Renaud Perry will always remember the first time he opened the front door of his home and heard a racket blaring from the living room. He turned the corner, expecting to tell his son Ryan to turn down the television. Instead, he saw the 8-year-old with an electric guitar in his lap, playing chords along with a TV commercial.
Turns out Ryan had been dragging his father’s Fender Stratocaster from a closet and playing along with TV jingles while Dad worked. “I had no idea he had any interest in any instrument,” Perry recalls.
Within a month, Ryan won a talent contest at the U.S. military base in Germany where Renaud wrapped up his Army career as a sergeant. When the Perrys returned home to Tupelo, Miss., the following year, Ryan took guitar lessons in earnest. “From that point on,” his father says, “every instructor he has had was amazed at how effortlessly he learned and played.”
Apparently, musical aptitude runs in the family. Seven years after Renaud found his son jamming to jingles in the living room, 15-year-old Ryan plays guitar and sings in an acclaimed blues trio, Homemade Jamz, featuring his brother Kyle, 13, on electric bass and sister Taya, 9, on drums.
In December, the band signed a recording contract with Canada-based NorthernBlues Music, an independent label well regarded among blues fans. It makes the trio the youngest blues band in the world with a record deal. Their debut CD is scheduled for release this summer.
“We thought it would take a lot longer than it has to get noticed,” says Ryan, who is homeschooled along with his siblings by their parents. “But we’re having the best times of our lives.”
Homemade Jamz regularly plays concerts and festivals throughout the United States, Canada and Europe. Last year, the trio won second place in the 23rd International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn., and set out from Mexico as part of a prestigious lineup on a blues cruise. Everywhere they go, they turn heads not just because of the novelty of their age, but because they play with joyful enthusiasm and finesse.
“Every once in a while, someone will say, ‘Why let your kids play the blues?’” says Perry, emphasizing that the kids only plays songs suitable for their age. “People who ask that don’t understand the culture and history of the blues, and how much talent and feeling goes into it. Besides, this is something these kids can play for the rest of their lives. It’s not trendy.”
James “Jabo” Harris, a Mississippi blues guitarist and teacher, describes Ryan as “someone with a great amount of natural talent, and he just really loves to play, which shows on stage. They’re all like that. They’re a good band.”
Indeed, Ryan’s siblings point to their older brother’s impassioned playing for motivating them to learn to play. At 9 years old, Kyle picked up an electric bass; within a week, he could play all the songs his brother knew.
“The hard part was just holding it up,” Kyle says with a laugh. “The bass was bigger than me, and my fingers weren’t really long enough to reach the chords. But that’s not a problem now.”
Ryan and Kyle eventually recruited an adult drummer, but it didn’t last. In September 2005, their sister, Taya, decided she wanted to play drums. She practiced with her brothers, and four months later, she was joining them on stage.
“It was the only instrument I really liked,” Taya says. “It was hard at first, because of all these different drums in front of me. But my brothers really encouraged me and helped me get good at it.”
As with her siblings, people first comment about Taya’s age. In the next breath, they say they can’t believe how good she is.
Today, Homemade Jamz is a family affair. Their mother, Tricia, manages the band’s business affairs, lining up gigs with booking agents and concert promoters. Renaud leads the band’s living room practices, helps with production and touring, and often joins his children on stage to play a few songs on harmonica.
“We do a lot of traveling, and it’s getting busier all the time,” he says. “They’re wearing us out! But I’m real proud of them. I’ve never had a minute of trouble out of them, ever. How many parents can say that?”