Pun Picks Jay's "Pun Picks" – a musician's view through video & photosjp@mojamusic.net

Ezra Hamilton – “Oh Mama” & Medley

Episode 17: ——- Dig what I’m doing? Consider donating $5 or more at the bottom of this post

During my final year in college, I was invited to sit in with Joe Lawlor’s band, XPS, at the now defunct Outback Lodge. They were holding their annual Xmas Jam and it was then when I first heard Ezra Hamilton’s signature voice. After that, I started going to see him perform at his Tuesday residency at Mono Loco where he played a variety of soul classics (Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers, Otis Redding) as well as some of his originals. His band, The Hamiltons, was also my all time favorite band to come out of Cville. We became good friends over the years and he guested on our last CD, Chioggia Beat, on the tune “B-Loose.” Ezra has since left Virginia and now resides in his hometown of Wheeling, WV. He has a beautiful growing family, very successful GB band, and is working on his original music. Ezra recently stopped through Charlottesville for a recording session but made time to do a Pun Picks session. We both thought, where better to film it than back at Mono Loco? It quickly turned into a party, hence a little bit of clipping in the audio and some bumpy camera work!

Part 1: “Oh Mama” (Pt. 1 down below)Jay Pun: Tell me a little bit about your musical background; when you first started, your first experience that made you want to become a musician.

Ezra Hamilton: I was always musically inclined. My father was a Jazz musician so I grew up listening to him play piano and bass. He also was a vocalist. I began taking voice and organ lessons at the age of eight. As I learned to read music for the organ, my ear and sense of melody/harmony took over. My teachers would always bust me for not sight reading. They noticed early in that I wasn’t reading and tried to course correct but I always depended on my ear more than anything. Eventually I gave up the organ and gave all my concentration to vocals. I was singing in church and in theater productions until age 15. My dad bought me The Beatles “White Album” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Ultimate Experience.” He had an old electric guitar and once I heard what could be done with a guitar I knew that was an instrument that I could sing with and express myself. I started writing shortly after learning my basic open chords and never stopped. After learning to play the guitar and discovering I could write songs, there was never a time that I didn’t want to play and sing professionally!

The Charlottesville music scene seemed to have a big effect on you growing your style. Is that true? If so, please elaborate some.

I moved to Charlottesville in September of 2000 and was there for about one week before I went to Trax for my first concert, which was Elliot Smith. My next concert about one month later was Oteil Burbridge! Charlottesville’s music scene appealed to all the different styles of music I was into. When I first moved to Cville from Wheeling WV, I would attend this open mic every Monday night at Baja Bean. There were so many different types of musicians there and I got to learn from all of them. I met a lot of great people and spent most of my first year there shedding and writing while couch surfing with friends. Because I could sing and play a little, I met a lot of the musicians and artists at the top of the list and got to spend time watching them. I would then go home, shed and write. By 2005, I was working with two very amazing groups of musicians, The Hamiltons and XPS. Both bands played constantly and it helped my on-stage presence immensely. I was also writing with other artists and doing features on many of my friends’ albums, as well as recording my own. By the time I left Cville in 2007 I had played over 500 shows and seen about 500 different bands that came through town on tour. I learned much, if not all, of what I know about writing, recording and performing in Charlottesville.

Who are some of your biggest inspirations, musical, and non-musical?

These days my biggest inspiration is my family and friends. They keep me going and keep me positive. I think a lot of musicians and artists wrestle with the idea that they possess a very strange skill set and making a living at it is tough. I’ve been blessed with an unbelievable amount of support from family and friends. I keep dreaming because of them.

Who are some of your CURRENT favorite artists, performers and songwriters?

Van Hunt, Mark Ronson, Bon Iver, Bilal, Ed Sheeran, Kendrick Lamar, Janelle Monae and Alabama Shakes

If you could pick anybody to collaborate with musically, who would it be?

There are too many to list.

I first met you knowing you as a “soul” singer, but you obviously have a wide span of musical loves including rock, blues, reggae, hip hop, and more. What’s your most favorite style to sing and why?

I have been having a lot of fun with old time gospel lately. I like to put my spin on those songs and there’s something about the lyrics that is so familiar to me. I think a lot of it has to do with my childhood and my roots in religious music. One of my favorite songs to perform these days is “Just a Closer Walk With Thee.”

What are your future plans with music?

Currently I am working on my website launch www.ezrajohnmusic.com which will house my original music. I have been writing/recording with a friend in Cville and working towards a songwriter’s or artist deal. I plan to begin performing original music later this year. I also perform about 150 shows a year with my cover band Hit Play www.hitplay304.com

We live in, what I like to call, an instant gratification time, where people can become famous via the internet and of course competing on shows like The Voice (which you were a contestant to some degree, right?) and American Idol. How do you feel about the state of the music industry now?

I hold firmly to the idea of technology is double-edged sword. I believe that hard working artists can use technology to give the world something worth listening to. With the deep comes the surface and with the good comes the not so good. The internet has leveled the playing field in the music industry but it’s also made it harder to be heard and it’s given the people who work for labels a much shorter attention span. I also still believe that the best way to be heard is face to face with people. Anyone can live a life behind a computer but people know what’s real when they see it for themselves.

Yes, I did audition for the Voice once. I chalked the whole process up to experience, but for the most part, I personally don’t believe that’s how music of value will be made. Reality shows and singing competitions are just that. I believe that the artist suffers, maybe for their lack of a compelling enough story. The people who run the shows are always looking for people who will make a good TV show. I believe that makes it almost impossible to find true artistry.

Part 2: “Ain’t No Sunshine / No Ordinary Love” w/ Joe Lawlor

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