Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Inside Piano Blues

"Now when I say Get it, I Want you to Shake That Thing!"
[A brief overview of Blues Piano and the folks who played it]

At the turn of the century, the Eastern seaboard, from Virginia to Texas, was dotted with lumber camps. These lumber camps provided the raw materials needed to rebuild a nation that The Civil War had [at the very least] badly disfigured, or in the case of The South, literally reduced to ashes. Along with rebuilding, the nation was undergoing a great industrial revolution, necessitating the massive expansion of railroad systems. The need for timber had become a top priority, and a national chain of lumber camps grew up overnight.

The Lumber Camps
Although these camps were technically governed by state and federal laws, in reality, since they existed, many miles deep into the woods, and away from the rest of society; they functioned under their own laws, and were far less concerned with the moral fiber of their "citizens"; anyone willing to work long, grueling hours, under minimal safety considerations were welcomed. Often these camps were run by private companies, with little concern for the health and wellbeing of the lumberjacks; in turn, where you came from, your criminal records, etc., were of little concern, as long as you could swing an axe for ten hours a day. 

The Railroads
Long before the days of logging trucks, these camps depended on railroad lines to get their product to town. Indeed their entire existence revolved around the railroad. Aside from shipping timber, railroad cars were often used as dormitories, mess halls, and on weekends, hastily constructed saloons. These saloons featured untaxed whiskey served in large barrels, at least a couple boxcars worth of local working girls, and over in the corner, an upright piano. Very few of the lumberjacks were, musically inclined and the first circuit for itinerant piano players was born. These players played loud, fast and long; their left hand imitating the familiar chugging rhythm of the train, while the right hand often banged out simple counterpoint phrases.

The style was known by such colorful names as Dudlow Joe, Texas Stomp, Drive 'Em Down, and ultimately, Boogie Woogie. The men who played this style had equally colorful names: Romeo Nelson, Raghead, Three Finger Sam; There were very few named Neil. Most of them could fight as well as they played, and were often forced to when confronted by drunken patrons. In these places the piano man was more than just a musician: he told stories, relayed the latest news from other lumber camps, and often managed the financial affairs of the "working girls."

Rent Parties and Life in the City
Although the style may have originated in the lumber camps, it wasn't long before this rough, crude style found its way into the cities. Indeed, it became the favored style at rent parties, and in little hole-in-the-wall saloons. It was still looked down upon by more educated players, and wasn't even accepted in the brothels where Jazz and Stride were played. Boogie Woogie, and Blues piano grew up in the places where the pimps, prostitutes, and drug dealers went when they got off of work.

THE Concert
In 1938 Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis and Pete Johnson performed at Carnegie Hall, a performance promoted by John Hammond, which started a whole new craze into blues piano, especially boogie woogie, lasting a long time into the period of the 50's....and the birth of Rock n' Roll. To me, the three above mentioned artists, are some of the greatest to ever live. Their blues style piano made its way into all of the prevalent music genres of the time; Swing, Jazz, Country etc. It was being heard everywhere - at President Harry Truman's inauguration, on TV and of course, the famous Cafe Society Club.

Sweet Home (to some)
As you can tell, I have affection, make that a passion for the blues and boogie woogie. However, when you mention blues piano to most blues fans, they traditionally think "Chicago Blues." It did come to Chicago with the Great Migration, a human TIDAL WAVE of 6.5 million Southern Blacks moving from the South up to "Sweet Home Chicago," and the other industrial cities of the North. Chicago became the home of a loud, raucous style, mainly due to the constant noise of the big city. Guitars and harmonicas were amplified and the piano became an integral part of the band, a supportive instrument, with licks and fills derived from boogie woogie. It often served in call and response patterns with the singer or guitarist, and every piano player had his [or her] own, in the words of Sunnyland Slim, 'Trickerations." Only the strong survived. These players were not art school graduates looking to play authentic "roots" music. For most of them, music was only one more means of survival, and the least likely to land you in jail. Sunnyland was a moonshiner, several were professional gamblers, and many of them served, once again, as 'financial managers," for young women fresh from the country. No matter what their side occupation, when it came to piano, they didn't fool around. You quickly knew where you stood during this period. The best rose to the top, not only because they were just better, but because certain bands, who knew they could do a better job, would literally take over your gig at pistol point, or with a knife in your back. It was cut throat, literally. A few notable Chicago blues piano players include Jimmy Yancey, Roosevelt Sykes, Sunnyland Slim, Lfayette Leake, Memphis Slim, Otis Spann, Big Maceo, Little Brother Montgomery, and Pinetop Perkins.

From the Lumber Camps to the Suburbs of Savannah
It was a family gathering on a Spring Sunday afternoon when I was first invited to play publicly. I was 10 years old and after being ushered up to the piano, I nervously fumbled my way through the classic "Fur Elise." As I finished playing, I was welcomed by loud applause, hoots, hollers and whistles all around; except from my Grandfather Jesse Wainwright. He was not the least bit impressed. Having played the piano his entire life, boogie woogie and honky tonk, he was almost displeased by what he heard and said a few things to me that I can't repeat here as he walked over and sat next to me on the piano. His left hand slammed down on the piano, interrupting the warm family support, growling and rumbling like thunder. His right hand started to fiercely attack the upper register, jack-hammering the notes with the confidence that only 50 plus years of playing beer joints can produce. He smiled as he watched my reaction, no words were necessary, he knew I was hooked.

Blues piano is an aural, as well as an oral tradition, now passed along mostly from mentors to apprentices. My Grandfather and Father were my first musical mentors. 

The legendary Pinetop Perkins is of course very close to my heart as well, for the simple fact that I got to see him perform so many times as a child. I also got to play and just hang out with him over the past few years, him showing me things on the piano I didn't think could be possible, and I felt I could call him a friend. 

As with my family, and the late Pinetop, they made it a point to pass along a tradition, much like Sunnyland Slim and the Reverend Billy C.
Wirtz. The Reverend is definitely a mentor of mine, as well as a dear  friend who I've learned a great deal from, and played many nights with, but before Billy C. Wirtz was showing me the intricacies of blues ballads and eight-to-the-bar stand up on the stool and shout it boogie woogie, he was himself being mentored by the amazing piano player legend Sunnyland Slim. 

My good friend Eden Brent, another fantastic blues piano player, was apprenticing under the late great blues pioneer Boogaloo Ames, giving her the moniker "Little Boogaloo." 

David Maxwell, yet another friend to us all, and maybe the greatest living blues piano player I know, was friends with and learned much from the one and only Otis Spann. And so, the torch stays lit.

As with blues music as a whole, the best way you can ensure that this tradition keeps being passed from generation to generation, is to come out and see it live!  September 9th-11th, is your chance to catch a whole bucket full of blues piano. The Second Annual South Florida Boogie Woogie Piano Festival, will be packed full of GREAT piano players, playing a wide variety of styles within the blues genre. It's being hosted by another friend of ours, Piano Bob, a great gentleman and fantastic piano player. 

It's going to be my honor to headline Sunday night, September 11th, the tenth anniversary of an unspeakable tragedy that changed all our lives forever. This will be more than just a gig; It will be a perfect night for the blues as we remember those whom we lost, and a great night to celebrate the spirit that keeps us smiling though our tears. It is occasions like this that remind us that great music is not a luxury, it is a necessity.

In the words of the late poet Fran Landesman:
Music starts us weeping
When no one is around
Music fills the darkness
With visions made of sound

Music travels with us
A witness and a crutch
Music reaches places
That nothing else can touch

See you There!
Victor Wainwright and The Reverend Billy C. Wirtz  

Lit Up! Review by Vinny Marini!

On 'Lit Up,' Victor Wainwright and the Wildroots take you on a joyous aural journey from the back porches of the Georgia hills to the bayous of Louisiana with stopovers in the jazz clubs of New Orleans, the R&B clubs of Memphis & Chicago and juke joints throughout the world.

Steven Dees on bass, acoustic guitar, percussion (and writing credits on 11 of the 14 songs) and Billy Dean on drums are the rich soil from which Greg Gumpel's guitars and Wainwright's keys can blossom. 

Also included in the Wildroots are Patricia Ann Dees on tenor sax and backing vocals and Ray Guiser on tenor sax and clarinet and they skillfully help set the different moods displayed throughout this gem.  Greg Gumpel proves a New York boy can play the blues with his electric guitar and Resonator guitar-work throughout 'Lit Up.' 

What you get from Victor Wainwright is ever single atom of his soul.  With 'Lit Up,' Wainwright proves he deserves to be in the same sentence with the great blues-boogie piano players of  today.  Victor also shows the range of vocal-stylings he has mastered; leading juke joint call and repeats, channeling the great soul singers of all time and growling the blues.

'Lit Up' is going to take Victor Wainwright and the Wildroots straight up."
Vinny Bond Marini

Monday, August 8, 2011

RootsTime Reviews "Lit Up!"

In their new album, Victor Wainwright and the WildRoots mix an almost perfect amount of latent humor, vitality, untamed fun with some hints of sadness in between with songs like the sublime 'Our Last-Goodbye'. After their acclaimed debut, "Beale Street To The Bayou", you could already predict that we wouldn't have to wait too long for more because, music is obviously in their blood.

They've added a new drummer, Billy Dean, but the rest of the band remain an unchanged enthusiastic bunch with Greg Gumpel on resonator and electric guitar, and bassist/acoustic guitarist/percussionist Stephen Dees in the starring role of co-writer and producer. Patricia Ann Dees and Ray Guiser on tenor saxophones, were also incorporated into the WildRoots. Additional guest musicians add to their engaging "power-house Blues sound.

Victor's piano is the key, to what makes 'Lit Up' so special. Underneath those rolling piano keys we also hear a generous portion of New Orleans in the mix with the Blues and Memphis soul. The lyrics encompass breakup, agricultural, urban and philosophical themes. Cheerfulness is mixed with melancholy. From the swinging 'Little Ole' Shack's sinful pleasure, to the delightful and enchanting, "Weeds," with Ray Guiser's and Charlie DeChant's clarinet and saxcello, you think of depicting a harvest scene from Jean-Francois Millet.

You can hear influences of Hound Dog Taylor, Professor Longhair, Albert Ammons, Pinetop Perkins and - why not - Leon Redbone, and Randy Newman, in the last track the intimate "Let It Be The Same". In terms of a favorite, it is difficult to choose between 'Subliminal Criminal' and the irresistible 'Lit Up'. Or even the repentant "Pile Of Blues". In "Our Last Goodbye," he sings in a yearning aching voice in which the pain is still glowing with the guitar and seems to cry. Yet the pride of top place goes to "Dixie Highway" and not just because of the Resonator Guitar. It's like Wainwright's, soulful and authentic singing voice, just lingers in that kind of retro Delta/Mississippi blues history.

Boogie-woogie and soul alternate with each other and the dynamics are equal to anything recorded at Sun Records [Memphis], or St Cosimo Recording Studios [New Orleans]. This "Lit Up!" Album at the same time gives back atmosphere typical of the better barrelhouse establishments, where Big Mamacita's running the business, and the music guides are marked with four stars.



"Lit Up!" Reviewed by the ToledoBlade

LIT UP Victor Wainwright & The WildRoots (WildRoots Records)
"Lit Up" will light up your senses with 14 original numbers and more than 53 minutes of powerful Memphis blues, heavy on the rock and soul. The sound and approach are both fresh throughout, featuring Wainwright playing some hot piano alongside an earnest, slightly gruff voice born to sing the blues.

The five core members of the band are tight, whether doing backup vocals or stretching their talents on bass, guitar, saxophones, and percussion. They get a boost on some tracks by guest musicians on sax, harmonica, organ, clarinet, trombone, and trumpet.

From the jump blues strains of the opening "Big Dog's Runnin' This Town" to the loping, soulful, clarinet-backed "Dixie Highway," the rocking beat of "Little Ole Shack," the mournful Delta strains of "Pile of Blues," among others, Wainwright and the crew offer something new and exciting in every number.
Wainwright wrote or co-wrote nine of these gems; producer/writer Stephen Dees gets creative credit on 12. These fellows make a great team when it comes to being innovative in a genre that too often sounds repetitive. "Lit Up" is a knockout album that runs the gamut of blues styles with no weaknesses.

Cascade Blues Association Reviews "Lit Up!"

Do you love blues and you want a CD that is going to satisfy your tastes in a variety of styles? Well let’s just say that your expectations will probably be met with this new recording from Victor Wainwright & The Wildroots. For Victor’s fourth release, he has explored several options and approaches; and they all work very nicely here, giving good reason to verify the thoughts of many who consider Wainwright to be one of the most promising young performers out there today.

A former Floridian now calling Memphis his home, Wainwright is a ferocious pianist with a voice that easily rises above a full band. He can boogie the house down or lead the pack in a Louis Jordan-inspired number with horns, or raise the hairs on your neck with a low-down blues. His versatility cannot be overlooked.

Fourteen tracks, all of them originals, most written by Wainwright, his bass player Stephen Dees, or a combination of the two. The song “Coin Operated Woman” was co-written with Wainwright’s longtime guitarist Greg Gumpel, and even old friend Billy C. Wirtz adds a hand in the writing of the song “Honky Tonk Heaven.” And I have to add that not a number on this disc lets down the musical quality and flow at any time; they’re all really terrific and performed by The Wildroots with outright perfection.

There is a lot to really like here. The song “Weeds” comes across as a Tom Waits number; “Little Ole’ Shack” has a Louis Jordan feel; “Big Dog’s Runnin’ This Town” is pure and simply a boogie piece that kicks a lot of fun and will have toes tappin’ in no time. “Dixie Highway” is an acoustic song that finds Gumpel on a resonator guitar and droning harmonica from guest Mark “Muddyharp” Hodgson; and it contains a gentle Delta flavored pace. The piano and horn interplay on “Subliminal Criminal” may sound a lot like something you’d hear from Dr. John, then act like a big band in the slow-churning “Walk Away My Blues” while Wainwright tickles the keys. But as much as they may remind you of others, this is all Victor Wainwright and his presence will hook you as well. Just give it a listen and pretty soon you’ll discover that you’ve stepped into a big pile of blues. You will be pleasantly thrilled with this one.

Total Time: 53:18

Big Dog’s Runnin’ This Town / Ting Tang Bang / Subliminal Criminal / Walk Away My Blues / Dixie Highway / Weeds / Little Ole’ Shack / Lit Up! / Our Last Goodbye / Don’t Doubt It ‘ce est bon’ / Coin Operated Woman / Pile Of Blues / Honky Tonk Heaven / Let It Be The Same

Reviewed by Greg Johnson

FolkWorld Review of "Lit Up!"

The fourth and last album comes from singer and pianist Victor Wainwright and the Wild Roots. I liked his former album a lot,[41] and it’s like this amazing musician continues where the debut album ended. Wainwright amazes me again with an energetic mix of blues, rock, folk, jazz and so many other styles. Where the other two artists I wrote about in this review stay closer to the better known traditional ways of playing, Wainwright gives it full speed and creates, together with his fine band, a full and rich sound that makes me want to move my body and enjoy it with my eyes closed at the same time. You got to love this!
© Eelco Schilder

FolkWorld #45 07/2011

Review of "Lit Up!" by

Look out blues fans! There's a new CD on the shelf of your local music store, and if you really consider yourself a fan of the blues then it needs to be on your shelf too. Lit Up! by Victor Wainwright and the WildRoots will light you up for sure. Each song is well written and executed, and reveals a remarkable variety of styles considering that all of the songs are so 'true blues'.

There is a little something special on nearly every track. The electric guitar on “Our Last Goodbye” screams out the blues as loud and clear as Wainwright's gritty vocals. It's as good a slow blues tune as you'll hear on a new recording this year, I'll wager. The piano work on the title track “Lit Up!” is a fantastic mix of boogie and blues, with lots of tasty licks. The dialogue between the guitar and harmonica on “Pile of Blues” comes across like the musical equivalent of two drinking buddies just laughing their backsides off while Wainwright sings out about his misfortune.

The blues have been around just as long as human misery. The themes are familiar to us all. That means it's hard to write and sing blues music that is fresh, while staying true to the roots of the tradition. Well, the WildRoots and Mr. Wainwright have the Memphis Blues sounding better that it has in a good little while, so don't miss out on it!
Key Tracks- Lit Up!, Our Last Goodbye, Pile Of Blues
Donny Harvey- Staff

Monday, June 6, 2011

June 7th Marks the Day!!

June 7th, 2011 marks the official release of my new album "Lit Up!"  The WildRoots and I are very proud of this album, and hope that all of you enjoy it.  You can now go to to order a copy.  Here are just a few reviews we've already received from notable critics. 

Lit Up
* * * * *
Victor Wainwright and the WildRoots - Lit Up!
The phrase "highly anticipated" can carry some dangerous baggage with it; there's a huge potential for a letdown, and on the overall, precious few albums live up to the moniker. Thankfully, Lit Up from Victor Wainwright and the WildRoots not only meets those expectations but exceeds them.

The follow-up to Wainwright's critical success "Beale Street to The Bayou" builds on all the good juju from that release and actually manages to improve on every level. From any aspect you care to view this disc - songwriting, recording quality, and of course performance - this disc is an absolute winner. For starters, there's no chance a blues fan can get bored with this disc. Stylistically, Lit Up exhibits an understanding of a wide range of blues, from the flat out boogie of the album-opening "Big Dog's Runnin' This Town," straight through the heart of New Orleans with "Subliminal Criminal;" from a fine and comfortable Delta country feel with "Dixie Highway," through a superbly aching slow blues with "Our Last Goodbye;" for all of it, Wainwright and Company (Stephen Dees, Greg Gumpel, Patricia Ann Dees, Billy Dean and Ray Guiser) show themselves as consummate wizened pros. Folks... this is seriously good blues!

Oh, and don't be shy about adding "stellar production values" to the list of this album's merits. Producer/Arranger Stephen Dees exhibits superb judgment and taste with every flourish on the disc. Horns are added where they sound fantastic - never for mere effect, and as with all other aspects of the album, never gratuitously. Solos are appropriate, tasteful and skillful, adding to the solidarity of the feel throughout this album of a very, very good band playing together, never against one another. Adding a final perfect touch to the disc, Wainwright plays a proper acoustic piano on the album's entirety; he makes his love for and extreme skill on the instrument exceedingly obvious from start to finish.

Picking a favorite track on this release might be akin to choosing your favorite gem from a perfect necklace... but if my feet were held to the fire, I might go with "Walk Away My Blues." A medium-to-slow aching blues, it gives Wainwright a chance to shine in his two most accomplished arenas; his vocals (which never get enough credit in my book) are pleading and aching, and his piano playing on this track is a microcosm of the entire album; brilliantly presented, never flash for the sake of flash but in possession of every necessary chop in the book... and then some. The horns on this track again add so much to the presentation, lending something between a big band feel and the ambiance of a smokey back-room strip joint. The whole track just blows me away.

In fact, and I'm sure it's obvious by now, the whole album blows me away. Perhaps the simplest and most effective way I can say it is this... I've been living in Memphis for over three years now. I love the city, love the music and the musicians here and I do what I can to bathe myself in as much of our city's music as I can. To these ears, Lit Up is by far the finest recording I've heard from Memphis in my entire time here. Victor Wainwright and the WildRoots have done themselves, Memphis and all of the blues world very proud.
Silver Michaels

American Blues News 

(Memphis, Tennessee)  One of the most talented musicians to come onto the Blues scene in the past few years is Victor Wainwright.  His Lit Up CD does not disappoint if you like Blues and boogie-woogie piano matched to a big voice and well executed instrumentation.  There are 14 songs on this CD and there is not a bad song on the CD...period.  With so much mediocre music being released every year, it is delightfully refreshing to be able to wholeheartedly endorse a new CD.  this CD is just terrific... bluesy and cool, well-recorded performances by a host of excellent musicians and full of original songs.
This release is yet another collaboration with Victor's longtime partner Stephen Dees and it delivers a slew of well-written original songs full of interesting and entertaining lyrics along with some great performances from a bigger lineup of talented players.  Stephen also plays bass, acoustic guitar and some percussion on this record. Victor has added some good horn arrangements this time around and the effect is legit, foot-stomping Blues music. This is Victor Wainwright's 4th release and the Wildroots second official release.
Victor Wainwright and the Wild Roots come out of the chute with a rollicking jump Blues, "Big Dog's Running this Town." The CD never gets repetitive as Victor and the boys tour the listener through a vast array of Blues styles, from world class boogie woogie, to a Django-esque minor chord based "Weeds" replete with Victor's vocal which occasionally smacks of Louis Armstrong, then departing to "Little Ole Shack which hearkens back to Louis Jordan with it's group vocals and cool horn section. The title track, "Lit Up" adds some harmonica to the mix, Mark "Muddyharp" Hodgson providing the tracks.  This CD indeed expands the usual palette of musical flavors and it is a welcome addition to see Victor and company spread their wings. Also welcome is the addition of the author's "musical grandson", Chris Stephenson, on Hammond B-3 on Stephen Dees' Blues ballad "Our Last Goodbye."  This song also features some ripping electric guitar which sounds like the work of the most accomplished Greg Gumpel who also contributes some tasty resonator guitar to the CD on the tunes "Dixie Highway" and the all acoustic "Pile of Blues." Greg is Victor's best friend and has traveled many miles of road with the singing piano-playing bluesman.
The use of a great sounding Samick acoustic piano throughout the recording adds to the legitimacy of this recording's old school sound.  The recording is well organized and sophisticated and maintains good sonic values from beginning to end without ever coming off as too slick...this is straight-up Blues of the first order.  The record would be worth buying for just the jump Blues and boogie woogie alone, but it delivers the goods again and again with superb tips of the porkpie to many Blues styles.  This is an entertaining listen from top to bottom and rates 5 stars.  If you like the Blues, you should check out this musical offering and hear the future of the Blues for yourself. Victor and the Wildroots have captured the best of the old and infuse it with the energy of youth without sacrificing anything along the trip.
Not only is Victor an accomplished musician and one of the hardest working players that I have countenanced, but he is also a beautiful, kind, human being, sensitive and generous to a fault.  This comes out in his music as you can almost see Victor smiling while delivering lyrics and shouting in his trademarked style. Touring constantly and working in situations that require lots of hard travel has not diluted the impact of this man and his band.  Along his long road he has played with some of the finest players in the music business and even played loads of shows with the talented and extremely humorous Rev. Billy C. Wirtz, who contributed to the writing of  "Honky Tonk Heaven." Victor has a great career ahead of him.  He naturally possesses a unique delivery and does not have to imitate or copy anyone else. Moreover, he is always entertaining and madly talented.  You will never see Victor play a room and not go over with the crowd in a big way.
Do yourself a favor and buy a copy of this CD here:



One of the more pleasant surprises on the blues scene not too long ago was the debut release from Victor Wainwright and the Wildroots, entitled "Beale Street To The Bayou," with its infectious rhythms accentuated by the piano and vocal of Victor. He's back in full stride with his latest set, "Lit Up!," which features more of the strong songwriting and general good-time vibe of the debut. On this set, tho, Victor delves into some sweet, Delta-flavored acoustic numbers that make this one a spicy gumbo, indeed!

Victor again is joined by producer-bassist-co-writer Stephen Dees, and they make "Lit Up!" a shot of pure dynamite! The title cut uses a hot horn section to augment Victor's tale of bein' "Lit Up" in love! The rollicking leadoff cut lets you know right away that the "little dogs" need to step aside, cuz' the "Big Dog's Runnin' This Town!" "Subliminal Criminal" combines some cleverly-rhyming lyrics with a piano style reminiscent of Professor Longhair. "Dixie Highway' features a cool Resonator guitar lead from Greg Gumpel and harp from Mark Hodgson to spice up this tale of "giving thanks for making a living" playin' the blues. Victor then uses farm life as a metaphor for life in general, for "without hard work, nothin' grows but Weeds."

We had three favorites, too. Victor laments the fact that he has a "Coin Operated Woman" who not only took all his money, but who's now "tryin' to swipe some of these 88 keys!" On the jumpin' "Little Ole Shack up on the hill," you can find just about any vice you'd care for, from rollin' dice to a "cherry pie sittin' on a window sill!" And, Victor uses another acoustic setting to convey the sadly-humorous tale of a man who imbibed a bit too much, "tripped over the Twelve Steps, and stepped in a big Pile Of Blues!!"

Victor Wainwright and the Wildroots will make you smile, make you dance, and make you a convert to good, ole-fashioned piano-fied blues, and will get you "Lit Up!" in the process!!! Until next time....Sheryl and Don Crow

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Ticket Presale to CD RELEASE!

Hey guys, this is a June 11th CD Release Party Ticket Pre-sale blog! Tickets go on sale to the general public on May 23rd, but you can get yours with presale code "Piana" starting at 10am Friday, May 20th. 

Go to and follow the easy instructions. You'll be able to enter the code "Piana", and select your seats. **These tickets will sell out, so please don't wait, get your tickets and the seats you want! =)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Victor Wainwright & Mark "MuddyHarp" Hodgson

Mark "MuddyHarp" Hodgson has been called "the best blues player in florida" by Jam Magazine, been complimented by the likes of Junior Wells and Jeff Healy, "the best harmonica I've heard," "you play likes you were born to it," and has been in concert with legends such as B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Johnny Winter, Leon Russell, The Fabulous Thunderbirds....and many many more.  Comfortably settled in New Smyrna Beach, FL, he's achieved more than most blues artists ever will and has the fan base to back it up.

Hodgson is unarguably an extremely talented vocalist and harmonica player, recording some of his most notable work with King Snake Records and also with his partner for almost twenty years, the acclaimed late tenor saxophonist, Noble "Thin Man" Watts.

But what do I, Victor Wainwright, have in common with this blues giant? Well....

Click for larger size!
I moved from Savannah, GA to Daytona Beach, FL to attend Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in 1999. Hodgson was leading the house band at the famous Boot Hill Saloon. I was already deep into music by this time, and even though I of course was not allowed in, because of my age, I found ways into that Honky Tonk, sometimes borrowing friends ID's or often times just flat out sneaking in. I got thrown out twice before I guess they just gave up; So I just watched and listened. It was something I hadn't heard before, but something I REALLY liked!

Photo by Wade Caldwell
I had been learning how to play genuine rock n' roll piano from my father and grandfather before heading to Daytona, but I hadn't really heard the blues LIVE, how it's meant to be heard. Mark was really the first real blues band I took notice to, that sparked within me an interest that would be everlasting, and that would shape the rest of my life. He probably doesn't remember this, but one of those Boot Hill Saloon nights, I came up to Mark, who was just bigger than life in every way, and asked, "Hey man, do you know where I can find more blues?" He responded with... "boy, I AM the blues!" haha One of my most favorite memories.

Photo by Wade Caldwell
The rest of that year, and into the summer back in Savananh, GA, I started collecting blues records, listening to the blues, playing the blues and learning. I had bought "Extreme Blues" from Mark, one of his most popular albums, and started singing along to it at home, playing piano along with it, and many other blues albums.

Album Cover for "Extreme Blues"
The next school year I returned to Daytona Beach, a Sophomore, and landed one of my first gigs, doing mostly all solo work. Eventually, as time went by, I landed a gig at a venue called "The Wreck." I had just got deep into the set when in walked Mark. I was a little nervous... He sat at a table relatively close to the stage and I watched him as I played and sang. I wanted to impress him, but he wasn't paying me a bit of mind. I thought, "there's no way he's even listening." During the break, I came off the stage and Mark met me. He asked if I had been playing long, when I had gotten into town, and if I wanted to learn? I of course said YES... It must have been exactly how Buddy Guy felt, when Muddy Waters walked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder...

Photo by Wade Caldwell
Mark taught me about the blues, the people who created it and where it came from. He told me stories of what the "Thin Man" taught him, touring the chitlin' circuit, the hardships, and how to actually get deep into the soul of blues music... "Turn the F#*K down..." "don't play like you don't care..." "play like you give a damn!".... I'll be honest, at first it wasn't easy to please Mark. Number one, he's got a tremendous aura, a huge stage presence, like "Howlin' Wolf", and he very obviously knew what he was doing. Number two, he's a professional, and expected the same from the musicians that played with him. I really believe that some tough love can go a very long ways, and it's becoming more and more scarce within the world, not just in the blues. The bottom line was, it really made me want to improve. It was the mentor-ship I needed, just like the "Thin Man" had showed him.

Photo by Wade Caldwell

I eventually figured out though, and it took a many a nights of playing, that Mark really wasn't after me to learn particulars at all; It wasn't about me "turning down," or "stop wearing those f''ing flip flops on my stage!" It was something else entirely. He was not trying to tell me I was playing the wrong notes, he was trying to guide me into "playing the notes right." In other-words, HOW those notes are played... about finding a passion and desire, a love for the music, an emotion that you can and are willing to share with the band, and an audience, carrying on a tradition, and understanding the responsibility that comes with that. FINDING WHAT THE BLUES WAS FOR ME... and not falling into the cliche's that so many blues players do. That was the ultimate "lesson" I gained from my time performing with Mark Hodgson, and he knew that without that, I had no business being on the stage with him, or any other bluesman.

I consider Mark Hodgson a mentor, but also a dear friend, and for the past two albums I've released, Hodgson has been a guest on each, lending his encouragements, and expert harmonica playing. "Lit Up!" my latest recording and newest project, is no different. Hodgson is featured on several tunes, both acoustic and electric.

(Click to Enlarge!) Photo by Wade Caldwell 

Photo by Wade Caldwell (Click to enlarge!)
On June 11th, The WildRoots and I are having the "Lit Up!" cd release party, in Daytona Beach at the News Journal Center (Main Theater) 8pm. If you want to witness some of what I've written about here, you'll come see Mark "MuddyHarp" Hodgson and I take the stage. Don't miss it, don't be late, and enjoy an awesome reunion. =)