Pokey LaFarge has a voice that brings back styles of the good old days. He’s a young songwriter who mixes country, blues and jazz into his own Americana style. He’ll be at the Castle Theatre in Bloomington Saturday. Watching LaFarge on stage is like traveling back in time.
Just add a couple of scratches and pops to a Pokey LaFarge song like “La La Blues,” and you’d think you just put on a vinyl record you found in your grandparents’ attic. LaFarge is the guy with the vintage suit, the slightly tilted fedora and the shined shoes. His music sounds the way he looks: classy and soulful.
He’s based in St. Louis, but he’s a local boy at heart. He says one of his favorite hangouts was Jake’s Pizza in the old Downtown Normal. Back when he was a student at U-High, he’d meet there with friends during lunch period.
“Juice up there, Juice was playing the blues. The real blues. All the time in there. Remember they had the murals with all the great blues guys up in there? It was like a museum, you know. Go in there and we could get away from the teachers and smoke cigarettes, it was great!” he laughs.
“The first blues record that I heard that really did it for me was the Muddy Waters “Folk Singers” album,” he says. “When you dig back just a little bit under the surface, it opens up a whole other world to what I would say is the real music of America.”
Once LaFarge discovered that real American music, it was only a matter of time before he joined in. He’s a modern-day storyteller with the kind of sound you’d imagine booming from the inside of a smoky 1930s roadhouse.
“I love old music,” he says. “I love instrumental prowess, I think that’s a big thing missing in music today. And what happened to music that swings? Music that drives? I’ve always been trying to find my own style and try and make music that has great instrumentation, great melody, but also having lyrics that can affect people.”
“When people say you’re reviving “old timey” music. What’s your response to that?”
“I would say that it’s never died. I mean, this is American music, man. Blues, country, rock & roll, doo-wop, we invented it. America invented it. It’s influenced the world.”
Early in his career, LaFarge says he took to the streets, performing across the country with his mandolin playing wherever people would listen. He eventually caught the attention of famous guitarist and record producer Jack White.
“He heard me on WSM radio down in Nashville, the granddaddy of all radio stations,” he says. “And he called me up and wanted to do the single. And it’s turned into a good relationship.”
Not only did LaFarge appear on White’s latest album, “Blunderbuss,” in 2011, he also recorded the song, “Chitlin Cookin’ in Cheatham County” off White’s label, Third Man Records. From street corners to the main stage, LaFarge says this is what he was born to do.
“That’s what I want, you know. If you’re a true artist, a true musician, you have no choice but to create and make music and that’s going to be everyday till the day that I die,” he says. “Hopefully it’s a long life.”
He returns to Central Illinois this weekend for a much anticipated local performance.
“We’re gonna blow the roof off that Castle Theatre, man!”
He says it’ll be a special event.
“It’ll be my Grandma Heissler’s 87th birthday,” he says. “She’ll be front and center. Can’t tell if she really enjoys one thing I’m doing, but like a Grandma she just smiles and cheers all the while.”
Pokey LaFarge: the young songwriter bridging the generations with his own brand of American music.