The Grammy-nominated blues wonder takes the stage at Capricorn Sound Studios for a special concert event on Oct. 27th
Taj Mahal has called him his “Wonderboy, the Wunderkind.” Paul Oscher touts him as “the reason the blues, as we know it, is going to stay alive.” That Wonderboy has a name and it’s one to remember: Jontavious Willis.
Folks who know the young blues maker and historian know the richness and depth of his talent and craft; those who don’t yet know him will take one look and listen with a likely bit of astonishment. Just how did this old soul from rural Georgia come to realize his role as the torchbearer for the blues all before he could legally rent a car?
Now, at 27 years old, the Grammy-nominated rising star still doesn’t have to go back terribly far to revisit the origins of his love for the foundational genre. Though he has his favorite icons like most artists, the Georgia native reveals that the original source of his inspiration hits closer to home.
“There were a multitude of things, but my grandfather and the church—the southern black church. That’s where I started at three years old singing. It was always amazing to me that people could captivate an audience just by singing. They were singing hymns, but they were singing hymns in a way that hymns were not supposed to sound. The building would start shaking. It’s really personal,” he told The Creek’s Creekside Mornings show during an on-air interview.
“I was too young to understand the meaning, but I knew it was something.”
It is a performance, a collaboration if you will—music that was born in the spirit of community, that doesn’t really feel right without the inclusion of an audience. Willis points back to another massive source of inspiration when he reflects on the influence that has carried him to this point in his career: Muddy Waters.
“Muddy Waters had a show on video—he was playing for a black audience in the ’70s. The reason I say that is by the 1970s, the demographic for blues changed after the British Invasion. Muddy was talking to the folks and the folks would talk back to him. He was getting happy and humming. He was feeding off their energy and it reminded me so much of church.”
And then there is also just something about the allure of being a music man…
“I overheard my god sister and my cousin in the front room talking one day. My cousin said, ‘I want a man that can play the piano,’ and I thought, ‘Well, I failed at that.’ I tried when I was younger, but I couldn’t do it. And then I heard my god sister say, ‘Well, I want a man that can play the guitar.’ And I thought, ‘Well, if they’re sitting up in the living room just talking about this on a Saturday, then that’s it. There has got to be someone else out there that wants a man that can play the guitar!’” he said with a laugh.
As the first-ever Artist in Residence at Mercer University’s King Center for Southern Studies, Willis will participate in various panels and even deliver a Master Class at McCorkle Music Building’s choir room on the Mercer Macon campus on Wednesday, Oct. 25th.
He will appear at the historic Capricorn Sound Studios for a special concert event on October 27, 2023, at 7:30 PM. For Willis, time spent in that hallowed space is a great honor.
“I feel great in there,” he said. “I feel great just walking through Macon. I’m so appreciative that I’m sharing that space.”
Tickets for Willis’ Capricorn appearance are going fast but are still available. Snag yours by clicking here.