Q&A with Southern Gothic Blues musician Jhett Black, one-man band with soulful gospel roots and balladry

"What it always has been. I think some music today has the same power it always has. It allows people to let go, to hold on, to grieve and celebrate, to find God, to get laid, to get straight, to get high, to connect people that would otherwise have nothing in common."

Jhett Black: Grit, Energy & Heart

Foot stomping rhythms and raucous slide guitar interweave with soulful gospel roots and balladry. The Southern Gothic sound of Jhett Black draws from years of  experience on the road with underground folk rock band, Gleewood, and his passion for American roots music. Somewhere between teaching himself slide guitar behind the chicken coop of a New Mexico ranch house and an endless sea of dive bars, the blues found their way into the young man’s heart and pours back out with the passionate performance of an older soul.                                                                 (Jhett Black / Photo by Callie Sioux)

Jhett proudly represented San Angelo, Texas at the 2022 International Blues Challenge and took 2nd place in the solo/duo category. His album, Roots (2022), is charting in acoustic blues and blues album international radio charts. The internationally received songwriter draws from deep sources such as Lead Belly and Howlin’ Wolf, while illustrating ballads with lyrical nods to storytellers like Johnny Cash, and Nick Cave.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and American Roots music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

American roots music has always been such an integral part of my life that it would be hard to imagine life without it. It's the angst and pulse of the American dream (at least the idea of it). It's the space and melancholy of the country. For me though, my respect and love for blues and American roots music in general really came into full bloom after touring Europe with me and my wife's previous folk rock project, Gleewood. Roots music has always been a part of me and never really acknowledged it as something particularly special until I experienced the way people listened to it in other countries. It was recognized as something distinctly American. That really added fuel to the fire and encouraged me to dig deeper into the history of the music I play.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

Southern Gothic Blues. Murder ballads and gospel blues. My largest influence in music has always been the Hebrew Psalms. Pain and hope. Struggle and victory.

What touched you from the One-Man Band act? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

There's a coyote road-dog of a man, named Tom Bennett from Villa Rica, Georgia. I met him at a film festival, and we toured together extensively for a few years playing roadhouses and dive bars, biker joints, things like that. He lived the life of a traveling folk singer and so did we. He made me appreciate, for the first time, a one-man-band. I enjoy performing solo myself, but for me it's just a small piece of what I do musically. Foot percussion can be a good time until it's not.

"A "no" can lead you in new directions and it's my second favorite answer. Don't buy into the lies that the world tries to sell you as success. There's a big distance between good music and great music but it's not the same length for every person and the margins are always moving." (Photo: Jhett Black)

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I could never begin to contain all the magic I've seen and got to share with music in this interview, but some of my most important and memorable musical experiences have been for an audience of one. Especially if that song was written just for them.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I'm a pretty young man, so I'm not sure I really miss much. I have my fantasies about what things might have been like, but grass is always greener on the other side. My hope is that music with honesty and integrity - music that is true continues to thrive. I hope that musicians have courage to sing, write, and play what is truly on their heart and use mediums that reflect that. I hope people learn how to dance at concerts again and enjoy each other as much if not more than the artists on stage when music calls for it.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

What it always has been. I think some music today has the same power it always has. It allows people to let go, to hold on, to grieve and celebrate, to find God, to get laid, to get straight, to get high, to connect people that would otherwise have nothing in common.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?                             (Jhett Black / Photo by Callie Sioux)

A "no" can lead you in new directions and it's my second favorite answer. Don't buy into the lies that the world tries to sell you as success. There's a big distance between good music and great music but it's not the same length for every person and the margins are always moving.

"Roots music has always been a part of me and never really acknowledged it as something particularly special until I experienced the way people listened to it in other countries. It was recognized as something distinctly American. That really added fuel to the fire and encouraged me to dig deeper into the history of the music I play."

John Coltrane said "My music is the spiritual expression of what I am...". How do you understand the spirit, music, and the meaning of life?

I couldn't agree more. I don't pretend to understand much about all three of those things. I do know however, that I owe them to the God of the gospel spoken by a Jew from Nazareth and am exceedingly grateful for the gifts.

Jhett Black Blues - Home

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