"Hitman!" yells the boy who answers the phone.
Outside, Brett Barnard puts down his work fixing the water pump on his family's rural Richmond Hill, Ga. property and comes inside to take the call.
Barnard earned his nickname for a tendency in his younger days to "hit 'em and quit 'em," but despite the name's staying power (even with family), he's wiser and more seasoned these days. At 36, Barnard has served in the military, taught middle school, and worked as a full-time blues singer and guitarist.
Today, Barnard lives amidst the giant live oak trees that predate his family on the land they've owned since 1902. The first African-American Eagle Scout in Bryan County, Ga., Barnard is driven by a sense of service to his community. He began playing the blues at age 24, attracted to the style of music from a bygone era. These days, he's passing it on to a new generation.
"I've got a nephew that loves the blues," says Barnard. "Last night, we were discussing the strategy of getting the water pump repaired, watching a Sessions for Robert Johnson program on TV. I've taught him to play a little guitar, but I think as far as my people go, the blues are a dying art form. It goes to show the evolution of things, and I'm thinking, sooner or later — hopefully sooner — it'll come back around."
Barnard says he's particularly inspired by the scene in Charleston. A one-time regular at A Dough Re Mi in Mt. Pleasant, he mentions Sarah Cole among the young talent he's enjoyed watching grow up.
"It inspires me as a musician, because, I tell you, those young kids can play. It keeps me on my A-game," says Barnard. "I love the direction the blues is taking. It's a gateway for other kinds of music. If I wanted to do a rock song or jazz song, I base everything on the blues. American music, in general, is based on the blues."
For his Charleston show, Barnard plans to bring his power trio, including bassist Kent Householder and drummer Jarrod Bernie.
"We're looking to do a bunch of old blues and spice it up with some more modern stuff," says Barnard. "We'll be having a good time with it."
The band played the Early Bird series last year as well, with a great reception, recalls Barnard, whose tuneful, slight growl on the mic often builds the band's musical energy to explosive peaks. In addition to classic covers like "House of the Rising Sun," Hitman's blues band offers impressive originals like "Sing These Blues Again." With slide guitar and shuffles reminiscent of the Allman Brothers Band (fitting for this south Georgia local), Hitman's got the rare ability to write new blues songs that immediately sound like familiar classics.
Despite the growing difficulty for musicians to make a living on the road, Barnard has no plans to slow his career in music.
"If you talked to me 10 years ago and said I'd be playing music for a living, I'd have said, 'That's just not feasible,'" says Barnard. "One thing has led to another. I'm one of those people that sticks to something until it's done. Find something and stick with it, and there's no telling where it'll go."