly praised as it is difficult to pronounce. As with any fresh voice on the blues scene, an exposure to his music provokes endless curiosity about the story behind the voice. And in Singleton’s case, the story is riddled with lessons of growth, maturity and a seemingly supernaturally endowed talent.
To anyone growing infatuated with Singleton’s fretboard wizardry, it may come as something as a shock to learn that the blues wasn’t his first love. Nor was the guitar his earliest instrument of choice. Instead the Mississippi-born and bred Singleton found himself immersed in gospel music as a young bass player in a family of church musicians and vocalists. Indeed his formative stages in the music world came years before much exposure to the blues.
As time passed, his uncle (whose arthritic hands could no longer keep pace) passed guitar duties on to his nephew Jarekus. The fourteen-year-old had “no idea what to do,” other than follow along with what he’d seen his uncle and granddad do. Intimidated by the prospect of having to keep up with a dizzying variety of keys, he had no choice but to become himself.
Then came another head-spinning stage in Jarekus Singleton’s development. At “fifteen or sixteen” he heard Albert King’s ”I’ll Play The Blues For You.” Amazingly it was his first exposure to the genre. Decades later, Singleton claims, “I’m still learning!”
Jarekus Singleton sizzles on Refuse to Lose
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Singleton’s body of work is its eclecticism. While even the untutored ear can discern the strong blues basis of his music, there is much more to hear, many more colors that decorate his kaleidoscopic world. One of those hues is hip-hop.
As a child of the eighties, Singleton’s musical palate was as influenced by Run DMC and LL Cool J as he was by Buddy Guy or B.B King. Hip-hop was an enormous part of the era’s cultural landscape. And the young Mississippian didn’t run from the influence as other blues musicians have done. Instead he embraced it. Decades later, he’s still embracing it, dismissing the ‘bad rap’ the genre’s gotten is some circles by focusing instead of the upside of rappers’ fondness for discussing “political" views and what they went through in their neighborhoods. When speaking of such heroes as KRS1 and Public Enemy, he says, “These old school guys talked about love. Those guys created an art form to be able to convey their thoughts in a different manner.” That “different manner” had a huge impact on Singleton’s career approach. “So for me to be able to grow up with that, and be around the blues. Not because I was trying to, but because that’s who I was. I just started to merge it together,” he says.
And merge he did, creating his unique blend of Blues/rock/soul/hip-hop. And somehow, this odd salad tastes just right. All it needed was the right chef. And it doesn’t hurt that the chef is also a virtuoso of guitar mastery.
Forming his first band in 2009, the Jarekus Singleton Blues Band and wasting little time taking the blues world by storm, Singleton released his first CD, Heartfelt, in 2011. Since them he’s released Refuse to Lose in 2013 and his reputation has grown to epic proportions. It only a matter of time before this trailblazer casts a shadow as huge as his childhood heroes – be those heroes from the hip-hop world or the tradition world of the Blues.