Louis Arzo “Gearshifter” Youngblood

Blues Guitarist and Vocalist, Jackson

Louis Arzo Youngblood, aka “Gearshifter,” is a Jackson-based guitarist and vocalist who performs a unique blend of country blues, modern soul-blues, and everything in between.

Louis was born in Picayune and grew up in Jackson, Bogalusa, and, mostly, Tylertown. There Louis was raised in a simple rural environment surrounded by older relatives. As a young boy, Louis learned from his great aunt Essie Mae Youngblood the rudiments of guitar. She also taught him several of the songs he performs today, including the traditional folk song “Rabbit In A Log” and the Tommy Johnson song “Bye Bye Blues.”

Essie Mae was influenced directly by Johnson, one of the most significant bluesmen in the greater Jackson area, who married her sister Rosa in the 1930s and lived briefly in Tylertown. Johnson had a profound influence on a number of artists in the Tylertown area, including Louis’ grandfather and namesake, Arzo Youngblood.

At 16 Louis joined the Job Corps, in which he learned to operate heavy machinery at camps in Arizona and New Mexico. He played informally with a band during his three-year tenure, and in the process became more interested in developing his skills on the guitar.

After leaving the Corps Louis returned to Jackson but often stayed in New Orleans with his grandfather Arzo, who had lived there since the early ‘60s. Arzo’s home in the 9th Ward was a gathering place for older musicians, including Boogie Bill Webb. Louis didn’t study directly with the older men, but their music was nevertheless influential on the development of his music and repertoire. He occasionally performed in the city with the Jackson-based group Roosevelt Roberts and Sons.

Although he never recorded commercially, Arzo was recorded by field researchers David Evans, who was investigating the influence of Tommy Johnson, and Axel Küstner. Recordings of Arzo by Evans appeared on several now out-of-print LPs; several of the recordings made by Küstner are on the Evidence CD boxed set Living Country Blues.

In the ‘70s Louis began performing in Jackson together with artists including Robert Robinson and Tommy Lee at clubs including Dorsey’s and the Queen of Hearts. Mostly though, he worked as a heavy machinery operator at sites across the country. In the late ‘70s, he lived in Miami, where he performed with Bahamians in a Calypso band.

Throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, Louis performed irregularly in Jackson and became more active in recent years. In 2003 he played regularly at the E&E Lounge in Jackson with T.C. and the Midnighters, and since late 2003 has played every weekend at Monte’s Fine Dining in Jackson fronting the Delta Blues Boys.

Recently Louis has been performing more as a solo acoustic artist, creating a distinctive mix by blending the country blues he learned as a youth with soul/blues classics and electric blues standards. In this capacity, he has performed at Hal and Mal’s Restaurant in Jackson, the Sunflower River Blues & Gospel Festival in Clarksdale, and the Rootsway Roots and Blues Food Festival in Parma, Italy.

-Scott Barretta

See Also:

Youngblood’s Facebook page and website

Youngblood’s site on ReverbNation

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