A Blues Family, Kicking Out Homemade Jamz For the Perry siblings of Tupelo, Miss. — ages 9, 14 and 16 — making music involves making unique instruments from car parts. The young family band with astonishingly mature blues chops demonstrates its craft in NPR's Studio 4A.
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A Blues Family, Kicking Out Homemade Jamz

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A Blues Family, Kicking Out Homemade Jamz

A Blues Family, Kicking Out Homemade Jamz

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

(Soundbite of song, "Voodoo Woman")

NORRIS: When you picture someone playing the blues, you imagine someone who's been through the school of hard knocks.

(Soundbite of song, "Voodoo Woman")

Mr. RYAN HARRY (Homemade Jamz Blues Band): (Singing) Got me voodoo woman, make my spell leave.

NORRIS: Well, the person singing there has been to school, all right, high school. He's 16 years old. He sings like a man and manhandles his guitar. But when he and his fellow band mates break into giggles, it's clear they're all kids.

The three Harry siblings are nine, 14 and 16 years old, and they call themselves the Homemade Jamz Blues Band. Home for them is Tupelo, Mississippi. That's where they recorded their CD, "Pay Me No Mind." It's where they make their instruments by hand. And it's where they caught an early case of the blues listening to their father's collection of B.B. King recordings.

The oldest, Ryan, picked up the guitar at age seven. His brother followed with an electric bass. And their baby sister rounded out the trio when she picked up drumsticks. The three are now regulars on the blues festival circuit.

(Soundbite of song, "Voodoo Woman")

NORRIS: The three siblings that make up the Homemade Jamz Blues Band are here with me in Studio 4-A. And we should note that that's Jamz, J-A-M-Z. They're hear along with their parents, Trish and Renaud, who drove them to Washington.

Welcome to Studio 4-A. Welcome to the program.

Unidentified Man: Thank you. Glad to be here.

NORRIS: Now, I want to hear a little bit about these instruments. They're incredible. I want you to tell me a little bit about what you play and your role in the band. I'm going to begin with you, Kyle.

Mr. KYLE HARRY (Homemade Jamz Blues Band): I'm playing a six-string muffler guitar, and I'm the bass player in the band.

NORRIS: A muffler guitar - we're going to hear more about that in just a little bit. This is no guitar like I've ever seen. And Kyle, how old are you?

Mr. K. HARRY: Fourteen.

NORRIS: Okay, and Taya?

Ms. TAYA HARRY (Homemade Jamz Blues Band): I'm nine.

NORRIS: And you play?

Ms. T. HARRY: I play the drums.


Mr. RYAN HARRY: I'm 16 years old and I play the six-string electric guitar, muffler guitar.

NORRIS: Again, that muffler guitar. We'll hear more about that in a minute. Now, how did you come together as a band, because it's one thing to listen to the blues, but when did you decide that you wanted to play music? And I guess first it was just the two of you, Ryan and Kyle, right?

Mr. R. HARRY: Yes. I was playing the guitar. I was putt in guitar lessons, and I was doing, you know, pretty well in there. I was learning notes though. And the material that, you know, he was teaching me wasn't what I wanted to learn. I wanted to learn blues. I wanted to learn, you know, B.B. King, Albert King, Steve Ray Vaughn, all those artists. So I believe I went through three instructors in the - what, about, three, four years? And one day my dad then became a police officer, and he found this old blues player by the name of Jabbo. And he persuaded, in his uniform, to...

NORRIS: I should note the quotation marks, wiggled your fingers, he persuaded.

Mr. RYAN HARRY: Persuaded. He was, I believe he was on duty when he persuaded him to, you know, to teach me a little bit. And the next weekend I was on his front porch learning the blues, and that was one of the best days I've ever had. And he was teaching me everything that I needed to know, everything that I wanted to know, and it was just great.

NORRIS: Renaud, I have a question for you.

Mr. RENAUD HARRY (Father): Yes.

NORRIS: Ryan said that you persuaded him to sit down with your son. You were working as a police officer. It sounds like...

Mr. RENAUD HARRY: Right. Right.

NORRIS: ...there's a story there.

Mr. RENAUD HARRY: Well, I used to be a police officer. And I knew that if I'd go to this guy's house as just a regular person, he was going to say no. That is what I kept running into all the time. Most artists that have a unique talent such as the blues, they're really old and cranky and they don't want to deal with kids at all. So you know, I said, well, I'm on duty, I'll swing by there in my police car and my uniform. And he was out cutting grass.

We laugh about it today, but when he saw me pulled over, he said he, you know, his mind got to racing, like, man what have I done, you know? And he to thinking, you know. So I got out of the car and I said, hey, are you Jabbo? He's like, yes sir, I'm Jabbo. And I said, well, I have a 12-year-old that can play already, you know, but he really wants to play blues.

And of course he wanted to tell me no, but you know, probably being in that uniform he was like, well, just bring him by on Saturday. And I did, and they rocked that porch. I mean, they had that porch going in no time. And at the end of the session that man looked at me and said, you know, this kid, I'm going to teach him everything I know. And that's how it happened.

NORRIS: So you did what you had to do.

Mr. RENAUD HARRY: I did what I had to do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: So Kyle, did you take lessons from Jabbo also?

Mr. K. HARRY: I did take lessons from Jabbo. He taught me, you know, how to finger-pick bass pretty good, taught me on bass lines that I'm also having trouble with, and he just helped me out.

NORRIS: Well, I'd like to hear some music from you. Your father, Renaud, wrote all of the songs on the CD except one, 10 of the 11 songs. We're going to hear "Penny Waiting On Change," which is a great song. And Taya, tell us what the song is about.

Ms. T. HARRY: Well, it's about - I don't really know. I just sit back there and play the drums.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Well, let's hear it.

Mr. RYAN HARRY: All right.

(Soundbite of song, "Penny Waiting On Change")

NORRIS: Ryan, Taya and Kyle Perry. They are the Homemade Jamz Blues Band, and they're assisted by their father, Renaud, on the harmonica. Now Ryan and Kyle, when you introduced yourselves, you said you both play muffler guitars. These guitars that you're playing are unlike anything I have ever seen. Can you describe that for me?

Mr. RYAN PERRY: Well, it's just the muffler right here is the body of the guitar. And...

NORRIS: And we should say a car muffler - a muffler that your normally find underneath the chassis of a car.

Mr. RYAN PERRY: And basically, what we did was bolted on the neck, took the electronics from a regular guitar and just shoved them in the body of this muffler. On the back of it is a license plate covering the giant hole that we cut in it, and we have exhaust tips that we put at the end of the guitars...

NORRIS: Okay. And they're both hanging from your shoulders via seatbelt straps.

Mr. RYAN PERRY: Yes. Via seat belt straps.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: Now, when your father hands you these lyrics - as we said, he wrote the lyrics, wrote, actually, most the songs the CD. The lyrics are very adult. It must be a little bit odd for you to sing some of these songs. I mean, you're talking about - you're singing about life experiences that I'm assuming that you have not yet had.

Mr. RYAN PERRY: No. Not yet. Not yet. But it's just putting yourself in the frame of mind. You know, when he hands me a sheet of music and I get the subject, he shows me how to sing it. So in my mind, I'm thinking, okay. You know, say this song's about this guy losing his woman. He hands me the music, say, okay. I'm a guy. I just lost my woman. How am I going to sing this? How am I going to play this? How - you know, how is the mood of the song going to, you know, be?

NORRIS: But, you know, I've always heard that you have live the blues to be able to sing the blues. You have to know what it's like to have somebody step on your heart to know what it's like to have hungry children at home that you can't feed, to have lost your job and your best friend and had your dog run over by a pickup truck all in the same day. How do you actually sing the blues if you haven't lived the blues?

Mr. RYAN PERRY: To this day, I still don't know. I think it's just a, you know, talent that - a natural talent that we all have, a God-given talent. And I think we're all grateful to have that talent. And hopefully, none of the experiences will, you know, will hit us too hard if we have them. But if they do, you know, they'll do nothing but help us in our career.

NORRIS: Ryan Perry, Taya Perry, Kyle Perry, assisted on harmonica by Dad, Renaud Perry and assisted by mom Trish who helped get you here, thanks so much for being with us. This is the Homemade Jamz Blues Band. Their CD is called "Pay Me No Mind." And can you take us out with that title track?

Mr. RYAN PERRY: No problem. All right, guys.

(Soundbite of song, "Pay Me No Mind")

NORRIS: You can watch a video of the band performing with their muffler guitars, and you can hear two more songs they played for us. You'll find that in the music section of our Web site. That's npr.org.

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