Hubby Jenkins revisits the African-American roots of country and rock at McCabe’s

The plentiful sidewalks, corners, parks and subway platforms of New York have long been a training ground for hungry musicians. Nothing beats indifference, and spontaneous interaction with passersby, to inspire a busking artist to hone their performance chops. Such was the case with native Brooklynite Hubby Jenkins, who learned how to entertain an audience on the job, er, street.

More unusual was Jenkins’ music of choice. His parents’ record collection had fed him a steady diet of the Beatles and soul, and he’d played cello in his high school orchestra; turning musical detective, he explored folk music, which introduced him to Bob Dylan, whose songs led him to country blues masters such as Blind Willie Johnson and Bukka White. Delta blues guitarist Skip James’ recordings proved revelatory; Jenkins started playing pre-WWII blues on guitar, and dug into the African-American roots of country and rock. Those varied strands of history and culture have defined his music since, whether on his own or with Grammy-winning string band ensemble the Carolina Chocolate Drops, whose ranks he joined in 2011. His self-titled 2016 debut album mixes blues chestnuts with gospel and folk traditionals like “Coo Coo Bird.”

An amiable presence onstage, Jenkins usually accompanies his smooth singing with guitar — he’s a crisply commanding fingerpicker and slide player — or banjo. He likes to inform audiences that he’s “contractually obligated” to remind them that the banjo is a slave instrument modeled after African counterparts and created on Southern plantations, and that within its plangent tones and syncopated rhythms are the roots of American music. It’s a vital history lesson that gives dimension to the still socially and politically relevant blues, gospel, old-time, ragtime, early jazz and fiddle tunes that comprise his repertoire.

— Bliss Bowen

Hubby Jenkins headlines and John Reed Torres opens at 8 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 2) at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, 3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. Tickets are $20. Call (310) 828-4497 or visit mccabes.com.

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