Blues: Digging into the roots

Blues musician Jerron Paxton will perform at Zappa.

November 10, 2016 18:43
4 minute read.
Blues musician Jerron Paxton

Blues musician Jerron Paxton. (photo credit: PR)

Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton is a singing, strumming, walking musical polymath, or jukebox.

The 27-year-old California-born and raised artist will perform at Zappa’s Tel Aviv and Jerusalem branches (November 24 and 26, respectively, doors open 8:15 p.m., shows start 10 p.m.).

Paxton has been here on a couple of previous occasions, initially at the 2014 winter edition of the Jacob’s Ladder Festival by the Sea of Galilee. The audiences at his shows then were thoroughly taken with his larger-than-life persona and his infectious love of his craft.

And when he wasn’t on stage, flitting between banjo, violin, harmonica, piano and various percussion instruments, the bluesman could be found dropping in on festival patrons who had made it over to the Nof Ginossar site together with their instruments and had assembled for an impromptu jam session.

Paxton also came to Israel last year for the annual Tel Aviv Blues Festival and duly wowed his audiences there, too.

With his third visit to Israel in just under two years coming up, Paxton clearly feels at ease in this part of the world.

“It’s a good back and forth relationship,” he says. “Israelis are pretty people,” he adds with a chuckle.

It seems that the positive vibes have been reciprocal, and Paxton says he was suitably impressed with the cultural scene during his sojourns here, particularly in Tel Aviv.

“I saw a lot of nice pubs around the city, and I was happy to see there was a bunch of young people playing good music, just like in the States. And I got to hang out with the Betty Bears and all the other great bands. I had a fantastic time,” he says.

Paxton is not just interested in keeping the music alive through his stage and recording work; he also wants to spread the vibes around and pass the baton on.

“I always like to see young people do their thing and play the music. It’s great that they’re out there and they’re coming out to play in different places,” he says.

Considering that Paxton is still in his 20s, his reference to “young people” is a little perplexing.

However, there is something of the classic old timer air about him. He feeds off the deepest blues roots and, despite being born in the Watts district of Los Angeles, the young multi-instrumentalist has a strong inherent link to the cradle of the blues, as his grandparents originated from Louisiana and relocated to California in the 1950s.

Although Los Angeles has never been considered a major hotbed of blues activity like New Orleans or Chicago, Paxton’s close environment helped to sow the seeds of his evolving musical sensibilities.

He says his love of the blues developed naturally.

“I was always connected to my roots,” he notes. “My roots were around me. There were four generations of my family living on the same street, and we were very close. When I would hear sounds that connected with the faces and spirit of my people, I would feel an instant connection. I didn’t know what it was about the music, but I just knew it was a reflection of myself and where and what I come from.”

In fact, saying from whence Paxton hails is easier said than done. Jacob’s Ladder patrons in December 2014 could not have failed to note that some of the time, the bluesman donned a large kippa. As he looks like an African American and clearly isn’t an Ethiopian oleh, that required a little explaining.

Over the centuries, the Deep South has been populated by immigrants from many parts of the world, including French Creoles, Germans, Irish, Italians and West Indians, and the first Jews, predominantly of Spanish and Portuguese origin, began to arrive in New Orleans in the early 18th century. It appears that Paxton hails from those early Deep South settlers.

“Like many people of Creole origin I have Spanish blood, and it just so happens that that Spanish blood is Sephardic,” he explains, adding that his Jewishness enhances his artistic endeavor.

“It’s a Jew’s duty to be a selfimproving person,” he declares.” I try to apply this every day in my personal life, as well as in my music.”

While Paxton is adept at playing a number of instruments and received a formal musical education, he says there is no substitute for honest-to-goodness intent and emotional investment.

“In my culture specifically, there’s not a lot of trained people,” he states.

“I am part Creole. I know Creole did have some training but not always.

And the black side of my family comes from the cotton fields. There’s no training there, but there’s tons of good music.”

Paxton has kept busy since his last trip here. He went on a highly successful tour of Australia, ran a blues festival in Oregon and played at the hallowed Carnegie Hall in his adopted town of New York.

“I didn’t have time to take a fishing trip this year,” he says. “That sucks. But I managed to grow a 45-pound watermelon. I’m real happy about that.”

Evidently, globe trotting success notwithstanding, Paxton is staying close to the ground.

Like any artist worth his salt, Paxton’s constantly burgeoning musicianship absorbs the colors, textures and rhythms he picks up on his travels.

That includes Arabic music he heard youngsters playing here. But Paxton suggests it is difficult to quantify how much of that impacts on what he does today.

“They say that the roots of a tree cast no shadow. It hasn’t crept in in a way I could notice, but everything creeps in some sort of way,” he says.

As we parted telephonic company, the genial bluesman signed off with “Layla tov. See you at the Kotel.”

For tickets:

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