Blues aficionados speak of the music's hard-won wisdom, its gritty honesty about just how low a man or woman can feel. Our great blues icons have been around long enough to meet with plenty of earthly pain, but in fact, many of them didn't even really hit their stride until they reached middle age (just about the time your average rock & roller starts to contemplate retirement).
To Jeremy Segel-Moss, organizer of the second annual Baby Blues Showcase, which features blues musicians younger than 30, it's not so much what's on your birth certificate as what's in your heart that matters. "I think the blues is timeless and ageless," he says. "I think that there are folks who go through the blues who are ten years old."
To be sure, most of the acts featured at the showcase have experience that belies their tender years. At 26, acoustic slide-guitarist Brian Curran already has two albums under his belt, and he plays four nights a week on the local blues circuit. His prodigious playing and work ethic have earned him plenty of friends among older bluesmen; he's played with Leroy Pierson and studied under Tom Hall, among others. "Brian's been doing this for eight or nine years now," Segel-Moss says. "He plays Delta blues in the style of Mississippi John Hurt and R.L. Burnside. He tells a lot of stories onstage. He's kind of a cross between a blues person and a folksinger."
Young singer/lead guitarist Melissa Neels surrounds herself with old local hands in her outfit, the Melissa Neels Band. "Melissa's is one of the electric bands." Segel-Moss says. "She plays in a Bonnie Raitt style, with wailing guitar." Segel-Moss's own posse, the Bottoms Up Blues Gang, "does our own unique style of Delta blues," he says, "with a heavy St. Louis flavor."
Segel-Moss sees the showcase not only as a way to promote local acts but also as a way to expose blues musicians in other cities to the St. Louis scene. "Last year we had seven bands, all from St. Louis," he says. "This year we're trying to expand our reach a little bit with some regional acts. Joe Schicke is a St. Louis native living in Memphis. He plays with a bunch of bands, but he'll be doing his Delta blues act at the showcase." Kansas City's Levee Town is another "wailing guitar, harmonica, Chicago-style electric blues" band -- "they're 'laying-it-down-all-night-long' kind of folks," Segel-Moss says approvingly. And there's the organizer's personal favorite, Macy Thomas: "He's also a St. Louis native, but he lives in New Orleans. He plays the dirtiest Delta blues there are. He sounds like an 80-year-old black man, but he's a 25-year-old white man."
So why, in this age of one billion cultural choices, do young Americans repudiate flashier options in favor of the dusty, unglamorous world of the blues?
"I would say that, for the most part, they don't," Segel-Moss says. "In general, it's really tough to find younger bands who play blues music. For blues to continue its tradition, young people have to get interested in it, and that's part of why we do the showcase."