Mix a different guitar picking style and the blues and you get Randy Jacobs

Published on April 1st, 2021

By Jim Dail

Like many young, aspiring guitarists, Randy Jacobs wanted to form a band.

“I grew up in Detroit, and everyone was trying to get a band together,” he said. “It was just sort of normal to do your own music and try to come up with an original sound.”

A big part of his original sound is what he does on the guitar without a pick, playing a style that while not completely his own is something magical.

Thornton Winery fans know it well, having seen him perform with the likes of Dave Koz and other greats on stage. Now, he is back with the Boneshakers and Mindi Abair on Saturday night as part of the 2017 Thornton Winery Champagne Jazz Concert Series.

For Jacobs, his bluesy touch has found its way to such places as Was (Not Was) and co-writing “Walk the Dinosaur,” and eventually, The Boneshakers.

“The guy next door to me was into Wes Montgomery, and I watched him and of importance my friend’s mom played a little bit, and she played a finger-picking style like a folk singer, like Peter, Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, Joan Baez. I’d learn the songs and she’d drag me along, this little black kid, to play along with the songs, like ‘This land is your land, this land is my land.’”

It was also a pretty musical area in other ways.

“Two blocks from me was Earl Klugh, and he’s three years older and he came to our school and played just before high school,” he said.  “People thought he was playing country and he’s playing this classical style that guys think is country. I thought it was supposed to be that way.”

But there has always been a time in his life for the blues.

“I met other people and initially it was more rock then R&B and the blues is always there and goes hand-in-hand,” he said. “In my quiet time alone, I’d play blues because at that time it wasn’t cool to play the blues.”

His picking style may have seemed unusual.

“For years people said to me you are like Hendrix and then Beck starts to do it,” he said. “Beck is an amateur. He doesn’t do half the things I do. But you figure things out and can do so much. There was this guy playing for the Pope and he didn’t have arms so he was playing with his feet. It was inspiring.”

It also helps to have a guitar he really likes.

“The first good guitar I had was a [Fender] Jazzmaster, and I really liked it,” he said. “Then I got a Les Paul and played that a long time. It was $350 brand new! Now you couldn’t even touch it!”

He moved on to a Stratocaster in 1975, eventually changing to the Telecaster.

“It just fit a lot of what I was doing, and validated that for me,” he said.

It was also seeing some of his guitar heroes as well.

“You watch Albert King and that vibe he was getting wasn’t fingerpicking but plucking the string,” he said. “I loved Santana and the band itself was an extension of itself. It’s a good thing to achieve and I felt like I was close that that. Albert King was an extension and of course with B.B. King no matter who was with him it was his sound.”

That’s what he was looking for when he formed the Boneshakers.

“They were a dance band, not a blues band, and so when I walked into the record company they had never seen me play, so they didn’t know if they were getting a Stevie Ray Vaughn Vibe or what,” he said. “I just knew that I love playing rhythm and wanted that to be my focus.”

After years performing as a guest with stars such as Warren Hill and Dave Koz, he joined forces with Mindi Abair. Now, they have released their first record together, “East-West Sessions.”

“She’d been writing with people and we got together, wrote a couple things together and we were just trying to put some things together,” he said. “When we went in these were just ideas and they had formed and we rehearsed for three days and then put it all down.”

Abair brought in Kevin Shipley to produce.

“He was more of an economy producer, so there wasn’t a lot of overdubbing,” he said. “We played, finished then sang the background part. I didn’t do much overdubbing.”

It helps that the band was up to the challenge.

“The thing was great because everyone rose up to it,” he said. “We had Derek Frank and Third Richardson on the bass and drums, and if those aren’t working then it just doesn’t work.”

There’s also a bond with Abair.

“We just finished a cruise and they had a Motown night and we were told we were going to be doing ‘Shotgun,’ he laughed. “So we got together, worked out our parts and it went over so amazing. Mindi tore it up. I felt like we were Sonny and Cher up there or like Peaches & Herb.”

And he is loving being out on tour with this band and album.

“It’s a good one, just us doing it all together,” he said. “It’s worth the price of admission with such a great band.”


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