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Big Jon Atkinson:  Speaking an Old Language to a New Generation



    In 1988 Jon Atkinson was born into the digital cyber age. He grew up in a world full of children playing video games while adults were watching all manners of YouTube videos on their computers. The young man had no use for any of those things and pursued a singular passion, making blues music.


    He was moved by a language that is rarely spoken in this day and age. He was inspired by a sound seldom heard. He worked to create this music using the great masters of the past as the mentors who would guide him to great heights in the blues world in a very short time.


    It was in March of 2013 when I first heard Jon play. I was in Long Beach, California, and the show that I was attending was billed as Nathan James and the Rhythm Scratchers featuring James Harman. Jon sat in with the band on three numbers. I was simply stunned by what I heard. He blew harp on one tune, he sang on another and played guitar on yet another. Even though I had no idea what Jon Atkinson even looked like, the very second I heard him I knew exactly who it was.


    I had heard musicians talk about this guy from Tennessee who recently moved to Southern California. “Dave you have to hear this guy. He is the real deal. You aren’t going to believe it.” This was coming from some world renowned blues veterans who don’t engage in hyperbole or pass out compliments wholesale.


    Al Blake a founding member of The Hollywood Fats Band, and an accomplished singer, harmonica player guitarist, songwriter, producer and band leader in his own right, puts it this way, “Not since I first met Hollywood Fats in the early 70’s have I have heard someone who seems to be born with the DNA that it takes to be a truly great blues musician. Jon is not only an exceptional singer and guitarist; he is also a great harmonica player who plays bass and drums quite well. He has a total understanding of the entire ensemble approach to making blues music. In other words he has the ability to not only be a versatile side man, but an effective band leader as well.” 


    For almost forty years, Kim Wilson has been a principal torch bearer for the blues. He puts it this way, “Jon is one of the only guys doing it the right way. He knows the music. He knows the gist of it. He understands the soul of the music.”  


    Long time blues music impresario and founder of Bluebeat Music Charlie Lange said of Jon, “Jon is an intuitive player who knows the right thing for every song. His understanding of traditional blues is uncanny for a musician his age.”


    In May of 2014 Atkinson released his debut album entitled, Boogie With You Baby on Bluebeat Music. Lange describes the release as, “…an amazing collection of talent and tunes.” Finally the rest of the world was able to hear what only his live audiences were lucky enough to experience, a trip back to that elusive place that remains off the beaten path, real blues... played the right way. In reviewing Boogie With You Baby last April prior to its official release, I gave the CD my highest recommendation.


    In an interview I conducted with Jon in the summer of 2013, I asked the young musician what is it about this music that had made him travel down this road and dedicate his life to the blues.


    He said, “It is just such incredible music. You fall in love with this music because of the emotion and the undeniable passion. You fall in love with the musicology of it. I mean if someone gets exposed to Muddy Waters’ music for instance, and does not fall in love with it, if they are not moved by what they hear, I think there must be something wrong with them. The cool part lies in the fact that if you are true blues, I don’t mean a blues-rocker, but a real blues musician, you are like part of a family. The big reward is the people you meet. The people whose paths we cross out there seem to be of a higher caliber. It takes a very special kind of person to understand this music. If they can hear the things we hear Dave, then there is an automatic bond and mutual respect.”  


    In my work I come in contact with blues musicians virtually every day of my life. The masters of the form always refer to this music as a language. Granted, it is an elusive language, but when it’s communicated properly it creates a lasting soulful connection between the artist and the audience. Big Jon Atkinson speaks the language fluently and with such a well articulated deep emotion that when you hear this young man play and sing the blues it is an experience you will never forget.


Maybe Kim Wilson put it best when he told me recently, and in no uncertain terms, “Big Jon is truly the future of the blues.”