Jon Cleary knew what he wanted to be from a young age. Influenced by the classic blues music played by his family and relatives in his birthplace in England, he moved to New Orleans as a young adult and has never looked back.
Some 35 years later, he’s a living legend of New Orleans music. His music peers include Bonnie Raitt, Ryan Adams, Dr John, Taj Mahal, and deceased legends BB King and Allen Toussaint.
Cleary will bring his New Orleans funk and blues to Lizotte’s in Newcastle on Thursday, a venue he’s played before and remembers warmly.
“I play all around the world,” he’s in a phone interview on Wednesday with me. “Some spaces have a real personality. Some are more general. That room has a vibe of its own.”
Cleary won a Grammy award in 2016 for his last album, GoGo Juice, an exciting jam of new material. The Guardian’s review summed it up: “the musicianship here, including horn charts by Allen Toussaint, is immensely impressive”.
Cleary’s specialty is keyboards and vocals – he is touring with his band, the Absolute Monster Gentlemen. He offers an original blend of New Orleans funk and blues, with his own interpretation of a few classics and a whole lot of original material.
He’s a familiar entity on the Australian touring circuit, including Bluesfest. After Lizotte’s, he’s got a three-night stand at The Basement in Sydney and another three nights in Melbourne. He’s playing both the Mullum Music Festival and Queenscliff Festival on this trip.
He has a keen sense of Australia’s music taste.
“Like America, it’s a young country. I was born in England, surrounded by evidence of previous generation …
“But when I come to Australia and America , it all seems so new. That’s refreshing … there’s a sense of energy and enthusiasm among the people here that makes for a good audience. As a musician, that’s an essential ingredient required for a good night of music. The audience has to do its job.
“People dig it, and you know they are digging.”