At a small bar in Wilmington, Delaware called Fat Ricks, blues-guitarist Larry Garner, during a show he was playing, approached a 15 year-old kid he had been chatting with in between sets, and asked him, “Can you play an A-minor?”
The 15 year-old responded yes, and quickly found himself on stage jamming with Garner and his band of seasoned Chicago blues-vets.
For guitarist Jake Banaszak, this chance to do what he simply described as, “hanging with the band and playing my licks,” proved to be a catalyst for the young aspiring guitarist.
"The owner of the club came up after and said, 'Anytime you want to play, any band that comes through I will get you up with them.' So needless to say I was there every weekend. I got a lot of opportunities as a young kid,” remembers Banaszak.
“Everyone was very supportive and I got to play with some great people. That is how I got started, and from that I was like I want to start a blues band.”
Finding a kindred spirit in high school classmate and bassist B.J. Muntz, the two began playing the blues, eventually forming the power trio Lower Case Blues. The act recalls the Chicago blues-masters they looked up to as young musicians – “keeping the Blues alive,” as Banaszak says, but at the same time is a forward looking band that furthers the well-rooted sound, incorporating hints of funk and soul, delivering it with an adventurous, improvisational attitude.
They quickly began to gain attention in their home state of Delaware, culminating with a set at the Dewey Beach Music Conference a few years back, an event Banaszak likens to a mini South by Southwest, and a show he calls a defining moment in the band’s early career. The response from that show led to an invite to participate in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN, a spot at South by Southwest in Austin, and chance to play with many of the field’s heavy weights including Buddy Guy, Kenny Wayne Sheppard, and funk-legend Leo Nocentelli.
It also opened the door to work with legendary keyboardist and producer Johnny Neel, a Delaware native himself. While recording their second album, Days to Come, the band heard Neel was in town and approached him to see if he would like to play with them. He agreed and it was a start of a friendship that last to this day. They play shows together whenever their schedules allow, and the band travelled to Neel’s home studio in Nashville to make their third album, Down Home Girl, which was released late last year and also produced by the music veteran.
Their status as one of the premiere upcoming young blues bands was further cemented recently on a steamy, hot, Saturday night in Baltimore. While in the midst of an overflowing show at the historic Cat’s Eye Pub – a place that has seen its share of smoking shows by legendary bands – a tall dreadlocked figure approached the tightly packed stage and spoke to the crowd.
The tall figure was Kelly Bell, a longtime musician, personality, and respected blues-authority in the Mid-Atlantic region. He said, “My good friend G. Love (who had just finished his own headlining set at Baltimore’s Artscape Festival earlier that evening), said he wanted to see the best blues band in the area, and I knew there was no question but to bring him to see these guys.”
He then turned to the band and asked if they minded if he and G. Love joined them on stage for a bit. The clearly stunned, but excited band, were quick to incorporate them into their set.
For Lower Case Blues, it was just another highlight in a short career that has already been full of them, and looks to have many more.
For Banaszak he seems to be taking it all in stride, enjoying the ride, and looking to the future with a steady eye. When asked what is next for this young powerhouse band, he simply answers, “We’ll just see where the music takes us.”
Lower Case Blues is on the road now, and will be headlining the B-Side Stage at this year’s Hot August Blues Festival, Saturday August 20. For full tour dates visit http://www.lowercaseblues.net/home/