For these young bluesmen, the genre is far from irrelevant

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by MIKE CHAIKEN

EDITIONS EDITOR

If you look to Billboard’s list of top-selling artists of 2019, there is not a single blues artist to be found.

There’s plenty of country and rap. But there’s not a single artist who slings a guitar and plays 12-bar blues.

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But don’t you dare tell Middletown’s Ryan Newman, 23, and Glastonbury’s Jake Kulak, 19, that the blues is no longer relevant.

Ryan Newman of Righteous Continental performing last year at Crystal Bees in Southington. (MIKE CHAIKEN PHOTO)

The two guitarists are steeped in the blues. And they are bringing their love for the blues to the third Annual Sam Adams Winter Blues n Brews at Crystal Bees in Southington on Jan. 25. The evening features Newman’s band Righteous Continental, Jake Kulak and the Lowdown, Murray the Wheel of Newtown with Glastonbury’s Cheryl Tracy of Harwinton, and Waterbury-based band Crosseyed Cat’s tribute to ZZ Top.

Newman said he has had people tell him the blues is not relevant any more. “They don’t really know what they’re talking about as even popular music can have blues influences.”

To say the blues is not relevant, said Kulak, is like “saying history is not relevant, which is crazy. Knowing where things come from and how they have evolved is important.  We all stand on the shoulders of giants – we need to understand how the contributions of others have led to where we are.”

“All of today’s music evolved from the blues and blues is one of the most important early forms of American music,” said Kulak. “It should be respected.”

“The blues is alive and well, with newer artists such as Philip Sayce, Eric Gales, and Kenny Wayne Shepherd making fantastic music in an age where that isn’t usually the case,” said Newman. “Even when I’m playing rock or reggae or other types of music, I still like to throw heavy blues inspired playing throughout, as that’s certainly where my heart is and as I said before it’s important to play from deep within.”

However, Kulak said, “We do need to let this art form continue to evolve and appeal to audiences both young and old.”

But Newman is reluctant to update the blues to widen its appeal. “Some people say I should utilize more contemporary sounds and try to appeal to a younger audience, which is understandable and okay,” said Newman. “I don’t mind playing other styles when called for but if it doesn’t have real soul or is computer-generated, count me out.”

“I want to do what I can to keep the blues, one of the oldest and purest American art forms, kicking and strong,” said Newman.

Kulak arrived at his love for the blues after listening to guitarist Jack White of alternative rockers, the White Stripes, take a musical detour to explore his own love for the blues.

“Listening to these current covers (by White) of the old masters led me to the original recordings on Youtube,” said Kulak, who is now a student at Berklee College of Music in Boston. “I was 12 and listening to Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, and Howlin’ Wolf.”

Newman said, “I discovered the blues after growing up on classic rock and hearing Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Red House’ (when I was) around 9 years old, and then started listening to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Johnny Winter, Buddy Guy, the Kings, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and (reaching) back to the old Delta stuff, as well as (listening to) British blues artists like John Mayall with Peter Green, and early Eric Clapton.”

“The blues speaks to me in many ways,” said Newman. “(It) always helps to make me feel better when I’m in a dark place and there’s a real honesty to the blues seldom found in other types of music.  A real good slide guitar can be beautiful or bone-chilling.”

Kulak said the history of the blues is what speaks to him. “When you learn about the blues you learn about the time period and it is a window into a fascinating era.”

Additionally, said Kulak, “The music is emotional and powerful and real. It wasn’t manufactured and historically it was not all about fame and money. Those artists were expressing what was going on in their lives, they were playing for friends and neighbors and looking for joy from music. This is what music should be about.”

The third Annual Sam Adams Winter Blues n Brews at Crystal Bees, 240 Spring St., in Southington with Righteous Continental, Jake Kulak and the Lowdown, Murray the Wheel with Cheryl Tracy, and Crosseyed Cat will be held Saturday, Jan. 25 at 7 p.m.

Tickets are $10

For information, go to Crystalbees.com.