Blessed with the blues
Electromatics aim to play well, and have fun doing it
"Don't quit your day job, goes the old saying typically cast upon musicians with some degree of derision. For some, in fact, it's symbolic evidence of their inability to sustain themselves by turning their art into commerce. But for Jon Liebman, bandleader, vocalist and harmonica player of the blues band the Electromatics, his day job as an audio/visual technician for a law firm has actually been a blessing.
"It's given me the opportunity to not have to play places I don't want to," says Liebman, whose band performs Dec. 22 at the Blue Raccoon in Marietta. "I don't have to play a sports bar [to pay the bills]. The day job enables me to go where I want, when I want, with whom I want. That's important to me, because I don't like sports bars. I don't like three TVs hanging over my head while I'm playing."
Ironically, Liebman isn't playing any fewer gigs; he's still logging about 20 to 25 nights a month on the bandstand. But less financial pressure has meant more opportunities to simply enjoy performing.
"I had started thinking about music as a job," Liebman explains. "It's supposed to be fun, supposed to be an outlet. When people come to see us, I want them to say, 'It sounds great and it looks like they're having such a great time on stage.'"
Liebman, 24, was born in Jonesboro and later moved with his family to Sandy Springs. "I was always a big music head," he recalls. "My parents raised me on oldies — Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson — and in high school, I was big into classic rock 'n' roll and the Grateful Dead."
But Liebman soon discovered the blues roots of the rock tunes he was enjoying. Harmonica player Paul Butterfield was an early influence. "I never wanted to emulate his style, never was a fan of the single-note, heavy-vibrato style. But I liked his horn-like sense of phrasing," he says.
Liebman's interest in Butterfield led him to the classic blues masters of the '50s and '60s, including "Little Walter" Jacobs and "Big Walter" Horton, and more recent practitioners like Rod Piazza and the late William Clarke.
It was while attending American University in Washington, D.C., that Liebman got his most intense blues education, "hanging out" with and learning from jump R&B bandleader Big Joe Maher, Maher's sax player, Joe Stanley, harmonica player Doug Jay, members of the Nighthawks and others.
"They took me under their wing, taught me what to do and what not to do," Liebman recalls.
After college, and with the D.C. blues scene dissipating, Liebman returned to Atlanta in 1999, working with guitarist and close friend Sean Costello before forming the Electromatics from the remnants of Stoney Brooks' band, Ju Ju Root.
These days, Liebman is versatile enough to work successfully in a five-piece band format at blues venues like Fat Matt's Rib Shack, where he has a weekly Wednesday gig. He also plays jazz clubs such as Sambuca Jazz Cafe. And in some settings, he is just as likely to cover Frank Sinatra as he is Muddy Waters.
The Electromatics also perform as a seven-piece every other Thursday (next gig: Dec. 27) at Fuzzy's. The lineup includes King Johnson guitarist Oliver Wood, alto saxophonist Nick Longo and tenor saxophonist John Longo. And for the last six months, Liebman has been playing harmonica with Bill Sheffield's Ringtail Rounders — who flavor their blues with folk, ragtime and country — Friday nights at the Blue Raccoon.
It's all part of his loosely knit plan to fully explore the blues.
"I want people to come in and realize that [blues] doesn't have to be a guitar trio band," he says. "It doesn't have to be Stevie Ray Vaughan. Blues encompasses everything. I want to put that joy across. I hope people get that out of my shows."
The Electromatics — Liebman, Mark D'Alessio (guitar), Matt Wauchope (piano), Dave Roth (bass), and Tim Gunther (drums) — perform Sat., Dec. 22, at the Blue Raccoon, 188 Garrison Road, Marietta. Show time is 9:30 p.m. $5. 770-426-6400.
This column is a weekly feature covering music outside the Perimeter. E-mail or mail "outside" music news to Bryan Powell, 830 Josh Lane, Lawrenceville, GA 30045.??