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Beyond the blues: an interview with Jackie Venson

Patrick O’Heffernan

(Hollywood) Jackie Venson is usually described as a blues guitarist with a smoky voice and unreal guitar chops. She has won a ton of awards for her blues playing and even has a holiday with her name on it in her native Austin, Texas – Jackie Venson Day. But she is much more than a blues woman. If you listen carefully, you will hear that her blues is tinged with rock, soul and even rap and pop, and her lyrics are the stories of today, not the past.  Her voice is smoother and more sensual than most blues, and her audiences are much wider and younger than the classic blues crowd. She is on tour now in advance of releasing her fourth album, Transcends, Sept 29. We caught up with her the day after her concert in Hollywood while she was waiting to see if she could get into the Forum that night to see Gary Clark Jr. open for Eric Clapton.

Patrick: Jackie, besides the new album coming out, what has been going on with you in the past year?

Jackie: It has been a really crazy year. I have been touring nonstop, finishing this project (the new album, Transcends), and I went on tour with Gary Clark  – we did a few dates together and we have a few more dates together coming up, and I also got to jam on the encore on stage with Buddy Guy.

Patrick: You like crazy years like that, don’t you?

Jackie: Yeah. What else is there to do?

Patrick: Are you playing tonight?

Jackie: Gary is in town tonight with Eric Clapton, so we might be there if we can get in.  Otherwise we go to San Diego for our gig tomorrow. I enjoy the road.

Patrick: Tell me about the new album.

Jackie: It’s called Transcends.  I released the first single already, but the album will come out on the 29th – it will be available everywhere. Pre-orders are already sold out. The first song we released, “Transcends,” is the most psychedelic song on the album. There are 5 songs altogether.

Patrick: You are described as a blues rocker, but – this is my opinion only – your songs are sort of an up to date take on the blues.  Many of your songs sound like classic blues although you just wrote them and the lyrics are about stuff right now. How do you do that?

Jackie: I don’t know. I just sit down and jam on a song.  Sometimes I will write a section of a song and can’t match it up with anything so I need to find a new chorus or something So I will go to my old files – I record everything, even things I think are bad because 6 years later they may be good and perfect for something.  I just go through the files and try to match up sections, like a good chorus to a good verse, or whatever it is, to create a full song. It is a gut feeling – I will match up sections and they will be either right or not and I know when it is right.  This is how I do it.  I think trying to sit down and write a certain kind of song by the  end of the day doesn’t work for me – it is too constraining to one genre.

Patrick: Many of your lyrics tell different stories than classic blues riffs.  A song like “See What You Want” is upbeat.  Have you always liked upbeat songs in the blues?

Jackie: I do, I like upbeat songs. I actually stopped playing the piano because I could not figure out how to write upbeat songs on the piano – other people can do it, but I could not figure it out. My songs came out like slow theatrical ballads and I hated that. I wanted it to be groovy and rocking out – I wanted to hit people with intensity. I tried for seven years and finally dropped the piano and moved to the guitar.

Patrick: How did that change things?

Jackie: You know you can scratch and mute strings on the guitar. That kind of opened my brain up to come up with things that were funky. That opened me up to the guitar rhythm part because where I put the scratches was where I wanted the snare drum or something – that is hard to do on a piano. You can do it on the Hammond organ, but very hard to be percussive on the piano.  That is why the guitar such a good writing instrument for me.  I tried the piano for seven years and finally figured out that the guitar was my writing instrument.

Patrick: Have you ever added rap or hip hop to your music?

Jackie: Definitely. If you go to my YouTube page you can listen to a song called “Jupiter” that features rapper KJ Hines.  I did another song called”Now” with KJ Hines. I did a song awhile back and I couldn’t figure out what to put in the bridge – I didn’t want another guitar solo – so I thought I’ll put in a rap. I did another song with him rapping called “Instinct” but that might be hard to find; look for the studio version.

Patrick: You are famously attached to your guitar… what guitar do you play?

Jackie: I only play one guitar unless I break a string then I have a backup. The only guitar I ever want to play is named Herbie. It is a Fender Strat, 2016 Elite series.

Patrick: Your music is more than blues. We just talked about rap in some of the your music. You seem to attract a younger audience, people who may never have heard of BB King or Muddy Waters. Are you reaching out to this new generation of blues fans?

Jackie: I don’t like to play straight blues. I am trying to carry on the torch, not in the way of playing all the greats and classics, but by trying to further to reach of the blues genre itself from black people singing in the fields as slaves to the music that led to rock and rap, and jazz and everything we listen to today. The blues branched out from those songs in the fields and I am one of the branches

Patrick: Your band is amazing, especially the drummer. Who are they?

Jackie: The bass player, Alan Uribe, has been with me since I formed the band. The drummer is Rodey Hyder, aka “Rodzilla.” He is baddest drummer you will ever see.

Patrick: Thank you. Good luck on Clapton tickets and enjoy San Diego.

Jackie: Thank you!

Patrick O’Heffernan.  Host, Music FridayLive!, Co-Host MúsicaFusionLA

Jackie Venson  www.jackievenson,com

Transcends will be released 9/29/17 on all platforms.

Patrick O’Heffernan, PhD., is a music journalist and radio broadcaster based in Los Angeles, California, with a global following. His two weekly radio programs, MusicFridayLive! and MusicaFusionLA are heard nationwide and in the UK. He focuses on two music specialties: emerging bands in all genres, and the growing LA-based ALM genre (American Latino Music) that combines rock and rap, blues and jazz and pop with music from Latin America like cumbia, banda, jarocho and mariachi. He also likes to watch his friend drag race.

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