It takes an old soul to start a bucket list as a youngster. The same can be said for a blues artist.
The Homemade Jamz Blues Band’s first tour of the Northwest included Squaw Valley’s Bluesdays on July 22. “Lake Tahoe has been on my bucket list for many years,” singer-guitarist Ryan Perry told an enthusiastic crowd early in the first of two sets..
The definition of “many years” varies. Perry is just 21.
The ages of Perry and his siblings has been highlighted since they started their band. The phrase “shock the world” certainly applied to the Homemade Jamz Blues Band when the trio finished second out of a group of 157 groups at the 2007 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Ryan was 14, bassist Kyle 12 and drummer Taya 9. They then became the youngest blues band to get a record deal, signing with NorthernBlues Music.
Blues artists are known for paying their dues, sustaining hardships that inspire music based upon emotion. Some veteran bluesmen were critical of the young band, whose lives changed after the IBC.
“It was actually pretty hard afterwards,” Ryan Perry said. “We were just an amateur band and the demand for a profession band in the blues scene is pretty strenuous, so we all had to grow up pretty fast, both maturity wise and musically wise. The first year or two wasn’t easy street at all. We did have a few negative situations with certain people.
“We definitely wouldn’t be where we are today if it wasn’t for the International Blues Challenge and the Blues Foundation.”
(Coincidentally, another trio of siblings – Danielle, Kris and Nick Schnebelen, who make up the Kansas City band Trampled Under Foot – won the 2008 IBC. They, however, were all adults whose band was nearly a decade old.)
The Perry siblings left public school and took their books on the road as homeschooling musicians with instruments homemade from Ford auto parts.
“You can be a good actor,” Perry said. “That’s how it was in the beginning. Now we have all had our share of negative experiences. There has been a change in the emotion of our music here recently from my – quote, unquote – acting of the blues to actually knowing and understanding what the blues is. We are getting ready to record our fifth album at the end of this year. And I believe the new music on the fifth album will definitely showcase the emotion.”
Ryan became the first to learn an instrument after his father returned home with a Stratocaster guitar to their military base in Baumholder, Germany after a hitch in South Korea. Renaud Perry did not master the instrument, but Ryan took to it immediately.
“My dad showed me artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and I just fell in love with the music,” Ryan Perry said.
Soon after, Kyle started bass, and the duo played with a drum machine, then later a drummer. Eventually, little sister Taya crashed the party.
“To be honest when my sister was 7 and she came in the living room and wanted play drums with us, we said no,” Ryan Perry said.
But as anyone who has a little sister knows, they can be persistent.
The family 14 years ago moved to Tupelo, Miss., the region that developed the first and now latest generation of blues players.
The two brothers and sister and mother Tricia are on their first extended tour in this part of the country. They will be on the West Coast nearly all of July. It just played the Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland, Ore.
“We are a very close family and music has made us closer,” Ryan Perry said. “We have a great understanding about what everyone wants musically and it just comes pretty easily to us. We just have that connection. I don’t think we could have that connection if we had outside members joining the band. I think that’s what makes us special, and Trampled Under Foot, as well. Siblings working together in unison is a pretty powerful thing.”
The Perrys may not have to attend public school, but they have certainly done their homework. The Bluesdays show featured authentic Mississippi Hill Country blues in the spirit of Junior Kimbrough and T Model Ford, who Ryan sang about during one of the three encore songs. They also played classic covers of John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters with very upbeat arrangements. The Squaw Village had more dancers in the crowd than it get on a typical Tuesday.
The Perry brothers have grown beards, making them look older than they really are. Ryan could pass for 22 and Kyle might be able to sneak into a bar for a beer. Moreover, their skill level and stage presence is impressive, regardless of their age. Now that Ryan Perry has checked Lake Tahoe on his bucket list, let’s hope it becomes a regular calendar date for the Homemade Jamz Blues Band.