Rising star blues artist King Solomon Hicks kicks off the Sparta Summer Concert Series on Saturday, Aug. 8.
Hicks says he grew up in Harlem “around a lot of great musicians.” His record “Harlem” is an 11-song salute to those roots, which the 24-year-old guitarist and singer has turned into his own fierce and distinctive style.
The set, produced by multiple Grammy Award winner Kirk Yano (Miles Davis, Public Enemy, Mariah Carey), showcases Hicks as a writer, player and interpreter. Originals such as the roadhouse ready “421 South Main,” the gospel shuffle of “Have Mercy on Me” and the aching instrumental “Riverside Drive” rub musical elbows with staples such as “Every Day I Sing the Blues” and “It’s Alright,” a Latin-tinged take on Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “I Love You More Than You Will Ever Know,” a funked-up romp through Gary Wright’s “Love is Alive” and a searing rendition of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help me” that closes the album.
Hicks’ playing and singing shine throughout “Harlem,” blending reverent familiar with vigorous fresh, the work of an artist deeply rooted in blues birthed decades before him but equally invested in finding his own way of playing it.
“This has been a long time coming,” Hicks said of his first major recording, “but I’m really happy with the sound and the way everybody played. This music is where I come from. It’s really special to be able to record these songs -- and really important to get ‘em right.”
Hicks has been steeped in music for as long as he can remember. Harlem, he says, “is not like New Orleans, where music is 24 hours a day -- but it’s close.” His father and mother played music at home constantly. His mother also took him, as a youth, to local nightspots such as the Lennox Lounge, Saint Nick’s, and the Cotton Club, where Hicks witnessed performances that made a significant impact on his outlet and ambitions.
“When you’re around good musicians, it gives you that spark -- ‘I want to do what you do. I want to hold my own,’” said Hicks, who started playing guitar when he was six years old. “But being around those types of musicians also taught me to not be the fastest guitar player. I wanted to be the one who knew the most riffs and drew on a lot of knowledge so I could play anything, and with anyone.”
Hicks was on stage at the Cotton Club when he was 13, and during high school as part of a 15-piece band playing there three nights a week.
“It’s a lot of hard work and responsibility,” Hicks notes. “The older I get, it’s not just playing music just for me anymore. It’s playing music for people to feel good and enjoy themselves, maybe take their minds off their problems.”
The opening act for the evening will be Adam Najemian, a guitarist and singer specializing in blues music. Playing since he was 9 years old, Najemian now performs as a solo musician, both acoustically and with a full electric band. He plays throughout the greater NYC area, including the legendary Stanhope House.
Social distancing, masks required
The show starts at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Dykstra Park, 22 Woodport Road, Sparta. Attendees will be asked to cooperate with safety and social distancing regulations. Please bring masks and sit six feet from your fellow concert goers. In spite of the difficulties present with the current Covid pandemic, NJ regulations now allow for outdoor gatherings of up to 500 people.
Updates on the weather, rain dates and coming concerts will be posted on the website regularly. Visit spartaarts.org or Sparta Arts@Facebook.com.
The Sparta Cultural Affairs Committee hosts the series. Sponsors include Garlic & Oil, the Sparta chapter of UNICO, Braen Stone, RB Painting Plus, Thor Labs, Farmers Insurance/Mark Unglaub, ShopRite, Sparta Discount Tire, Hart & Iliff, Burke’s Wine & Liquors, Sparta Dental Design, Laddey, Clark & Ryan LLC, Sam Castimore & Animal General, Maryjean Ellis Esq., St. Moritz Grill & Bar, Andre’s Restaurant, Yoga Youniverse, The Printing Center, The Rocks Management and Bill Wright’s School Of Music.