Jarekus Singleton: Blues for the 21st Century
by Brian M. Reiser
Published on March 17, 2017
Jarekus Singleton loves the blues because “Blues is honest music.”
He’s certainly right about that. Ain’t nothin’ more authentic than the blues. But Singleton has even more ambition than playing great blues. “I want to create blues for the 21st century.”
And he’s been wildly succeeding.
Jarekus Singleton Discovers the Blues
Singleton’s biographical history is a tale worthy of a blues song, or a book, or a film.
Born on July 11, 1984 in Clinton, Mississippi, the now 32 year old musician came into this world via a family full of Gospel musicians and vocalists. He learned how to play the bass from his Uncle, and he soon found himself thrust into his Grandfather’s church band.
That band consisted mainly of members of Singleton’s family: his grandfather – the pastor of the church – played guitar. His uncle also played guitar, his mom was on organist, and his brother rocked the drums.
When Jarekus’s uncle began getting arthritis in his hands, he urged Jarekus to take up the instrument in his place. As Jarekus began to discover the blues through his guitar playing, he found a particular affinity for legends like B.B. King and Albert King. He also fell in love with Stevie Ray Vaughan. But Singleton’s taste in music was not limited to Gospel and Blues. Some of his other favorite artists included rappers Twista & Jay-Z as well country superstar Brad Paisley.
Eclectic, to say the least. But Jarekus is anything but traditional.
Jarekus SIngleton Discovers Basketball
But despite all his early experiences playing music in Church, Jarekus suddenly found himself on the path to a serious basketball career. He had a scholarship to Southern Miss. Over the course of three years there he earned his degrees in coaching and sports administration. For his senior year he transferred to William Kerry University, where he won National Player of the Year Award. He was also the nation’s scoring leader and 5th in assists. Can you say hello, NBA?
But that was not meant to be.
Although he was in serious negotiations with several NBA teams, a terrible ankle injury lead to the sudden and horrific end of his basketball career.
Where would he go from here? Luckily, in a way, Jarekus’s dashed hopes of going pro as an athlete wound up leading him back to music.
But not to the blues. At least, not at first.
Instead, Singleton pursued a musical career as a hip hop artist. After a short time, however, he soon found himself pulled back to the traditional music of the state of Mississippi: the blues. He began experimentally combining blues guitar playing with his rap influenced lyrics.
He would form the Jarekus Singleton Band in 2009 and self-released an album called Heartfelt in 2011. This would lead to a deal with the thriving blues label Alligator Records.
Singleton was now a bluesman.
Jarekus Singleton Refuses to Lose
Singleton’s debut album on Alligator Records, Refuse to Lose, was released on May 6, 2014 and it’s an absolutely terrific listen. Immediately from the first song, the album’s title track “I Refuse to Lose”, you can hear the influence of the hip-hop lyrical elements and vocal delivery. These are combined with a much more traditional blues and rock style of playing heavy, gritty blues guitar.
You can hear the clarity and sparkle of Singleton’s guitar tone right at the top of the track. The track is coursing with electricity, and you can feel the passion, thought, and wit behind every single lyric and note that Jarekus writes and plays.
Much of his writing is autobiographical, and who could blame him? Maybe because it’s so personal, he sings with swagger and bravado, “I win at whatever I choose, because I refuse to lose”.
And this record is a big win. The song loosely recounts his story from budding basketball star on the way to glory to his downward spiral into meaningless work and a lost sense of self. At the end, he finally finds his identity again, armed now with his true calling: the blues.
A tight, dexterous band backs Singleton on this and other tracks. The band includes James Salone on the psychedelic-influenced organ, Ben Sterling on the funk heavy bass, and John “Junior” Blackmon on the driving drums and percussion.
Jarekus Singleton: Still Winning
There’s lots more great music on the record. “Crime Scene” is a slow burner with sly pop culture references of hit crime television shows like CSI and Law & Order. It’s set over a traditional 12-bar blues structure and R&B style bass grooving.
“Blame Game” is an amusing tune about a “loser” who keeps blaming all of his problems on everyone else around him. He name checks his mother who won’t loan him more money, his jerk boss who wont let him sleep on the job, and his friends who won’t let him move in rent free. Some people have no luck! This track is augmented by the textured harmonica playing of Brandon Santini and Robert “Nighthawk” Toom’s cutting piano playing.
“Sorry” is another track laden with humor. It begins with an apology to an ex-lover. But it quickly turns on its head over a strutting blues beat. Singleton sings, “You got to be crazy, you ain’t takin’ your pills / you said you was real but you proved to be faker than a $3 bill”. Ouch. Dissed.
What’s truly great and quite remarkable about Jarekus Singleton and this album is that his melting pot of styles coalesces in such a way that it offers something to everyone without alienating anyone. There’s more than enough blues purity throughout the album to appeal to the traditionalist. Theres’s plenty of great electric guitar playing that will reel in the axe lovers and blues solo seekers. And the hip-hop influenced lyrics make the songs extremely relevant to the younger generation.
This is authentic blues music that references Twitter. That’s a great deal for everyone. And Jarekus Singleton comes out nothing but a winner.
Keeping the Blues Alive
Photo by: Roman Sobus