Two-time Star Search champion returns to his roots.
Jake Simpson’s music career has been full of highs and lows. Singing on stage at the Oprah show with Stevie Wonder — a definite highlight. Recording contracts that fell through for one reason or another — career low. But this fun-loving, positive-attitude, nothing-is-going-to-stop-me type of guy takes it all in stride.
About two years ago, after many years spent living in Los Angeles, Simpson decided it was time to return to his hometown of Crocker, Mo. All “four” of his parents are older and he’s got a few projects he’d like to work on, like restoring his 1967 Camaro. But that doesn’t mean he has left the music scene.
“I have the most boring life in the history of mankind … on purpose,” Simpson jokingly said. “It’s been cool to be with my family and do some shows. I get to play music with no pressure.”
A far different scenario than back in 2003 when he won $100,000 and a recording contract with Sony after winning a Star Search competition. The following year, he returned for another season, taking home the title of grand champion, another $100,000 and a recording contract with A&M Records, further launching his career.
Part of his winnings went to purchase a BMW and to make the move from New York City to Los Angeles, where he stayed put for several years.
The challenging life as a musician in LA came with many setbacks but there were those gigs and sold-out shows that made living and working on the West Coast a dream come true.
Before his claim to fame, Simpson was well known in the Lake area, playing with musicians and in bands that helped him fine-tune his career. He’s back on stage with many of the same musicians that he’s known since the mid 90s.
Simpson has always been a fan of “music for grown folk.” His grandmother encouraged him to sing in the church choir at the age of five and years of piano lessons followed.
“I live in the R&B world,” Simpson said. There’s no place he’d rather be than on stage, playing music, making friends and vibin’.
Bringing this “Yacht Rock” genre of music to the Lake, Simpson has created a new band called the Mai Tais, playing weekly at Fat Polly’s and every other week at Captain Ron’s through the summer. The band is made up of musicians like Jerry Frank, a well-seasoned tenor sax player who has many accolades of his own including playing for Ike & Tina Turner and touring with The Big Bopper. And fellow vocalist Penny Lower, who Simpson credits for teaching him how to sing with soul. Other members of the Mai Tais are: Ryan Oldham, on guitar; Cory Fancher, playing the drums; and Mike Lower, on bass.
They stick to classics from the 70s & 80s by artists such as Michael McDonald, Kenny Loggins, Fleetwood Mac, Paul Davis — one-hit-wonders you haven’t heard in a while but probably know every word to.
“This is the last genre of music to me that I haven’t already done,” Simpson said. “(Today’s music) is so uninteresting to me. We come from a very old age of music. It’s a combined team effort on stage. We are musicians, we are artists. We feel the music and work off everyone’s energy.”
When asked if he plans to go back to LA, Simpson says he is starting to miss it and has a job to go back to.
On his bucket list is to record a big band album, like they did in the 60s, with no computers and all on tape but doing so at Capital Records comes at a price. He says it might take a few years to raise the $150,000 but it’s clear he has every intention of pulling it off.
Wednesdays 6-9 p.m. at Fat Polly’s
Every other Tuesday at Captain Ron’s through Labor Day.