Blues music is usually associated with depressing lyrics. Songs filled with tales of heartbreak, alcoholism and violence are typical of the genre. However, Australian bluesman Juzzie Smith is far too upbeat to have the blues. But he sure can play a mean harmonica and guitar like the best bluesmen going around.
Juzzie’s introduction to the blues led to him delving further into music.
“The harmonica’s what sort of introduced me to music. I fell in love with the sound of the harmonica and the blues style. I first heard it listening to a TV jeans commercial and I thought: ‘Wow, that’s really cool!’ I bought a cassette and a little book and taught myself from that.”
After his introduction to the sound, Juzzie began exploring the blues even more. “I really like harmonica players like Little Walter, Sonny Terry, Howlin’ Wolf. My mum used to listen to Elvis and I usually liked the bluesy ones. I just went on the path of ‘Oh, wow! These guys are really cool!’ I remember when all my friends were listening to Bon Jovi and I was listening to all these guys that were dead.”
Juzzie has been performing solo for over a decade. On stage, Juzzie is a multi-tasking groove machine, playing harmonica, guitar and stomping on kick pedals to give him a simultaneous beat. His solo play has given Juzzie more freedom to explore his sound, most of which is done on the streets at markets and festivals across Australia.
“I love to play for the people. I just want to share music and connect to people and I’ve found markets are a beautiful avenue.
"It’s amazing what happens on the streets; you get that thing where people are cruising through their day in their own heads and they can connect to the music and go: ‘Wow’. It can turn their frown upside down. It’s amazing what happens. When you’re playing something people really love, you can get 100 people within 5 minutes.”
Through street performance, Juzzie has also become a bit of a showman. Juzzie will pull out a number of tricks as he performs, including juggling instruments while playing them. Thanks to the internet, Juzzie’s energetic performances have seen him go viral a number of times picking up fans across the world.
“That’s the thing with street performing; people capture it, then it goes viral. I was playing at a blues festival and a local paper filmed my set. I just checked it and it has 22 million views! I think that leads to people going, ‘I love this music’.
"I just found out I’m more popular in America than I am in Australia. My iTunes sales went crazy overseas. I was number two on the blues charts in the UK and number one on Canada’s chart. It’s a little bit overwhelming.”
Juzzie will be returning to Blues On Broadbeach, a festival he says is “one of my favourites. It’s such a cool event because it’s free. They had something like 156,000 people go through it last year and over half of that was from out of town. That’s the beauty of music, it brings people together. It’s really beautiful.”
Blues On Broadbeach (Gold Coast) takes place 18-21 May.