“I remember my mother singing ‘The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face’ to me in my crib, along with ‘One Little Indian Boy.’ Then I got into her records—Janis Joplin, Neil Diamond and stuff. But she eventually bought a Howlin’ Wolf record and me and my brother made fun of it because of the cover. But when I finally heard it, I listened to it every night through all of high school. The Janis Joplin stuff had a huge impact on me, too. Watching her perform on old VHS tapes definitely touched and shaped how I approach the stage—just all naked and vulnerable.
I fell in love with the harmonica at 14. By 20 I was working professionally. Little Walter, Paul Butterfield, George ‘Harmonica’ Smith, Junior Wells and James Cotton were big influences early on. Later I met Pat Ramsey, who was one of Johnny Winter’s guys. I moved to Memphis to be near him. He became a lot like a father to me. The whole skeletal structure of how I play is basically an audio X-ray of Pat. I just added a lot of bebop glisses and some chromaticism to it. As far as music outside of harmonica, it’s been Louis Jordan, Bird, Miles, Hendrix, Joplin, Canned Heat, Monk, Sun Ra, Roland Kirk, Art Pepper.
New Orleans was the first city I ever went to on tour. I was living and eventually touring out of Jackson, Mississippi. We came to New Orleans and were driving around the Quarter—I saw men holding hands, and heard all this funky jazz music. I was in the closet as bisexual/queer so it was liberating just to see that and have it be a backdrop so funky and beautiful, it all looked like a Tim Burton set to me. Later I would come here at least five or six times a year to visit or play. I don’t think anyone needs my opinion on the significance of New Orleans music, but music and musicians from here have changed the face of funk, rock, jazz and blues. They changed me, too. Dr John sang ‘Such a Night’ to me from the stage at Jubilee Jam in Jackson—it was beautiful and scary at the same time.
I had to come back to live here. Really live here—especially to live here sober. I wanted to be around it, hear it on ’OZ, be part of it, sleep it, breathe it. Let those beats in the cracks infect every pore of my skin and seep in, that’s all I want. Just to be in this magazine since I was 21 years old, I’m 44 now, this is a dream come true.”
Learn more about Jason Ricci here.