Blues from the roots, in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem by way of LA

Despite hailing from the Watts district of Los Angeles, Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton was blessed with a strong familial link to the cradle of the blues.

David Peretz will bring his ‘haiku blues.’ (photo credit: WENDY BLUMFIELD)
David Peretz will bring his ‘haiku blues.’
(photo credit: WENDY BLUMFIELD)
Los Angeles may not be the first town that springs to mind when one thinks of blues musicians, then again neither would Tel Aviv or Jerusalem. All three cities will be “implicated” when Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton takes the stage at The Zone in Tel Aviv (December 4, 8:30 p.m.) and The Yellow Submarine in Jerusalem (December 7, 9:30 p.m.) The 26-year-old Paxton is primarily here as a guest of the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem Blues Festival, whose first part takes place at the western end of Route 1 from December 2 to 5, at venues such as the Enav Center, Mike’s Place and Café Bialik, followed by seven days of shows in the capital from December 6 to 12.
In addition to the aforementioned charismatic multi-instrumentalist from LA who, no doubt, will be fondly remembered by any lover of the blues who attended last year’s winter version of the Jacob’s Ladder Festival, the foreign side of the blues festival roster includes 70-something Louisiana- born guitarist-harmonica player-vocalist Lil’ Jimmy Reed and the Piedmont Bluz Acoustic Duo.
Despite his youth Paxton appears to have an unshakable link with the early years of the blues, when the likes of Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith and Blind Lemon Jefferson were roaming the byways and highways – generally the former – of the Deep South, with a guitar strung across their back, or a harmonica stuck in their coat pocket.
Despite hailing from the Watts district of Los Angeles, Paxton was blessed with a strong familial 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 exactly considered a hotbed of blues activity like, for example, New Orleans or Chicago, Paxton’s close environment helped to sow the seeds of his evolving musical craft.
He says his love of the blues developed naturally and close to home.
“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 heard 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.”
That supportive domestic backdrop was reinforced by the numbers Paxton caught on a local blues radio station right from infancy. “The blues are some of the first sounds I ever heard,” he says.
“I was raised and born listening to the blues.” The airwaves output was brought to life by the old Cajun and country blues songs he heard straight from his grandmother’s mouth.
Paxton’s eyesight began to deteriorate when he was in his teens, and he was severely vision-impaired by the age of 16. His hands-on interest in music started with the fiddle, when he was 12.
“There was a music school that gave lessons on the weekends where I took violin lessons,” he recalls.
In the interim he has added guitar, piano, harmonica, Cajun accordion and ukulele to his instrumental arsenal, and is one of the few blues banjo players around. He is also a more than decent vocalist and his oeuvre takes in a wide swath of genres and styles, from ragtime jazz to country blues and Cajun music.
In 2007, Paxton moved to upstate New York to attend college and soon made his mark on the local music scene, playing gigs in and around the Brooklyn area.
Despite not releasing his debut recording until last year, a fun disc suitably titled “Music for Your Entertainment,” Paxton made the cover of Living Blues magazine and the Village Voice, and spends much of his time on the road, performing throughout the United States and Canada, with the odd overseas foray.
Paxton clearly loves what he does, as was abundantly clear at last year’s Jacob’s Ladder Festival. In addition to playing two gigs, he took every available opportunity to take part in impromptu jam sessions which are a timeworn and beloved feature of the Lake Kinneret bash.
“I always enjoy jam sessions, and the one at Jacob’s Ladder was great fun,” he says. “I’m always happy when I’m making music.”
The man is clearly irrepressible, and during his waking hours it is hard to catch him without some instrument in his powerful hands, or his vocal chords putting out some mournful ditty, but generally with a smile in his heart and on his face.
“The blues is a reflection, oftentimes a painful reflection [of who we are],” muses Paxton. For him it’s all down to the artist’s emotion, and how he or she expresses it. “Once a powerful feeling comes out in a song, that’s the blues.”
Emotions, of course, know no temporal or other bounds, but even so, it is surprising to hear someone of such relatively tender years performing such timeworn material in such an authentic and convincing way. Paxton dismisses the time lapse as irrelevant.
“I never thought of this music as being old. To me it was just as alive as anything. How could something that’s moved me so strongly be affected by time?” he notes, making a salient point that there are far older forms of music around that are performed regularly, and to large, adoring audiences.
“I wonder why I haven’t heard this question posed to people who like Beethoven?” The man does have a point.
While many consider the blues to be an African- American art form, in fact, when the blues came into being, New Orleans was a cultural melting pot of numerous ethnic communities, all of which informed the music to a greater or lesser degree. Over the last three or four centuries the southern city has been home to numerous ethnic communities, including French Creoles, Germans, Irish, Italians and West Indians, while the first Jews started trickling over in the early 18th century. They were predominantly of Spanish and Portuguese origin.
Paxton, who gives the appearance of being an African-American, traces his roots back to 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. Paxton feels that his Jewishness informs who he is as an artist too.
“It’s a Jew’s duty to be a self-improving person,” he declares. “I try to apply this every day, in my personal life as well as in my music.”
His ethnic baggage also makes his return here special. “It’s great to come to a place with so much history, especially when it’s history that you feel connected to,” says Paxton.
And blues fans here can expect more of the same on this trip, although Paxton says he will take his repertoire lead from the patrons.
“I play what the people want,” he says. “I don’t make up my mind until I know what the people want.”
All you have to do, it seems, is ask.
For tickets and more information about the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem Blues Festival: 054-219-5133, 054-446-7240,