While love first brought the musician Mark “Big Poppa” Stampley to Louisville, it was the city’s infectious magnetism, friendly hospitality and vibrant music scene that kept him here. At 68, Stampley is preparing to release his fifth album, “Jukebox Blues,” on Thursday, July 18, with a party at Stevie Ray’s Blues Bar.
Stampley pays tribute to the blues on the six-song album, which is part of a series. “Side A” features original songs in the style of blues from the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, and “Side B,” which will be released later, will continue the homage to blues through the decades, focusing more on sounds from the 1960s.
He calls his style of music “Cariblujazz” — which is a mix of Chicago blues (his hometown), country, rock ’n’ roll, R&B and some Caribbean flavors mixed in for good measure — and stays busy playing gigs all over the country.
And when he’s not on stage, Stampley has a prolific side career of being a voiceover artist for commercials and films — one was an animated version of President Obama — and he portrayed the character of Hayseed on TBN’s “Smoketown.”
Stampley tells Insider he wanted his latest album to reflect the blues because it’s a genre that is important to both him and music as a whole.
“Blues is the actual father and mother of American music — many historians believe this, as do I,” he says. “It was developing a long time before recording audio was possible. The ‘babies (and cousins) of the blues’ include jazz, rock ’n’ roll, R&B, bluegrass, gospel, country, hip-hop and some Latin-styles, and it influenced many other international styles. I must do my part to keep the heritage strong and vibrant.”
One of his favorite songs on “Jukebox Blues” to perform is “This Beer Ain’t Working,” which was co-written by the award-winning actor and playwright Vin Morreale.
“I really do love all my babies, but ‘This Beer Ain’t Working’ is a lot of fun to play musically, and I get to kind of dramatically be ‘that guy.’ You know, that somewhat coherent guy in the bar at night’s end,” he says.
After Thursday’s release party, Stampley will tour with the new album for several months, with the first stop being Chicago.
He also plans to write a song for a new film being shot in Florida and will continue another side project called “Blues in the Schools,” where the musician takes blues music traditions and guitar instruction to schools in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, South Carolina and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
We had to find out how Stampley acquired the “Big Poppa” nickname and he says it started 13 years ago when his first grandson was born.
“My daughter asked me, ‘What did I want my grandson to call me?’ After my idea of Mark was vociferously shot down by my daughter, I thought, ‘Have him call me what I called my granddad, Poppa Stampley.’ Oh, and I was 100 pounds heavier, so the ‘BIG’ part was added.”
Big Poppa Stampley’s album release party starts at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 18, at Stevie Ray’s, 230 E. Main St. He’ll be joined by Voudoo Gumbo and Lainey B.
But before he takes the stage, we asked him some very important questions …
What was your first concert?
Seeing B.B. King and Eartha Kitt at the Regal Theater in Chicago while still in high school. They performed live after the movie. Both were incredible, and I was in love with Eartha Kitt.
What could you give a 40-minute presentation on with absolutely no preparation?
What job would you be terrible at?
I tried to become a truck driver once, and all you good people can feel safer on the road, now, because it did not work out!
What is your favorite restaurant or bar?
That’s a hard question. I have been to and performed at so many great restaurants and bars. But, based on cities: The best overall combination of food and fun is a cross betwixt Louisville and New Orleans.
What is something you think everyone should do at least once?
Everybody should leave the USA to experience other cultures, to gain a better appreciation for the world and the USA.
Where would you direct a newcomer of Louisville to get a feel for the city?
Louisville Visitors Center.
What keeps you here?
This is a great town for me to express my art, many sincere friends I’ve met, so much to do on any given day, and it’s a very reasonable economy. As I asked the same question of a Louisville resident during my first flight here from Chicago, I repeat what he said, “Louisville is one of the most livable cities in America, and I ain’t going nowhere!”