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March 2018 - Jake Kershaw

Small Town, Young Guitar, Big Dreams

Story by LCC Radio Reporter Sarah Spohn

Van Halen, ACDC, and the Scorpions. When you hear these bands, you probably think of other 80s metalJake Kershaw, hair bands and classic rock groups. Chances are, you probably don’t think of a 17-year-old blues guitarist. But you should.

His name is Jake Kershaw, and he’s from Albion, Michigan. He’s projected to be a household name soon, to share the ranks of other great blues musicians from the mitten state, like Larry McCray, Thornetta Davis, and Jim McCarty.

Growing up, Kershaw first fell in love with 80s rock, but as soon as his dad brought home a Stevie Ray Vaughn CD, Kershaw became obsessed with blues guitar.

“I got, I think, in my mind, too hooked on him,” Kershaw said of Vaughn, “so I changed to Joe Bonamassa. I had no idea who he was, but now I know a lot about who he is. I’ve seen him live a couple times. I love him.”

Also inspired by Eric Clapton, Tommy Castro, and Jonny Lang, Kershaw not only appreciates the blues, but looks for unique interpretations of the genre.

“A lot of people can be a Stevie Ray Vaughn wannabe, but if you can make it different, than I can appreciate what you’re doing a lot more,” Kershaw said.

As for the genre of blues itself, Kershaw is drawn to the fact that there’s so much room for relatability within the content.

“I think sometimes people think it’s boring because there’s not a lot going on, but you have to feel the emotion of what they went through and what they’re doing now,” he said.

“I mean – some of those guys are 70 and 80 years old up on that stage, just playing like they used to.”

The Heritage guitar and Apex strings-endorsed player has shared stages with some remarkably talented and well-known acts including Jonny Lang, Tommy Castro, Anthony Gomes, and Tab Benoit – all of whom the up-and-coming artist look up to.

“It’s cool to meet the bigger acts, and hear them play and just to have that influence on you,” Kershaw said. “The one thing I always ask them is ‘what would you recommend for me?’ Even if they’ve never heard me play, or whatever, I want to know what they do because if they got into that position, maybe there’s something I’m not doing that I need to start doing.”

He must be doing something right – as he is nominated for OutstaJake Kershawnding Blues Artist, Outstanding Blues Instrumentalist, and Outstanding Blues Writer for the 2018 Detroit Music Awards.

Looking back to his first gig, Kershaw is still humbled he gets to perform with legendary blues acts today.

“The first concert was at an old folks home, and I had to borrow a microphone from somebody. I dressed up just like Stevie Ray Vaughn – with the hat, and the shirt and all the goofy stuff. There was 30 or 40 people there.”

After his first ‘real concert’ in front of 600 people at the Marshall United Methodist Church stage, Kershaw just naturally fell into the world of performing and playing guitar live. At fourteen years old, he received a standing ovation – something the teenager said is still really surprising and humbling.

In fact, there have been a string of memorable moments in this rising musician’s career already. Kershaw has played at the Kalamazoo State Theatre, and for 3,000 people at Grand Rapids’ Delta Plex. In 2017, he played over 80 shows, all while doing work with the National Honor Society, having a first chair in Symphonic Band, Marching Band, and wrote and recorded an album.

One of those big moments was meeting a notable audio engineer, Bill Chrysler (Paul McCartney, Bob Seger, Maroon 5, John Mayer). After winning the Walk the Beat contest in Grand Haven, Jake’s band was given a grand prize package worth $10,000 including a recording session at Third Coast Recording, a professional video, a Local Spins Victory Tour of West Michigan performance venues and more.

Kershaw recorded his debut album, Piece of my Mind, in the Grand Haven Studio, and has plans to record his sophomore album there as well.

The Jake Kershaw Band is currently equipped with bass player Andy Merrild (Rare Earth) and Chip Herbert on drums, both musicians and people Jake admires and is proud to share memories with – both on and off the stage.

“They’re both really nice guys,” he said. “That’s the nice part is you can leave the stage and know that they’re going to represent what you want them to represent, and just be humble and cool.”

In terms of careers this young musician would like to emulate, he’s got big shoes to fill – John Mayer size shoes, to be exact.

“I don’t think the media cares for him very much, but I think he’s very underrated and I think his position and where he works, and how he writes is very ingenious and very different from what people are doing,” Kershaw said.

Joe Bonamassa is another blues music icon Kershaw would be happy to follow in the footsteps of – having made his career the old-fashioned way.
Jake Kershaw
Though these inspirations serve as a daily reminder of where his life and music career could potentially take the high school student, Kershaw still remains steadfast in being true to himself.

“Albert Cummings told me that,” he said. “’Be yourself,’ because everyone else is already taken. You can only be you, and if you spend your life imitating someone else, you’re living a lie,’” Kershaw recalled.

He makes it a point after each show, to head to the merch table to sign CDs, chat with fans about crazy cool Clapton stories or Hendrix memories, and interact with those who appreciate music. Kershaw’s favorite part about performing is being able to connect with those people, especially while playing on stage.

“Blues is a down and out kind of thing,” he said. “I think it’s a venting thing for me, at least. A lot of my experiences are vented in my original songs.” He aims to have audiences relate to elements, and leave happy, in awe of the live experience, the same way he felt after seeing Jonny Lang or Tab Benoit in concert. While his plans for college are still undetermined, as of now, the blues guitar player would love to keep writing, recording and touring with his original music.

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