Listen Up / The Islands have always hosted more jazz than blues, dating back to the 1920s, when the genre first spread across the world and Louis Armstrong and the other greats played Chinatown clubs. (Check out Satchmo and Andy Iona on the 1928 album Jazz Goes Hawaiian.) Blues however, has simmered on the backburner of the local scene, only growing stronger recently. Blues musician Taj Mahal has lived on Kauai for years, and promoters bring a growing stream of artists such as Elvin Bishop, Canned Heat and Johnny Lang. Still, there remain zero blues clubs, and local blues artists such as Dion “Boogie” Scott and J. P. Smoketrain play when and where they can, usually in restaurants.
An Air Force brat, Scott was raised on military bases around music. His father played piano in a doo-wop band in the ‘50s and his sister sang gospel, but Scott’s neighborhood buddies listened to Kiss. Clapton and van Halen were Scott’s first guitar heroes, and he found blues through Robert Johnson in his 20s. Scott was immediately hooked and switched from electric to old Martin guitars.
“I started playing for people when I figured out I had something to say,” he says. “Once I started writing songs, I had to share them.”
The message of blues is that you’re not the only one getting stomped, and Scott gigs to spread that message.
“People talk about the blues, [saying] it’s so depressing, but it actually makes me feel good,” says Scott. “I mean, my dog died, my woman left me–but you listen to it, it brings you up.”
He is now the real deal, with solid chops and a voice with genuine gravel and guts. He declines a description by regional genre (like Delta or Chicago). He just plays blues, as it should be, in the moment, as he feels it.
He says he never keeps a set list. He judges what to play by how the audience reacts, and mostly sings originals. (Although he’ll sneak in an oldie from time to time.) Whatever he plays, Scott commands attention. People always seem surprised at his presence in the room. “Who is this guy?” they’ll ask with fresh curiosity, as if Scott walked straight off a plane from Mississippi. “Story of my life,” laughs Scott, who’s lived here since 1988.
Boogie plays around Oahu at various venues regularly, and at special performances at HPR’s Atherton Performing Arts Studio.