Preachin The Blues

A while back I released my Gospel blues album (unofficially). After sharing it with my subscribers I got some very positive comments so I decided that I would release the album. I started making music to help people going through a rough patch. After letting the music collect dust in storage for a while, I’m going to be releasing the album to all my fans. But first I want to tell you the story behind this music and why it’s important to me.

The making of this album is a return to my roots. After I left the military I was a preacher for a couple years before I started writing my own songs. Some of this carried over into the music. If you’ve heard any of my music you would have noticed. Especially my gospel blues album.

My father John Ray Riley used to sing and play country when I was just a youngin. He was a really talented artist. A promoter offered him a deal but he turned it down to become a preacher instead.

I always felt like he regretted not following his dream. Part of the reason I do what I do (aside from having the calling) is because I knew how much he wanted to go back. I was never going to pass up on my dreams like he did.

My father and I didn’t always see eye to eye. As a man of God in those days you could imagine the way he felt when I started to sing and play the blues. He wanted me to follow in his footsteps.

“God created dancing and the devil took it to town”

Where I grew up in Texas, folks were superstitious back then. The blues was the devil’s music and if you played it you would go to hell. “God created dancing and the devil took it to town”, they would say.

They were concerned with saving their souls. I wasn’t concerned enough but I wasn’t that bad either. When you tell someone they can’t have something it makes it seem more interesting. I just had to see what the blues was all about.

“The den of the Devil’s music”

At night I would be sneaking off with some friends to go play down at the, “den of the Devil’s music”. This is what juke-joints were sometimes called. The word juke is believed to originate from an African-derived Gullah word meaning disorder.

When I would first drive down the rutted clay road towards the little music club in the country, it felt like home. The road led to an old cinder block building, and as I stepped out into the starry field, I heard twanging guitar. A bonfire was throwing flickering shadows on hanging Spanish moss. Here, tucked away, like a scene in some movie: a juke-joint!

I enjoyed the nightlife out at bars drinking and playing the blues. This is where I felt I belonged. I was transfixed by this new lifestyle. It related to me as a young man trying to navigate my way through life and own up to my struggles and shortcomings. Not only was this music that connected with people and was really fun to play, but it also had romance and tradition.

Isn’t it interesting that so many of the early blues singers were pastors or preachers? One of the best blues musicians and an early influence of mine is Son House. After years of hostility to secular music, as a preacher and for a few years also as a church pastor, he turned to blues performance at the age of 25. He quickly developed a unique style by applying the rhythmic drive, vocal power and emotional intensity of his preaching to the newly learned idiom.

He developed to the point that Charley Patton, the foremost blues artist of the Mississippi Delta region, invited him to share engagements and to accompany him to a 1930 recording session for Paramount Records. His single titled, “Preachin The Blues” was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

I got started out singing in the choir at the local church on Sundays. This is where I learned rhythm and melodies. It wasn’t long before I got my hands on a guitar. It felt natural in my hands, the weight, moving my fingers over the chords… We had a perfect affinity.

Preachin The Blues

My father passed away several years back. Before he died he said, “son, you go out there and play your music. Just remember who you are”. In the end he gave me his blessing.

I never believed that the blues is the devils music. God is in everything and that includes the blues.

Staying out late, drinking, dancing and playing the blues is how I got started. Now I play the blues because of the healing powers in it. I wrote this blog post about how it helped me with PTSD (you can get the story here). Healing is a key part of the tradition of the blues and my goal is to bring this tradition into the digital age.

There is a misconception that the blues is some old guy sitting on a stool, drunker than a rodeo goat, singing about lost love, But it’s really an upbeat, danceable music that comes from the heart, that comes from the soul. It’ll make you feel good.

With that I want to introduce to you my gospel blues album, “A Road Less Travelled”.

Thanks for reading. I want to give you a free song from the album. It’s called, “I Don’t Sing The Blues No More”.

If you are unable to download the music to your device I have posted a video that will show you how.

Apple device download instructions.

​​​​​​​Android download instruction video.

Just follow the instructions provided in the video and you should have no problem downloading the track directly to your device.

If you liked what you heard please leave a comment below.

-Johnny

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