Jason Ricci Bringing His Blues Harmonica Magic to K.C.
April 30, 2009
by J. W. Arnold
You wonít find Jason Ricci, 35, singing show tunes behind the piano in a gay bar. In fact, Ricci openly and proudly defies most of the gay stereotypes.
The Portland, Maine, native is at home in honky-tonk roadhouses and smoky blues bars, spinning out complex melodies on a harmonica. But Ricci is no redneck. His hit albums include the fusion-minded Rocket Number 9 and the occult-inspired Done With the Devil.
Ricci brings his unique sound to Kansas Cityís Record Bar, 1020 Westport Rd., on May 29. Camp caught up with the musician for a chat about his music, his inspiration and the challenges of being gay in the mostly macho world of the blues circuit.
How did you get started playing the harmonica?
JR: It was an accident. I was in a punk rock band in high school. I was writing songs and singing, but then the other guys started singing and writing songs and since I didnít play an instrument, I was getting benched. A harmonica was kind of cheap. If I had tried playing a guitar, I could have done some real damage to the songs.
The harmonica isnít typically thought of as a punk instrument, is it?
JR: All the great [harmonica"> players were blues players, which led me to jazz, which led me to blues music and classical. I also had some interest in í60s music.
Are there many professional musicians out there specializing in the harmonica?
JR: There are actually a lot more than you would imagine. But when it comes to playing the music on the page, thatís different. Itís a diatonic instrument, so you have to really be creative. We play with a technique called ďoverblowingĒ ó an embouchure switch to provide the missing chromatic notes. There are a lot of people who can do the overblowing technique, but there are only three or four in the world that can really make music with it. When I learned it, I was one of three that were doing it live, touring the country.
You certainly have had a successful career.
JR: Iíve played almost 300 days a year for the last 10 years. Thatís 3,000 shows. We took a lot of time off to record my [recently released"> record, so Iím glad to be touring again. Itís the sorcery of live music. Right now, I love it. I canít wait to play. That doesnít say that I donít enjoy home too. Ö I have a very exciting life outside of music, too. Thereís so much I want to read, and animals and people I want to hang out with, but [music is"> my chosen profession.
You are one of the few openly gay artists playing on the jazz and blues circuit. Does that present any challenges?
JR: It can be pretty harsh out there. Thereís a lot of homophobia. Even if I was playing all gay clubs, I would still feel as lonely as I am now. Gay men just donít seem to care for music with guitars and drums in it. Theyíre a shallow group of individuals. Until they prove me wrong, Iím going to continue to scold them. Weíve played Gay Prides and done those gigsÖ itís who I am. I have a boyfriend. Ö Itís not a political movement or a statement. It sucks that we donít have more gay fans. It sucks that some of our straight audience arenít fans because of that, too. But itís all so silly, itís just not worth my time to worry about it. The whole adopted stereotype of the gay guy who will do your hair and redecorate your house is continuously rammed down our throats. We do it to ourselves. Itís a waste of individuality and a waste of power that we could tap in to. I donít own any Barbra Streisand movies and I donít listen to Madonna. So many people are gay as a profession. Thereís so much more to me than that.
What has been your musical inspiration lately?
JR: Iím on a real heavy one right now. A lot of the songwriting I did on the record has some occult overtonesÖ. Astronomy, numerology and music all go hand in hand. Musician as magician is an archetype as old as time. Music is a very powerful form of sorcery. Some of the songs [on the album"> represent the fusion of good and evil or light and dark through music. Thatís where the real alchemy of both takes place. Iím on a kick, devouring every occult book that I can find. Itís bad enough Iím gay, but Iím on this occult thing. What is left to alienate me from mainstream culture?
Jason Ricci will be performing at Kansas Cityís Record Bar, 1020 Westport Rd., on May 29. Tickets are $7 dollars and available at the door.
J.W. Arnold writes about the arts and entertainment for Camp and is a member of the American Theatre Critics Association. Send comments or suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.