21-year-old Stephen Hull of Racine picked up the guitar seven years ago and taught himself how to play the blues.
He started the Stephen Hull Experience in 2018 and has been playing gigs in southeastern Wisconsin and the Chicago-area.
His band was a finalist in the 2021 Interstate Music Competition — one of seven out of a couple hundred. The band submitted three songs in a video audition and walked away with silver just this past month.
Watch Stephen Hull Experience perform "Killing Floor":
Hull says when he is playing the blues, he can feel himself flow through his guitar and the music takes over his entire body.
“I've had several moments on stage where it's just like, I'm not playing that guitar, I don't know who is but it sure sounds good,” he says. “It has to come from your soul and has to be a 100% vibe.”
When it comes to influences, Hull cites Albert King as his main influence along with B.B. King, Elmore James and modern blues artist Jontavious Willis.
Blues was started by rural Black communities in the deep south beginning in the late 1800s. That cultural influence over the past century, Hull says: “It is, in fact, a story. Whether most people realize it or not, you can't separate the Black from the blues."
"It''s 100% a cultural story that is, just, in a more, I want to say, digestible form," he says, "We're able to listen to it, get something out of it, and move on about our day ... a pleasant sounding song, we all kind of digest on some level.”
With the blues being contemporaneous with slavery ending in the United States, Hull says part of the beauty in blues comes from the fact that this music was created by people looking to turn painful experiences into positive ones.
“One thing I find to be beautiful about the Black experience is that no matter what, there's always going to be that silver lining that someone can make out of it. Resilience is just one of the most astonishing things that I've come to recognize about the Black community,” he says.
Watch Stephen Hull perform "Freight Train":
Through the pandemic, Hull has tried to incorporate that hope into his own life. As a performer, his livelihood was brought to a halt. Not only did he have to find new ways to earn money, but also he lost the thing he loves the most — performing.
“I miss playing gigs all the time. You know, that was, the best part of my life so far. But I know that, you know, as much as I'm going through right now, you know, working and whatnot, I'll be able to make it through this and get back to doing what I really love,” he says.
Watch Stephen Hull Experience live at Rosa's Lounge: