Saturday, May 18, 2024

To the Blues and Beyond

“Now we’re cooking with gas!”

That’s how JP Soars accurately characterized his own set during a break between songs last fall at the Funky Biscuit in Boca Raton. It was a Monday night, but you couldn’t tell it from the packed and energetic house.

Appearing with his signature flat cap and ponytail, and backed by a five-piece band, the longtime blues-rock guitarist had opened his set with a couple of scorching numbers, each tracking well north of jukebox length, with plenty of space for improvisatory exploration. Soars’ primal, protean playing carried each number; he occasionally finessed the notes from his guitar but just as often extracted them from the strings as a dentist would a stubborn tooth. To put it another way, if his instrument was a wild animal, Soars spent his set alternately taming it and letting it loose.

“The solos are pretty much 100-percent improvised,” Soars said, a couple of days later. “I have little road maps of where I’m going to go, but it’s never exactly the same. It’s whatever mood you might be in that night, the vibe of the room, the energy of the people—it all plays a part.

“It’s a lot of trial and error. In doing it for so long, you kind of learn what stuff works, and what doesn’t. You learn what notes not to go to.”

Soars frequented the right notes that night, balancing his bluesy bailiwick with dexterous Latin guitar, surf licks a la Dick Dale, and gypsy jazz inspired by one of his heroes, guitarist Django Reinhardt. But the flavors melded together, like in a good gumbo.

As well they should: For decades, Soars has been an institution in South Florida music and beyond. He performs relentlessly, playing some 200 dates a year, many in the tri-county area but also Orlando, Tampa, Jacksonville, Naples, Fort Myers. Music from his six albums—five of them self-released—garners regular airplay on SiriusXM’s Little Steven’s Underground Garage station, and in 2021, he was nominated for a national Blues Music Award in the Contemporary Blues Male Artist category.

All of which is a far cry from the musician’s humble beginnings, in Cedarville, Arkansas, population 1,410 per the 2020 Census. The oldest of seven children, “I grew up on 100 acres of land and four miles of dirt road down another dirt road, in the middle of nowhere, up in the Ozarks,” he says.

His family moved to West Palm Beach in 1985 for work, and Soars, who knew from a young age that he wanted to pursue music, would enjoy his a-ha moment three years later, when he won a raffle. The prize? A Gibson S.G. electric guitar, two front-row tickets to see BB King live, and a backstage pass to meet the legendary guitarist.

“I knew, when I saw BB King, that it was timeless music,” Soars recalls. “It went straight to my soul. … This is music that I can be playing when I’m in my 60s, my 70s, my 80s, that crosses all boundaries.”

The moment reads like the origin story it is, but it would take years for Soars to channel the blues full-time. Enamored with Metallica as a teenager, Soars played in a thrash-metal band called Raped Ape for eight years, and from 1998 to 2005, he played in another metal outfit, Divine Empire, often while gigging his blues act simultaneously. The blues eventually won out.

“I couldn’t see myself being in my 50s playing that kind of music,” says Soars, who is now 54. “What I was noticing was, OK, I’m getting older, and the crowd is staying the same. I couldn’t imagine myself still playing for young, angry, pissed-off people at this age.”

These days, Soars lives in Boca. He’s never been married, and he doesn’t have children, which helps to explain his road-tested lifestyle. But the COVID pause helped shift his priorities. His calendar is still stacked, but since the pandemic, he’s playing fewer tour dates and more hometown shows.

“I re-evaluated where I want to be, what I want to do, and how I want to spend the next 20 years of my life,” he says. “Touring is hard; it takes a lot out of you, sitting in the van for four hours a day, six hours a day, eight hours a day, trying to find healthy food to eat, trying to get exercise in between it all, trying to sleep well.

“I enjoy being home,” he adds. “I’ve slowed down a little bit. Here in Florida, we’re really lucky to have a good scene and places to play. I could stay busy playing here all year round if I wanted to.”


For more with JP Soars, including how living in Florida influences his music, click here to read this exclusive web extra from the February 2023 issue of Boca magazine.

This article is from the February 2023 issue of Boca magazine. For more like this, click here to subscribe to the magazine.

John Thomason
John Thomason
As the A&E editor of bocamag.com, I offer reviews, previews, interviews, news reports and musings on all things arty and entertainment-y in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties.

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