When I heard from a friend that John Schroers plays blues music during his school bus routes, I was intrigued. It’s not often that students get exposed to the blues. So I stopped by the store he owns in downtown Shakopee, 1st Ave. Picture Framing, and asked if I could interview him.
I quickly discovered that Schroers is a tell-it-like-it-is guy with a self-deprecating but jovial sense of humor who has a gift for storytelling. And he loves the blues. The day I stopped by his store, he was listening to Jeff Beck, which he’d played on his route that morning.
During the 12 years he’s been driving a school bus, he’s driven almost every route in Shakopee. He currently has three routes, two of which are for SACS.
“It gives me something to do between 4 and 9 a.m.,” he told me. “I’m an early riser, which I attribute to being a duck hunter.”
He picks up his first student around 6:55 in the morning and is done around 9. During that time, his smart phone is connected via an auxiliary cord to the bus sound system, and he’s playing his favorite music.
“I do love the guitar heroes. Duane Allman. Eric Clapton. Beck,” Schroers said. “The list of great players is long and too many to mention, but for me, at the top are the three Kings: Freddie King, Albert King, and B.B. King. The guitar is the preeminent instrument of any blues setup, and it’s augmented by other instruments.”
Band students seem to enjoy his music the most, he said. They’re the ones getting on the bus carrying a musical instrument.
“I have kids of all ages on the bus, from kindergarten all the way up to high schoolers. Many are in band or taking music lessons,” he said. “The blues gives them an idea of what’s out there.”
Occasionally, he gets a student who gives the music a thumbs down. Yet for the most part, they seem to like what they hear.
“I don’t set out to recruit anybody. Some kids say they like it and ask specific questions about what I’m playing,” he said. “Here’s an example: I was playing the Allman Brothers Band. I’m a big fan of their live album “At Fillmore East.” It’s considered the greatest live recording ever made. There’s a particular tune on there, “You Don’t Love Me,” when the boys are really kicking it up. Thom Doucette is the harp player. He’s sometimes considered the seventh band member, and he made a nice addition to that particular song.”
Thom “The Ace” Doucette is renown for playing the blues harp, also known as the harmonica. He’s credited as being one of the greatest harmonica players of all time.
“There was a student, maybe a sophomore, who got off the bus and said to me, ‘That’s got to be Thom Doucette,’” Schroers said. “I’m thinking, ‘I’m astounded that this kid would know that.’ Then he said, ‘My dad is a harp player in a blues band.’ And I was like, ‘Wow. That is very cool.’”
He used to make regular Facebook posts about the music he played on the “Blues Bus.” While the posts were popular with his social network, he ran afoul of Facebook’s policies by featuring copyrighted music, so he stopped posting. But it hasn’t stopped him from playing the music on his routes.
“I have to keep my eyes on the road, but I can see in the mirror that at least a couple of kids are into it,” he said. “They’re not hearing this on the radio. If it expands their appreciate of American music, so be it.”
When he was growing up, other kids were listening to rock bands. Schroers was cranking up the blues.
“I’ve loved the blues since I was a kid. People were listening to the Beatles. I preferred John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers,” he said. “I was listening to local radio in the mid-’60s. WDGY would play everybody, including blues artists. It appeared to me that the blues always had a harder edge and a different kind of beat. It wasn’t too popish. I like the music that has a bit of grit to it. That’s what I got turned on to during my musical development stage.”
He continues to discover old blues players. He also likes the newer blues music being released.
“There is some fantastic talent across the blues,” Schroers said. “Music ties people to their pasts and their experiences. I’m 67 years old. Music brings back memories. It’s like sign posts and is a roadmap of where you’ve been. A lot of music means specific things to people. It’s the roots for everything. That’s why the blues will never die.”
Brett Martin is a guest columnist who’s been a Shakopee resident for over 15 years.