J Shorty “The Bluesman” Smith kicked off his musical career as a fifth-grader at Banks Elementary School in Lenoir County where he performed doo wop & bebop numbers in talent contests. By the time Shorty reached Savannah High, those genres were no more, although he says the music never changed.
“From bebop & doo wop to blues & Motown: The music wasn’t changing, but it was being changed by name,” Shorty said.
While he was a natural musician, a young Smith had little access to musical instruments, and so instead turned to the harmonica and vocals.
Smith left Lenoir County for Connecticut as a teenager and led a career in the private sector until he returned to the music business in 1987 as a producer, managing acts and performances in his spare time.
Smith returned to Eastern North Carolina in 1999 and continued to lead his production outfit: J Smith Productions. Among numerous smaller concerts, one of his largest contributions to the Kinston music scene came in the form of a collaboration with the Pride of Kinston in the mid-2000s to help launch a music project that eventually became known as the Sand in the Streets music series. But after decades of managing acts and securing sponsors for musical showcases that put other musician’s talents on display, Shorty was finally ready to get back in front of a band himself.
In 2011, Shorty dusted off his Bluesman act and began performing original songs as well as blues classics for audiences in North Carolina’s coastal plain. The overwhelming response to his “Kinston Blues” sound led him to release his first single, “Last Night.”
(VIDEO: See The Bluesman perform his hit live at Kinston’s Red Room)
After extensive studio recording, including work on a special holiday track featuring Gospel vocalist Lessette, Smith released his first album, “The Bluesman,” in February 2018 and for the first time brought his newest songs to online stores and streaming services alongside a special bonus track: a remastered version of the single that started it all: “Last Night.”
Shorty says while there are traces of soul music roots in today’s R&B — “the music world’s latest word for Motown” — witnessing one of rock and roll’s most transformative eras has always kept his focus on what DJs sometimes refer to as “roots rock.”
“The blues was just sung differently,” Shorty said.
According to Smith, while musical genres have been born and reborn since the days of Chuck Berry, blues stayed true to its roots in the soul music of his youth with rhythms and beats that paid homage to his musical heroes like Sam Cook, Otis Redding and Fats Domino.
“It was the way it was sung and played,” Smith remembers. “The feeling of it. You experience life as you get older; the love of two people — that’s what caught my interest in the blues — it was being sung about people loving and caring for one another.”
“It carries almost the same meaning and reality as gospel music,” Smith said. “True life and true love.”
Not satisfied with limiting distribution of his debut album, which is also available as a physical CD, to the United States, Shorty put “The Bluesman” in streaming service marketplaces across the globe, and the international response suggests blues fans the world over had been waiting for a new, authentic blues sound that still captured the warmth of the genre’s rich history.
Shorty’s collection of original blues recordings has been streamed in more than two dozen countries outside of the United States, including Germany, France, Mexico, Hong Kong, Spain, Nigeria, Ghana, Poland, Australia, Canada, Austria, India, China, Denmark, Paraguay, El Salvador, Tanzania, Uganda, Russia, South Africa, Brazil, Sweden, Japan, the Dominican Republic & the United Kingdom.
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