There’s two things that no one can mistake about southwest Louisiana — the food and the music.
For JaRon Marshall, it’s that rich musical culture that has kept his soul fed.
“I was raised around music,” the Loreauville native said. “I had music shoved down my throat before I even learned to care for it. It was all around me. There was always a big Zydeco bash going on. My parents listened to music. It’s different in Louisiana. We go to school to learn jazz or classical. Other people go to school to learn Louisiana music.”
For the last year, Marshall’s had a different kind of education, playing keys for Austin’s Black Pumas. He met band founders Adrian Quesada and Eric Burton while living in Austin, playing on the local music scene. Since he joined the group in April of last year, he’s spent a good bit of his time on the road, touring the U.S. and overseas. He’s just returned from a European leg, embarking on some stateside dates before heading back to Europe this summer.
Interestingly, it’s not his formidable musical knowledge that he credits with landing him the gig as much as his upbringing.
“I guess it’s about Southern hospitality,” he said by phone while getting ready for a show in Eindhoven, Germany. “It’s about being nice to everybody from all walks of life. Every one of us is in the same boat. I mean, where I grew up there was only one high school. Everybody just went there, unless they went to Catholic High School or something like that. I have small town values. And I am wearing that on my heart going out in the bigger world. It’s about being nice, being humble.”
For most artists, keeping that humility would be a challenge when you’re touring as part of one of the hottest bands around, having audiences lose their minds every night to the blend of old school funk, hip-hop beats and soulful lyrics that have become the Black Puma’s trademark.
“When you listen to a live show, you’ll hear the sweat,” he said, laughing. “It gets pretty hot.”
Marshall said his voracious appetite for different types of music directed his playing, with influences varying from classical composers to John Coltrane to rock pioneers and reggae.
“I was growing up right on the cusp of the internet,” he said. “It became my music library. It’s good to know Louisiana music, but if you worry about what the guy next to you is doing, you end up being a carbon copy.
“I came up listening to people like Bob Marley, not just Kanye or something,” he said. “When I was 7, I got a copy of Jimi Hendrix’ ‘Live at the Albert Hall.’ There were all these weird sounds. It is the one where he is playing with his teeth, playing behind his back. At that time, I was playing in church, baroque church music at Our Lady of Victory.”
For all of his talent and experience, Marshall wasn’t always set on being a musician. When he was in school, he had to make a decision between his two loves.
“I was heavy into visual arts,” he said. “I wanted to be an architect. I was in it for a semester, then I changed to music. One day, I said I’d have less regret if I was a musician. I just pictured being an architect with a piano in the living room and wondering what could have been, and I didn’t want that.”
The experience is also opening some doors for him as an independent artist. During the band’s break before the latest jaunt to Europe, he had a chance to attend the Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, where the Black Pumas were nominated for Best New Artist.
“That’s one of things in the music business,” Marshall explained. “It’s like, just because you can understand logic, it doesn’t make you a lawyer. You have to learn, work your way up. I give music the same respect. You meet people. You be nice to people. It’s not a Plan B. It has to be a Plan A. If it is, it’ll always work for you.”
Even though the band lost to fellow newcomer Billie Eilish, Marshall walked away with a wealth of new knowledge.
“I got to see the Grammy voting members, see how it works,” he said. “It’s a machine. You have to work your way up. Now that I’ve been to the Grammys, I have a whole new network.”
The Black Pumas gig has also provided an outlet for Marshall’s solo work, including a series of short sets, the Gold Tapes, that he plans to release throughout the year.
“I was honored when management asked me to open up for the European shows,” he said. “I’m also working on my Gold Tapes. I just released the second one, with some live tracks plus three others.”
But at the end of the day, it’s the live performance that really brings it all together for Marshall.
“The thing is, the fans — when you get out there — they let you know,” he said. “It’s not like some little bio or a Wikipedia entry. They know who you are.”
You can hear some of JaRon Marshall’s original works on his BandCamp page.