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J.J. Vicars (Canton, OH)

Solo performers Interview

Artist Name: J.J. Vicars

Age: older than them young girls think

Date: April 18th, 2013

Are you an instrumentalist only? Nope, I also do something that resembles singing.

What instrument do you play? Guitar, bass and a wee bit of keys

Where do you reside? Canton, OH

What inspired you to start singing and Playing? The car radio, which was usually playing Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and Little Richard. And I couldn’t see myself holding down a straight job.

How long have you been performing publicly? Since day one, pretty much.

How long did you play before you stated gigging? A couple years maybe. Hard to say because I was sitting in as soon as someone would let me and did that for a while before actually gigging.

How long have you been playing guitar? 25 years.

How did you learn to play guitar? My guitarist father taught me the foundations right away; “Honky Tonk” by Bill Dogget, “Memphis” by Lonnie Mack and a boogie bass line. Prior to that I had a Joe Pass book that started with simple 12 bar Blues playing each chord on the beat and got progressively more complicated each page until ending with a I-VI-II-V turnaround complete with a walking bass line. As I started to get a bit proficient Surf instrumentals came into the picture. They’re a great place for beginning guitarists because they’re easy but they’re a recognizable song you can play for an audience. When I got good enough to figure out simple stuff from records by ear there was the first Tail Gators album “Swamp Rock”, the first Fabulous Thunderbirds album “Girls Go Wild” with Keith Ferguson on bass and Mike Buck on drums, and a Lightnin’ Hopkins album with Earl Palmer on drums who played on all the early Rock ‘n’ Roll and R&B hits.

Have you taken lessons? If so, do you take lessons now? Not formally but I constantly study new things. I’ve made several attempts at Jazz and will make another. Western Swing is a favorite that’s still a mystery to me. Country players like Jimmy Bryant and Chet Atkins. Then there’s fingerstyle, open tunings and alternate tunings. I’d like to incorporate more of those on solo acoustic gigs.

Where was your first gig? Don’t remember. I was sitting in with older cats, usually old Blues guys, and eventually just sort of morphed into a gigging musician.

How did you get it? Just showed up ready to play. Probably replaced some older guy who was busy making time with some chick.

How scared were you? Very. Those old guys were tough. If you hit a clam they’d tear you a new one on the bandstand. Never happened to me personally but they did it to the other guys while I was up there. Wasn’t pretty.

How do you get gigs? Dress sharp, smile devilishly and hand the talent buyer a slick looking promo kit with a CD on the front.

Do you use an agent? If so, how did you get that rolling? No, but I’d like to start my own booking agency. I just moved back to the States after nearly a decade overseas so I’m still establishing myself. There’s a lot of hype and bullshit out there about “furthering your career” but what’s really missing is good booking agents. Hustling your own gigs is a pain in the ass that requires more business skill than most musicians are cut out for. On the flip side venues and talent buyers tend to rely on the same acts over and over again because they’ve been burned by unprofessional bands. My goal is to set up a sort of clearinghouse; if you’re a musician you have to have proven to me that you’re reliable before I’ll represent you, and if you’re a talent buyer you can simply tell me what kind of music you want for your club or event and you’ll get somebody top notch without having to stress about it. Probably I’ll be representing a small number of my closest musician friend. I don’t hang with unprofessional players.

What do you use for equipment? Guitar, amp and a cord between them. For acoustic shows I have a mic on my acoustic. Keep it simple and there’s less things that will break down. Besides, if you know how to play you don’t need a bunch of gadgets.

Do you use a monitor? Whenever possible.

Do you have any tips you can share as far as setting up your equipment for a gig? Use your own gear as much as possible and keep it simple. For most clubs and restaurants a small PA is enough. You’re not playing Madison Square Garden. If you’re playing a venue with a house PA get the non-musicians out of the way and set it yourself. If there’s a soundman size him up quick; if he’s cool be friendly with him, if he’s a dick make sure he understands that making you sound bad will neither be tolerated nor forgiven.

How long was you longest gig? Five hours, maybe. A few times on a four hour/three set gig the last set would have a rowdy crowd that wanted us to play longer. I get paid per gig and audience response dictates whether or not you get hired back. If the audience is happy I keep going until I wear them out.

How long was your shortest gig? 30 minutes at some festival. Bored me to tears.

How do you choose what songs to learn? Whatever catches my ear. Right now I’m learning two Hank Williams songs ’cause I just love both of ‘em and feel like singing ‘em. You can never go wrong with Hank.

How do you learn new songs, by ear, YouTube, books? By ear. If something is too difficult to get over a period of time then I might look for a transcription or on YouTube for an instructional video. Young players today go straight to tabs for everything but you have to develop your ear in order to play music.

Who are a few of your favorite artist? Don Leady is one of my all time favorite guitarists. I grew up on The Tail Gators and when I moved to Austin I looked him up and went to hear him whenever I could. He never fails to amaze me. He’s got a new CD out, all instrumental, and it’s not only a groovy disc to listen to it’s a textbook for guitarists. Everything he plays seems so simple and so effortless but when you try to figure it out it’s mind boggling. Fortunately he shows me a lick or two whenever I’m back in Austin.

The textbook is pretty standard; Lightnin’ Hopkins, T-Bone Walker, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Ike Turner, Magic Sam. Outside of Blues I’m a big Mellencamp fan. His last two albums pointed a new direction for me. Prince was at his peak when I was growing up, I loved the idea of writing on whatever instrument fit the song that wanted to come out, as opposed to just writing from patterns on one instrument. Robert Conti is Jazz player out in Las Vegas who puts out really cool instructional stuff. Really hip organ trio type riffs and licks to incorporate into your own vocabulary. Tommy Emmanuel is so good it pisses me off. Him and Redd Volkaert. I hear those guys and I get fired up until I realize they’re light years ahead of everybody else including me and then I need a couple strong drinks.

How often do you play out? I’ve always worked as much as possible. I do my own Roots Rock trio (me plus hired help) and solo acoustic shows. For a while I had an Americana trio consisting of myself on guitar & vocals with dobro and upright bass. We recorded a couple songs that will be on my next CD. I’m also playing lead guitar with a Country Rock band. Not my usual cup of tea but it’s something that’s popular. Sometimes you have to follow the trend, unless you actually like washing dishes.

Do you have any CDs out? Five in total. They’re all available at http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/JJVicars The new one is Long Way From Home and the CD has two bonus tracks not available for download. Also the jacket is really cool.

There’s also a single that was done for charity after the March 11th, 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Tohoku, Japan, a Surf instrumental called Meltdown released under the band name Premature Evacuation. You can read the whole story at http://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/PrematureEvacuation And we did a Dance Remix with steel guitar. I kid you not!

Do you have any aspirations to take you music further than your current success? Keep working.

How far will you travel? I’ll go anywhere if the money is right. I’ve played some interesting places including headlining the Beijing Blues Festival last year. Would love to back to China and play Shanghai. Talked to a guy on Facebook who was touring in Russia. Would love to go there. And I’ve been working on playing Europe for years.

How far have you traveled to do a gig? From Tokyo to Beijing. Airplane food isn’t so bad on international flights outside the U.S.

Can you recall you best show? There’s been a lot of good shows over the years but this past New Year’s Eve was the best in recent memory. It was the first time my dad and I did a gig together as a guitar duo. We’ve done other stuff over the years, including me playing bass for his band, but that was the first time it was billed as both Vicars. The rhythm section was pretty good and a friend of mine who did BVs on my new album sat in on keys. Plus we are all dressed really sharp for the party, except for the bass player.

How about your worst show? Like the ‘best show’ question I can really only answer from recent memory. I was accompanying a singer/songwriter friend on guitar during a radio show and everything went wrong from the word ‘go’. It started off as one of those weird days where there’s just an odd vibe in the air, kinda unexplainable. The other groups on there were irritatingly bad and the air conditioner was cranked so high those of us without sweaters were shivering, which threw my guitar out of tune as soon as we started. I was playing a funky pawn shop acoustic that was perfect for the Blues and Country/Americana stuff I do on my own but wasn’t all that compatible with the Taylor she was playing. The whole thing got under my skin and I couldn’t wait to get out of there. I was in a glum mood well into the next day.

Do you have any advice for a person just getting in to gigging that you would like to share? Negotiate the money up front. You’ll find out real quick who’s on the level and who’s full of shit.

When you practice do you go through a P. A. or just you and your guitar? The only time I ever use any kind of amplification to practice is when I have to get used to using the knobs and toggle switch on an electric. Anything more is unnecessary. On electric I use the knobs and toggle switch quite a bit and run straight into the amp. There’s a wide variety of tones to be had by playing the volume and tone knobs and toggle switch as part of the instrument. Where you pick, close to the bridge or neck, and pick attack are more tones available and you don’t need an amp for them. Chord voicings are an important element that are too often overlooked. A lot of young players today play barre chords for everything and then go stomping on pedals trying to get different sounds for solos and so forth.

Start with chord voicings, then pick attack, whether on electric or acoustic. If you’re on electric use different positions on the toggle switch and ride the volume knob. No need to rely on effects. For electric I use volume pots with a bell taper; when you turn ‘em down halfway the sound is crisp and clear, and when you floor them wide open it pushes the midrange really hard. Unlike a Tube Screamer you don’t need to change the batteries. When playing with a bass player try experimenting with different notes on the bottom of your voicings, like the 5th or the 3rd.

Anything else that you would like to share? Some important tips for younger players; forget about ‘art’ and hone your craft. Music is a craft. If you have an artistic statement to make it will eventually come out in its own time.  Likewise, forget about these redundant cliches like ‘being original’ and ‘finding your sound’; if you have a voice on your instrument it will come out naturally.

Learn your history. Too many young players today don’t dig back to find out where it all came from, they think music began when they turned on the radio. They’re shortchanging themselves several different ways. Whoever you listen to, listen to the people they listen to. Find out who influenced and how and why. And don’t just listen to those albums, learn them. By ear! Develop your ear, hone your craft and entertain the audience. Otherwise you might as well be washing dishes.

Thanks for your time.

Contact information/Press Kit: jj@jjvicars.com

http://www.jjvicars.com