For Jarekus Singleton, a former high school all-star in his home state of Mississippi and talented guard at the University of Southern Miss, the sports story ended the way it so often does: with injury. But what could have been a blackhole of a career has instead shifted to something else: music. Faced with the loss of one burgeoning career, Singleton turned to his other great love, his guitar.
The 31-year-old musician is a native of Clinton, Mississippi, which Singleton calls an “extension” of the state’s capital city, Jackson, "a small town, population of 25,000.”
Singleton recently released his first single for the Chicago-based Alligator Records, the defiant and fiery “Refuse To Lose,” and spoke to New Times just a few hours before setting off for Poland, where he'll spread perhaps the most American of music forms, the blues, to European music fans.
We talked with Singleton about the genesis of his distinct style, making the best out of bad situations, and his upcoming tour through Florida, which includes stops in Daytona Beach, Tampa, and The Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton.
New Times: What do you think it is about Mississippi that gives birth to so many talented blues musicians?
Jarekus Singleton: You know, it might be the cornbread or something—I don’t know. [Laughs] Nah, I’m just playing. There is a lot of talent in Mississippi, a lot of talented singers, as well artists, musicians.
You probably grew up listening to a lot of those guys, didn’t you? Charley Patton, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, and so on.
My grandfather used to talk about them all the time when he was preaching—"You gotta listen to B.B. King"—because he used to preach against secular music. He was always home watching Amos ‘n’ Andy and listening to B.B. King out back.
You’re quoted as saying, “Blues are honest.” What do you mean by that?
Well you know, that’s how it [the blues] started, people going through tough times and trying to get themselves through tough times by coming up with hymns and coming up with songs, back in the delta, back in the early days. It started off where you could be honest, and it’s cool. Pop music, sometimes, they kind of fake-it-'ti-you-make-it, trying to boost themselves 'til they get to a certain point, and say anything just to get some spotlight or attention. But with blues music, it’s always: "Hey, come as you are. How do you feel now? Express yourself freely."
The song “Refuse To Lose” is a hard-luck story with a protagonist that won’t give up. Is that autobiographical?
Yeah, that’s autobiographical. It’s talking about me coming out of my basketball career, when I had surgery on my ankle in 2009. Just going back to my mom’s house, having to move back in, and trying to get my mind together, I refuse to lose, not gonna let this get me down.
You played college ball at Southern Miss. What are your thoughts on how things have turned out since your injury, in regards to your music career?
I got injured at a basketball camp. I was out of school trying to get some teams to pick me up. But I’m very thankful, very thankful to be a musician, to have my own band, to be writing my own music, and very thankful for Alligator Records working with me, believing in me and getting behind me. Man, everything’s turned out great. I thought I’d be playing basketball, but I’m having a great experience being a musician and touring. God has been good, and I’m happy.
You started in music by rapping. Do you plan on recording anything more hip-hop-oriented in the future?
"I don’t look at it like blues, hip-hop, or anything like that. I just look at it like me being an artist having different avenues to paint my pictures."
Yeah, of course, man. I have a lot of ideas and a lot of songs. And I don’t look at it like blues, hip-hop, or anything like that. I just look at it like me being an artist having different avenues to paint my pictures. I’m learning how to paint my picture with my guitar, which I didn’t know how to do when I was younger. I just knew how to play.
You mention your guitar, which you sing about in “Refuse To Lose.” It’s sick looking. Where did you get it?
Thank you, man. That’s a Clevenger guitar. It was custom built by a guy named Burt Clevenger in Hot Springs, Arkansas. He wanted to make me a signature guitar and that’s what he did.
How often have you been down to Florida? What’s your experience been like?
Florida is great. I love going to Florida. I can’t wait to get down there. I did Jax Beach last year and we did Tallahassee; we played in Tampa at Skipper’s and it’s always a good time. People in Florida know how to have a good time.
Jarekus Singleton with Moreland & Arbuckle. 9 p.m. Friday, October 9 at the Funky Biscuit, 303 SE Mizner Blvd., Royal Palm Place, Boca Raton. Tickets cost $15 to $25 via Ticketfly.com.