published Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012

Chattanooga blues player Lon Eldridge represented U.S. at 2011 Belgian music conference

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    Lon Eldridge, 25, is a young blues guitarist and singer/songwriter who teaches at the Folk School of Chattanooga.
    Photo by Tim Barber.
    enlarge photo

ABOUT HIM

• Name: Lon Eldridge.

• Age: 25.

• Education: Graduated Rhea County High School in 2004.

• Family: Brother, David Eldridge, 39, and nephew, Brandon Eldridge, 5.

• Birthplace: Richlands, Va.

• Website: www.loneldridge.com.

FUN Q&A’s

• Favorite song to listen to: “Autumn Leaves” by Eva Cassidy.

• Favorite song to sing: “Mr. Sandman” by The Cordettes.

• Dream gig: Playing at the Grammy Awards ceremony or at any House of Blues.

• Place he’d like to visit: Italy or Bulgaria.

• Person he’d like to meet: Robert Johnson.

• Nickname: “Doc” and “Uncle Lonty.”

SEE HIM

Lon Eldridge will be performing 7 p.m. tonight at The Camp House, 1427 Williams St. Cover is $2. He also will be performing a free show 9 p.m. Saturday at The Office, 901 Carter St., with his new duo, The Snake Doctors.

Lon Eldridge grew up in a musical family, but his most life-altering musical experience didn’t take place in his childhood home but in a Best Buy parking lot late at night.

Sitting in his car listening to “John the Revelator,” a collection of songs by celebrated Mississippi-born artist Son House, Eldridge said he fell in love with blues music’s rawness and honesty. It was a passion he said has guided his own journey as a student and practitioner of blues and other Americana styles ever since.

“It was just an ineffable experience,” the lanky, mustachioed 25-year-old explained. “A lot of the stuff I’d been listening to was super-produced and pushed by the industry, whereas this music was obscure and nobody listens to it anymore, but it’s still relevant and valuable to the human condition.

“That’s what I like about it. You can connect with anyone with the blues because it’s about hard times, and everybody has hard times; everybody has something going on. It’s universal.”

That philosophy was put to the test Aug. 1-8 when Eldridge and two other Chattanooga musicians, John Boulware and Christie Burns, traveled to Ostend, Belgium, for Ethno Flanders, a conference that unites performers from different countries to share their music and culture. The Scenic City trio were America’s only representatives at the conference.

Besides playing as a solo artist, Eldridge recently formed a new duo, The Snake Doctors, with local singer/fiddler/banjo player Chris Ryan. He also teaches at the Folk School of Chattanooga and serves as an unlicensed music therapist at Summit View Senior Community.

Q. Who are some of your greatest influences?

A. Definitely Son House and Robert Johnson. In addition to that, [Mississippi] Fred McDowell, Bukka White, Skip James and Charley Patton.

Q. What is the most important quality to nail when playing blues music?

A. It has to come from you. Even if you’re playing someone else’s song, if you can somehow bend it around your own life and make it emotionally yours; as a performer, people can see that. And if you’re just there and you’re just playing a song, they’ll see right through that, too. With original songs, I don’t write about anything that I haven’t experienced first hand. There are some exceptions, but with all the songs I play, original or otherwise, there’s a very deep connection with the music.

Q. How does the listener benefit from that emotional investment?

A. I think it’s almost like a form of therapy. It is a spiritual experience when someone connects with your music and comes up and tell you about it. That’s really cool.

Q. How often does that happen when you play?

A. I would say just about every show someone will come up to me. They may not say, “Hey, this connected with me,” specifically naming a song or a line in the song, but they might say, “Hey man, I enjoy what you do.” You can see it in their eyes that that connection has been made.

Q. Do you have to live the blues to sing them?

A. Absolutely. Not knocking them, but a lot of middle-aged white guys playing blues covers, they’re good musicians and great guys, but I just can’t jive, can’t get into their music, because it seems empty. I know that they haven’t really lived it. I haven’t had the hardest life myself, but when I’m up on stage, it’s like I’m channeling something from the past that kind of just creeps in. ... It comes from the soul. You either got it or you don’t.

Q. When you’re writing music, what are you most concerned with conveying?

A. I guess it’s two fold. I like the guitar line to be just ... tight, clean. Basically, I want the music to sound how it’s supposed to sound, so when I get on stage, I’m confident. The other side of it is that, depending on the song, I like the lyrics to be clever or ... suggestive. [Laughs.] There’s a difference between being lewd and being vulgar. I don’t want to be vulgar.

Q. Your mustache is very distinctive. How long have you had it?

A. This is about five or six months. I change my appearance a lot. I’ve had hair down to my shoulders; I’ve been shaved bald; I’ve been clean shaven, had a beard and had a mustache. This time around, the mustache is here to stay for a while because it is so easily identifiable. It’s almost like branding or a trademark.

Q. Are you working on any recordings?

A. Yeah, I’ve got one in the brainstorming stages with [local guitarist/harmonica player] Ed Huey. Hopefully, I want to get something done with The Snake Doctors so we have something to sell at shows, even if it’s just an EP.

Q. What’s most rewarding about working as a musical therapist?

A. The cool thing about it is ... verbal speech and singing are on complete opposite sides of the brain. A person whose speech areas of the brain have been affected and damaged, if you play a song they remember, they will come right out and sing it in pitch and remember all the words. It just brings so much joy to that person because they’re able to express themselves. It makes them feel valued and that they can contribute something, which is huge. If you’re in an assisted living home, things can get pretty dreary sometimes, emotionally. To see people come out of themselves and light up is a truly rewarding thing.

about Casey Phillips...

Casey Phillips has worked as a features reporter in the Life department since May 2007. He writes about entertainment, consumer technology, animals and news of the weird. Casey hails from Knoxville and earned a bachelor of science degree in journalism and a bachelor of arts in German from Middle Tennessee State University, where he worked as the features editor for the student newspaper, Sidelines. Casey's writing has earned numerous accolades, including first and second place ...

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