January 9, 2013
LIMA — “I got my mojo working,” Amari Russell belted out as her Liberty Arts Magnet School classmates responded back while jamming on kazoos, washboards, spoons, jugs and a wash tub base.
A short time earlier, pupils and mandolin expert Rich DelGrosso played as Amari sang a blues song she wrote.
“I got a rush of excitement,” the eighth grader said. “It felt like an honor. He took his time and helped me out writing my song.”
DelGrosso is spending the week working with Liberty and St. Gerard Catholic School pupils. He’s introducing them to jug band, or “found” instruments, of the 1920s and 1930s. Pupils made some of the instruments. The visit is part of the annual Blues in the Schools program sponsored by the Blues Committee of Lima.
Jerry “Pickle” Felter, of the Blues Committee, said it is the first time the group has brought this kind of “poor man’s music” to the schools.
“They made music with what they found in their homes back in those days, anything for rhythm,” he said. “This generation, they don’t have to make anything. It is all store bought or given to them.”
Addi Wireman strummed on a wash tub base, consisting of a string, tub and stick. She called the sound from all the instruments cool.
“I didn’t think you would be able to hear it,” she said of the base she helped make. “But you really can. It keeps everybody together.”
Amari added, “It is interesting to know that the music can come from anything, and that music comes from everywhere because we are so used to having expensive instruments like cellos, violins, trumpets and drums.”
DelGrosso, who grew up in Detroit, started out playing rock ‘n’ roll on the guitar. He bought his first mandolin while a senior in high school and started playing folk music and bluegrass. Then, he heard a recording of Chicago Blues musician Johnny Young.
“When I heard blues on the mandolin, I said that is what I have to do,” he said. “The tone of the instrument mixed with others just is a natural.”
DelGrosso started researching the mandolin and found it had been forever played by black musicians. He met many of these musicians while writing articles for various blues magazines. He has presented workshops across the United States and Europe, earning him the Keeping the Blues Alive Award from the Blues Foundation in Memphis.
DelGrosso hopes pupils will take from the week an understanding that they can sit down with their friends and make music without spending money on expensive instruments.
“You can just pick up a kazoo or washboard, and you can play stuff,” he said. “I think we have lost something in that people don’t really think about making their own music, doing music for themselves. People used to perform for each other. They played with each other. It was a bonding kind of thing. Now we rely on professionals, and we rely on recordings for our music.”
DelGrosso will perform at 7 p.m. today at the Allen County Museum, 620 W. Market St. The free program is sponsored by the Blues Committee of Lima and the Allen County Historical Society. The pupils’ work will culminate with a 10:50 a.m. performance Friday at Liberty.