Like the archetypal bluesman of song, Hamilton Loomis came to a crossroads. In his case, though, he wasn't falling on his knees begging for mercy. The native of Galveston, Texas, was trying to decide whether to take a 9-to-5 job after graduating from college or continue pursuing a music career.
Luckily for his fans, Loomis chose the latter. He will appear tonight at The Boulevard in Wichita. Still, the story says a lot about Loomis' approach to playing a style of music heavily influenced by the blues.
Loomis plays the guitar with the skill and nuance of his heroes — Albert Collins, Gatemouth Brown and, most of all, Bo Diddley. But don't expect to hear him sing blues classics like "The Thrill Is Gone," "Born Under a Bad Sign" or the aforementioned "Crossroads."
"That's out of respect, not spite," he said from his current base in Houston earlier this week. "Look, dude, I'm not B.B. King. I hate to be cliche, but let's keep it real."
For Loomis, that means writing his own songs, and bringing other influences — rock, funk, soul — into his blues-based songwriting, singing and playing.
Loomis might have considered another career, but he seemed destined for music. He grew up on his parents' extensive record collection, learned to play the guitar, drums, piano, bass and harmonica by his early teens, and sang with his family's doo-wop group.
At the age of 16 he had a life-changing experience when he met Bo Diddley. After Loomis played his guitar for Diddley backstage, the legendary singer of "Who Do You Love," "I'm a Man" and "Bo Diddley" invited him onstage to jam.
"I jumped up there half excited and half scared to death," he recalls. "I had been listening to Bo Diddley since I was in the womb. It was just a big thrill."
Diddley became a friend of the Loomis family, offered career advice and played on two of Loomis' CDs. It was Diddley, he says, who told him to put his own stamp on the blues —"Innovate, don't imitate" — and that's what he tries to do.
A song like "Get My Blues On" might start off with a fat guitar riff that calls to mind B.B. King, but "No No No" opens with R&B harmony, "Best Worst Day" is built around a funky drum track and "Workin' Real Hard" has the good-time lyrics of Southern rock.
Loomis has been making his living full time in music since he was 22, performing in Wichita several times. Currently his band consists of "four guys with the sound of seven." He plays guitar and harmonica simultaneously — the latter on a device fashioned from a vacuum cleaner attachment — while his sax player uses a harmonizer to sound like an entire horn section and doubles on keyboards. A bass and drums round out the band.
As for his show, Loomis promises "energy, funk and fun. I like to go out in the crowd. I like people to be a part of the show rather than there be a separate wall between the performers and the audience."
If you go
What: Performance by blues guitarist and his band
Where: The Boulevard, 900 George Washington Blvd.
When: 8 p.m. Friday; doors open at 7:30
How much: Tickets $15 at the door.