A blues-based but genre-defying singer-guitarist from Houston, Hamilton Loomis grew up with his music-loving parents’ record collection. Those discs contained classic blues, soul and rock ’n’ roll. But there was also the music of Loomis’ ’80s childhood, as seen and heard on MTV.
Loomis loved it all and, once he got his music career rolling, he wanted to write, sing and play it all.
“The way I write, it’s kind of outside the box,” Loomis said from Houston. “It doesn’t fit a hundred percent into any genre. My roots are blues but my stuff is a lot more modern-sounding. We’re kind of crossing over to the younger generation and getting them involved in roots music.”
There’s precedent for Loomis’ musical approach, especially in such younger guns as Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Jonny Lang, Robert Randolph and mainstream star John Mayer.
“I thought it was incredible when John Mayer recorded ‘Crossroads,’ ” Loomis said. “It’s kind of his version of Cream’s version of Robert Johnson. He did it with a pop, hip-hop flavor. It sounds modern.”
Loomis knows he’s swimming against mainstream tides with his roots-based music, but he also believes that great music, no matter what the genre, can be enjoyed by anyone of any age.
“People don’t know how to categorize me,” he said. “I say, ‘Do you enjoy it? Well, don’t worry about it.’ ”
From a performance standpoint, Loomis got a fertile start in the 1990s Houston blues scene.
“I learned from masters who were still around,” he said. “It was fantastic to have that old-school foundation.”
Loomis has performed with such Texas blues greats as Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland, Slidell resident Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown and, the late Houston musician who mentored him, Joe “Guitar” Hughes.
“Joe took me under his wing,” Loomis said.
In addition to Hughes, Loomis had a close relationship with one of rock ’n’ roll’s pioneering stars, Bo Diddley.
A young and nervous Loomis met Diddley backstage before a show. Diddley signed the youngster’s guitar case and Loomis played some of Diddley’s songs for the Chess Records artist who got the world shaking to the much-imitated Bo Diddley beat.
“Bo was like, ‘That sounds pretty good, son. Play me some more.’ And then he saw me sitting in the front row during the show. He said, ‘Hey, young man. Come up and play a song with me.’ ”
Loomis went backstage again after the show to thank Diddley for his kindness.
“Bo said, ‘I want to keep in touch with you, son. Here’s my phone number.’ I didn’t take it seriously, but it really was his phone number! And he said, ‘Let’s do some recording together.’ He didn’t have to do that. That was so generous for him to reach out.
“But I think he realized that I was a young player who knew the significance of his music, who would spread the word about it and preserve his legacy. That’s why I speak so highly of him and so often. He was a big part of life.”
Diddley and Loomis recorded together multiple times. One of their collaborations, “You Got To Wait,” is featured on Loomis’ 2007 album Ain’t Just Temporary. Diddley passed away the following year and, to the best of Loomis’ knowledge, “You Got To Wait” is his final recording.
Texas musician Loomis performs regularly in neighboring Louisiana. He’s also made three tours of Europe this year. Loomis and his band get a great response over there but, before his first trip overseas in 2005, he was apprehensive.
“Europeans, especially the English, they’re academic about American roots music and blues,” he said. “They study it. Here we kind of take it for granted, but they have a deeper appreciation for it. They know all the facts and figures and the timelines and the histories. It really kind of blows you away.”
Loomis worried about how his non-traditional, funkier, more modern style would be received by the tradition-treasuring Europeans.
“I thought long and hard about it,” he said. “But then I thought, ‘I’ve got to be an artist. I’ve got to be who I am.’ So, I went over there, we did our stuff and, fortunately, they enjoyed it. And people can tell when you’re genuine. If you’re doing something you don’t really want to do, people can tell, even if they don’t really know why.”