Reno musician Jason Roxas and his Jason King Band led the Sunday, June 11 lineup of live music at the BBQ, Brews and Blues Festival in downtown Reno. Music writer and photographer Nick McCabe caught up with Roxas to talk about his career and music.
Jason King Hipolito Roxas was born abroad, of mixed heritage encompassing Filipino, Japanese and Spanish ancestry. His family emigrated to the U.S. in the late ‘70s, seeking better opportunities in schooling and work.
They’re a musical family in that his uncles and their friends would gather together in the evenings to play acoustic guitars and sing on the porch or in the kitchen while enjoying friendship, food and drink. Meanwhile, Jason and his cousins would hide under the table, listening and stealing snacks.
King’s earliest recollection of discovering music was when his parents gave him a crystal radio kit they picked up on a trip to the U.S. He remembers tinkering with it and using the kitchen pipes under the sink as an antenna. Sliding the tuning needle along and hearing mostly static, he found some music: a guitar with some singing. He had no idea who it was, but he loved it.
Several years later, a cousin gave him some CDs, including one by B.B. King. While listening, he realized the song he had heard through his crystal radio kit had been B.B. King playing “The Thrill is Gone.”
When Jason was around 11 he told his mother that he wanted a guitar, and she passed the message along to one of his uncles. His uncle went ahead and brought him a knockoff of a Gibson acoustic which Jason still keeps at his mother’s house. The move from the humidity of island living to the dryness of his new home in the U.S. caused a lot of warping, making it very difficult to play, but play it he did.
“It’s way cool how much happiness and joy music brings to people.”-Jason King
King’s first real band was called Tribe, and was made up of some high school friends. Their first gig was at Bishop Manogue High School when it was located off of Valley Road, before it moved to south Reno. They continued on and played many college gigs around the university area. This, says King, is what gave him the bug to be a performer.
The name of the band developed with input from a couple sources. A good friend who played bass with him suggested that he use his own name as the band name, as well as his solo gigs, giving him wider recognition. He started billing the band as The Jason Roxas Trio.
Shortly after that he was in a music store with Guitar Woody, who had just heard his promo on the radio, and the DJ kept screwing up his last name of Roxas. So he asked Jason what his middle name was. When he told him it was King, Woody thought that was perfect and suggested he make it easy on everybody and just go by Jason King.
On the question of noteworthy collaborations, Jason pulled out a good one with his story about playing with Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin. Margolin had been a recording blues artist since 1973, playing with Muddy Waters from 1973 to 1980, and also performed with Muddy and The Band on The Last Waltz.
King first encountered Margolin when he was playing in The Garage at the Reno Hilton (now Grand Sierra Resort). Years later he met up with him at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Long story short, they bonded and decided that The Jason King Band would back him up when he was playing in the northern California and Nevada venues.
Since they both played at Biscuit and Blues, King would often pick up Margolin in San Francisco and bring him to Reno for gigs in the Reno/Tahoe area. This went on for a long time. They are still friends and stay in touch with each other.
On another occasion, about 20 years ago, King’s band was joined by some of Jonny Lang’s band members at The Cantina during a Rib Cook-off event in Sparks. After a couple tunes Jonny Lang himself showed up and played a full set with them using one of Jason’s guitars.
“…once I got pulled up at The Crystal Bay Club to play with Robert Randolph. That was great.“– Jason King
Jason King is one of the fortunate local musicians who is able to make his living as a performer. Then came the pandemic. He remembers clearly that it was March 17, 2020 when it all closed down.
As an independent contractor he did not qualify for unemployment. The support and love of friends and family helped him survive during those hard times. As things started to reopen he found himself working steadily again at most of the places that he had been playing before.
Things are good again. The lights are on and there’s food on the table for his son and him.
Most of the time King plays a beat up Fender Stratocaster, so I asked him about it.
He said he has had it since he was about 17 years old and it’s considered a classic vintage guitar. When he got it, it was all original. At one point he decided to modify it and he even added a Floyd Rose Tremolo Bridge.
As time passed he realized that he should probably have left it alone, so with help from some talented friends they replaced all the original parts that he had taken out.
A new CD is on the horizon. King feels like he has the right band around him to consider recording again. His plan is to start integrating originals back into a steady rotation at gigs to get them really tight and ready to record.
“Some people record quickly. My process is slower and takes a long time. Maybe by Easter or next summer I’ll have something ready,” he said.
Jason King has nothing but praise for his bandmates, even saying that he’s just another guitar player and it’s the band that makes him sound good.
The band consists of David Macias on saxophone, keyboard player Gabriel Riley II, Matt Bassett on bass, and Brad Scribner on drums. He especially points out how important he feels it is to have a drummer and bass player who mesh well together. I’m sure a tribe like that doesn’t hurt. Do yourself a favor and go check out The Jason King Band.