Piedmont Blues with a Twist: Soulful, Groovy and Happy
The roaring 20’s were called that for a reason. It was a carefree and fun time, and it showed in the music. From the early jazz of Bessie Smith, to the blues of Blind Blake, the 20’s had it all. So how do you go from here to there?
“I was studying classical music at Settlement Music School in Philadelphia until I heard Blind Blake. The music was so free compared to the rigidity of the classical repertoire that I had to learn it.” That meant hours next to a record player practicing and writing out the notes. “I couldn’t find any guitar music so I used my classical training to figure out the notes. But I had to really listen and just play along to get the feel.”
Eventually he formed a duo with singer Sister Blue, called Rhapsody Ragtime and Blues. “We did a lot of shows in Philly and New York. Mostly Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie with a bunch of Chicago Blues done on acoustic. It was a lot of fun but eventually, it just kind of ended. I was left with all these great arrangements I came up with, and I refused to let them die.”
After finishing college in Minneapolis, King Neptune studied voice so he could sing his arrangements. “It’s been a long trip. I’ve had to learn how to sing in different keys, which meant rearranging a lot of the songs. Some worked, some didn’t. I also decided to focus on Piedmont Blues and Bessie Smith, ‘cause that’s the stuff I like. I mean, that’s what does it for me.”
“My whole life I’ve been playing music. Teaching and playing. Different bands, different styles. This is the one thing that stays true.” As a professional musician, that’s meant several cross country tours and shows from Maine to California. Since moving to Illinois in 2010, he has been playing solo under the name King Neptune.
“As a musician, you like to think you’re in charge, but you’re not. The music is. And it’s still telling me what to do.” Guitar and voice, playing the music from the golden age of acoustic blues. You’ll understand why his playing has been described as soulful, groovy and happy when you come and see him. And while you’re there, ask King Neptune how he got his name.