WEEKI WACHEE — When you consider that guitar whiz Josh Lamkin could have chosen to play any style of music, you realize how fortunate it is that he chose blues.
Since breaking onto the Tampa Bay blues scene as a teenager seven years ago, Lamkin, 22, has earned a reputation as a top-notch entertainer. Blues is a passion he says he cannot deny.
"It allows me to express myself in a way I don't think I could playing any other music," said Lamkin, whose band, Automatic Heat, is set to perform Saturday at this weekend's third annual Bluesapalooza festival at Linda Pedersen Park. "The music has a spark that goes right into your heart."
Lamkin's skills as a guitarist belie his youth. His fiery bottleneck slide work echoes the Delta-influenced blues of Elmore James, Johnny Winter and his favorite player, Ry Cooder, whose music he discovered as a teen through the film Crossroads.
"I was totally blown away by (Cooder's) style," Lamkin said. "It just seemed so natural."
As devoted as Lamkin is to the old-school style of blues, his music has a twist of funk as well. With the precision musicianship of bassist Matt Walker and drummer Sam Farmer, Lamkin turns tunes such as Chuck Berry's Wee Wee Hours and Little Richard's Miss Ann into high-energy romps capable of bringing even the sleepiest crowd to it feet.
"I'm fortunate to have two guys in my band that love to kick things up a notch," Lamkin said. "It's really fun to play with great musicians that like the same things you like."
Since graduating from Wesley Chapel High in 2007, Lamkin has devoted himself to his music. In addition to holding down regular gigs at Ukulele Brand's in Land O'Lakes and the Dirty Shame Pub in Ybor City, the band plays numerous area blues events.
Though playing a type of music not known for its popularity may not make for a lucrative career, Lamkin said he has learned to appreciate whatever success he finds. This year Automatic Heat was a semifinalist in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.
And though the group ultimately fell short in the competition, Lamkin said the recognition that came from it was worth it.
"We're always looking to spread the word," he said. "I like playing locally, but I really think we're capable of doing so much more. I want that to happen for us."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or firstname.lastname@example.org.