Saturday, September 10, 2011

Vasti Jackson speaks on Robert Johnson, early influences and more

Vasti Jackson seems to do it all.  He's a renown guitarist, vocalist, producer, songwriter and arranger.  He's worked with B.B. King, Harry Connick Jr., Martin Scorsese, Cassandra Wilson, Z.Z. Hill, Johnnie Taylor and more.  Vasti (pronounced Vast-Eye) can move effortlessly from Blues to Soul to Jazz to Funk to Gospel and pretty much wherever else he wants to take you.  In concert, not only will he play his amazing originals but you may hear him cover Jimi Hendrix, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Prince, etc.  We asked Vasti about his recent lead role in the play Robert Johnson- The Man, The Myth, The Music, his latest CD, touring and more.

You stay incredibly busy between studio production and session work, theater, film, recording your own solo projects and do you find time for it all?
I am so blessed to love music and related areas of art such as writing, acting, and video and audio science(s). These passions are my career and playground. When I am not on the road my work/play day starts at around 6:00 am and ends at about 9:00 pm. I have a small studio here at home, and with today's technology I do a lot more recording at home for clients all over the world.

Who were some of your early musical influences and who do you like to listen to today?
My earliest influence are my grandfather Samuel Jackson, and my grandmother Mary Jackson. My grandfather played guitar, harmonica, and sang. He was a deep down blues man who lived in Mississippi and New Orleans. He taught my grandmother to play guitar. She was the daughter of a preacher. I guess the saying that opposites attract is true. My mother (Josie Jackson), uncles, and aunt sang and played a variety of instruments. Outside of my family my early influences were Lighining Hopkins, and B B King. As a teenager it was Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery, and the great drummer Billy Cobham. Being that my grandmother was very religious, I heard gospel quartets a lot.  That rhythm guitar accompaniment stayed with me.

How was the experience being involved with the Martin Scorsese documentary The Blues?

It was a great learning experience and a lot of fun. I worked with Charles Burnett (To Sleep With Angeron Warming By The Devils Fire, for which I wrote "Train Rollin' Blues", and with Wim Wender (Buena Vista Social Club) on The Soul Of A Man. We filmed in Vicksburg, Canton, and Jackson, Mississippi.

Claude Johnson and Vasti Jackson.
Copyright Vasti Jackson

You've recently played the lead role in the stage play Robert Johnson- The Man, The Myth, The Music. What was that like getting into the spirit of such of a blues icon like Robert Johnson?
Being from McComb, Mississippi (40 miles south of Hazlehurst), and the early mentoring of my grandfather gave me the cultural foundation. I met Claude Johnson (son of Robert Johnson) more than ten years ago while working on a the film Stop Breakin' Down, playing the role of Ike Zinnerman, one of Robert Johnson's mentors. I was the musical director for the film and had to do lots of research on Robert's music, deciphering various tunings, rhythmic approach, phrasing, and melodic choices for guitar and voice. Beyond the music it was important to get into what life might have been like for the average young black man in rural Mississippi during that time period. It was very important psychologically, spiritually, and physically to get into the stories of the songs without music being attached. Letting those stories dictate body language, speech inflection, facial expression, and then let music serve to bring greater emotional depth to the character on stage.  See a video excerpt of the play here:

Stimulus Man is your most recent studio project released in the fall of 2010.  One of the songs featured on there is "My Computer".  Tell us a little bit about that song.
"My computer" is about our relationship with digital technology and how it sometimes gives us the blues with the problems that commonly plague us such as hard drives crashing, slow internet speeds and online viruses. It is a funky, modern blues recorded with soft synths, live guitar, and vocals. I debuted this at the Chicago Blues Festival in an acoustic setting, and it was received wonderfully. The electric version was great fun recording, and experimenting with sound choices, and is fun to play with the band.

Looking at your concert schedule I see you have a lot of international dates coming up.  How is the blues received internationally?
I have been very fortunate in touring internationally since 1989. The international audience loves jazz, blues and gospel. This year alone I have toured France twice, Poland twice, Lithuania, Ukraine, Argentina, and Brazil.

What do you see happening for you in 2012?

More recording projects (gospel, Christmas, soul and blues) touring, and film.

Thank you Vasti for taking time with Rockabilly 'N Blues Records. For more updates, tour schedule, audio and video of Vasti Jackson, go to Here's some fun video footage of Vasti showing his acoustic side and blazing electric guitar side.: