In 2011 I joined a program that has provided me with more musical knowledge than I could have ever imagined. The Blues in the Schools program provided me that extra kick-in-the-rear that I needed to start broadening my musical horizons. After not being in guitar lessons for a year, I got invited over to a former member’s house to talk to John Redell about the BITS program. We talked for a little while, he told us what it was all about, and then my brother and I went down to the basement to jam a little. The second we started, I knew the BITS program was going to impact me in a way music had never done before. Since then, I’ve gone from being able to shakily work my way around the guitar, to being able to hold my own as a guitarist. The biggest impact BITS has had for me is my vocal progress. If it wasn’t for BITS, I wouldn’t be the singer and musician I am today.
Through BITS I’ve had the chance to play some great places and events, like The Cincy Blues Summer and Winter Fests, and the Youth Showcase at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. In Memphis we also got to play at some legendary venues, and I also had the opportunity to play down there with the band, Uptown Karl, my brother Cameron and I formed with fellow BITS member Alex Vago.
I’m so glad I’ve had the chance to be a part of this program under two great leaders and teachers like John Redell and Chuck Brisbin. Not only have I had the chance to learn from them, but I’ve been able to play with and get to know a lot of great people through BITS. I look forward to my next two years!
BITS has been huge and amazing part of my life. I got started in 2011 when my mom found out about the program through a neighbor, and we soon met with John Redell about joining. My brother, Alex King, and I got to jam with a member named Ryan Snyder at his house after we met John, and it was a lot of fun. I was really nervous about attending my first BITS practice. I thought that everyone there would be absolutely amazing at their instrument and judge every note I played on my keyboard, but I quickly discovered that that wasn’t the case. The people there were at all different skill levels, from young beginners to seasoned veterans. This melting pot of musicians really inspired me to work hard and contribute as much as I could to the music we were playing. Starting out, I didn’t really know how to play the blues. I just played the basic chords of the songs, not even thinking about trying to incorporate different voicing and chord qualities into my playing. Throughout the years, all of that developed the more I participated in BITS. My playing became increasingly complex, and I even learned how to improvise after a while. Improvisation was something I once thought I would never be able to do well, but now I feel much more confident in my abilities to hold my own when jamming with others thanks to BITS.
The instruction and direction has also been incredible. John has a really great style of teaching and is extremely effective at communicating with us about how to improve, and he’s also great at building confidence. This brings me to when my brother first started singing. I personally had no confidence in his abilities because I always thought singing was either something you do or don’t have, and I firmly believed there was no singing talent between him and I. John was constantly encouraging Alex to sing, and over time he turned out to be a great singer. I credit a majority of this to John’s encouragement and coaching, and it also showed me that you can achieve a lot if you simply put in the time and effort. Chuck Brisbin has also been great. He’s been a huge help with securing gigs for BITS and just overall helping out and supporting the program. John and Chuck are both amazing people and have been exactly what this program has needed, and I’m thankful for being able to participate in what that they’ve put together.
Playing with BITS has given me amazing opportunities, such as participating in the annual Summer and Winter blues fest, various local gigs in the Cincinnati area, and even going to Memphis and playing in the Youth Showcase at the International Blues Challenge as well as some of the hottest venues in town. Not only did I get to play at incredible places, but I’ve also been able to play incredible instruments. Namely, the Hammond B-3 Organ. That series of keyboard is legendary, and are pretty rare to see. Having opportunities to play one has always been a highlight of my BITS experience, and I’m very grateful for it. My fellow Bandmates have also been awesome. They’re all extremely talented, and are all really great people. I’ve had a great time getting to know them, especially at Memphis. I’ve even been in two other bands that have stemmed from members of the BITS program. I basically learned how to play drums while playing in a band with Ryan, Alex and Katie. It was a blast and I really feel liking playing the drums has added a brand new perspective to my musicianship that I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t play with that band. After that whole thing dissipated, my brother and I formed a three-piece band, Uptown Karl, with guitarist Alex Vago. He blew my mind with his guitar playing. He played way better than anyone I had ever seen that was our age. I am on drums again, and we have played at the Boone County Fair as well as the Rum Boogie in Memphis. Playing with the two Alex’s is always a ton of fun, and I absolutely love the energy that we create when we play together.
Memphis itself was kind of like the ultimate climax to my BITS experience. I was a part of the program for almost five years, but we never got to do anything like this in those years. Hanging out and jamming in the hotel with my fellow BITS members was a great time, and getting to see the Gibson guitar factory in Memphis was also way cool. The absolute greatest parts of Memphis definitely had to be the performances though. Every time we got onstage and started playing, I just felt an energy and happiness that I had never really experienced before. Everyone in BITS that went on that trip was at the top of their game and it was spectacular to be a part of this band that had grown together both musically and personally for so long. It’s definitely something I will never forget for the rest of my days.
I’m very sad that my time with this amazing program is coming to an end. I’ve made great friends, met awesome musicians, and made connections that I would have never made otherwise. Every gig with BITS was exciting, and I learned so much not only about music, but about people and how great it is to share this special thing with a group of people that have a passion for the same thing you do. There’s nothing else like it, and I’m extremely thankful that I was able to make my contribution to this awesome program.
Memphis built my confidence tremendously. The fact that people in our community thought of us as good enough to play in the home of the blues and raise more than $10,00 and was enough to inspire me to go further. But when I stepped into that city and played the best I have in some of the most famous and respected blues clubs that many amazing musicians never get to play in that built me up. The fact that blues lovers who take days off work and travel miles and miles to see some of the best blues around went out of their way to compliment me and thank me that means everything. I think those three days improved me more than the whole time I’ve been playing guitar. I left with great inspiration to explore new things I never even thought of before then and I never could have done this without the BITS. The BITS has given me so much experience and knowledge not just on how to explore the world of my own guitar playing but the world of live playing and playing with a band. Before the BITS I didn’t even know what a 12 bar cycle was or what the pentatonic scale was. But now that stuff is second nature to me. Now that John Redell and the rest of the BITS members have taught me and gave me advice on how to play the most expressive genre of music I feel like a guitar player. I feel like I’m good. I feel no gift could be greater. They’ve given me a passion that I’ve always wanted. They’ve given me an adventure I’ve always sought. They’ve just have given me the best feeling in the world and that’s to play the blues.