You don’t have to live the blues to sing them, but it can certainly help. Perhaps nobody has proved that more than the Homemade Jamz Blues Band.
Tupelo’s family blues group hasn’t had to live the trials and travails of life like some blues legends. But Ryan, Kyle and Taya are quick to say they can feel the blues through the music. And their audiences feel it, too, whether young or old, black or white.
The blues trio rocked onto the international blues stage in 2007 when they became the youngest band, at ages 15, 13 and 9, to win second place in Memphis’s International Blues Challenge.
But now, their fourth and newest album coming out in May, “Mississippi Hill Country,” is different. The music has become truly personal, and the Homemade Jamz Blues Band has come into its own.
“If we didn’t have the blues then, we definitely have them now,” said Ryan, the oldest son of Tricia and Renaud Perry, and now the primary writer for the family band.
The band members had relied on their father for the music and lyrics of their first three albums. But last year, their parents split and the future of the band fell on the shoulders of Ryan, Kyle and Taya.
It was their first “taste of life,” Ryan said. And there were times when they weren’t sure they wanted to go through with writing and recording another album.
Ryan becomes reflective when he talks about the subject of his parents’ split. “It’s a very emotional thing, I’m not going to lie,” he said. “It was sometimes hard to do, but I knew it had to be done.”
They’ve all grown a lot since they first started playing together, when Taya was just 7 years old. They’ve won blues challenges, not just the Memphis challenge, but also Indianola’s MS Delta Blues Society challenge in 2006. They’ve been featured on CBS’s “Sunday Morning,” NPR, NBC, BET and more.
Music is their gift, but it’s also what keeps them together, sister Taya, now 14, said. It’s their family bond. And without it, Ryan, now 21 years old, nor Kyle, 18, nor Taya say they know what they would do.
“Just about all the songs (from the “Mississippi Hill Country” album) are directly related to a personal experience,” Ryan said. And two of the songs are related to their thoughts and emotions from their parents’ split.
It’s been 3 ½ years since they released their last album, “The Game,” and Ryan says he’s noticed how the band has improved musically, but he’s also noticed an increase in the amount of emotion put into performances since last year.
Ryan, Kyle and Taya grew up playing and listening to the blues. Ryan picked up an old Stratocaster guitar his father bought and started imitating musicians like B.B. King, Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughn. The blues stuck.
Soon afterwards, Kyle wanted to join his brother, who was already playing live. And after a brief protest from Ryan and Kyle claiming no girls were allowed on the drum set, Taya eventually joined them. Music came quickly and naturally for all of them. And with the support of their parents, they formed HJBB, with Ryan on lead guitar and vocals, Kyle on the bass and Taya on the drums.
Mom Tricia Perry now devotes herself full time to the band. She’s the manager, agent, transporter and assistant.
“It’s been both exciting and overwhelming,” she said. The money the band makes serves as the family’s budget, and it can sometimes get a little scary with the uncertainty, she said. But she recognizes the opportunity her kids have. They’ve already come so far. It’s her job to protect them and take them as far as she can. The rest is up to them, she said.
On one rainy day in the spring, they’re gearing up for a show in Meridian. While Mom checks email and takes phone calls for the show, the kids run through a few of their new songs. They’re in what looks like the dining room, except it’s filled with amps, cords and their instruments. The guitar and bass are a trademark of the group. They’re made from red Ford mufflers (an original creation of Renaud), complete with a seat belt for a strap and pipes for looks. Their new songs have a smooth groove, and the beat is still strong.
They don’t get nervous playing shows and festivals anymore, they said. Even with gigs in such famous joints as B.B. King’s Blues Club and Grill in New York or in London for the U.S. Olympic team of 2012. They’re even in the semi-finals for Cozi TV’s competition, “Next Great Family Band.”
The blues are just a natural fit for them, they said. And even after the difficulties they faced in the past year, no one is thinking of leaving the music. Homemade Jamz has got the blues to stay.
Story by Natalie Richardson // Photos by Adam Robison