Read Culture

This Boy’s Got the Blues


Who says a white teenager from Saskatchewan can’t have the blues? Thank god no one told 17-year-old Kyle Riabko because we’d be without one of the hottest young up-and-comers in the blues genre.

Back in the ‘90s, Jonny Lang, another young blues wunderkind from the northern region (North Dakota's not as far north, but it's up there, ya know?!), came out of nowhere to blow the roof off. He eventually toured with greats like B.B. King. Lang had the look of a small white kid who you’d torment at the playground but when he opened his mouth the gruff voice of an old black man came out.

Riabko’s sound is more polished and slightly more produced, but equally strong on his debut Before I Speak, for which he pulls influence from rock, hip-hop Delta blues – even Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Beck and Jeff Tweedy.

Throughout the eclectic collection of songs, Riabko’s voice hits the higher register and his guitar playing is tight as hell (listen to “Carry On,” on which Riabko goes head to head with pedal steel master Robert Randolph). Riabko is actually more R&B than straight up blues. His songs have great rhythmic peaks and valleys, in a similar (but not nearly as great) vein as Prince, especially on the song “Miss Behavin’.” He has a sweet sensitivity like James Taylor on “Waiting,” and he even paired with uber-MILF Liz Phair for the sultry “Chemistry.”

He’s had the fortunate opportunity to open for John Mayer, Buddy Guy and Keb Mo. And when he hits the stage, his whole body plays the strings – his face contorts in ways a person’s face probably never should. It may sound scary – because it is, a little. In fact, it kind of reminded me of Skeletor.

I got the chance to interview Kyle about a year ago for a start-up magazine for parents of kids who play music. At the ripe age of 16, Riabko had a solid head on his shoulders, put schoolwork before anything else (he graduated high school with an almost perfect grade point average – weeks after his album came out) and had a realistic vision of his future.

He told me that, “You can’t succeed without failure. You have to be willing to be a complete failure or absolutely brilliant. There’s no in between. I don’t think anyone is really ready for [huge stardom]. You just have to be grounded to begin with and take that with you if things like that happen. If I thought about it a lot it wouldn’t happen.”

Check out his tunes. Hopefully he’ll have a long career ahead of him. With the way it started out, he might just get lucky.


More stories like this one.