Never underestimate the power of a small gesture. Roots/Americana music master Pokey LaFarge has a new self-titled CD on Third Man, a cameo in The Lone Ranger and music in Pawn Shop Chronicles. He’ll also be on Letterman on July 16, the night before he plays World Café Live. And none of this might have happened if old Juice, who ran Jake’s Pizza in Normal, Ill., hadn’t let his love of the blues run rampant.
“It was like a blues museum!” recalls LaFarge of Jake’s. Pictures of all the early blues greats from Ma Rainey onward lined the walls, with Leadbelly and Big Bill Broonzy tunes making a big impression on him as a young man.
“I always liked the higher-pitched blues singers like Sleepy John Estes.” LaFarge says it’s only recently he’s been opening up his own lower register. “The rawness and soul hit me. It was way different from anything a 13-year-old kid was exposed to. [Now] I hear that about my stuff, people say it’s refreshing.”
Blues, country, western swing and roots rock inform his sound. Get him started on the topic of singers like Larry Sparks and band leaders like Bob Wills and you will definitely run out the clock. “This was my education. I was an amateur historian.” Doing the intense listening and digging, “You get a better idea of what quality is to you. It becomes important to preserve the quality stuff, in hopes of making this country a better place.”
You’ll hear early jazz and pop throughout LaFarge’s compositions, but don’t flatter him by saying they sound just like the early stuff, he’s not having it. “You can hear I’m contemporary. But if you listen to all the old stuff, it’s sure to color your work.”
Wed., July 17, 8 p.m., $15, with Ataloft, World Café Live, 3125 Walnut St., 215-222-1400, worldcafelive.com.
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