Jason Ricci Needs Help

My, what a good time for an album review

Writing about Jason Ricci has been on my agenda more or less since I started blogging on the Harp Surgery. It’s odd, really, that he doesn’t get much airtime here, considering he’s one of the most phenomenal players alive AND his unsolicited praise adorns our sidebar. In fact, the first gig review Wilf ever did for this website was Jason Ricci but that was years ago. It’s high-time we checked in on him again.

So today I’m finally going to review Jason’s album, Done with the Devil. What finally got me off the couch (figuratively anyway) was the news that he’s had a bad run of luck recently. We saw reports in June, and a great deal of speculation, that there had been some reshuffles in, or departures from, his (very very good) band, New Blood – and that all engagements were on hold ‘til August. On top of that his website is down, he’s in hospital with a punctured lung and no health insurance, and a series of financial calamities seem to have come calling at just the wrong time.

And because Jason Ricci is to 21st century harmonica what sliced bread was to sandwiches, I’ll make a suggestion of what you can do to help.

It’s pronounced Jay-son Rih-chee
First, let’s introduce the man, just in case you haven’t had the absolutely terrifying experience of Jason Ricci’s sonic samurai style. He combines the old-school Chicago sound of your Little Walters with rapid-fire Pat Ramsey licks, then shoots them to pieces with rapid-fire machine gun overblows and then drags ‘em to Jazztown. If that sounds like a confused description, it’s because listening to Jason Ricci can provoke very confused emotions.

Simply put, give him a harmonica and Ricci is a dangerous man. Check this out:

When he saw him in 2007, our own Wilf wrote:

He has planted his flag on the ramparts of Fort Radical. His appearance and his persona is that of an edgy Punk. His energy is arresting. His playing is simply astonishing. If I had to credit specific harmonica players and bands for redefining the blues’ boundaries, Blues Traveler, Alabama 3, Little Axe, Lee Sankey, Lee Oskar and Sugar Blue readily come to mind. Jason Ricci vaults them all.

That about sums it up.

Done with the Devil
Done with the DevilMany moons later, after reading much effusive praise for Ricci and watching many of his killer videos, I finally got ‘round to purchasing his latest album, Done with the Devil.

What can I say? I’ve heard a lot of hardcore blues fans dismiss Ricci by saying “It ain’t blues” or that it’s “just notes”. Certainly, not all of it is blues, and there are a lot of notes. There are times when his fast runs sound a bit like Eddie van Halen, but (perhaps unlike van Halen) Ricci still knows where to leave space. Just because his harp is fast-talking doesn’t mean it’s verbose.

The title track, ‘Done with the Devil’ is a hectic rock-edged number that offers a little insight into Ricci’s own demons and his emergence from an apparently troubled past: “done with the devil, but the devil ain’t done with you,” goes the chorus. Predictably it features some high octane solos that will burn your eyebrows off if you stand too close to the speakers, so don’t.

This is an eclectic album, but there are a few tracks to satisfy the blues lovers. ‘Keep the Wolf From My Door’ and ‘How It Came To Be’ offer two great expos on electric and acoustic approaches to roots music, demonstrating how comfortable Jason Ricci is in the blues tradition while reworking it artfully.

Besides blues
‘Sweet Loving’ is a surprisingly catchy tune, considering it’s an upbeat, syrupy love song that should stick out on this album like a teenage Paul Butterfield in the south side of Chicago. I think its appeal may lie in being the first harmonica ballad to homosexual love (Ricci has been openly gay for a while now) that simultaneously shreds 3rd-position harp playing a new a****** on the lower octave.

You’ll find more emotional depth in the song “Broken Toy”, a tortured rumination on sexual identity – “not a girl nor a boy/ I feel just like a broken toy”. Our man takes a turn on the chromatic, alternating with a scorching diatonic solo that will leave any remaining harp-blowing homophobes with something to think about.

Here are some quick critical comments

1. Ricci’s vocals are serviceable, but they pale in comparison to his harp skills.

2. Not everyone’s going to swallow the punk-edged ‘I Turned Into a Martian’.

3. Even less so the just plain crazy ‘Afro Blue’. I’m guessing it’s just too avant-garde for your average blues, brews and BBQs harp player. It does, however, show why Jason Ricci is an easy contender for being the most important harmonica player of his generation.

3. The album ends on a very bizarre note: the final track ‘Enlightenment’ is a carnival-themed piece that reminds me the1920s German expressionist film Das Kabinett Des Doktor Caligari.

Help a brother out
But listen, the album’s cooking. If nothing else, every harmonica player should own it just so they know how violently a man can drag Hohner’s tiny toy into the 21st century. Overblows, overdraws, bends to the yayas: there is no territory beyond Ricci’s reach. If you’ve ever, ever considered supporting a master of our art, make it Jason Ricci. The timing couldn’t be better. Jason himself has said:

When asked, “How did a white boy from Maine get the blues?” I often answer, “If you don’t have the blues when you start playing them, you will after ten years of trying to make a living at it.”

So let me put this in even clearer terms. If you want to help Jason and yourself, buy his new album. Now.

Buy Jason Ricci & New Blood, Done with the Devil.

21 thoughts on “Jason Ricci Needs Help

  • July 15, 2010 at 9:53 am
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    Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I really can’t take seriously anyone who dismisses an artist based on the fact that “it’s not [whatever genre it should be]”.

    And I wouldn’t listen to Jason if he was just another blues player, because however great a bluesman is, I don’t see the point in listening to a whole album where you know everything that’s going to happen before it does. I’m glad there are artists like him and his band who are not afraid to explore musical landscapes way beyond what they are supposed or expected to play.

  • July 16, 2010 at 5:54 pm
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    Exactly! In fairness, the community of players I hang out with here in London are wonderfully open to a range of styles and approaches. A few weeks ago we had a workshop with the wonderful Joe Powers, tango harmonica master.

  • July 17, 2010 at 2:13 pm
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    Blimey! Was my Jason Ricci gig review really that long ago? I’m glad you’ve brought us up to date Elwood. Jason will always be regarded as an esteemed friend by the HS team, of that there can be no doubt. We wish him well and I urge anyone who cares for Jason’s welfare – as an artist and a fellow human being – to show they care by purchasing his Music. This method of support is probably ‘least risk’ in terms of usuary or fraud by unreliable third parties.

    Reflecting on the time lapse since we first featured Jason, HS has become part blog, part website and this serves our purpose well. With limited human resources only so much can be done. So the pace of our output is ‘gentle’. Compared to the furies of the Twitter culture we remain a cottage industry; but a descent one. We’re a site of substance! Now in the words of Simon & Garfunkel..

    Slow down, you move too fast, you’ve got to make the morning last
    Just kickin’ down the cobble-stones, lookin’ for fun and feelin’ groovy

    Talking of which, wasn’t that Charlie McCoy blowing bass harp on The Boxer? And as for our recent conversation about the relationship between music and politics.. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ST9YsYgJME&feature=related

  • July 25, 2010 at 2:56 am
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    Jason Ricci is a terrific player. And his album is great too. Help Jason.

  • October 26, 2010 at 8:22 pm
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    I saw Jason Ricci at the concert in The Crossroads cafe in Antwerp, where the video was shot. It was an absolutely fantastic gig, with a perfect band. I hope he will get better soon.

  • November 17, 2010 at 9:17 pm
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    +1 Wim
    I saw Jason in Charleroi, I’m still quite shaken… It was 2 years ago…;-))
    I hope to see him again soon

  • November 28, 2010 at 11:24 pm
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    We just saw Jason playing his harmonica in New Orleans at Jackson Square. He said he came to NO about 10 days ago and is living on the street after the girl he was with stole $2,000 while he was buying a pack of cigarettes. He is an absolutely awesomely talented harmonica player! Someone go rescue him!

  • August 3, 2011 at 12:52 am
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    Jason Ricci has total control of that harp, what a phenominal and intense artist! I was just recently introduced to Jasons’ music by Greg Heumann, a custom harp mic creator whose mics Jason Ricci uses. There is not one harp player/performer that I know of that could stand comfortably on stage next to Jason and not feel the heat and intensity of his presence, with the fire bellowing in his lungs, ready to explode through his harp. Jason is a great artist and he has taken his music far past of where he found it. Jason Ricci is the Blues. Keep breathing that fire into your harp Jason, you’re “unpassable”.

  • August 25, 2011 at 9:57 pm
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    Thanks for your contribution Dexter. Jason certainly puts a whole new angle on things. Others might argue he’s not your archetype blueser. However when he does flick that blues switch, he roars.

  • October 8, 2011 at 4:56 pm
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    I hope people are going to be there for this guy (if its true that he has trouble)he has been a huge influence on the instrument and completely generous w/his knowledge-theres a bunch of players tht are a hell of a lot better player because of this guy-how can I be of help to Jason

  • April 9, 2012 at 7:34 pm
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    Jason Ricci is an artist that uses the harmonica is a way that it is at once obtrusive and wonderful. Like watching a gymnast. The Human Being that is Jason Ricci is very complex and sensitive. In songs like I Hurt Myself he exposes himself. In life he is very much the same way.

  • April 18, 2012 at 7:47 pm
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    Is he touring now? I can’t seem to find much about him. I would really like to see him again. I jsut found info on one upcoming show in Phoenix but nothing else.

  • May 29, 2012 at 3:40 pm
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    Hi Jennifer. Jason’s been taking time out in LA. I think he’s on the move again, but try emailing him, Facebooking or checking the net for his gigs. He’s playing less tese days, but by no means retired! Doc

  • June 24, 2012 at 2:42 pm
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    So many of us have benefitted from this man’s generosity with his talent, send him a donation, it doesn’t have to be a lot if we all do it, mine went off yesterday after seeing yet another free lesson , it wasn’t hard to guess that he was having hard time just by the look of him,
    Buddy can you spare a dime?

  • September 6, 2012 at 8:25 pm
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    I saw Jason with his band New Blood at the Beachside Tavern in New Smyrna Beach, Fl a couple of years ago…I still rate it as the best live performance by a harmonica player that I’ve ever attended…and I’ve seen many of the best. I was drawn to his music and really moved by his intensity. I totally believed him as he sang about what he’s been through…and then cried and laughed and screamed with his harp. This guy leaves everything on stage…not just a concert but an outpouring of emotion like I had never seen. I rate all the other shows I see by comparing it to that one. Farley Palmer

  • October 30, 2012 at 12:59 pm
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    A-men to that Fasrley. Thanks for dropping by the Surgery.

  • January 29, 2013 at 3:33 pm
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    I see he is selling some stuff on E-Bay. That really sucks! At least it looks like the auctions will bring a reasonable amount. I am definately buying his new disc. I saw him at the Bayfront amphitheater here in Erie some years ago and I actually bought Feel Good Funk at that show directly from Jason after the show. He was manning the CD booth! I didn’t have the $10, I only had $8 and he sold it to me anyways. That was cool! This guy should not have money problems! He’s an amazing talent and an inspiration! Good luck Jason!

  • June 28, 2014 at 7:13 am
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    I hear Jason is currently doing skype lessons, for a very reasonable price. Look him up and give it a go, I would be an excellent opportunity to learn directly from one of the masters.

  • July 30, 2015 at 5:00 pm
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    I was fortunate to be in Memphis for a family event last month at the same time Adam Gussow was doing a Mississippi Hill Country Harmonica workshop just down the road in Holly Springs. And even more fortunate to make the acquaintance of Jason, who was one of the instructors. Since then we’ve done a few Skype lessons and my harping is already noticeably improved. He’s not one of those teachers who just says ” what song do you want to learn?” Jason is maniacal about scales & theory (and life!) but very compassionate about reaching the student. He’s a really really smart articulate cat who has seen some hard times and developed a great deal of wisdom from those experiences – which are also reflected in his playing. Can’t believe my good fortune to be his student.

  • September 27, 2015 at 9:40 pm
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    And of course, Jason won a Grammy for his performance on Johnny Winter’s last CD, and is now on tour with his new band, The Bad Kind. Go see him when he comes to your neighborhood!

  • November 12, 2015 at 4:33 pm
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    Thanks for the update Brett. Grab it while you can. Jason’s input is gold dust.

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