Long before he was known as Rockin' Jake, a young Lawrence Jacobs laid eyes on a harmonica. He had fallen in love with the blues. The harmonica seemed easy enough, an accessible instrument that he could master quickly and soon enough be a blues master like his idols.
Of course, things didn't quite happen so easily. But nearly 38 years later, he's still as enamored with the blues as he was as a teenager. He still plays the harmonica with the same gusto as when he first picked it up.
"I love the sound. I love the feel playing it. I love the feel when you hit a nice low note and you can feel it in your lungs," he said. "It's a very expressive instrument. You can get a wide range of emotion. You can cry, you can scream, you can rock out, you can be sweet, you can be sad."
The Rockin' Jake Band plays March 30 at The Smokehouse. Rockin' Jake, as he prefers to be called, has spent his career playing a down-and-dirty style of party blues that feels right at home in a dive bar along Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
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In fact, he calls New Orleans his second home, having spent nearly 15 years there before Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. His real home, though, is Connecticut. He grew up combing record stores for blues albums and seeking out live shows for musicians like Sugar Ray Norcia, another Connecticut native who played harmonica.
"I just fell in love with the blues growing up," he said. "It was one of those things where you hear something for the first time and you say, 'Wow, what is this?' I loved it, and I knew I had to play it."
Jake and his wife settled in St. Louis after evacuating New Orleans. They now live near West Palm Beach, Fla., a move made so Jake can be closer to his elderly mother. Until recently, the band was on the road playing about 200 shows a year.
All that time, he's been playing the harmonica. He's tried other instruments, even plays a little guitar every now and then, but nothing has quite fit him like the harmonica.
"I bought it because I thought it'd be the easiest way to get where I am today," he said. "I kept playing it because, for some reason, I just can't put it down."