Thursday, August 18, 2011
For Jake Nielsen, cerebral palsy and playing the blues are somewhat interchangeable.
“I grew up with hard times,” he says. “It’s hard having to use crutches cause you have to overcome a lot and I think that’s in my music.”
Nielsen goes on to cite his disability as one of the forces that drove him to form a lasting relationship with music.
“I have to walk with crutches so sports were kind of out of the question,” Nielsen says. “My uncle bought me a bass guitar when I was 13 and I guess that evolved into guitar.”
The blues seem to have been ingrained in Nielsen even earlier than that seminal moment: As a little kid, he was constantly listening to and watching videos of greats like Buddy Guy and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
“[The blues] has been in my blood for my whole life,” he says.
After watching Nielsen perform once, it becomes evident he’s not just another novelty act: The 26-year-old plays with the intensity of Alvin Lee, the clarity of B.B. King and the originality of Jimmy Page. During one gig, Nielsen – who holds himself up with crutches while he performs – accidentally hit his guitar with one of his crutches, resulting in an unorthodox slide guitar effect.
“I thought ‘that sounded kind of interesting,’ so I thought, ‘maybe I can play with my crutch because they’re aluminum,’” he says. “It kind of sounds like a car shifting gears but the crowd freaks out when I do it.”
Nielsen says he’s only had a couple guitar lessons. For the most part, he’s self-taught.
“It was always hard to have someone trying to tell me how to hold the guitar,” he says. “Early on, I’d play open mics in San Jose and San Francisco and I was just a sponge soaking up all those brilliant guitar players; that’s really how I learned.”
On Tuesday, at the reinvented Mucky Duck, Nielsen will introduce his new band, appropriately named the Jake Nielsen Band, comprised of former Little Richard drummer Derrick Martin and bassist Chris Weinress. The trio is scheduled to play for four hours, and Nielsen says that gigantic timeframe will fill up quite easily.
“I have a crapload of originals and we play covers of everyone from Stevie Ray to Robert Cray,” he says.
Toward the end of August, the Jake Nielsen Band will hit a San Jose studio to record its first solo album featuring originals like “The Drinking Blues,” “Lonely Road” and “Questions.”
But for Nielsen, it will always be about the live performances. He says he’s grateful for a special connection with his audience – one of the things that inspires him to continue playing music despite any obstacles.
“One time, this lady with cancer came up to me after a show and told me that I inspired her to keep pushing,” he says. “I really got a kick out of that and that’s probably the best thing about doing what I do.”
THE JAKE NIELSEN BAND plays 5-9pm Tuesday, Aug. 23, at the Mucky Duck, 479 Alvarado St., Monterey. Free. 655-3031.