NORTH LIBERTY– BJ Jaggers is connected to the faithful.
That helps when you are faced with a small disaster and need to recover quickly.
Maybe best known for his lead role in the Iowa City-based band BJ Jaggers and the Jaggoffs, formed in 2002, Jaggers has been playing in clubs since the age of 16 and is esteemed in local musical circles as one of the best guitarists in the area. Jaggers has appeared three times on the Blues & BBQ stage with bands Vitamin Funk and also the Wise Fools, another impromptu set of musicians from the area. He’s also a member of the festival’s planning committee, responsible for helping line up stellar entertainment from year to year.
When the Blues & BBQ committee found itself trying to pick up the pieces after the May 29 storm cancellation, Jaggers came to the rescue. It wasn’t difficult, he said, to find the right mix of people to pull together and make music happen.
“There definitely are a lot of great talents around the area, and with great talent comes good attitude and willingness to collaborate with other musicians on projects outside their main project,” said Jaggers. “Also, there are a lot of opportunities in Iowa City to see live music, and to play at jams like Yacht Club jams on Wednesday nights and check out other musicians. That’s where I met a lot of people I know today.”
Jaggers simply picked up the phone and called some of them. First on his list was singer Regina Escher of Coralville. The Blues & BBQ festival has never before had a lady on stage, and Jaggers was excited to make that first come about.
Regina Escher has been singing her whole life. Growing up on a farm outside Kalona, Regina sang in her family’s band with her dad and two older brothers. Prairie Flower performed old country and old blues music.
“We played every dive bar there was to play,” said Ecsher. “And in high school, I had a choir director that pushed me a lot.”
With current influences like Susan Tedeschi, Shameka Copeland and Coco Taylor, Escher has developed a soulful, almost aggressive blues voice, Jaggers said. “She’s just really in-your-face and powerful.”
Joining Escher and Jaggers this Saturday will be Manuel Lopez III, a Galesburg native based out of the Quad Cities. Son of Manny Lopez Jr., the famous trumpet player, Lopez III currently performs frequently with jazz bands. His start came playing drums with mariachi bands and big bands. Lopez III picked up the keyboards later in his career, and it became his primary instrument. He is also a songwriter and vocalist, and he writes a lot of Catholic-based spiritual music, said Jaggers, “as if Prince were to write Catholic music. It’s kind of funky, sexy and a different side of spirituality.”
That kind of spiritual connection is the reason behind the band’s name, Jaggers explained. His friends in the band are Christian, and that’s how he came up with “Regina E. and the Disciples.”
Another Disciple will be drummer Jamie Hopkins, who hails from Muscatine. “He’s bringing a vintage 1969 maple drum set, a real rarity, almost an antique,” said Jaggers. Hopkins plays in the band Andrew Landers Project, based out of the Quad Cities. Jaggers describes Hopkins as an all-around drummer who can knock out anything from New Orleans-style beats to shuffles, swing and rock.
Rounding out the five-piece band will be Byron Stevens on the fretless bass. An accomplished musician, Stevens has earned two music degrees. He has played in several bands in Iowa City area, including Samba Nossa, Heinous Canis, and The Gglitch. Well-versed in a variety of styles, Stevens is a music instructor, and plays everything from opera to jazz to blues to rock and jam band stuff.
“The collective experience and the level of professionalism in the musicians in this group makes it easy to come together and collaborate on a project like this,” said Jaggers.
“The process is, you say, ‘let’s have a band featuring female musician,’ so I called Regina. She’s always interested for any type of music. She has a history with the other musicians, and we’ve all played together. Regina picked the songs she wanted to do, and the rest of us filled in the gaps with songs we liked. You send everybody a CD, and everybody practices on their own.”
That’s why it is possible for a pick-up band like this to hit the stage with both cover songs and original tunes written by individual members. Jaggers said the Disciples will play songs written by himself as well as by keyboardist Lopez.
“They are pretty traditional blues songs, but with a modern spin to them,” he said, including “Misery Loves Company,” with an up-tempo, shuffle-like feel, and “Price is Too High,” which is more of a rock and roll blues song with a bit of a hard edge. The Disciples, playing from 6-7:30 p.m., will also cover songs made popular by artists such as soul queen Aretha Franklin, Chaka Kahn, Shameka Copeland, the Allman Brothers, Susan Tedeschi and king of the blues himself, B.B. King. It’s a variety of influences, played by a conglomeration of musicians with a wide range of styles, that promises to be nothing less than fascinating and dynamic.
“We will get together once in a studio space and knock out a two-hour rehearsal, and that’s about all we will need,” said Jaggers. “It will be the first time we’ll play on stage as a band, but when you’re that experienced, you don’t need a lot of rehearsal. It gives it a real live, on-the-fly feel.”
Having a band featuring a female vocalist, with two other men who can also sing, affords many opportunities for bringing a great mix of music to the stage, Jaggers said.
“It gives a whole different spin on things.”
Escher said it is difficult in the Iowa City area for a woman to become a featured artist.
“Honestly, I’ve had a really hard time. There is no place in Iowa City for a strong female singer, unless there are men strong enough to back them up,” she said.
Escher sings frequently at Tailgators in Iowa City, and said she looks forward to being the first female performer at the Blues & BBQ event.
“I want to personally thank BJ and Manuel for allowing me to have the opportunity,” she said. “I come from a long line of strong women, that have done things people said they couldn’t. I like to give thanks to the men who allow the women to shine like that.”
It’s a good venue in other ways, too, Jaggers noted.
“The family-oriented nature of this festival allows all my family to come with me; the kids can come and watch. The accessibility for families makes it an easy place for me to play,” he said.
It also makes it an easy place to catch gifted musicians doing what they do best, and doing it all together for the love of it.
For more event information, visit northlibertyiowa.org/bluesandbbq.