Rebel Blues keeps blues genre alive in Alaska

Rebel Blues keeps blues genre alive in Alaska
June 26, 2009
By Glenn BurnSilver

FAIRBANKS — “Growing up in my family, the first blues I heard was John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters and BB King. Something in that music struck a chord me,” said Donald Hill, vocalist and percussionist with Rebel Blues, playing tonight and Saturday at the Howling Dog Saloon in Fox. “As a young kid when the dominant music was hip-hop, it was really something.”

These days Hill, along with pianist and vocalist Rob Woolsey, guitarist Jesse Ferman, harmonica player Bruce Skolnick, bassist Errol Bressler and drummer Cameron Cartland are plying Alaska’s highways with a vintage blues sound that’s otherwise missing from daily life, especially for younger audiences raised on radio.

“If you think about what kids listen to today, for a lot of kids they hear hip-hop, metal, country or Top 40. They don’t necessarily hear blues artists being played on the radio as much as other styles of music,” Hill said. “It’s crazy when we’re playing for an audience tends to be a little younger, coming in and playing the kind of blues we play, the kids get it and dig it and like it.”

The boys of Rebel Blues like it too, and did enough to make the weekly jam sessions at Anchorage’s Blues Central a regular part of their lives. It was there that a rocking chemistry was formed, one that eventually led from jam session to band. That was in 2003.

“We’d play solely for the love of the music and ended up having a good time,” Hill said. “We ended up forming a band out of that.

“All of us have different tastes, but we all truly love the blues,” Hill continued. “Without the blues you can’t have what’s now called popular music. Blues is the start of it all. You don’t have soul, funk, hip-hop, country music to a degree, metal or rock and roll. Muddy Waters said it best in song, ‘Blues had a baby and they called in rock and roll.’”

There might be a little rock and roll in the Rebel Blues sound with Ferman’s passions for Jimi Hendrix, Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, but certainly some boogie-woogie, compliments of Woolsey’s inspired playing and love of Jerry Lee Lewis. But whatever the gestation of the song, it’s the feeling and emotion that makes it the blues.

“Every song you sing, the artist went through something to come up with that song. It’s where that emotion comes out. The songs that I’ve written or t he band has composed came from certain points in our lives,” Hill said. “I think every blues artist internalizes it. Anybody can have the blues or get the blues. Whether you lived on a farm or lived on the streets in New York, or the blues can be about the trouble between you or your girlfriend or the fact that you can’t get a job in this economy. It runs the full gamut of emotions.”

The emotional quality to Rebel Blues music comes through, whether live or on their self-titled debut album. A new as-yet-untitled album was recorded earlier this year and the band is playing some of that music, along with blues standards (classics, really), at every stop.

“We are in the final steps of getting that one out, just as soon as possible,” Hill confirmed.

Though the blues is frequently considered a dying art form, left to old timers like Pinetop Perkins, Buddy Guy and BB King, these upstarts have it in their blood and are determined to keep the genre alive, even knowing a life on the road may really give them the blues.

“There’s nothing we like more,” Hill said. “We’ll play anywhere, we just love to play the blues.”

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