Interview with Brad Vickers: Twice As Nice: Video, Photos

- in BLUES, INTERVIEWS, VIDEOS

Interview with bluesman Brad Vickers: new album “Twice As Nice” is a true privilege to be able to record a fresh batch of songs.

When did you first desire to become involved with the blues and what was the first gig (concert) you ever attended? What were the first songs you heard?

When I was 12 years old I started listening to blues, and I fell in love with it. It was then that I had a great desire to play it. The first blues show I attended was a folk blues concert with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, with Dave Van Ronk. At the time I was 15 years old and living on the rural South shore of Long Island, in the Pine Barrens among the potato farms. This show was held in August for the migrant farm workers who had come to the area for the potato harvest.The first songs I learned were Jimmy Reed’s “Goin’ to New York” and Leadbelly’s “Don’t You Love Your Daddy No More?”

What do you learn about yourself from American roots music … and what does the blues mean to you?

I have been involved with American roots music close to fifty years, almost my whole life. As a teenager I fell in love with folk blues, early rhythm ‘n’ blues, jump, and ’50s rock ‘n’ roll. I learned that I couldn’t live without this music. It made me happy, and once I found that I could perform it, I never wanted to stop playing. When I found my own voice and style I felt that I could share this with other musicians and find an audience. And when I began to write my own songs, I found that the sky was the limit. For me the blues is a time when I can mellow out and float with my inner emotions. It is my favorite music to listen to and play.

What characterizes the sound of Brad Vickers & His Vestapolitans?

My sound with the Vestapolitans is eclectic. We play originals and covers that draw on a variety of styles: old-timey blues and rags, country blues, rockabilly, r‘n b blues, Chicago blues, and folk blues. We have a name for it. We call it American “Roots ‘n’ Roll”.

“The advice I would give is to learn and listen to as many old styles of blues as you can. Every performer has his, or her, own style. It’s best not to have a complicated domestic life. You have to be free and able to play whenever you get that call to work.” (Brad Vickers & Margey Peters / Photo by Dennis Czund)

How do you describe “Twice As Nice” songbook and sound? Where does your creative drive come from?

On “Twice As Nice”, our sixth album, we have wide range of songs, all fitting in some way into the blues context. “Worried Life Blues” by Big Maceo was one of my favorite songs that Chuck Berry covered. I’m happy to have the opportunity to give it my own interpretation. “Mississippi Swamp” is a take on the Mississippi hill country style that I also love. Margey Peters wrote a number of songs on the album. Her “Love Can Win” is a soulful, optimistic anthem for our times. On Jimmy Reed’s “Close Together” we have a chance to do a rendition of a song by the arguably ultimate bluesman. The rocking “Coast To Coast” is our take on the classic road trip theme. On “Twice As Nice” Margey pays homage to the early risqué female blues singers. “Red Dust” is my lament for the American Indian. Our “Everything I Need” gives yet another bow to Jimmy Reed with a Chicago-style shuffle. Next we cover Will Shade’s jugband classic, “Stealin’ Stealin’ ”. For me, blues founding-father Tampa Red is a must. Here we do his “Look A There Look A There”. Finally, Margey’s “Brooklyn Evenings” is an idyll to a bygone urban era. Our creative drive comes from the continuing love of classic blues and roots music, and the impetus to contribute to the genre.

What touched (emotionally) you from the late greats Big Maceo, Jimmy Reed, and Tampa Red songs?

It’s absolute that when you hear Jimmy Reed the blues grabs you through your whole being. There is just something so basic that rings true. It’s not about the execution—though these records are beautifully done—it’s the essence that resonates. I feel that Tampa Red is a bit unsung. For me he is one of the true fathers and pioneers of the blues. One hears a lot about his “hokum” songs, but he is the first to do so many of the songs that have joined the blues canon. For example, “Sweet Black Angel” and “It Hurts Me Too” were his first. Big Maceo was Tampa’s partner after Georgia Tom Dorsey left to pursue gospel music, and “Worried Life Blues” is one example of their great work together.

Are there any memories from “Twice As Nice” studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

This was a very special session because of being able to call on some dear and talented friends to contribute on various cuts—along with our fine core band. Dave Keyes did a great job on piano and organ. We are both Sleepy LaBeef “alumni”, and it was great to see and play with him again. Two terrifically talented guitarists joined us. Dave Gross, who produced a number of our previous recordings, contributed, and also Dean Shot, another wonderful player. Finally, Mikey Junior, laid down some authentic acoustic harmonica and sang along with Margey and me. Co-producer V.D. King jumped onto an astounding assortment of instruments from banjolele to bari. Everyone had a great attitude and really stepped up.

How has the blues changed your life?

Blues has made me more centered, and playing it has mellowed me and evened me out.

What originally caused you to explore and delve into blues, folk, and other American roots music?

It was my mother! She bought me an instrumental Jimmy Reed album for Christmas called “Jimmy Reed Plays 12-String Guitar.” I had never heard anything like that before. I found it so relaxing, yet it was full of danceable rhythms. Then, when I found out that Jimmy Reed sang, I bought another album right away. That one was called “Just Jimmy Reed.” I was hooked on him—and the blues—and I am still, to this day!

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would change two things. First, it would be for us to have more venues and outlets where one can play. Next, it would be for the general public to put down the iPod for a minute, and listen to live music.

What has made you laugh recently, and what has touched you lately in today’s blues?

What has made me laugh? Well, there’s a song Margey Peters wrote on That’s What They Say (2015) album called “Mama’s Cookin’”. It’s humorous songwriting at its finest. I won’t tell you what it’s about—you’ll have to purchase the CD! What has touched me in today’s blues? There are so many talented people out there now, so many, many great musicians and singers. We are at a time of renaissance. There are so may people whose work I like, but I’ll name a few who are doing some really great things: Doug McCloud writes great songs and performs them with such ease. He’s a very gracious, forth-giving man on his shows. I love his music. Guy Davis’ album, “Juba Dance” was wonderful, with each song a gem. I can’t wait to hear his new recording, “Kokomo Kidd.” Chris James and Patrick Rynn are blowing me away with their intense, accurate Chicago blues. The best I’ve heard in years! Their album, “Trouble Don’t Last” was great. Yikes!

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I most miss the original players. Having them around and being able to see and hear them live. I’m happy that with new technologies, their music is available to a wider and wider audience. It’s fantastic that one can see previously “lost” footage places like YouTube. I guess I fear most that the music might get too homogenized. With so much emphasis on replicating certain specific licks and styles, it might be easy to lose the idiosyncrasies that make the blues so beautiful. I feel that it’s important to put your own personality into the music.

You have a pretty interesting project, a digital single of Hart Wand’s “Dallas Blues” to benefit The Blues Foundation’s H.A.R.T. Fund. Where did you get that idea?

I got the idea of doing Hart Wand’s “Dallas Blues” many years ago. I read about him and the song in Samuel Charters’ book, “The Country Blues.” This was the first published blues, in 1912. Margey Peters and I realized that 2012 was coming up and the song would be 100 years old. It’s a great song, and a great piece of history. We decided to celebrate the centennial of the blues by doing something beneficial, and what could be better than to help needy blues musicians through the H.A.R.T. Fund? It was only later that we noticed the coincidence with Hart Wand’s name.

What impact do you think blues and roots music has on racial and socio-cultural issues?

The impact that blues and roots music have on socio-cultural issues can be vast. These forms can be a vehicle. I believe that we’re just beginning to touch on some issues. The more performers talk about today’s problems in their songs, the healthier a community we will have. You heard it in the “protest songs” of the ‘30s and the ‘60s, and you hear it in rap. And you hear it in blues. We must talk about issues in an intelligent, artistic way.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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