RECENTLY I was fortunate to meet and chat to an extremely talented muso, Bo Jenkins. While listening to this lovely southern country speaking gent recall his musical life, I couldn’t help but conjure up so many fascinating thoughts of what it would have been like growing up in the heart of the Delta, cotton-growing Mississippi River land.
You see Jenkins was born on a small farm in Bottleneck, Arkansas, in the Central Southwestern part of the United States to Joe and Thelma Jenkins. He spent his early years living next door to Levon Helm, future drummer and vocalist for The Band.
Growing up as a child while listening to his father singing and to his full-blooded Native American grandfather-playing guitar, it is no wonder that the blues and country soul was fused into his being. Bo Jenkins is the real deal!
In fact the city Helena, where he moved to with his family, boasts the longest running on going radio show in the world, King Biscuit Flower Hour, hosted by the original DJ Sunshine Sonny Payne, now in his 90s, has had Elvis Presley, the then senator JFK, BB King and so many more incredibly famous people, including Bo Jenkins on his legendary radio show over the years.
So growing up in the heart and amidst some of America’s finest blues and country musos was taken for granted for people like Jenkins; cause it’s what everyone did. In fact, Harold Lloyd Jenkins, better known as Conway Twitty was Jenkins father’s cousin. No wonder the Mississippi soul pulses in his blood.
Jenkins chuckles “my Pa bought me a new shotgun for Christmas and my brother a guitar. A little while later for my 18th birthday I saw my first concert in Memphis, which happened to be Jimi Hendrix. I was totally blown away. I had my calling and knew I had to play music. So when I got home, I pulled my shotgun on my brother and told him I’m playing his guitar, so we swapped!”
Because Jenkins is left handed he figured there would be more right handed guitars around so he ought to just learn how to play them that way; so he simply turned the guitar upside down and taught himself how to play. Which is an amazing feat in itself.
Jenkins has played in roadhouses and bars in Helena and up and down highways 49 and 61 made famous by the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson, Conway Twitty, Houston Stackhouse and Willie Dixon just to name a few, who gigged there before him.
Jenkins says, “This delta region is where Blues met Country and rock & roll was fashioned, and where the likes of Elvis Presley, Charlie Rich and Ronnie Hawkins learned their trade.”
Jenkins music style is versatile and he plays a combination of Blues, Country and Rock.
During his amazing career Jenkins’s has shared the stage with Albert King, Reba McIntyre, Earl Thomas Conley, BB King and Kansas – thus being one of the few musicians to play major US venues in the three main styles Rock, Blues and Country.
In 1992, Jenkins formed his own band called the The Bo Jenkins Band, in order to have the freedom to play the type of music he wanted and to write originals. Luckily for us he uprooted his life in Arkansas and moved with his wife Vanda to our lovely city, Melbourne.
“Everything I writes starts out as an instrumental cause I play guitar. Most of my songs come from something I’ve found out from my guitar and what I like. But I believe if I’m going to get better then I need to put it in a song. You can hear the difference between a singer songwriter and a guitarist writing a song. It pushes me that bit harder to get it right,” Jenkins smiles.
He now plays in a trio with Steve Donald on drums and Jimi Fewing on bass, and also works solo with acoustic guitar and stomp box.
Since coming to Australia he has released his first CD titled Razorback Road, which is a mixture of his musical talents. The CD is a combination of Rock n Roll, Blues and Country.
His second CD is called Skin It Back with the title based on a musician’s phrase used in Arkansas. It reflects his growing talent as a songwriter and guitarist, as well as his recording studio skills. Both of his CDs are awesome, and I particularly love Skin It Back. It showcases his diverse gift and definitely worth having in your music collection.
Luckily for many, Jenkins will be teaching guitar at Nepean Music in Mornington commencing in February. For more information visit www.bojenkins.com
It was a sheer delight sitting in front of a man who’d grown up in a world where music came from soul seeped in life’s harsh realities of pain, love, freedom and much more, which I guess ultimately shaped America’s musical history into a rich tapestry we call the Blues today.
Until next time ….. Live well.
By TERRI LEE FATOUROS