Musician Little Joe McLerran sings the blues
The 25-year-old blues musician has a penchant for the classics, but he has created a sound that is current — and all his own.
Little Joe McLerran is not so little anymore. The 25-year-old musician has scored a name for himself on the blues circuit, most recently winning the duo/solo category of the International Blues Challenge in Memphis last February.
Since then, McLerran has traveled to more than a dozen states playing the Piedmont Blues style of the 1920s and 1930s. Recently, the Little Joe McLerran Quartet was one of 10 ensembles selected by the Jazz at Lincoln Center and the U.S. State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs for The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad program. From March through December 2010, they’ll travel across the globe to share their music genre with countries rarely visited by American musicians.
McLerran’s latest CD, “Believe I’ll Make a Change,” was released in October.
Although he spent his childhood in Boulder, moving to Tulsa in 1998, we’re proudly claiming McLerran as one of our own.
How did you first become interested in blues music? Way back when I was in the fourth grade, a schoolteacher of mine was a closet blues player and my dad had played around town. This teacher got me turned onto it, and I have been playing that stuff since.
What makes your sound different from other blues players in the area? I do a very traditional style of blues. It’s called Piedmont Blues, and I just bring it up to today. It’s blues from the East Coast and it’s got a very heavy ragtime influence. It’s really a guitar style. It’s a fingerpicking, and you are trying to sound like a piano with bass notes going and high notes going.
You write your own music. How do you decide what to write about? It depends how I’m feeling that day. I write songs about current topics. I write about experiences from my own life and how I’m feeling, just like most blues artists do.
Is there an artist from whom you draw your inspiration? One of my very absolute favorites is Big Bill Brunesy, and I play the guitar kind of along the lines of him. He wrote a lot of blues songs from the late ’20s through the ’50s. His stuff had a humorous side to it, too, and I try to incorporate that into the stuff that I write. I use double-entendre type of stuff. You’ll be saying something, but it has an underlying meaning. It’s usually very sexual.
What’s life like working as a musician? I’ve been doing it here for a while now to make a living. I’ve been on the blues circuit … where there are people who really appreciate the music. I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but you get to missing home.
How did you feel when you won the International Blues Challenge in Memphis last February? It felt like I owned a million dollars. It’s a pretty big deal and has opened up a lot of doors for me meeting all the right people.
You’ve played all over the globe. What’s the most unique venue? In Minnesota we played this quilt shop outside of Minneapolis. There are all sorts of great little places out there. When I’m playing close to home, I bring a band with me. When I’m out on the road, I just have my father play bass with me.
What’s in your CD player right now? Huey “Piano” Smith and the Clowns. It’s New Orleans R&B from the ’60s. I do like all kinds of stuff. I play this ancient music, but I play more contemporary music, too.