Interview, by Mike Stephenson and Jim Feeney, took place at this young artists home in Racine, Wisconsin in 2019.
My name is Stephen Terrell Hull and I was born in Racine, Wisconsin back in 1999. I’ve lived in Racine my whole life and Racine has a pretty interesting musical history in itself. A lot of blues musicians come from this area. I was talking to a few people and was told that Buddy Miles lived here for a little while and a lot of Albert King descendants used to live around here. I got a little luckier than a lot of the people around here by living in Racine and having its unique music background. I’ve always been interested in music and I kinda started out with the Motown stuff that my parents would play around the house and that drew me in and that went as far as Earth Wind And Fire and current r&b. Marvin Gaye really did change the game for me with his song ‘Pride And Joy’ because that had more of a bluesier feel and I love a good walking bass line. One day I decided that I liked the blues. I was about six years old when I started playing piano taking lessons from Paula Braun and that’s where I believe my love of jazz started because her husband Dave plays jazz guitar and their favourite pianist was Oscar Peterson and if I could have seen anyone playing piano it would have been him with Duke Ellington a close second. I quit piano lessons when I was about twelve and then took a years hiatus from playing any instruments and then I told my mum I wanted a guitar and she looked at me and told that I already have a piano that I don’t play so I decoded I was going to buy a guitar and she couldn’t stop me and so I worked during the summer cutting grass and doing baby sitting gigs and all that stuff. I go real lucky as my cousin, Kelly, who was attending UW Madison she had an acoustic guitar that was far too big for her as she was a tiny little lady and she said I could borrow it. Shortly after that I had saved up enough money to buy an electric guitar that I had hoped for and I started practicing when I was fourteen. I started trying to learn very single lick off of Albert King’s ‘In Session With Stevie Ray Vaughan’ which is my favourite album. Sadly they don’t play that type of music on the radio but my interest in blues started from the radio. On a Saturday mornings my dad, my brother and I would go get our hair cut and there would be a radio station out of Milwaukee called WNOB 1290 and they would play a Saturday morning Blues Brunch and play different artists and I would think that some of it sounded real nice and that was when I was ten to twelve years old. They played some B.B. King song and I really liked that and I would come home and look it up on You Tube and I’d search other songs of his and that’s how I found out about other blues artists and then me being as studious as I was I would go through Wikipedia and look at different articles on the blues and its artists. I learnt a lot about B.B. King first and he ahs become a huge influence on me. I love the way he carried himself and the way he played and of course he had a really good singing voice. I first saw Albert King with B.B. in a video and it was a 1987 bash they had for B.B. where it was B.B., Albert, Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Phil Collins was there, Shaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Etta James and was a star studied event and I remember thinking to myself that that guitar sounded funny because Albert King has a really unique sound and it sounded like he bent a little too much for me but then I came to love it. I think that’s how a lot of musical artists that I run into the first time if I hear them I’m not sure about their playing I will give it more and more listens and it becomes more enjoyable for me. The internet is a beautiful place to discover things like the blues.
The next step for me was we had gone done down south, a little town called Walnut Grove in Mississippi where most of my dads family resides, a few months after I had started playing to visit some family and we went on a cruise and I had taken my guitar and I played with my uncle and one of the first videos I uploaded to You Tube is of that and the first time we played together. I had been playing with backing tracks at home but to play with another musician is something else. He plays bass guitar and drums as well. After that I was on that cruise for a week and about the sixth night I was going crazy because I didn’t have my guitar with me and then I walked up to this guitarist who was playing in the pitt band at one oif the major shows and he told me that they have an open jam and told me to come along and that I could play his guitar and that was the first open jam situation I had which I thought was pretty neat being on a ship in the middle of the ocean. From that they told me I should go to more open jam sessions and develop myself as a musician. This was going into 2015 still fifteen at the time.
I then started going to open jam sessions in the downtown of my home town Racine at a nice little club and bar called Henry And Wanda’s. It has sadly shut down now but it served a really good purpose when it was functioning. They had open jams there every Thursday and I will never forget I was told to watch your damn value. Since then I have been told multiple times when I was playing rhythm that I needed to turn my volume up a little as I used to get self conscious of how loud I was playing but I’m starting to find that nice middle ground now. I was playing mostly blues at those jams which I didn’t expect to in the middle of Wisconsin. We are known for beer, cheese and the Packers. We would also do some r&b and everyone likes Stevie Wonder stuff like ‘Superstition’ and then they would stick me with ‘Mustang Sally’. We would sometimes throw in some funk like ‘Cissy Strut’ and Stevie Ray’s ‘Couldn’t Stand The Weather’ a rock funk thing. That jam session was run by my recently deceased friend Roy Edwards who was a local musician who was well known and a class act and he gave me that extra push. Henry And Wanda’s was the first place I ever sang at and I was really nervous on that. Everyone has been really supportive of me though.
Next step from there would be finding people and musicians you can get along with and then forming a band that is healthy for everyone. I didn’t do that right away. The band I was in less than a year from when I first started playing, Free Time was the name, and we stuck together for about two years and I also played in a couple of other bands but that was my main one and I was still in high school at the time. It depends on who you ask if I was the leader of that band because if I took all the solos I should get some say in what we do and when we do it. It wasn’t the best of bands but it was a good stepping stone I learnt a lot of things like how to work with and co operate with people even if you don’t get along. Ewe played in the locality and the furthest we went was South Milwaukee and I couldn’t see that band going too much further. We branded ourselves as blues rock and funk. We would play anything from the Rolling Stones to Stevie Wonder and Stevie Ray Vaughan and I’d make them play some B.B. King because that’s what I love. I was doing the guitar work but not vocals at least not at the beginning but towards the end I decided there were some songs I would rather hear my own voice on. Now I am doing more singing and playing than ever before especially on songs where I am playing more melodic rhythms.
After Free Time split up I was contacted by several different people to partake in their bands and stuff like that. I gave a lot of people the time of day but I really didn’t see too many of them suiting my musical needs so I stayed out of it a bit and that’s when a lot of decision making came into play. I played around locally with some other talented young musicians Pierce McBay a wonderful bass player who will be playing with me at Rosa’s tent at the 2019 Chicago Blues Festival. I played with him and another friend, Jordon, and we played a few gigs around town. I created a little trio in my high school in my junior year and we were known as Sweet Pressure or the high school house band and we did a few gigs out of high school but we kept playing mainly to basketball games and such which was fun as we were all in jazz band together but we didn’t have that free range structure to do what we wanted to do outside of that. The jazz band was part of the Case High School programme. Within that jazz band there was a larger ensemble and also a combo and I thought that it wasn’t doing it for me so I thought I would do something else and with my best friends, three of them, and having a group of people I get along with outside of music and being able to talk music with them was a huge bonus so if anyone is reading this and they want some good advice is to find friends that you can talk music with and that will teach you new things and you can push the limits with.
From that we go to performing at different open jam sessions around your sphere of influence and I would go up to Milwaukee and play at jam sessions every once in awhile and then I got really lucky. I’m not sure how people heard about me but Lee Gates the guitar player he did some talking and he got a wonderful photographer by the name of Leanne Flynn to get interested in me and she did a lot of taking about me and hyped me up so to speak and then Justin Thomas Brown a gentleman who has orchestrated quite a bit and has helped me immensely and he hosted a blues festival in 2018 and that’s when everything took off for me. The festival was in Milwaukee at The Oasis, which is a club, and after that Leanne had taken a video which went a little viral and that’s when I started getting more and more exposure. It is available on Facebook on Leanne’s page. After that I became friends with some more influential people and bigger named acts around Milwaukee and Chicago. Demetria Taylor, Rico McFarland came here from Chicago, Cameron Webb who is a very talented vocalist. In Milwaukee I had known Stephen Pierre Lee for awhile and we got to work together on a gig and now we perform together quite regularly and that is awesome. I got to know Pat Love from that and I have met multiple individual musicians since. All it takes is one good gig with decent exposure and you can then get set on a really nice path. Something that has served me well in a lot of this is good manners and being respectful they go along way with people and that is what a lot of people compliment me on. I listen to people and what they have to say as I don’t know everything. That kind of attitude led me on to being a part of a couple of different bands the Yard Dogs being one of them and that’s my local band here in Racine the other is hard to name it is the project with me and Pierre Lee so however books the gigs puts their name first. The third one is with the Blues Disciples although I’m not officially a part of that band but of they need someone to stand in they call me. Between those three bands and doing some freelance work and I also play with Larry Taylor in Chicago every so often. Larry brings that older blues to the forefront which is what I enjoy. I do enjoy the more upbeat and current blues I enjoy some of that traditional blues as well. I go to Chicago to play from time to time and I play at different open jams Justin Thomas Brown often arranges that for me and it was he who introduced me to Larry Taylor and helped me get to that Rosa’s gig at the blues fest.
I also play in the church here in Racine. I have put my college stuff on hold for the moment. I have a dream and I am young and I want to see how this goes so music is pretty much full time for me although I do a little security work for a neighbour who has a security company and do the odd job here and then but the focus is on my music. I went to college to study mechanical engineering and now I’m a musician and folks were asking me if becoming a musician was really what I wanted to do. I thought I am good at it so music has hooked me in. I could have done both but I would rather put all my efforts into one thing which currently is music. I have started to write songs and I have a list of songs and its more r&b ish than you may think.
I have had the opportunity to record. There is a lost recording of me with my friends in high school that we did for an audition video. We did four songs for that and were jazz standards and we had all the correct studio equipment for that.
What’s next is if things go my way I would like to put out a nice album with musicians that really compliment me. I’d like to tour a bit as well. I have gone as far as Texas and played with Texas Flood with Tommy Katona being the front man. It’s like a Stevie Tay Vaughan tribute band but they do other stuff and have originals. I’d love to get to see the United States and the whole world with my music and doing something I love.
I’m familiar with some of the other young African-American blues acts out there such as the Peterson Brothers and Kingfish who I got to see and play with on his birthday in 2019 at Buddy Guy’s Legends. I got to see the Peterson Brothers here in Milwaukee when they opened up for Kenny Wayne Shepherd and that lady Leanne, the photographer, had an extra ticket that she gave to me. After they finished their set I got to talk to them.
I have contact with Charles and Pee Wee Hayes and there is Jo Jo as well. I play in church with Jo Jo every so often when I visit his church. Pee Wee I have only met once but we are Facebook friends. Charles actually gave me one of my guitars a 2008 Squire Stratocaster and I would occasionally play with him at Henry And Wanda’s and different places around town. We get on real well. I have contact with Marvellous Mack as well and I’ve been on stage with him. Harvey Westmoreland the drummer has had a lot of influence on my singing offering me advice.
I would like to learn more on the old Piedmont style of blues. I was watching a talented gentleman Alex Wilson and he played so good and he was all by himself and I would watch how he would picking with his hands. Marquise Knox he plays a little Piedmont himself and I was watching him do a live stream in Memphis and I thought I should do that.