Marion County student Jesse Black finding his way in the world of blues and rock [video]

Marion County student Jesse Black finding his way in the world of blues and rock [video]

February 19th, 2016 by Barry Courter in Life Entertainment


Jesse Black, a senior at Marion County High School, recently competed in the International Blues Competition in Memphis.

Jesse Black, a senior at Marion County High...

Photo by Doug Strickland /Times Free Press.

For four days at the end of January, Jesse Black strolled up and down the streets of Memphis around Beale Street, hauling his guitar from club to club, jamming with whoever was playing, meeting new people and generally soaking up all the music he could.

Black, who turned 18 on Saturday, hung out with players from all over the world, never meeting a stranger, though some were old friends from South Carolina, Georgia and Ohio. Wherever he could find a club with an open-call sheet, he signed up to play and jumped on stage whenever he was allowed, playing into the wee hours of the morning.

Sometimes he hung out with his parents, but mostly he stuck close to friends old and new. Black didn't mind being with his parents but well, you know.

"You know how it is with teenagers and parents," he says.

A senior at Marion County High School, he was in Memphis to compete in the International Blues Challenge and, while he could have entered in the Youth Division, he was there to compete in the Solo/Duo adult division by virtue of winning the Blues Challenge put on by the Kentucky Blues Society weeks earlier.

That win propelled him to the quarterfinal round in Memphis on Jan. 27-28. His performance was held at the Twelve Bar, Jerry Lee Lewis' restaurant.

"I competed on Wednesday and Thursday night, and then afterward I'd grab my electric guitar and go looking for a jam," he says.

While he didn't win the quarterfinal, just being in Memphis was a pretty good runner-up prize.

"I was up against some stiff competition and didn't advance so, for the rest of the weekend, I'd look for a club with a sign-up sheet up and down the strip," he says. "It's a great way to meet people."

He says playing in the competition was not much different for him than any of the other nearly 450 shows he's played in 17 states over the last couple of years. He's so busy, in fact, he signed with Deava Music Management in Nashville to handle his scheduling.

"I just love playing, and also I'm a very outgoing person," he says.

Black has been playing since he was 10, taking lessons from Jerry Don Haynes, which would be a great name for a country musician, but Black laughs and says Haynes is more a progressive-metal guy.

Haynes describes Black as a sponge, soaking up anything and everything he throws at him. He believes Black is "better than 80 percent of the guitar players out there."

"He's a really good student and a really hard worker who practices all the time," Haynes says. "He started on guitar, but we've also worked on bass, drums, piano, a little mandolin, banjo and vocals."

Black plays all over the South, including at such Chattanooga places as Tremont Tavern. Blues are not the only thing he plays, though he specializes in that and rock, he says.

"It depends on the show, but I can play anything," he says. "In a three-hour show, I like to please the audience, so I play a mix."

He likes sharing music so much, he even started a monthly Open Mic Night as part of the Music on Cedar series in South Pittsburg that runs April through October. He started the event three years ago, when he was 14.

"It's the first Tuesday of every month," he explains. "It starts up at 5 with sign-ups, and starts at 6 and goes until 9. I give you a 15-minute spot. Usually it's packed."

Black always plays just one song, unless one of the musicians ask him to join them on stage.

"It's not about me. I'm doing it for them," he says.

For six to eight months of the year, Black plays in bars, restaurants or festivals around the country. He uses some of his earnings for running-around money, but the rest he's saving for college at Tennessee Technological University, where he plans to study mechanical engineering.

"I realized a while back that music isn't a guarantee, so I need a fallback," he says. "I want to pursue my music career while I'm at college and after. A job holds you down during the week, but I get weekends off, and I can play then."

One of the first things he'll do this fall at Tech is find people to make up a band, he says. He's tried to put one together around here, but it's difficult to find people his age who are as serious about music as he is.

Meanwhile, he plans to continue playing and being a musical sponge, searching for the Jesse Black sound.

"I'm absorbing, but I'm getting closer to finding my sound."

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfree or 423-757-6354.