Aurora Public Library Teen Talent Show and Competition winner Jake Julian, 14, was 8 or 9 when his dad bought him a $50 guitar at Walmart and taught him the chords to Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water."
That was the extent of the father-son music lessons. But by the age of 10, Brian Julian says, his son was a better guitar player than he was.
"He taught himself by watching You Tube," Brian Julian said.
Jake, a freshman at Waubonsie Valley High School in Aurora, was chosen the winner out of 14 contestants during the Aug. 10 fifth annual competition at Copley Theatre in downtown Aurora. All the performers were between the ages of 12 and 18.
Candiss Julian feels she may be able to take a little credit for her son's musical prowess. She was a member of "Soul Children of Chicago," a 30-year Chicago institution which performed at President Barack Obama's inauguration as well as Motown's 50th Anniversary celebration. Jake's 11-year-old sister Haley also was a member of Soul Children.
"My grandfather was accepted to Julliard," Candiss said. "All the men in my family are really, really musical. So I think possibly, maybe, it was from me," she added with a big smile. "But Brian says it's all You Tube."
You Tube definitely played a part, everyone agrees. But Jake's family also knows not every kid could watch You Tube and learn to play guitar as passionately as Jake does, or study and understand computer code on his own.
The library competition was not Jake's first talent show. He won second place last year in Dwayne Wade's "Chicago Has Talent" competition at the Chicago Theatre. He also plays during open mike nights at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago and at Ashbary Coffee House in Willow Springs.
Jake said he got a little taste of stardom in the "Chicago Has Talent" competition.
"There was a guy who was headlining the talent show named Jacob Latimore. So after the show there was this big, huge line of girls screaming 'Jake! Jake!' and I was thinking they were screaming for Jacob Latimore, but someone said, 'No dude, they're screaming for you.'"
"I went back to the hotel and ate Funyons and chips. And the moment I got back to the hotel room after the competition, it was a definite let-down. Performing is definitely ecstasy. Musicians turn to drugs sometimes because they want that high, that feeling.
"It's really worrying because I think you play the show and you live that and have the fun, but you have to accept the fact (that after a show) you have to watch a funny movie with some friends, eat some Funyons and go to sleep. You have to accept that life goes back to normal."
Jake says music, and life in general, is "small points of greatness followed by long periods of complete and utter boredom."
Jake also said he thinks when musicians turn to drugs, they're "almost driven by fear… the fear of stagnancy and not doing anything.
"For me, my greatest fear is one day working in a cubicle. It's the worst thing that could ever happen to me. The nightmare is that I wake up in a cubical with a little hula girl on my desk. That's when I'm jumping out a window. The moment you hit that stagnancy and you're not doing anything exciting, that's the moment you are not living. You are just surviving."
Brian Julian found out about the library teen talent competition when he stopped in at Culture Stock used bookstore in Aurora earlier this summer. "I thought it would be something for Jake to do," he said.
When Jake auditioned in June, he was the last contestant to come through the door after three days of auditions at three library locations. If you ask him, he might say he totally screwed up his audition. He forgot the words to the Pearl Jam song he was covering. But the beauty of his audition was that he began singing about the fact that he had forgotten the words without missing a beat. It was witty, it was funny; it was just what you would expect a "real" musician would do… have fun with it instead of freaking out about it.
"When I get up to perform," Jake explains, half of my brain says 'this is going to be a disaster' and the other half says 'you are going to kill it.' When I step up to the stage it's a haze. But when I'm performing, it's definitely ecstasy."
Jake's aim is to play music for a living one day. "It would be great to be able to make money by making yourself and other people happy," he said. "An artist wants to paint for a living. A musician wants to play his guitar."
When he was 5, Jake wanted to be a Power Ranger. "I would jump from couch to couch pretending I was the Red Power Ranger," he said. "One of the original ones. Not the Samurai ones…those ones are lame."
At one moment Jake speaks like the young teen he is. And then, almost as quickly, he switches to his old soul persona.
Asked what other career would be acceptable; Jake says he would "totally love to be a spaceman."
He then explains President Dwight Eisenhower's philosophy of putting funding toward creating the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to encourage peaceful aspects of space science.
And what decade would he be suited well to, if not the current one?
"From the people I've met and talked with, it sounds like the 1960s and '70s would have been a great time. Now we are at a time where technology trumps the communal and social aspects of society. In the '60s and '70s, it was all about community. Music now is too many cooks in the kitchen. The songs should just feel more natural."
"Natural" is an excellent way to describe Jake's style. With his inspiration coming from B.B. King, Pearl Jam and Eric Clapton, it's not hard to envision Jake covering Ray LaMontagne, Joe Cocker or Tom Waits.
"When I was 10 years old, I was a horrible singer," Jake admits. "I could kill animals with my horrible voice. But one day I sang something and my dad said I didn't suck."
Jake wowed the audience during the talent show by recording himself playing rhythm on his guitar and then looping the recording and playing melody along with himself -- live.
"I saw a loop pedal in The Guitar Center store and I played with it and thought it was awesome and wanted it for Christmas. And I got it for Christmas. When you don't have a band, it's an incredibly wonderful, versatile tool."
Aside from playing and writing music, Jake also plays football and wrestles. "I won conference in wrestling. I'm just good at aggressive sports. I take honors classes. I want to study hard and get into a good college so I can have a backup plan if the music thing doesn't work out. Outside of school, I study code."
"The moral of the story is this kid is really bright to teach himself not only guitar, but code," Candiss Julian said.
He also recently had a fun time teaching the theory of relativity to his 6-year-old sister Gabby using blankets and shoes.
"Gabby is the coolest little girl ever," he said. "I think because of the age gap between us, I'm able to teach her a lot of stuff."
As if that weren't enough, Jake is also "really into film.
"My friends and I study Stanley Kubrick and we have a skit we are writing right now for a comedy sketch about a bunch of robbers who kidnap some people. Right now we are going into casting and building equipment for it. We basically use scraps and what we can find in Home Depot."
Jake said he gets creative at nighttime. "That's horrible because that leads to insomnia," he said. "I am up until 5 in the morning thinking of crazy ideas and then realize I have to go to sleep."
Jake said although not all kids his age "get" him, his best friends do. "You gotta know when to change the conversation style (around other kids)" he said. Around kids my age I have to talk about stupid stuff, like what girl likes what guy. But I've got a few friends I can really talk with and have deep conversations with, drink some Slushies, and then play some video games. We like to talk about the trivial things in society. I love George Carlin and Dave Chappelle. They look at miniscule things we do and then trivialize them. We crack up at how ridiculous we are as people."
Jake received a trophy for his first-place win. He also received tickets for his family to see B.B. King and Peter Frampton at RiverEdge Park on Aug. 16 after RiverEdge concert organizers found out he was a huge fan of King's.
Jake will be back at next summer's library competition to entertain the audience while judges make their decision.
To see more photos from the competition, go to Aurora Public Library's facebook page at www.facebook.com/aurorapubliclibraryillinois. To audition for next year's performance, watch the Aurora Public Library website and facebook page. Auditions will be in June; the competition will be on Saturday, Aug. 9, 2014.