We revisit Blues Harmonica Aficionado Jason Ricci with a conversation conducted in 1995 in Boise, Idaho by Norman Davis, present-day host of the Juke Joint blues program on RadioBoise KRBX, community radio station. Jason talks about the events which eventually pointed him toward blues music and specifically, blues harmonica, and his in-depth research of the greats in the genre and their playing styles. At the 40:30 mark on the recording Jason gets into demonstrating his already significant blues harp skills.
Here are Norman’s own words about the interview:
In 1995, I wrote an article for the Spring edition of the BBS [Boise Blues Society] newsletter, News of the Blues, covering an interview with Jason Ricci, who started his career in Boise, and as his longtime supporter Dara Longobardi predicted, has had a “mercurial rise to the top”. He is considered to be one of the top players in the world and continues to astonish me with his musical accomplishments. Here is a portion of the original article:
Idaho is noted for many things but blues is not one of them, not yet anyway . It may seem odd then, for a young man to come to Boise to play the blues, but that’s exactly what Jason Ricci did!
He’s a throwback, Jason is, a bluesman who lives and (literally) breathes his work, in the finest tradition of the legends who traveled the South in the early years of the blues. Like them, his idea of a great life is to sing and play his way from town to town in return for food, lodging, companionship, and hopefully now and then some money.
Ricci grew up in Maine, far from Idaho and a long way from the urban centers where most blues is brewed. As Ricci remembers it, his mother introduced him to the blues by playing some Howlin’ Wolf in the car as they were driving somewhere. He and his brother thought the music was awful and made fun of it.
By the time he was 14, Ricci developed an interest in punk rock and started listening to albums by the Dead Kennedys and other popular punkers. When friends started their own punk band, Jason wanted to join but he had never taken music lessons and had no instrument to play. His mom suggested he try the harmonica and set him up with lessons.
His teacher told him right away that he was going to learn blues harmonica, which is not exactly what punk rock fan Ricci had in mind. “My heart sank,” he recalls. But he kept on with the lessons even after his punk band started playing a few gigs.
“I wasn’t into it (blues) until one day and then, in an instant it happened.” He remembers. “I got in a fight with my girlfriend and I was driving back from Boston. I didn’t have any tapes with me except for one my teacher had made for me with all kinds of harmonica players on it–Charlie Musselwhite, Toots Thielemann, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan–every kind of harmonica guy you could think of, and the tune was “Trouble in Mind” done by Big Walter Horton. And I heard that first position harmonica–upper register, squeaky stuff and oh man it just stole my heart away. I started to identify with the blues for the first time. I didn’t want a punk rock tone. I wanted to have that fat tone like Big Walter.”
Here’s the recording of that interview:
Photos from time of interview (1995). Photo Credits (all): Dara Longobardi.
(Below) Jason Ricci onstage at the 2006 annual Boise Blues Society Summer Picnic (now Boise Blues Festival):
Photo Credits: Dara Longobardi
Here’s Jason onstage with “Hip Shake” in 2012, displaying his progidious blues harmonica skills:
See more about Jason and other great blues harmonica players in the DVD documentary, Pocket Full of Soul. Here’s the trailer from that movie.