Earlier this month at the House of Blues in Hollywood, Baton Rouge’s Jonathon “Boogie” Long won GuitarCenter’s fifth annual King of the Blues competition. Starting with his local win in May at the music chain’s Baton Rouge store, Long surpassed thousands of guitarists nationwide to become one of five finalists. A team of all-star judges ultimately picked him as victor.
“Jonathon 'Boogie’ Long put on an incredible performance at the 2011 grand finals,” Maria Brown, manager of music and entertainment marketing at GuitarCenter, said. “He unquestionably earned the title of King of the Blues.”
“It’s the biggest break in my life,” the 23-year-old singer-guitarist said last week following his return from Hollywood.
The value of Long’s prizes, which include $25,000 cash and a studio session with Grammy-winning producer Pete Anderson, exceed $40,000. He plans to use the cash to finance production of the album he’s wanted to make for years.
A guitar player since he was 6, Long dropped out of high school to turn pro. He toured with local reggae band Henry Turner Jr. and Flavor at 14 and joined Luther Kent’s big band, Trick Bag, at 17. He and his band, Blues Revolution, play locally, including a regular Tuesday night gig at Big Head’s Tavern.
Long’s parents, Michael and Tyronza, made the trip to Los Angeles for the King of the Blues finals thanks to a fundraising event in Baton Rouge.
“I just wanted it to be over,” their talented son said of the finals. “All the contestants just wanted it to be over. They were all really cool people. Nobody liked the competition feeling. We wished we were there just to jam together.”
During sound check for the finals, time seemed to slow down, Long recalled. Also, he couldn’t believe he’d gone so far in the competition.
“Not like GuitarCenter did a bad job or anything,” he said. “It was all great. Everything was spot on, but it was still overwhelming.”
After Long drew last to play, he chose not to be in the audience while the other finalists performed.
“I can’t watch,” he said. “I sit in the stairwell or I go outside and smoke a cigarette. I wanted my mind to be clear when I got up there to do my thing. But it was loud and I heard everybody from downstairs. Everybody did a great job.”
Joining Long’s parents in the audience, his Blues Revolution band members traveled to Los Angeles, too.
“I knew he was gonna win,” bassist Zachary Matchett said. “He started stomping his foot during his acoustic section and then, when he stood up, the crowd went wild, I knew he had it. He was the best blues man up there.”
Drummer Chad Solomon was more cautious.
“I thought he was the winner, but you never know what the judges are gonna say,” Solomon said. “But it was a really great, amazing experience.”
Solomon, a local music veteran, has been working with Long since 2007.
“It was unusual for someone so young to be that into the blues,” he recalled. “Jonathon was always saying, ?I wanna bring the blues forward. If young people my age don’t listen this music it’s gonna die out.’ So from the very beginning this kid was on a mission to save the blues.”
Long even wrote a song about being a blues-loving kid.
“I feel it so much,” he said of the genre and his motivation for writing “Tired Of People Telling Me I’m Too Young To Play The Blues.”
“That was the music that affected Jonathon, that he was drawn to,” Solomon said.
“I can cry with the blues without physically crying,” Long explained. “I can be angry without physically being angry. I can say exactly what I want to say with my guitar, without speaking it out of mouth. It’ll make you feel like, ?Oh, that’s any angry lick,’ or, ?That’s a weeping lick.’ You can hear it talk.
“And whether it be funk, blues, slow blues, soul blues, when it’s tight and grooving, you just got to feel it. You can’t help but pat your foot or rock back and forth. It feels right. It feels good. It’s not too sad, it’s not too angry. It’s just enough.”
Long credits his expressive blues power to early exposure to such old pro Baton Rouge blues men as Kenny Acosta, Sundanze, Rudy Richard, James Johnson, Oscar “Harpo” Davis, Kenny Neal, Larry Garner and Henry Gray.
“All those old, soulful cats,” he said. “I was around those spirits, playing on stage with them, feeling the energy. Even though it’s a blues jam and it’s not always perfect, you can still tell that they mean what they do.”