J.J. Hipps working to stay true to the blues
LENOIR, N.C. – The 21st Annual Caldwell Traditional Musicians Showcase set for this Saturday promises a wide range of American Roots music. The title for this year’s Showcase – “From the Hollows to the Honky-Tonks,” – reinforces that notion. And for the “Honky-Tonk” set, blues musician Jacob (J.J.) Hipps will do his best to provide that honky-tonk sound and feel, even as he remains true to the roots of the blues.
Founders and hosts of the Showcase, Strictly Clean and Decent, is a local band made up of Kay Crouch, Patrick Crouch, and Ron Shuffler.
Patrick Crouch, in explaining why he was pleased to have Hipps play this year, said simply, “He’s a good roots man.” A performer that says very little during his sets, his music does his talking, though he did agree to an interview recently to talk about playing in the Showcase and the direction he is hoping to take his music.
Shared Hipps, “Any musician takes a lot from what they love. For me, blues music is a tradition, so I don’t stray from it. It’s stealing small bits from other musicians, make it your own, but pay homage to them.”
Hipps performs as a three-piece trio featuring Hipps on guitar and vocals, Mark “Bump” Bumgarner on bass, and Ben Pannenbacker on drums. Crouch said, “All you have to do is close your eyes when you hear this music and you will be transported to a different place. It’s a place where the elevation is lower, and the water is higher. It’s a place where they don’t complain about the heat, they call it sultry. Yes indeed, Jacob Johnson Hipps plays the blues.”
His musical influences include the likely suspects, such as Stevie Ray Vaughn, Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix and others. However, his dad’s favorite band is Led Zeppelin. “My dad being a musician, he was into classic rock. Once I discovered their early music was blues, I locked into them. They played with raw emotion and were not conventional.”
Yet, he added, “My number one guy is Freddie King. I feel like he had it all – guitar playing, vocals, charisma and stage presence.”
Hipps credits his father with not only exposing him to music but encouraging him to take it up. “I started playing when I was 16. At the time, I had a group of friends. We did everything together.” Still, his dad wanted him to expand his horizons. “Dad taught me to play the drums, but I didn’t like it. So, dad bought me a guitar next.”
It was then that he discovered Led Zeppelin. “I’d try and impress dad with Led Zeppelin songs.” He added, “After a year, I took it seriously. I wanted to be as good as Jimmy Page.” He soon began practicing eight hours a day over a three-year period. He shared, “For me, guitar playing has always been soothing for me. It is therapeutic and helps deal with anxiety and depression.”
About the time he was 20, his dad started pushing him more, said Hipps. Soon, he was playing gigs. His dad played drums for about seven years with him.
Now, though, he is ready to move beyond covering the songs of others to writing his own. “I’ve always come up with things I’ve enjoyed. But you can go only so far playing cover music. I want to get out from behind that shield and be vulnerable. I don’t know exactly what is going to happen, but it’s time.”
The Showcase couldn’t be a better time. Hipps admits that he is working to brand himself through marketing. Ultimately though, he said, “I’ve got to write and play original material.” That, he said, is the best marketing.
“I’m very excited about playing in the Showcase. It’s an opportunity to get in front of local folks and others that haven’t heard me yet.” While he plays regularly at numerous locations an hour or two from Lenoir, he is excited about playing where the space is designed specifically for listening. “It’s a cool place.” While playing in honky-tonks pays the bills, they’re not the best place to be heard. Still, said Hipps, “The most important thing it to play out. So, I’m pleased to have those opportunities.”
Yet, he hopes there is more to come. He wants to record an album soon. “That’s the top of my list. It’s the only way I’m going to keep growing.”
Patrons of the show may choose to include dinner at 5:30 for an additional $15. Reservations must be placed in advance. Entrees include a choice of roast pork or NC trout.
Tickets for the showcase are $11 and student and child tickets are available. To purchase tickets, call the box office at 726-2407 or visit the website of the J.E. Broyhill Civic Center.
© Michael Mathers Barrick, 2019.