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|Never Fit in: Jason Ricci & New Blood, October 4 at Blueport Junction|
|Music - Feature Stories|
|Written by Jeff Ignatius|
|Tuesday, 29 September 2009 08:19|
Twenty-three minutes into our interview last week, Jason Ricci was talking about The Misfits' "I Turned Into a Martian," which his blues-fueled band Jason Ricci & New Blood covers on its April release Done with the Devil.
"It's a song about demonic possession, which is a subject I relate to and have some experience with directly," said Ricci, who will be performing on Sunday at Blueport Junction.
So far, we've touched on Ricci's drug addiction (crack, alcohol, barbiturates, and more), his recovery (he's 11 years sober), and his year in jail for a drug-related strong-arm robbery. Prior to his incarceration in 1998, he said, because of his drug problems "I could no longer perform. ... Nobody wanted to hire me. I was very grandiose at the time. I thought it was because people were afraid I was going to blow them off the stage. But the real reason was something much more mundane, like I just smelled really bad."
I took his reference to demonic possession as a metaphor. We moved on.
Eleven minutes later, I followed up.
"I mean it literally," he said. "I believe in demons. I believe in angels. And I believe in anything that people have believed in enough to impregnate it with the energy it needs to be capable of existing. I believe that the psychological and spiritual mind overlap, and we are capable of willing into existence entities, elementals, gods, demons, angels, whatever. Bigfoot. You name it. Ghosts. Whatever. I believe that perception is key, that reality is subjective, and that those two things can become one and the same."
He thinks people can physically conjure Bigfoot? "It's possible we can will Bigfoot into existence," he said. "Literally."
Ricci is known as a great harmonica player (Creative Loafing in Atlanta called him "the most exciting and revolutionary new harp player in the often stale blues-rock genre"), for his 300-shows-a-year schedule, for his ceaseless genre-bending (with not only The Misfits but Willie Dixon and Sun Ra songs on his latest record), and for being a gay white man in punk clothing on the blues circuit.
He was talking about cover songs when he said, "I've never tried to make anything fit in," but that's a pretty fair summation of his whole philosophy.
As frank as he tends to be about everything, though, he said that he'd never before talked about "entities" in an interview. "It's the first time anybody's asked me point-blank, 'Tell me about demonic possession.' I throw that out there; they [journalists] leave it alone."
To be extra clear, I asked whether he viewed the drugs as demons, and Ricci showed his sense of humor. "No. I think that [addiction] was genetic" and a byproduct romanticizing the link between drugs and music.
He said he's been clean since he went into jail, and after that he played in a regional band in Florida before moving to North Carolina. In 2000, he was considering giving up music for a job as a clinician in a detox facility when he got a call from Al Lauro of Big Al & the Heavyweights - an offer to tour nationally. "It didn't take me two minutes to decide ... as soon as I got call to go really on the road," he said.
He saw it as an opportunity to learn to be a bandleader. Ricci "really just paid attention to how he [Lauro] ran the band. ... If I can make it through this band ... I could start my own group. Then I could never be fired. I can play my own music."
He spent 15 months with Al before forming Jason Ricci & New Blood. He got his first wide distribution with 2007's Rocket Number 9 on the Eclecto Groove Records label, and Done with the Devil shows that Ricci belongs on the national stage.
It distinguishes itself as a band record - all but one of the originals was co-written by Ricci and at least one of his bandmates - and for its departures from the blues. "Holler for Craig Lawler" jazzes up funk, while the four covers reveal a stunning stylistic breadth, from space jazz to spiky roadhouse punk. It's not a particularly coherent record, but Ricci said there's too much emphasis placed on classifying music.
"We don't have any grand mission statement to change the blues or to change music," he said. "We're just playing the stuff that we hear that we dig as far as cover tunes. ... I have a feeling if you put Willie Dixon, Sun Ra, and Glenn Danzig [of The Misfits] in a room together, they'd have quite a bit to talk about. There'd be less difference between the three of them than there would be similarities."
There's a circus vibe to Sun Ra's "Enlightenment," and if that's not reminiscent enough of Tom Waits' skewed sensibilities, listen to the phrasings of the standout original "Broken Toy," in which Ricci - with a nearly desperate urgency - sings that he's " too straight for all the faggots / too queer for all the girls."
He bristled a little at the comparison to Waits. "I wrote those lyrics because I had to, and then I sang them the only way I know how," he said, adding that although he doesn't consider himself a good technical singer, "I can look people dead in the eyes and sing a lyric, and they know that my life depends upon singing that lyric."
The album's title suggests a spiritual struggle, and Ricci confirms that interpretation.
"It was during the recording and making of Done with the Devil where I was tortured nightly by demonic forces and actual paranormal - actual paranormal experiences that didn't take place in a dream, in things moving around and noises and visitations and voices and all of these things," he said. "And I'm not crazy, man; I'm not schizophrenic. These types of things took place; they were witnessed by other people. I don't care if anybody believes it or not. This is what happened. I made a decision one day to not be scared anymore."
That facilitated a switch, he said, from being a Buddhist to being an occultist. But Ricci is quick to define what he means by "demon," a term that he said Christianity has "blackened."
"The entities I communicate with are neither positive or negative," he said. "They are apathetic. They feed off of fear. ... The less I fear them, the more intrigued I am by them, the less they appear. ... They communicate messages to me that I can look up in the morning on Google and validate."
For example, Ricci said, the first demon to visit him came in the form of a snake. It eventually told him its name was Apep. Ricci looked it up. The snake is a figure from Egyptian mythology.
"I haven't seen him in a while," Ricci said, and then he laughed. "I'm laughing because it sounds so ridiculous."
His possessions, he said, were "a problem until I started researching it. And now it's under control. Perhaps too much. Now I'm working on actual evocation and invocation techniques."
And he hinted that listeners will be able to hear all about it: "Done with the Devil was just the start of it. Wait 'til the next record."
Does Ricci fret that people might think it's a joke? "Yep," he said. "Yep. I'm worried about it. But I write them [lyrics] for myself. And my intentions are to write vague enough that they don't understand them. 'Loving Eyes' is a Buddhist song, and people took that seriously."
In a darkly dramatic voice, Ricci says, "'Standing in a nine-foot circle surrounded by the four elements of the universe ... .' I'm not going to do that. ... The uninitiated will not understand the nature of the lyrics."
Jason Ricci & New Blood will perform on Sunday, October 4, at Blueport Junction (6605 West River Drive in Davenport). The show starts at 5 p.m., and tickets are $7 in advance and $9 at the door.
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