Now Booking Blind Boy Paxton Folk Blues
EDMONTON - The timeless strains of early blues and jazz music have sparked periodic revivals over the years, but few next-generation musicians sport the authentic feel that Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton brings to the stage.
Just 24 years old and still unsigned to a record deal, Paxton eschews specific labels, maintaining simply that he taps into “traditional American music.
“I don’t know why I get such puzzled responses when I say that,” he says. “If someone says they play traditional Irish music people accept that. Why should I be any different? While my family weren’t musicians the atmosphere was around and when I finally heard the music it was like hearing the soundtrack to my elders.”
Some of the confusion could be over how someone so young came to play music so old, so well. Part of the explanation starts with Paxton’s family and their Creole legacy in Louisiana, though he grew up around South Central Avenue in Los Angeles.
Since his parents gave him a violin at the age of 12, the singer has added banjo, guitar, harmonica and piano to his bag, sourcing the repertoire of early blues greats like Blind Blake and Blind Lemon Jefferson for “the way they put the melody in front of you.” At the piano he digs “the elegance” of James P. Johnson, Fats Waller and Jellyroll Morton, while his skills on six-string banjo reflect a fondness for Johnny St. Cyr and Earl Scruggs.
Speaking with a tone that’s folksy and scholarly at once, Paxton explains he’s “more interested in the grand scape of things” than in any one genre.
“My favourite thing about what they call the early blues musicians is that they didn’t just play blues. The record companies would only get them to record blues because that’s all they knew would sell, but they sang pop songs and mazurkas, and two-steps and country dances. I’m just trying to be a thorough musician.”
His initial inspiration came from hearing traditional sounds on the radio and on PBS television documentaries before he really began to research the music’s history on the Internet. He started joining in on jams at a neighbourhood arts centre in his mid-teens, around the same time he began to lose his sight.
Paxton’s older friend, folk-blues star Corey Harris, helped him get a weekly residency at L.A.’s Redwood Bar & Grill that lasted several years and his only recording so far is a live demo date from the club. With help from a cover story last year in the journal Living Blues, he was pleasantly surprised to find he has a healthy touring career. Since 2007 he’s been based in Queens, N.Y.
Despite his focus on traditional styles, he’s conscious of singing material that still has some application to contemporary life, and notes that he doesn’t sing songs about picking cotton because that’s something he’s never done. He also likes to play a few original tunes.
“I’m liable to sneak one or two things in and usually nobody can tell the difference.”
Paxton has very limited visual perception and has been legally blind since his teens. He’s not sure if being blind has had any impact on his musical awareness, but the nickname “Blind Boy” fit his ties to traditional artists.
Jerron Paxton is packing several instruments to play 9 p.m. Nov. 15 and 16 at the Yardbird Suite (102nd Street and 86th Avenue).