Blues, Not Blues
David Jacobs-Strain does his own thing
by Vanessa Salvia
When Boz Scaggs calls, plans have to change. That ol’ blues and soul master Scaggs asked David Jacobs Strain — with only three weeks’ notice — to join his summer tour for the third time, and while that means Jacobs-Strain will open for Scaggs’ June 15 date at the Cuthbert Amphitheatre, it also means he will miss playing the Oregon Country Fair for the first time in 13 years: He and Scaggs will be performing in Georgia that weekend.
Jacobs-Strain is 26 years old. Do the math, and you find that he dedicated himself to professional music at a very young age. It also means that his lyricism and musicianship have grown with each album — the brand new Terraplane Angel is his fourth. Jacobs-Strain continues to experiment, bringing in influences beyond roots blues, and he finds that while some critics who don’t understand the music are still focused on his age and image, he pays less and less attention to it. “I never wanted to be a novelty act,” he says. “I wanted to play. When you’re a little kid, they like it whether or not you’re any good. I knew I would have to go from that to being my own artist.”
Ten of the 12 songs on Terraplane are originals. “I feel like the songs on this record are more true to me,” he says. “They’re more me, and less me telling other people’s stories.” He covers a Steven Stills song, “Treetop Flyer,” which he says he’s been “noodling around with” since he was a teenager. “I finally felt like it fell into its own spot where it wasn’t just me playing Steven Stills riffs.” He covers “The River Song” by Eugenean Walker T. Ryan, which a 10-year-old Jacobs-Strain heard Ryan perform at the WOW Hall. “It was finally feeling like I could really act that character and finally sing that part,” he says, “and also getting Walker’s blessing to put it on the record.”
Rather than a smoky-hot electric blues, Jacobs-Strain smolders with his acoustic slide guitar and deep voice, which speaks of hidden passions. His rhythms are slow and smooth, pulsing up to the present from roots far back in the past. He’s brave and confident enough to play blues when the song demands it but bring in his own sounds too.
Is David Jacobs-Strain a bluesman? “I don’t know how to answer that,” he says, “because I do play a lot of blues in my live show, but I certainly don’t play it the way most other people play it. I’ve never made a record that’s like, ‘This is everything I do on one record.’” Each record he makes shows what he wants to try at that moment. Maybe it’s a song in the quieter singer-songwriter vein, a song with Latin flair, Americana arrangements or indie-rock guitar riffs. “I like it that way even though it confuses some people in the industry,” he says. “I’m not trying to pretend that these are blues records. That seems pretty far from the truth. I don’t even know if these are the songs I wanted to write, but these are the songs I did write. That’s just what came out of my head.”
David Jacobs-Strain 8:30 pm Friday, May 21, Axe & Fiddle, Cottage Grove, $21+ • $10; 9:30 pm Saturday, May 22, Sam Bond’s Garage, 21+ • $10