This past week I got the opportunity to catch up with Jason Haram as he wrapped up his evening at the “Strictly Blues on the Bay” Jam at the Swordfish Grill and Tiki that Jason hosts every Thursday night. Jason’s workhorse, a 62 Fender Stratocaster sits silent, it’s sunburst finish in places completely worn away, it proudly bears the scars of his craft.
Jason started playing guitar at age 7 when on one of only two trips to visit his father, he got sent down the road to be watched over by a friend. Fortunately, that friend owned a music store, where Jason spent the days surrounded by “cool guitars, cool people and cool music.”
“It was awesome. I was just a kid, a fly on the wall. I just sat there and soaked it all in. It was kind of an escape I guess, but I loved it”. Not long after that Jason talked his fourth-grade teacher at Anna Maria Elementary into letting him and three friends play for the class “just for fun”. Miss Blumenthal agreed but when his friends backed out at the last minute, Jason found himself playing “Day Tripper”, the first song he ever learned, as a solo act. “Everyone loved it, I felt like a rock star.” Couple that with the realization that chicks love guys who play guitar, and Jason will tell you that at that point, his path was pretty well set.
Growing up on Anna Maria Island, by age 13 or 14 Jason could often be found jamming with older guys like Nick Mora at their house parties. “Everyone’s parents were hippies so we all grew up listening to and playing all kinds of roots music, from the singer/songwriters of the 60’s and 70’s, right up to jazz, blues and reggae.” Jason loved it all. “Even folk music. I know it’s cliché, the whole “my woman left me so here I am with a bottle of gin”, but it’s real shit.” When all the other musically inclined island rats were learning Iron Maiden songs note for note, Jason spent his time playing the likes of BB King, discovering a sense of freedom he found within it, going as far as incorporating some metal riffs into his blues solos. “The beautiful thing about the blues is that you can make up something different every time. You can do the same song and never play it the same way twice. I mean who wants to just do other people’s stuff?” It is inside that freedom that Jason really shines. He can hit a solo so hot his fingers become a blur while climbing up and down the neck of the guitar, but he can also slow it down and make his Strat sing a ballad so beautifully it will give you goosebumps.
“Blues is easy to play, but hard to feel” -Jimi Hendrix
Jason started playing professionally in his early 20s and it hasn’t exactly been an easy road. Problems with women, drugs and alcohol led him to move around from Florida to Austin and Shreveport, and even back to Ohio where he was born. I asked him if those early experiences helped connect him more to his music.
“Afterwards. What did I have to fall back on? Music. Music is everything. It’s my best friend, my girlfriend, my mom, my dad. If I didn’t have that I’d for sure be dead by now.” There is a genuineness about Jason that is palpable, and that comes through in his music. “If you don’t feel it, don’t have the emotion in it, then you’re lying to people.” he told me very matter-of-factly as he finished winding up the cords to his amp.
Jason returned to the Suncoast almost 4 years ago, and is admittedly more serious about his music than ever. “And I think that shows, I think it shows a lot.” Through the ups and downs of the past few years, Jason has gone from scraping up gigs and trying to put together a band to playing and even headlining local festivals. Now he even hosts his own weekly Blues Jam. When I asked about the high point of this transition, his answer was not at all what I expected, knowing that this is a guy that recently opened for Devon Allman and received a standing ovation. Instead, he told me that it was “Being able to do what I love and get paid for it too. Staying busy, I mean, that’s hard to do for a band. We’re playing 4-5 nights a week consistently.” Jason has finally put together the band he wanted, with Michael Pizza on the bass and Brad Tripp on drums who Jason says are both “awesome musicians, and the salt of the earth. After all, they put up with me.” Blues music, by its very nature is personal, but not private. Jason, through his humble honesty connects to the blues in a way that is rare, and that shines through him and in turn, through his guitar. Later this year the trio plans to head into Spirit Ranch Studios with the very talented Bud Snyder, audio engineer and Production Manager for the likes of the Allman Brothers and Dickie Betts among others, to record all original material. I, for one, can’t wait to hear it.
You can catch Jason every Thursday at the Swordfish Grill and Tiki in Cortez for the “Strictly Blues on the Bay” Jam. Follow The Jason Haram Group on Facebook to stay up to date on upcoming shows. You can also find Jason on Reverbnation, although he freely admits that he’s not really good at keeping Reverbnation updated. “I’m really bad at self-promotion.” What was that I said about humility? Blues lovers…do yourselves a favor and catch The Jason Haram Group playing a blues repertoire that ranges from BB King to Johnny Winter, Sonny Boy Williamson to Freddie King and beyond. If you’re really lucky, you might even hear him do a rare Hendrix tune. And he will do it well. One thing I can say for sure, you will not be disappointed in this Homegrown Bluesman.
Top Photo credit Jim Hartzell