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Jan 1, 2014 05:49 AM WV Sound

Keep a beat in the Mountain State.

True Blues

Jan 1, 2014 - 05:49 AM
True Blues

Photos Courtesy of Jack Rice

The blues is a fluid form. Created from the convergence of African spirituals, work songs, and American folk tunes, blues music continues to build on its history of duality. With rules easily trumped by mood, it’s been a way to praise God and a way to appease the devil, a companion in mourning and a call to rejoice—but it’s always built on the power of personal experience. As diverse as the influences that bred it, blues music is entirely American. That’s what Jack Rice, president of the West Virginia Blues Society, loves about it. “It’s the root of all our music—rock, gospel, hip-hop. It all originated from the blues,” he says. “There’s nothing more Americana than blues music.”

Jack, a Sistersville native, knows a thing or two about music. He spent the ’70s touring the country, playing drums for the likes of Emmylou Harris and Jackson Browne. He lived in the Deep South for a spell, attending Louisiana State University, where he was lit up with the blues. Eventually Jack found himself back in his home state. He settled into a career in banking and insurance, but after retiring, he was ready to return to music full-time. “As a musician I’ve been to a lot of functions sponsored by other blues societies, and I saw a need for that in our state,” he says. Equipped with a mission to promote the blues and the musicians who play it, he founded the West Virginia Blues Society (WVBS) in 2007 and got to work.

WVBS brings big names to West Virginia venues, like Nick Moss and the Flip Tops, Chicago, the Nighthawks, Zac Harmon, Ana Popovic, and Smokin’ Joe Kubeck. One way is by hosting Blues Night Out each month, an event that travels around the state to bring blues musicians to venues and communities that don’t usually see blues acts. Charlie West Blues Fest, held the third weekend in May each year in Charleston, pulls in big names in blues music as well as tens of thousands of visitors. It’s been nominated twice as Best Blues Festival by The Blues Foundation’s Keeping Blues Alive Awards. All proceeds from the event are donated to the Wounded Warrior Program.

WVBS also works to promote music on a local level. The group travels to schools around the state to teach kids about the blues, even providing free instruments to underprivileged kids. WVBS also sponsors a trip to the International Blues Competition each January for winners of the Appalachian Blues Competition. “It’s a good way for local musicians to network with big names in the industry,” Jack says.

It’s a lot of work, juggling grants and sponsorships, event planning, advertising, and administrative duties, but Jack says it’s in his blood. “The music, the culture—it keeps me going,” he says. But his motivation is also bigger than his own interest. In his effort to promote blues music, he aims to engage the community. That’s how some of the most rewarding interactions occur. “I love sharing blues music with new fans. Many of them realize they have loved the blues for years without realizing it was the blues.”

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