For guitarist, bassist, vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, and songwriter Rhett Yocom, his love for the Blues and passion for music is a tale of many stories all sharing common threads of camaraderie, generosity, and a firm belief that with a guitar by your side you will never be alone because it has the magic to lift one out of life's low points and make the high points sparkle and shine.
As the recipient at this year’s 36th REVIEW Music Awards for the honors of Best Blues Instrumentalist and Best Blues Band for the third time in a row, having also received the Best Band trophy in 2019 and 2021, Yocom says he first got interested in music as a young kid. “I hung out with my Grandpa a lot who was a gifted accordion player, and my first instruments were piano and accordion,” he explains. “I listened to Motown and the Everly Brothers and grew up with Classic Country, which was called ‘Outlaw’ country back then - artists like Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, and Waylon Jennings.”
“My grandfather was an advocate for learning a musical instrument and taught me a lot right off-the-bat about being a musician and learning things by ear,” he continues. “He called it ‘making notes together’ and used to slow down the record player to figure out the rhythms and licks. But then one day in math class a friend of mine put on Highway to Hell by AC/DC and that really turned my head. As a 13-year old, I’d never heard a sound like that. Then a couple years later, back when I was 14 or 15 years old in 2003-2004, I started listening to 8-tracks and LPs my parents had laying around, and realized how much the electric guitar spoke to me, so started asking for one.”
Yocom’s dream and wish for an electric guitar as a young teenager came true when one special artist by the name of Larry McCray hooked him up with his first one. As a freshman at Standish-Sterling Central High school, his class hosted a presentation by McCray, who was invited to the school by the principal, who was representing First Act, a musical instrument company that manufactures starter instruments and introduces school-age youth to the world of music.
Before that day, Yocom had no idea who McCray was; but after his presentation, every musical note that the 15-year-old budding prodigy would hear was colored by the blues. And as it turned out, First Act had provided McCray with a guitar to give away to a lucky student to promote the company’s mission in a drawing, so as fate would have it, Yocom won the drawing while also developing a close relationship with McCray that has lasted to this day. And it was after this serendipitous introduction to the Blues through McCray that Rhett says he started digging deeper into the music of Stevie Ray Vaughn, John Lee Hooker, and Albert Collins. “That’s the stuff I enjoyed early on and still do today,” he states.
When asked about forming his own style and sensibilities that he uses to sculpt his own unique sound, Yocom says he feels a strong affinity to the Singer/Songwriter crowd. “The first time I heard Barbarossa Brothers I was blown away and thought, ‘Wow - I should get some of this!’ Although Drew (Pentkowski) doesn’t believe me, he had an influence on my sound because he’s the reason I picked up a slide guitar. Other than that, I’m influenced by bands like Wilco and The Rolling Stones and stuff like that. I like to put it all in a melting pot and let it marinate.”
“I’m not trying to do a bit of everything,” he cautions, “ but I do try to make sense of what fits with me. I definitely have my own voice, but right now what I see is a lot of Blues guitarists going for the fast & flashy, while I’m going for the slow and deliberate approach. I’m trying to speak the truth for me and its more old school and not as boisterous.”
As for future plans, Rhett says he’s looking to do another album with the band this fall. “Scotty Causley has a unique style of drumming and is a legend on his own in this region; and Gypsy James is not only a nice person but harmonically rich bass player,” states Rhett. “ A lot of bass players can rock, but for me it’s the harmonics that opens things up. He covers more than lines and pulls chords into his playing on the bass, which gives me more room to move harmonically. He opens the door. As for my keyboardist Denny Fisk, he’s played with a large number of people and growing up he’s the first person I heard the Blues from besides Larry McCray, and turned me on to artists like Johnny and Edgar Winter, who I feel people forget about and are incredibly underrated.”
As for future live performances, The Rhett Yocom Blues Band will be performing at the Sanilac Blues Festival on August 5th and is branching out into more festival style gigs.
Interestingly enough, on the other side of the coin is Rhett’s work as the bass player for LOXODON, an incredibly strong up-and-coming Rock oriented outfit who were also nominated in numerous Rock Divisions at this year’s REVIEW Music Awards, and who turned in a powerfully compelling set as one of the guest performers. So how did Rhett get involved with them and how does he feel it fits in with the music he’s crafting for his Blues band?
“That’s a funny story,” he reflects. “I posted on facebook that I was looking to jam with a band on bass and my friend Steve Greer from Gasoline Gypsies said LOXODON was looking for a bass player that same day, so they called me up and a month later the pandemic hit. The other bass player they were looking at couldn’t do it because he was a registered nurse, so we started rehearsing and growing together from there.”
“I never keep it separate when it comes to music,” he continues. “From the Blues side of things, I think I’m bringing that R&B and Soul influence into LOXODON by providing a melodic bass line that drives the sound; and vice versa, I think Monty’s songwriting talent and the way he structures a song is seeping into my own sensibilities when it come to The Rhett Yocom Blues Band.”
“Other than that, I really appreciate the support from all our fans but also to The REVIEW for putting on this awards celebration each year. I think there’s talent in this area that isn’t spoken for a lot, and we appreciate you providing a venue that does exactly that.”