Sometimes all it takes is a tiny spark to ignite a raging inferno. For Jeff Jensen, the spark occurred in 2011. Feeling the need for a fresh start, he loaded up his car to head back to his boyhood home in California. Just as that journey was to begin, a deep and unexpected calling starting boiling inside, Jensen changed directions and headed to Memphis.
Friday, Feb. 23 he’s heading to Wheeling, for an evening at River City.
“Jeff was with Brandon Santini at Heritage Music BluesFest last summer, and he was very well received, so we decided to bring him back. (Tonight) he’ll be without Santini, but with his own band, the Jeff Jensen Band,” said Bruce Wheeler, producer BluesDay at River City and Heritage Music BluesFest.
When Jensen headed for Memphis, there was no job waiting for him; no plan, no family, no band, just a lone friend with a temporary place for him to stay. But the intrepid guitar player felt it was the right move, the only move. In less than 30 hours after arriving, he met Santini and was offered the opportunity to be his guitarist. Soon after, Jensen became music director for the Brandon Santini Band.
The inferno has been building ever since. After two years, almost 500 shows and three recordings with Santini, Jensen re-formed his band with long-time friend and musical collaborator Bill Ruffino (bass). Then they recruited Memphis native Robinson Bridgeforth as drummer. They hit the road and never looked back.
Most people are in for a shock the first time they experience a Jeff Jensen Band performance. It starts with the trio mixing an eccentric blend of soul, rock and American roots music with a deep blues influence. Suddenly Jensen feels the spirit, transforming into a whirling dervish of sight and sound as he bounds across the stage, barely able to contain himself as he wrenches stark, biting six-string explosions from his guitar. His passion is there for all to see, a rare occurrence in these times of buttoned-down music making.
In 2015, Jensen released the vibrant “Morose Elephant” album that captures the flavor of the band’s creative force. Combining seven originals with covers of songs from Memphis Minnie and Amos Milburn plus a traditional gospel hymn, Jensen articulates the depth of his musical vision with help from a number of friends including Victor Wainwright, Reba Russell and Annie Harris. The disc received even more critical acclaim as the band’s previous release, “Road Worn and Ragged” (2013), both produced by Jensen. This led to two consecutive Blues Blast Music Award nominations in the Sean Costello Rising Star category (2014 and 2015).
The band continues to tour the U.S., Canada and many European countries relentlessly, as the inferno shows no signs of burning out. Whenever there is a break in the schedule, Jensen switches roles, acting as the producer with other artists including Mick Kolassa, John Parker and co-producing Santini’s “This Time Another Year,” nominated for a Blues Music Award in the Contemporary Blues Album category (2014).
River City is located at 1400 Main St., Wheeling. For ticket information, visit www.heritagemusicfest.com.