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Harmonica player-extraordinaire Rockin' Jake melds the blues with '70s soul. 

Bit by the Blues

Harmonica player Lawrence "Rockin' Jake" Jacobs first found his calling on the radio dial. Struck by the pop and soul sounds coming over the air, Jake, as a kid in east Connecticut, stayed glued to the late '60s tunes. Even if he and his friends played "every sport known to man" when the neighborhood got together, Jake's real interest was music.

In the '70s, Jake refined his musical tastes and sought out the great Northeastern blues players such as Ronnie Earl and Roomful of Blues. He also took the next step from the Allman Brothers and started listening to Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. "Then I got bit by it bad, by the blues," Jake recalls. The next step was natural: "I got to get me a harmonica," he says.

Now, based in New Orleans since 1990, and playing full time with about 20 years of bands and gigs behind him, Jake's early love is now a way of life that pushes him out on the road from Alaska to New Mexico to the East Coast. The Crescent City music magazine, OffBeat, has picked him as its No. 1 harp player three times since he arrived in New Orleans, and he's played with some of the best in blues and funk. Richmond music fans get a chance to make up their own minds on Tuesday, March 6, at Poe's Pub.

Though rooted in the blues, Jake draws from a variety of styles, and he describes his sound as "the Meters meet Junior Wells with a little War thrown in." Many, he says, forget that there was some good music that came out of the '70s. It wasn't all a disco inferno.

"People put down the '70s, but some of the greatest music came out of the '70s." he says. "Meters [New Orleans writer and producer], Allen Toussaint…all the soul [bands]."

Jake also found an accidental connection with another '70s touchstone when his band was double-booked with blues singer Maria Muldaur at a bar one night in 1989. Rather than tell Jake and his band to get lost in favor of the higher-profile Muldaur, the club owner let them both play, and Muldaur sang some tunes with Jake's outfit. Jake didn't think too much about it until a year later when the phone rang at his New Orleans home. Muldaur was on the line and she was getting ready to tour. "She said she couldn't afford to bring her band from California and asked if we could back her," he says.

Jake took the gig and for two years played harmonica and was Muldaur's tour manager. He made contacts and learned more about the nuts and bolts of the music business. Jake took these lessons and now puts them to use with his own band. Fronting a group that has played with some of New Orleans' finest, Jake says every night is a party night that features straight blues, funk and "some swamp stuff." "All the windows are open and all the doors are open," he says. "Expect the
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