EVERY GENERATION or so a young bluesman bursts onto the scene. Someone who sends a jolt through blues lovers. Someone who has mastered the craft for sure, but who also has the blues deep down in his heart and soul.
At the age of 20, bluesman Jontavious Willis may be the one.
“That’s my Wonderboy, the Wunderkind,” Taj Mahal said after inviting Jontavious to play on stage in 2015. “He’s a great new voice of the twenty-first century in the acoustic blues. I just love the way he plays.”
"When I heard him play I said to myself: this is how the blues, as I know it, is going to stay alive,” said Paul Oscher.
“Only a few like him emerge every decade or so, when even the most hard core blues fans realize immediately that this is the real deal,” writes Frank Matheis in Living Blues Magazine.
Hailing from Greenville, Ga., Jontavious grew up singing gospel music at the Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church with his grandfather. At the age of 14, he came across a YouTube video of Muddy Waters playing “Hoochie Coochie Man” and was hooked. That’s when he set his course on the blues. All types -- Delta, Piedmont, Texas, gospel. As a fingerpicker, flat-picker and slide player. On guitar, harmonica, banjo and cigar box.
And four years later he was playing on Taj Mahal’s stage.
Currently Jontavious is finishing his studies at Columbus State University, majoring in sociology. But on most weekends you can find him playing a small house show, up on the main stage or posting music videos for his friends and fans around the world.
What do the blues mean to you?
To me the blues is the most important musical genre and the roots of many others. Deeper than that it is a cultural thing for me and my heritage. I feel when I play the blues I am connecting with those before me and presenting it to others, a spiritual type thing.
How do you describe your sound?
My instrument sound is simple; my voice is what I put on the forefront. I feel that’s what the blues is about. When you start focusing on your instrument more than vocals you are forgetting the purpose of the blues, which is to tell a story.
How do you connect as a young black man in the 21st century with the music of your great-great grandfather?
In some aspects the same problems of those day are still occurring. Out of all the current music I connect with the blues the best. The same blues songs of the Jim Crow era can still be sung today. The songs about getting mistreated and abused are still fights we battle daily.
“Jontavious Willis. That’s my Wonderboy, the Wunderkind. He’s a great new voice of the 21st Century in the acoustic blues. I just love the way he plays. He has really just delightful timing and a real voice for the music because he was raised in the tradition and the culture. It’s just wonderful to hear him sing. The way he tunes his guitar is just amazing. There’s not a bluesman alive that could pick his instrument up and play it. You’d have to sit there for a good while to figure those tunings out. I had an opportunity to have him grace my stage when I came to Atlanta. He had a thunderous response from the audience. It was just so great. I’m very, very particular and very private about my stage so – and if somebody is on it giving the full run to go, you know that they must be able do whatever it is that they say they can do, and I say that he can do it and more. So I’m just excited that he has a wonderful and amazing future and he’s got a great sound, and we are all lucky to be at this point when this man is starting to launch is going to be an incredible and long career.” [Taj Mahal]
"When I heard him play I said to myself: this is how the blues, as I know it, is going to stay alive. Jontavious Willis is the first blues musician I've seen in over thirty years that I would pay to see - and he's only 20 years old! I've seen the best. Jontavious is the real deal." [Paul Oscher, noted blues musician who has toured with Muddy Waters, Louisiana Red and countless others]
“Meet Jontavious Willis, the living proof in the current class of blues-death deniers. Only a few like him emerge every decade or so, when even the most hard core blues fans realize immediately that this is the real deal, a player and singer whose got it all: Deep roots feeling, instrumental prowess and a voice that carries the heart and soul of the blues with unwavering connection to the ancient roots. Not long ago people said that of Jerron Paxton, and now Jontavious Willis deserves to be celebrated as one of the brilliant new voices.” [Frank Matheis, Living Blues Magazine; April 2016]