To some teenagers, Muddy Waters might be considered a reference to the Hudson River. But one teen songwriter from Weehawken has learned to appreciate the musical genius of the “Father of Chicago Blues” as an inspiration for himself.
Jack Skuller, 14, who won first place in the teen division of the Big Joe Jersey Talent Show last September, has spent the past few months honing his talent, deepening his musical tastes, and even writing a blues song as he continues on his trek to stardom.
Inspired by references people have made about his resemblance to Ricky Nelson and suggestions that he has a rockabilly sound, Skuller has been listening to music from the 1950s.
“My musical taste has been going back in time,” he said. “I felt a huge connection.”
With two or three gigs each month, Skuller now spends his days at school, does his homework, and spends the majority of his evenings practicing music.
“I just want to have fun. That’s what this is all about.” – Jack Skuller
Practice makes perfect
“I love to practice,” said Skuller, an eighth grader at Weehawken High School, last week. “It’s become a part of life for me. I don’t think of it as work cause it’s not.”
Though he’s striving for a career as a musician, Skuller has remained committed to his education and is getting his cleats ready for the upcoming baseball season.
“I know I’m ready if nothing happens,” said Skuller. “I just want to have fun. That’s what this is all about.”
All in the words
Though the young Skuller – whose father is a musician as well – took piano lessons as a child, he was so drawn to the guitar that he decided to teach himself how to play.
He was first inspired to write songs by the death of his grandfather. But the first complete song he ever wrote was a love song, “Love is a Drum,” which was the one that won him the competition last year.
Inspired by metaphors in the world around him, Skuller says he writes as the feeling moves him.
“I let the pen put words on the paper,” he said. “It’s not really planned; it just happens.”
Recently, he was inspired to write a song by a school assignment in which he was asked to create a poem about a Picasso painting. He chose the painting “Old Guitarist” and within a month had written the song “Slave to Music.”
“I related to the painting in a way I didn’t understand,” said Skuller. “The words were begging to be put on paper.”
Though he admitted the writing process can sometimes be grueling, he said he loves all of his songs and that his favorite part of the process is finishing a work so it can be played.
While Skuller is utilizing social networking sites that are popular with his generation to promote his music, he’s also taken a retro turn with distribution. Not only will “Love is a Drum” be released April 20 on iTunes, but it also will be released on limited edition vinyl.
Show and prove
On April 25 Skuller will perform at Maxwell’s in Hoboken, an all-ages event that will coincide with their usual weekend brunch.
His live show, which he describes as bright and danceable, features a guitar and drum set. But he will also be experimenting with a different musical experience when he performs a solo acoustic gig at the Sidewalk Café in New York City on April 7.
Since last September, Skuller has been performing half-hour sets of his original music in many different venues for diverse crowds.
When asked what his ideal show and crowd might look like, he replied, “Any fan is a good fan.”
Though a school year full of gigs, professional recordings, and video shoots is certainly atypical for a teenager, Skuller’s dreams for his career remain simple. He said he hopes to travel and see new places and people, and maybe tour the U.K. one day.
“I’m just having so much fun in this whole process,” he said. “I’m just excited to be in the middle of it.
Lana Rose Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.