Talking with Jeff Hill and The Dayton Blues Society
By Khalid Moss
For his fulltime day job, Daytonian Jeff Hill — a bespectacled gentleman with chrome braces anchoring his teeth — is a logistics engineer for Wright State University who occasionally travels to exotic locations to troubleshoot for the commanders at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.
But it’s no secret that he also has a passion for the Blues. In addition to being a veteran Blues guitarist, keyboardist and vocalist, he is the current president of the Dayton Blues Society.
Formed in 2008 by Marty Romie and Hill, the DBS first recruited members during the 2008 Dayton Blues Festival and currently has a roster of more than 200 associates, and a nine-member Board of Directors.
“The Dayton Blues Society has three distinct parts,” explained Hill during a casual lunch at Oregon Express. “We promote the Blues, preserve the Blues and support the Blues in Dayton. Marty and I started this thing in the spring of 2008. Later we decided we were going to have a monthly Sunday Blues Jam. That’s a day when the musicians aren’t playing and it’s early in the day, so people can jam and still go home and get some sleep before work the next day.
“So we held our first jam at Gilly’s nightclub hosted by the Low Rent Blues Band. Since that time we’ve been to 24 different venues with 28 different bands hosting jams around the Miami Valley. It has really been successful.”
Later, as it began to grow, the DBS added an annual birthday celebration to the lineup.
“We started having an annual birthday party here at the Oregon Express. It will be held in July of this year, and guitarist Scotty Bratcher is going to host it for us.”
Like the Dayton Philharmonic Orchestra, Muse Machine, the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company and other notable arts organizations, the Dayton Blues Society has evolved even further by adding an educational wing to its list of services.
“In the spring of 2010, we got together our ‘Blues in the Schools’ program,” explained Hill. “That is the ‘preserve’ part of our three goals. We have a group of three guys who are involved — myself, Reece Lincoln of the Reece Lincoln Band and Dino Rogers on guitar.”
“When we started Blues in the Schools, ‘Shakin Dave’ (Bluesman and WYSO radio personality Dave Hussong) was helping us out, but he got busy and had to bow out. Nowadays, we go into the schools and perform for as little as fourteen students — these are music students who bring their horns and instruments — and we get them to play with us. It is really phenomenal. We’ve gone from fourteen to over five hundred students at a time. We play acoustic music but occasionally we bring amps and do the whole nine yards. It’s a blast.”
Hill feels that it is important for the younger generation — steeped in Rap, Hip Hop, iTunes and Club music — to have a connection with the stylistic influences upon which the current trends are built.
“We can do this for any age group,” he said. “It’s a blast when you can tell the stories of the artists and then go into a song.”
On Sunday, March 11 DBS is hosting a benefit/jam session at Canal Street, featuring an allstar lineup with Scotty Bratcher and Noah Wotherspoon. The latter name may be familiar to Dayton audiences who discovered him years ago when he was a certified guitar prodigy.
“He was 12 when I first heard him at McGuffy’s House of Draft opening up for Steppenwolf or somebody,” recounted Hill. “He’s 30 now. I was talking to him at Gilly’s at our annual showcase and suggested we do a benefit together. He was really excited. For the showcase, I wanted to get all the great musicians in one room without it being a funeral.”
Hill has an encyclopedic knowledge of the entire pantheon of the Blues from the “British Invasion” of the early ‘60s to its discovery and later acceptance and support by white musicians in this country. To pick his brain, we asked him some questions about the Blues:
From Gatemouth Brown to Muddy Waters You can’t be a bluesman without a nickname. What’s yours?
The Kid. It’s good you brought this up. As part of our school program I’ve been bringing this very thing up. I say, “You may not be very familiar with the blues but you are familiar with Rap. Okay? So you might have your Snoop Doggy Dogg but I’ve got my Lightening Hopkins.” So I compare the Rappers to Blues guys. [Jeff Hill]
Why do you play the Blues?
The British Invasion. In the ‘60s all these guys were coming over here from England then going back and recording music that went to the top. It wasn’t until 1970 when I heard B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone” that I realized all these British guys were playing jacked-up blues. I loved it. [JH]
Do you record the Blues?
I do. I actually did a Blues jingle for A Able this past fall. Seriously. They are one of our sponsors and have been very kind to us. The owner asked us to write a blues jingle. I did and they played it on the radio. [JH]
And while the Dayton Blues Society really is a one-of-a-kind enterprise, engaging and promoting blues in the area, the Society also shares goals with a number of other similar Blues Organizations, including the Cincy Blues Society, the Columbus Blues society and the Cleveland Blues Society. For more information on the organization and upcoming events, visit http://daytonbluessociety.com/wp/.
Contact DCP freelance writer Khalid Moss at KhalidMosst@DaytonCityPaper.com