Learning from and growing as Diddley's apprentice
Loomis adds a lot more color to the blues
August 8, 2019
Hamilton Loomis is a big fan of Fort Wayne.
“The people are great there,” Loomis said in an interview with Whatzup. “I’ve probably been playing in Fort Wayne for almost ten years. The people are very loyal and we have a nice following there. It’s always a lot of fun.”
Loomis appears as part of Blues, Brews, BBQ, and Bikes at the Fort Wayne Comedy Club on August 14.
Inspired by greatness
Inspired by a number of traditional blues guitarists such as Joe Hughes, Albert Collins, and Johnny Copeland, Loomis is most closely associated with the legendary Bo Diddley. Diddley befriended Loomis after meeting him as a teenager, influencing not only the direction of Loomis’ music but the direction of his life as well.
The short version of that Diddley story has Loomis going backstage before a Diddley show to get an autograph, bravely breaking out his guitar, and actually playing it for Diddley. Loomis played so well that he was invited on stage later that night to play a song.
The two developed a friendship and played together several times, even co-writing a song called “You Got To Wait,” which appears on Loomis’ 2007 album Ain’t Just Temporary. Diddley passed away in 2008.
“I’m so glad that I was able to have that experience,” Loomis said. “We’d spend hours and hours listening to him tell stories. I learned so much about life and the music business from him.”
Not hemmed in by tradition
Much like some of the other standouts of the genre today, Loomis is not considered “pure blues” since he adds bits and pieces of other genres into his music to create his own style.
On his latest effort, Basics, you can hear old-school blues but also elements of rock, funk, soul, and even pop.
Loomis said that although he is most often categorized as a blues musician, the only bluesy element of his music is his guitar playing, since he learned from old blues masters like Diddley and Collins.
“Even when I was a kid, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to do traditional blues like they did because I didn’t live the life that they had lived,” Loomis said. “You have to be true to yourself as an artist.
“I started writing songs that were more upbeat and more appropriate to my life, borrowing from all the styles of music that I listened to growing up. It’s been my biggest blessing and curse because people want to categorize you or define you, but my music is unique enough that accomplishing that is hard to do. However, it’s unique enough that when people do discover it, they think, ‘Oh, this is interesting. It’s not just straight blues.’”
Although albums are the vehicle Loomis uses to get new music into the world, the live show is where you will find him at his best. Every show is a unique interactive experience because he involves the audience in the same way all of his favorite performers did when he was growing up.
“That’s one of the great things about a live performance is that it is engaging,” Loomis said. “There’s an energy there that you can only get at a live show. Of course, we feed off of the audience’s energy and they feed off of ours. I enjoy the intimacy of live shows and I enjoy watching the reactions on people’s faces. That helps dictate where the show will go.”
While Loomis is a pure artist at heart, he hopes his music does more than just bring the fine art of the blues to the ears of listeners who crave it. He also uses it to raise awareness of congenital hyperinsulinism, a condition that affects his five-year-old son Bo — named after Bo Diddley, of course.
“It changes your focus,” Loomis said of his son’s condition. “I’ve slowed down touring to spend more time with my family. It gives you another mission and another purpose. He’s healthy now but he’s behind because of his late diagnosis. You just have to turn it around and turn his unfortunate medical situation into one where maybe we can save some other families from going through this if they can get an early diagnosis.
“That’s part of what Basics is about,” he continued. “It’s the basics of life and love and family and music and how it all ties together. Probably a third of the songs on that CD were inspired by my son.
“The song ‘Sugar Baby’ is called that because that is what kids who are inflicted with congenital hyperinsulinism are called. If you listen to the lyrics really closely they’re talking about ‘raising up’ blood sugar. But that song could mean something completely different to someone else, too. I love that. I love taking songs that are inspired by that one thing and making it broader and having more of a universal meaning so that maybe they can strike a nerve with more people” when they are interpreted in a different way.
Having performed for nearly 20 years, Loomis said the biggest lesson he has learned as an artist is to be open minded.
“There so many types of people you can meet and learn from and different ways of doing things, different mindsets and different ways of life, even just here in our own country,” he said. “Every American should travel just to get a taste of other cultures and other mindsets. It keeps you from having blinders on. It shows you that there are other ways of thinking of things. You learn so much about people and about tolerance as well.
“I’m so glad to be making music for a living because it’s literally one of the only things in our very divided world right now that can bring people together. That’s really fulfilling.”
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