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By: Jason C. Mitchell
Hollywood, MD- Josh Riley is a local blues musician living in St Mary’s County. He just celebrated his 22nd birthday on February 6th, but agreed to meet me at Taphouse 1637 in Hollywood, MD, right off of 235. “I’ve been playing saxophone since I was ten. They made me pick art or music. I said, ‘Art is stupid’ and I went with the music man. I hated school band. As soon as I could get out of it I did. They tried to get me to do marching band, I chose Jazz band. Junior year I quit completely. I switched to playing with bars in bands. I would go from 8th period to playing in Toots.”
When Josh started putting his talents out there he would play with, “Anyone who would let me play. Open mic nights, Phillip Michael Parsons , Bradley Turner , Mike Damron, ect. I would sit in with Taboo all the time. I still do. They got my first experiences playing in public. I’d go up to play a few songs. When I’d go to sit back down they were like, “Hold up, we’re not done with you yet!”
It didn’t start off easy though. Josh plays a style of music that late night bars aren’t typically booking in this area. “The biggest challenge is the music I play. I play Blues. You won’t see me a pub on a Saturday night. The first gig I had was at Sunny’s (owner of the Taphouse 1637) old Coffee Corner (now closed). He gave me his first gig. That’s crazy that I just remembered that.”
Before all this though, Josh was on a full ride scholarship for mechanical engineering at the Virginia Military Institute. He was on track to become a pilot for the United States Air Force just like his father was for twenty years flying F-16s. Unfortunately Josh was medically disqualified during his time. He was diagnosed with a rare neurological condition called Kleine-Levine’s Syndrome that only one in fourteen million people have. It’s rare and little is known about the condition. It sometimes leaves Josh in coma like sleep for twenty-five days. He decided to come home saying without the scholarship, school was just too expensive. “Happiness goes there to die and I was trying to pay for that.” He said it while ironically sporting his college sweatshirt.
“I didn’t know who I was… I was so lost and I just picked up my guitar and started playing out. Bands started asking me to play out with them. I played to a crowd of seven thousand. That was the largest to date. These bands were all different genres. I’m even on a rap album playing saxophone. That was the most difficult session work I did.”
Just two years ago Josh struck it out on his own. Last year he formed his band. He’s released two singles which can be found on most major music sites including Apple Music and Spotify. He told me about how they were both released on August 4th a year apart. I was curious what the significance was. “Well I just happened to release the first single Music Man on August 4th 2017. When I was finishing up Rainin’ I noticed it was close to the same date and decided to make it a thing. I’m considering trying to release my upcoming album on the same day if it works out.”
So what has Josh been up to lately? “I’ve been getting to play out on the West Coast a lot lately. It works pretty good during the Winter-Spring. I got to play in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Phoenix. I was on the East Coast in Ocean City as well. Coming up I’m hoping to release my album this summer. I’ll be going to Berklee School of Music this fall. Their graduates has received over three-hundred Grammy’s and I thought a Grammy would look good on my wall. I finally made the decision music is going to be my life. It’s the reason I decided to go for Berklee. The only way to get better is to surround yourself with people that are better than you.
You can catch Josh Riley at Hills Country Store March 3rd, 2019 with some other talented musicians at Small Town Throw Down, a local musician showcase. Check out his singles “Music Man” and ” Rainin” on all major music platforms.