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Blues Music Now! feature

Former actor tries his luck at the blues

by Amelia Feathers

Photo of Oscar Jordan

We'll never know how much misfortune Oscar Jordan has had in his life, but the title of his new CD, "Mister Bad Luck," might give you a hint.

The album, Jordan's first full-length blues recording, isn't an autobiographical collection of songs. Instead of singing about well-worn derivative blues subject matter, this collection of songs represents Jordan's more modern and personalized expression through the blues form. Keeping one foot in tradition, the other foot stands solidly in the ground of a new and contemporary vision.

His blues vision is so clear Jordan doesn't mind if he gets tagged with the stage nickname, Oscar "Mister Bad Luck" Jordan. "Well if that nickname helps listeners associate me to my music, then it's fine with me. I'll do whatever I can to make my music accessible," Jordan said.

On "Mr. Bad Luck," Jordan's guitar whines and cries more than an alley cat in heat. His singing is raw and natural. Though he walks down the road of blues tradition, he also has a fresh delivery and style. Jordan's singing and guitar playing sounds as though misery is his best friend. And though the songs are written about real life situations, the tunes aren't necessarily all about his personal life. The CD released in early 2001 is getting energetic attention from blues lovers all over the world on his Web site at www.mp3.com/oscarjordan

Record companies are showing interest in him as well. The fascination with Jordan's music is a welcomed reward for changing his career focus from acting to playing the music that he loves.

"Mister Bad Luck" took a year to record; however, it was a lifetime in the making. Jordan received his musical calling early in life. A native of Chicago, he inherited his parents' eclectic musical tastes growing up on soul, jazz, rock, and folk music. As he matured, he absorbed the blues from the local nightclubs. The volatile Chicago blues club scene is where he became a self-professed guitar addict. His passion for blues guitar was inspired by the work of Albert Collins, Luther Allison and Little Jimmy King. Later, one of his major influences became Jimi Hendrix.

"Hendrix was a genius and a blues innovator. He took the sounds of Buddy Guy, Albert King, Curtis Mayfield and others, and took the form to a whole other level just like the pioneers that came before him. At first Jimi's music went over my head. I had no concept of what Jimi was doing, until one day it simply clicked for me. After studying what he was doing on the guitar, I began to hear the history of African American music and other styles coming out of his guitar. It's all in there."

Though Jordan's special connection to the guitarist's music led him to be a contributing writer for Univibes Magazine, a publication for Jimi Hendrix fans, he never tried to emulate Hendrix. "The biggest lesson I learned from Hendrix is to be myself and express myself through my own personal voice. There's nothing worse than a clone," Jordan said.

After a stint in Europe with the Army, Jordan returned home to Chicago and pursued a lifelong dream. "I loved movies so much that when I told my friends that I wanted to be an actor, they just gave me a blank stare. They couldn't believe that anyone could have an interest in pursuing that line of work," he said.

He was accepted into the prestigious Goodman School of Drama and earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in acting.

Later, he later moved to Los Angeles and appeared in commercials, television series and film projects. He was a recurring character in the first season of "ER" and appeared other television series, including "China Beach," "Melrose Place" and "Seinfeld." His movie career included roles in "A Few Good Men," "I Love Trouble," "Don't Tell Momma the Babysitter Is Dead" and "Life." One acting job on a commercial gave him the honor of jamming for three 12-hour days with legendary blues artist Taj Mahal.

By the early 1990s, Jordan was playing rock and blues in various musical configurations, but it was during his short stay as the co-director of the Los Angeles chapter of The Black Rock Coalition that he had a "holy blues conversion."

"I was at a Black Rock Coalition concert and the lead guitarist for a band I was watching was playing frantically and flailing his long dreadlocks around in a circle over his head. It was at that precise moment that I had an epiphany. I thought to myself, "he's going to look really silly doing this when he's 50," Jordan said. He accepted his blues calling and decided to play blues exclusively from then on.

"I like working under pressure. As a musician and songwriter I like to be challenged," Jordan explained. Some of the songs for "Mister Bad Luck" were already written a few years before he went into the studio. Other songs were developed as he recorded. "I look at recording like painting a picture. It's all about utilizing different colors and adding what I needed to fulfill the song," he said. "New ideas popped up all the time during the actual recording and I'm happy that I was on such a creative roll."

"Live to Tell" is a song Jordan wrote with the challenge that the verse sections would be based on only one chord. "It has a funky 70s rock feel to it but the lyrical content and the meter of the lyrics are based entirely on traditional blues forms," he said. "It's a tip of the hat to tradition but with a modern twist to keep it fresh. The song is about those character-building situations that teach you life's little lessons, like what doesn't kill you makes you stronger and smarter."

The songs on "Mister Bad Luck" are equal parts of a whole, yet each song is entirely different than any other song on the CD. "It's a blues concept CD in that every song is different but compliments each other as a whole. You won't find four shuffles in a row, three slow blues songs in a row, and an R&B ballad for spice. I wrote the CD with the big picture in mind. Though the songs can stand alone, each song fits on the CD like a puzzle. Each piece adds to the total experience that I created as a whole," Jordan said.

What happens if he gets tagged with the stage nickname, Oscar "Mister Bad Luck" Jordan? "Well if that nickname helps listeners associate me to my music, then its fine with me. I'll do whatever I can to make my music accessible."

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