When Mel Waiters’ grandparents gave the 7-year-old a set of drums for Christmas, it was only a few hours before the racket he was creating had them asking him to put the instrument back in the box. It didn’t take long, though, for the now famed blues/R&B artist to turn noise into music. By middle school, Waiters was drumming for bands at the Teen Canteen Club at Fort Sam Houston. After more than a decade as a radio DJ on KEDA, KAPE and KITY, he dove into entertainment full time, transitioning from drummer to singer and performing throughout the United States. Since his first big hit, “Hole in the Wall,” he’s had four albums crack the Top 10 on Billboard’s Blues Album chart. Before taking the stage at this month’s SAGE Music Festival along with soul singer Allen Stone and other jazz, R&B, gospel, hip-hop, country, Tejano and salsa acts, Waiters talked with us about life in the music business.
What sets you apart from other blues musicians?
My music is a lot different from many of the guys on the circuit with me because it’s a mix of both blues and R&B. I ended up combining something that I had no idea would work, but it ended up working for me. I have a high-energy show. There’s an entire horn section and back-up singers. We do a lot of moving, dancing and singing.
Why did you make the switch from drummer to lead singer?
Basically, I’ve always played the drums. My first professional gig was as a drummer, and when I created a band, I started out drumming. When I started touring nationally in 1997, I made the transition to singing. It was different, but I began to enjoy the freedom up front of singing and performing. The performing came pretty naturally to me. I grew up singing in the choir at Jacobs Chapel United Methodist Church.
After working as a DJ, what convinced you to get back into performing?
When I was DJ-ing on the radio, so many artists came through that I got excited about the business. I interviewed everyone from Teddy Pendergrass to B.B. King. That put the itch in my blood to get back into performing. I created a band and started out playing clubs. I was invited to play a weekend at Fort Sam Houston, and I ended up with a military contract and stayed playing there for seven years.
What does it mean to you to get to perform for a hometown crowd?
I tour every week from one end of the map to the other. It’s rare that I get to perform at home, and I’m really excited. I grew up on the East Side. I really owe my career as much to the community that supported me as to anything else. To play at the SAGE (San Antonio for Growth on the Eastside) Festival at the AT&T Center—it’s generated a lot of excitement inside of my body.