Feature Interview – Homemade Jamz Blues Band

Ryan Perry laughs when talking about all the one-liners he’s heard people utter about the name of the band he shares with his younger brother and even-younger sister.

He’s heard the one about how his band is better than a store-bought band and he’s heard the one about how his band would probably go good with an order of homemade biscuits.

He’s also heard the name of his band mangled and mispronounced on more than one occasion – going from Homemade Jazz to the Homemade Blues Jam Band and even on to Grape Jelly?!

To set the record straight folks, the name of the band that 19-year-old Ryan, 17-year-old Kyle and 12-year-old Taya Perry from Tupelo, Mississippi share, is called Homemade Jamz Blues Band.

“Our name has been miss-spelled and miss-read so many times – probably more times that it has been said right,” said Ryan. “It’s really funny. But it adds to everything we’re about.”

But take some advice.

That old warning about judging a book by its cover should really be heeded when it comes to Homemade Jamz Blues Band.

Even though Ryan is just barely past his senior prom – while Kyle and Taya have yet to don their tux and evening gown – Homemade Jamz are veterans at cranking out hardcore, authentic delta blues, with a trio of albums out as crown jewels in their already impressive resume.

And that’s not child’s play.

Ryan handles the guitar and vocal duties for the group, while brother Kyle lays down the bass and sister Taya keeps time on the skins.

But the family affair that is the Homemade Jamz Blues Band is not solely limited to the Perry siblings.

Mom Tricia and dad Renaud are also in the central orbit of the band’s universe.

“Mom is the one that holds everything together, just like a mom should. She handles managing the band and does all our media and publicity and she also keeps everyone in check. She basically holds down the fort,” laughed Ryan. “And dad, he’s our harmonica player and he writes the lyrics to our songs.”

Just as Renaud Perry’s children have grown as musicians over the course of their four-year-old recording career, he too, has evolved and turned into a first-rate author of blues tunes during that span of time.

“Me and Kyle will take care of most of the music and then dad will come behind us and put words to the music. And dad really didn’t start writing lyrics until after we were already established as a band,” Ryan said. “And in that short time frame, in my opinion, he’s turned into an amazing writer. Almost all of the original songs we play have been put together in less than a week’s time and a lot of those in less than two days time. He’s lightning-fast when it comes to writing lyrics. I couldn’t keep up with him if I wanted to.”

But as anyone who has lived under the same roof with a brother or sister knows, there can be a fragile balance involved in the day-to-day existence between children forced to spend major time together in a small space.

In other words, chances are, there’s going to be some major blowups during the course of a typical day.

And while the Perrys are by no means different than other sets of brothers and sisters, according to Ryan, there is a distinct line between what goes on in the family’s living room and what goes on under the bright lights of the bandstand at a gig.

“We get along just like any family. But when it comes time for music, everyone tightens up,” he said. “Say me and my brother had an argument earlier in the day. When it comes time for music, all that is put aside. And I think we all understand that. When it’s time to rehearse or set up the equipment on stage, it’s not time to play or to joke around or to be mad at anybody. We’re here to entertain people and that’s what we’re going to do until it’s done. Afterwards, you can do whatever you want. But from the time we step out of the van before the performance until after we step off stage after the show, that’s music time and serious time.”

That’s pretty mature stuff for a young man just now old enough to vote. That also helps to explain why Ryan, Kyle and Taya have been able to keep a tight focus on their music and their careers, even when the daunting task of going to school, finishing homework and then climbing on stage for two hours that night was at hand.

And how many teenagers do you know that could resist the temptation of blowing off band practice to spend a day hanging out at the lake with their friends?

Neither of those have ever been issues, says Ryan.

“School and music has never been a problem for any of us. It’s when the social life comes into play that things can get stressed,” he said. “It’s when our personal phones are ringing with invitations to go to a party or to go to the pool, or hang out at the mall that can make things tough. But you know, that’s going to happen to everyone eventually. That’s just part of growing up and having a career, or a job, or responsibility. Your social life is just going to have to take a back seat. So I guess that just started a little bit early for us, but we manage to have a good balance that works for us. We’re not hermit crabs by any means. Not by a long shot.”

Witnessing Homemade Jamz do their thing on stage, it’s very evident that they’re not “hermit crabs.”

The band, which won the third annual MS Delta Blues Society of Indianola’s Blues Challenge in 2006 and also was the youngest band ever to compete in the International Blues Challenge in 2007, remarkably coming in second out of 93 bands, is all about youthful exuberance when the spotlight is turned on.

Ryan moves around with all the confidence and conviction of a front man who is truly comfortable doing what he does – belting out gritty blues burners with the passion and soul of a bluesman three times his age. And his guitar licks are beginning to carve out their own identity, leading him down the path to being instantly recognizable when he turns up the heat on a scorching solo.

And if you think flying up and down the neck of a Stratocaster takes skill, trying maneuvering around something that looks like it belongs in a Midas commercial – homemade guitars and homemade basses, crafted out of spare car parts by former military tank mechanic Renuad Perry.

And as cool as those works of art look on stage these days, if Ryan would have had his way, those eye-catching axes may never have seen the light of day.

“My dad was helping me restore my first car – a 1983 Thunderbird – and one of the things I bought for it was mufflers,” he said. “When they came in the mail, my dad said, ‘why don’t we mess around with these and try to build a guitar?’ And I definitely did not want to do that. I wanted them on my car. I was ready for it to be finished. But a couple of days later, he took them from me said, ‘Ryan, I’m going to go ahead and make some guitars out of these.’ I finally said, ‘OK, but you owe me some new mufflers.’ Well, I haven’t got the money or the mufflers back yet, but I guess I did get them back in the form of a guitar. A week after he took the mufflers, he came back with them and told me to plug them in. And I played the muffler guitar and it played really great. My dad doesn’t know a lick of guitar, but everything about it was right – the intonation and how it was built was perfect.”

Initially meant to basically be mounted on the living room wall as a conversation piece, dad’s muffler-guitar had other ideas and took on a life of its own.

“I played it at a show and everyone just went crazy,” said Ryan. “So I decided to keep it in the show. Then dad built my brother a bass guitar version and we’ve been playing them ever since. Every year or so, dad builds another pair of them and this past April, he just finished building numbers 10 and 11. And they just get better all the time. They really help to add to the excitement of our shows.”

But maybe the most remarkable thing about Homemade Jamz in concert is the bond that Kyle and Taya have forged, locking together and morphing into one outstanding rhythm section.

“My sister is doing things in the past month or so that I’ve never heard her do before on the drums. Stuff I’ve never even heard her practice on,” Ryan said. “Amazing stuff. At soundchecks, she’ll go into drum beats I’ve never heard her attempt before and it’s some high-level stuff. And the same thing goes for my brother. He’s coming up with some amazing bass riffs and is developing new tricks all the time. So the rhythm section I’m behind is just awesome! And it’s really just a plus that it’s my brother and sister doing it.”

Much like a history book can trace the development and origins of a nation in a step-by-step fashion, the first three discs from Homemade Jamz – Pay Me No Mind (2008); I Got Blues For You (2009); and The Game (2010) – serve as a sonic growth chart for this still-blossoming band.

“From the first CD to the third one, all of us have come up so much. And I find it amazing to listen to just how much we’ve come up year-after-year,” Ryan said. “And what really kills me is that since the start of 2011, when the third CD dropped, everybody’s playing has come up three times as fast as I think it ever has. I really think we’ve got such a good connection that a lot of bands may not have, because we’ve been around each other all our lives.”

Just like its droning, trance-like pull has had on true connoisseurs of the blues for decades now, the rich and fertile musical climate just beyond the borders of Homemade Jamz’ own backyard has started to cast a major spell on the way the Perrys approach their own music.

“When I first started playing, I was into Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Carlos Santana and B.B. King,” said Ryan. “Those were the big four for me, the first guys I was really exposed to. I still love them today, but right now I’m getting closer to my roots. I love me some Mississippi hill country blues. R.L. Burnisde and Junior Kimbrough – the old-school, raw, raw blues. It’s funny, but with Mississippi hill country blues – either you get it or you don’t. But it’s some of the best music I’ve ever heard in my life. And it makes it even more special because we’re living right in the north Mississippi area, not far from Holly Springs where Junior used to have his club and where R.L. lived and played. So to be able to say we’re from the north Mississippi hill country area where so many of those great artists lived is very cool.”

That tip-of-the-cap to the Kimbroughs and Burnsides may soon find its way onto the grooves of Homemade Jamz’ next album.

“Most definitely. The hill country has really been an inspiration to most of the music we’re making now and I’ve got a feeling that CD number four is going to dwell heavily in north Mississippi hill country blues,” Ryan said. “And hopefully everybody will enjoy it. Not everybody knows about that style of music, so to be able to be a part of that and expose people to that kind of music – and artists like Junior and R.L. – is just a really cool thing.”

With the heat of summer starting to edge toward its peak, and with Kyle and Taya out of school for a couple of months, Homemade Jamz is ready to get down to business.

“Once the Fourth of July weekend kicks off, July is absolutely the heaviest month we’ve ever done,” Ryan said. “We’re going to be in France for two weeks and the day after we get back, we have to start a trail that goes from Ohio to Michigan and all the way to Canada. We’re driving that. And on the way back down home, we’re going to be connecting shows as we go, so we’re literally going to be gone the whole month of July. Some people might consider that to be too busy, but we consider that to be a blessing. As long as our phone keeps ringing, we still have a career. The worst thing a musician can go through is when that phone stops ringing.”

As for the name Homemade Jamz –that had to come straight from the desk of some marketing company on Fifth Avenue, right?

Not hardly.

“We were in practice one day and said, ‘hey, we’re a band now. What should we call ourselves?’ And we threw around a whole bunch of names and some of them were really stupid and none of them really worked for us,” Ryan said. “I forget who, but somebody said, ‘why don’t we just call ourselves Homemade Jamz?’ Because our music, after all, is homemade. So we decided that if that was the best idea we had that night, we’d roll with it until we could come up with something better. But then when we were announced (at the next gig) as Homemade Jamz, everyone thought that was really a unique name. So it stuck.”

Just because Homemade Jamz is rapidly securing their place among the heavyweights of the blues, that doesn’t mean that they sit around and play dusty old 78s of long-forgotten blues songs all day long.

They are, after all, still young adults with an ever-expanding taste for what they like to listen to in their down time.

“We pretty much listen to all types of music. We all have pop, rap – old school, new school – jazz, contemporary, light rock, as well as blues in our music collections,” Ryan said. “For me, it really depends on my mood for the day, as to what determines what music I’ll listen to.”

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