Harmonica player Rockin' Jake has spent years spreading the blues around the nation. The five-time winner of Off Beat Magazine's Best of the Beat award hails from Connecticut, but he's lived in New Hampshire, New Orleans, Texas, and St. Louis and finally settled in the great State of Florida.
Rockin' Jake has made this place his actual and musical home since 2012, playing with band members guitar/vocalist Anton LaPlume, bass/vocals Cleveland Frederick, and drummer Maurice Dukes. The eclectic singer's sound (as described on his website) can be summed up as "a hybrid of second line, swamp funk, blues, and zydeco." And although we love the local swamp vibe, it's always nice to get a little Cajun swamp blended in with it to mix things up a bit.
Rockin' Jake is performing tonight outside of the Baily Contemporary Arts Pompano Beach, also known as BaCA, for a free street festival. Food will be provided by Spanx the Hog Barbecue, and beer and wine is complementary. And as for art, there'll be three galleries' worth and a chalk mural on the street.
We sat down and spoke with the bluesy singer about the harmonica, Badmouth hot sauce, and his former home, New Orleans.
New Times: You are a five-time winner of Off Beat Magazine's coveted Best of the Beat award for best harmonica player. How do you top that?
Rockin' Jake: [laughs] I should have retired after I won the fifth time, but I had to make a living. That was not a competition but a readers' poll. Topping that would be just working and putting out music, touring and recording, you know? Doing what I do.
What are some of your influences?
I had so many influences going back to the '70s, such as blues, rock 'n' roll, bluegrass, and country.
I moved to New Orleans in 1990 and left after Hurricane Katrina. Everything there influenced me, such as funk, R&B, jazz, brass band music, music from Southwest Louisiana. All of it I loved and absorbed. Even though my band isn't from Louisiana anymore [new members are from Florida], we try to play some of that flavor.
Compare local music from New Orleans to local music from South Florida.
Well, I haven't exposed myself to a lot of music, and I hear there's a lot of great music down here. There's a lot I haven't seen yet. I focus on the blues scene down here. It's quite vibrant and happening.
New Orleans wasn't focused on the blues so much. It was in the music, but not such a large focus. Musicians in New Orleans can play just about anything. You have an R&B band and throw some blues in there and they can play it. Down here, you have more of a straightforward band. Jazz was born in New Orleans... I haven't found an indigenous style that was born here in Florida.
How did you get into playing the harmonica?
I was 15 years old, and I went to see a band at my local mall called Sugar Ray Norcia, and he's a harmonica player. I listened to the blues two years beforehand and never saw blues like that. I was blown away and bought a harmonica the next day. It seemed easy, but little did I know that it wasn't! Forty years later and I think I am getting the hang of it.
What are your top three favorite songs with harmonicas in it?
"Walking by Myself" by Jimmy Rogers, "The World Is a Ghetto" by War, and "Judgment Day" by Snooky Pryor.
What makes the harmonica so special compared to other instruments?
That's a good question. I love the sound of it, I love emotion that it can express, I like the way it feels when you play it. There's a lot of different things you can do when you play it with your hands, your tongue, your lips. I love the emotional expression you get with it and musical versatility.
Can you describe your hot sauce line Badmouth?
Badmouth hot sauce is invented and made by a friend of mine in New Orleans. He has a hot sauce company, and he made a special blend for me. I don't have any for me because whenever I go to get it, it gets sold out! Hopefully I'll get it in a month or so. It has a unique flavor to it, not too hot. It has a taste of smoke and a taste of sweetness to it.
What are the ingredients?
I think it's tomato-based, but I don't remember what the ingredients are. It's a thick sauce, not like a barbecue sauce, but it's thicker than tobacco sauce. It has three different types of peppers in it: habanero, cayenne, and savina.
Any additional comments?
I'm very excited to perform -- I've never been there [BaCA] before. I look forward to rocking it out, and it will definitely be a great party.
Rockin' Jake Wednesday, 5:30 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, November 19, at BaCA (Baily Contemporary Arts), 41 NE First St., Pompano Beach. No cover. Call 954-284-0141, or visit bacapompano.org.