When blues and roots rock singer, songwriter, and guitarist J.B. Kline and his band appear Sunday, May 29, at Havana in New Hope, Pennsylvania, he will be thinking positively.
In fact Kline, 67, would be the first to say he believes in the positive power of prayer, something the Lambertville musician — and owner of J.B. Kline and Son New and Vintage Instruments shop on Bridge Street — talks about during a recent interview.
One of Kline’s positive personal stories starts in 1993. He had been thinking about the future and converting part of the store that had been in the family since 1875 into a guitar shop. But the future wasn’t clear, and he was taking a risk. “We weren’t making much money with office supplies, so I said, ‘Well, if I’m not going to make any money, I’m going to not make any money selling something that I like,’” he says.
Then something far from positive engulfed him. Klein was making a delivery for the family business when a bus slammed into his truck and left him with a potentially lasting brain injury and disability.
The positive moment came a few months later when Kline arrived for an appointment with his neurologist and met another patient, Sister Sophia — the Trenton nun known for more than 50 years of teaching and then for leading art and music classes in the New Jersey State Prison.
“She was pretty famous in the Trenton area,” Kline says of the elderly nun who had developed mobility problems. As the two waited, they chatted, and Kline mentioned his uncertainty about the store and his future.
Sister Sophia’s reply? “Well, my son, what are you best at doing?” And, as Kline tells it, “I said, ‘Well, I’m really good with guitars and playing guitars.’ And she said, ‘Well, you’ve got to go with it, go with your dreams.’”
The guitarist says afterwards he went to the nearby Delaware River to think and pray. The result? “A big vibe hit me — ‘Do the guitar store, do the guitar store.’ And it felt right.”
Over the next few years he found himself recovering and learning a lesson — one rooted in being generous to his music students and shop clients: Giving goes two ways and builds loyal partnerships. It was connected to what Sister Sophia had taught him: “If you can give, then usually, you get,” he says.
“I have just turned 67 years old,” he says during the interview. “You don’t think of these things when you’re younger: How do you get by giving? But it works; that’s the way the world works.”
Born at St. Francis Hospital in Trenton, Kline was raised in Lambertville in the 1950s and ’60s, when it was still a blue-collar town.
The son of a third-generation store owner father and housewife mother, Kline began playing drums at 14 but switched to guitar at 16, after hearing the Beatles. He then became curious about older forms of music and at 17 was enamored with B.B. King, who also had some positive words for him.
“I met B.B. King when I was a teenager at the old Lambertville Music Circus. I had just bought the album ‘B.B. King: Live at the Regal,’ and I was good friends with the (music circus) owner’s son, so I got to go backstage and meet him.”
Kline says he told King that he wanted to play music but wasn’t interested in joining a rock band, “I just wanted to play blues,” he says.
King’s answer? “Son, go to a big city, and you’ll find your audience there.” Then King told him, “Try to play like you’re singing.”
After graduating from Hunterdon South High School in 1967, a semester at Mercer County Community College, and a year of hitchhiking, Kline followed King’s advice and relocated to New York City. There he played with such musical legends as the Drifters, Chuck Berry, Shirelles, Plasmatics, Fats Domino, Beach Boys, Mitch Ryder, and Tiny Tim.
Then with a wife and two children he moved back to Lambertville in 1982. And while the marriage did not last, his work in music did and has kept him connected to his dreams.
That, he says, includes opening for the late B.B. King for concerts at the Trenton War Memorial and the Count Basie Theater in Red Bank.
“Just a couple of years ago, (King) played at the State Theater in New Brunswick,” says Kline of the blues singer who died in 2015. “I went backstage afterwards, and they were bringing him out to the bus in a wheelchair. I said, ‘Mr. King, you probably don’t remember me, but we met years ago. I opened for you in 2010 at the War Memorial. He said, ‘What are you talking about? I remember you! You were great.’ That was quite an honor for me.”
Kline formed his blues and roots rock band in the early 1980s and has performed for Lambertville Shad Festivals, Bethlehem Music Festivals, the now-defunct Stockton Inn Blues Festivals, and at various clubs in and around Trenton, New Hope, and West Jersey.
Because he’s been actively involved trying to grow his musical instrument store since 1994 and taking care of his health, Kline has been slow in building a reputation, but he seems poised to join other well known area guitarists Ernie White, Paul Plumeri, and Joe Zook.
And like those three, Kline is old enough to recall the glory days of New Jersey’s rock and blues club scene and knows the scene is a shadow of its former self. He also can see how being a musical instrument store owner and guitar teacher have helped him have a life in music.
They have also helped him persevere and produce three self-released albums: “Belvidere Line,” “Music Mountain,” and “All of Your Love.”
At the upcoming Havana performance, Kline will be accompanied by central New Jersey and Bucks County musicians he has worked with for years: Ed Wall, keyboards; Kevin Joy, bass; Bobby “Boom Boom” Einreinhoffer, drums; and Ralph Liberto, saxophones.
“I have a great life here,” Klein says of his business and performing. “I walk to work and have a cup of coffee, and I’ll often sit out front with my friends and we’ll play together.”
He recaps his positive philosophy with, “If I’m playing for two people on the front stoop in front of my building, and they’re paying attention, I’m going to play my absolute best.”
J.B. Kline Band, Havana, 105 South Main Street, New Hope, Pennsylvania. Sunday, May 29, 6:30 to 10 p.m. Opening: Jasserie, featuring the Brooks Sisters. 215-862- 9897.