Beale Street Bills (Oct. 2013)
When I think about my life, I can’t pretend blues isn’t as much a part of me as my own skin. When thinking about America one can’t deny that Blues is as important a part of our history as the fabricated George Washington “cherry tree” story we all grew up learning. Out of extreme struggle came extreme tension that required an outlet. A new form of emotional release was born. Although music has been around since man was able to bang stones together, there has never been a music as emotionally honest as Blues. With deceptively simplistic forms and tactically hidden truths woven within the lyrics, the true intent was revealed. This was not music to showcase one’s natural skill; this was a desperately needed release from the intolerably harsh conditions they were forced to live in.
This music was so powerful it created rock-n-roll which has led to almost every global musical phenomenon of today. From a young age I was drawn to blues music. It became an emotional obsession that has only grown through the years. It was so powerful to me that even at 12 years old I knew I would be deeply involved with blues music for my entire life. I make my living playing blues music and have for almost 10 years now. It is way more than a job, it truly is a calling. I try my hardest to make people’s lives better through my music. I try in whatever small way I can to better people’s hardships, at least emotionally, at least for the night. I try to teach on a literal and subliminal level the significance of this music. It is part of my life mission, and I take it very seriously.
So when I heard the slogan “If not now, when? If not us, who?” it really hit me. That “us” is me. I started thinking what can I really do? I don’t make much money and I’d like to create a big impact. I have already been involved in a few Raise the Roof fundraisers and those did great, but I wanted to do more.
I live in Memphis, Tennessee, so when I’m not touring I play on Beale Street. People come from all over the world to experience Memphis; the BBQ, the southern culture, and most of all the Blues. The sad but true fact is, even today, most the Beale Street musicians survive on tips from blues fans and tourist, so naturally tipping is a big part of our culture on Beale. For a few months I decided to take my share of the $1 bills that were in my tip jar and save them.
So here I am, contributing one thousand $1 bills to the Blues Foundation to put toward the Raise the Roof campaign. This is my tip money from blues fans in Memphis on Beale St. inspired by my blues music. I figured what better more symbolic way to support the Blues Hall of Fame then donate this money.
I call on my fellow blues musicians to help. Contribute what you can, get creative, and step up. With all the musicians out there, if we each throw a $20 bill in the mix we would raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for the cause. In that regard, united we are strong and significant. And deep down, don’t we all aspire to be in the blues hall of fame one day? Even if I never do, I want to see my heroes and contemporaries celebrated and acknowledged. But more than any element of self-preservation or ego inducing futuristic dreams, I want to see a place where generations of people can learn where blues came from. I want a place where priceless pieces of American history can be preserved and showcased to inspire future musicians and historians.... I want a Blues Hall of Fame.
-Jeff Jensen (Memphis, Tennessee)