Guitarist Jared James Nichols Reignites The Blues In All The Purest & Rockin’ Ways (INTERVIEW)

Back in 2013, I heard about a young guitar player out of Wisconsin named Jared James Nichols. He had released a live EP in 2012 and his follow-up, Old Glory & The Wild Revival, was just starting to enter into music fans’ universes all across the nation. “We were just kind of getting our feet wet but it got reviewed by different magazines like Guitar Player, Guitar World, a lot of different online blues reviews and stuff like that and it did pretty well,” Nichols told Glide during an interview that year in regards to the first recording. “At that point we just figured, we want to put out some music without being in the studio and we love to play live and our performances are always, we feel, inspired and energetic. So let’s just put out a live disc.”

Old Glory, however, became the beacon. “I wanted to cover a lot of ground. I wanted to express all the different ways and all the different sounds I love in music,” Nichols continued. Pure Grain Audio called it “authentic, gritty, soulful blues,” while Blues Rock Review hailed Nichols as “a true testament to the blues of old.” He stayed on the road, building up his fanbase one gig at a time, and before long word-of-mouth had spread.

Starting out young, Nichols found old country music via his parents but knew he had to “find the stuff that really got me excited about playing. I drew that from the electric blues guys of the sixties and seventies, Freddie King, Albert King, all the way back to the old acoustic blues;” which included Son House and Robert Johnson. “I used to go to blues jams all the time and I got to hang out with some of the last real, old guys;” one of them being a Mississippi bluesman named Big Jim Johnson. “He came from that school of that old Resonator delta blues and it was amazing to listen to him play. I would just go to his house and listen all day and he would play songs for me.” It was from Johnson that the gateway was opened. “Once I heard Robert Johnson, Bukka White, all the Reverend Gary Davis, it just opened up a whole new world to me of soulful music that was just pure, unfiltered, honest music. And Son House, when I listen to Son House, it’s like when I listen to Robert Johnson and all these guys: It’s just pure emotion coming through the music.”

Nichols, having played with the likes of blues greats old and new, southern rockers a la ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and rock gods like on his current tour supporting Zakk Wylde, his palette has certainly expanded into his playing. At his recent shows, his sets have won over the Zakk Wylde devoted, even though his playing borders more on the blues rock which Wylde is not necessarily known for. But good solid rocking music is still good solid rocking music.

A few months ago, Nichols and his band – Dennis Holm on drums and Erik Sandin on bass – released a video for the song “Don’t You Try.” Could this mean more new music is right around the corner for this rising star? Before the New Orleans show two weeks ago, Nichols brought us up-to-date on what has been happening since the release of Old Glory and if new music was indeed ready to come out.

jaredjames33

It was in 2013 that we last talked. What have you been doing since then?

You know what, I feel like everything has happened since I talked to you. We went on the road in America, we got to meet some of our heroes. We played a bunch of shows with like the Doobie Brothers, the Marshall Tucker Band, Kid Rock, Lynyrd Skynyrd. And then honestly, in 2014, we decided to go to Europe for the first time and so far we’ve done four tours over there. We’ve been over there with Lynyrd Skynyrd, Glenn Hughes, and just recently we were there with Zakk and supported Zakk for a month. We were all over the place. We did like sixteen countries in thirty days so it was insane.

Do you feel like you’re making progress?

You know what, I feel great. I was a little nervous but the reception in Europe was so overwhelming to me and the fact that so many people are superfans of the music and were showing up to the shows and they knew the lyrics, they knew everything, I was like, man, this is amazing. And then I was a little nervous. You know, in the back of my head I always obviously wanted to play in the States, wanted to play at home, but I was nervous because I thought to myself, man, I don’t know if it’s going to like set fire there as well. I didn’t know.

But the thing is, now that we’re on this tour with Zakk, this is our fifth show, it’s been overwhelming, it’s amazing. And I know it’s down south and I love down south cause they get it, the blues, and they love all the rock. But it’s literally been insane. I had no idea. But it’s funny because back when we were talking, everything was so fresh. And now, it’s pretty exciting because now we have a break in the States and more tours planned and everything is rolling now. We brought like 300 CDs with us, right. We’re out. We’ve got to get more.

jaredjameslpI hear you have some other special merchandise you’re selling at your shows

Yeah, what we did was when we got back from Europe we brought a ton of our merch with us that you couldn’t get here. We have like two hundred imported vinyls in all different colors – red, white and blue, orange – and once they’re gone, they’re gone. We’re selling them at the shows and it’s been a hit so far and we’re actually running out. So that’s great.

What happens after the tour with Zakk?

We’ll be with Zakk until September and then we’re going to head back over to England with Walter Trout. I think we’re doing three and a half weeks with Walter and then we’re going to go out with the band Scorpion Child. They’re kind of like Sabbath-y rock. We just got confirmed so we’re going to be over there for like a month after Zakk. Otherwise, we got festivals lined up and like I said, it’s really good things and the ball is starting to roll. The train is moving.

You released a video for your song “Don’t You Try.” Does that mean new music is around the corner?

I hope so (laughs).

Do you have anything else recorded?

Absolutely. I mean, honestly, I have twenty plus demos already. Basically when I wrote the tunes on Old Glory, I haven’t stopped and the thing is writing music is like writing anything – you keep going and going. So for me, yeah, I have a ton of music.

When do you think it will be available?

The thing is, I never want to go out without anything so I might want to get into the studio right after this tour and do something. I don’t know if we have time to do a complete full length but everything is good and we’re going to record, we’re going to do something very soon.

Is that new song indicative of what you have or want to put on the CD?

It’s going in the direction. I would say it’s like a snack-size teaser. It’s okay but it’s not the full enchilada yet. Honestly, we released that song because it felt like it was cool to just kind of put something out there. But there is so much more that I am ready to lay out and the next record I want to set the bar of exactly who I am as an artist and where I want to go.

Being that you are on tour so much now, how do you write, where do you find your quiet spots?

You know what, it’s always on my mind but for me, I’ve never been a guy that’s like sat down. It always just comes. Like seriously, I was in the shower like three days ago and I wrote a song. I started humming and I had a melody and I wrote it down – I always have my phone with the voice memo and I always sing melodies into it and all that stuff. So it’s never like I can sit down and say, “I’m going to write a song right now.” It all has to be by chance, totally has to be by chance. I’ll bring a little riff to my guys and we’ll just build it, jam it out; I guess like the old guys did, you know. Just jam it out and figure out what feels good and what’s natural. I feel like whenever I sit down and try and write something, it comes out like you TRIED to sit down and write a song and it’s not as natural.

You told me the last time we talked that one of the things you wanted to work on and get better at was your songwriting. Did you mean lyrics or more melodies?

Everything. Not only the lyrics and the melody but the overall sound because I feel like that’s one of the things that has been huge for me is trying to develop my sound, my sonic brand. Like, what is it? What am I going to do? I feel like after countless tours now, I’m working it and it starts to naturally evolve into exactly where I want. Like you’ll hear tonight, you’ll be able to see from just listening to Old Glory and what we play tonight, the difference.

What have you learned from touring with Zakk?

Oh man, that you got to be tough (laughs). No, I already knew that. But honestly, Zakk and his crew are such nice guys. They work hard and no one complains, you know what I mean. I’ve been able to hang out with Zakk a bunch and just get to know him and he’s a good dude. If anything, I’ve been inspired to the max, to the point where now when I pick up my guitar, I just want to play all the time cause he has that personality and he’s inspiring, especially as a young guitar player, to hang with him. When I was a kid, he was on my wall. I had his poster duct taped on the wall so now to be here supporting him it’s amazing. It still gives me goosebumps to even think about it.

What about Tyler Bryant? You’ve known him and his band a long time so what’s it like being out with them as well?

It’s funny because I didn’t think that we would actually get to be on the road together this early. I thought that, cause they are doing a lot of awesome, amazing stuff like Guns N Roses and AC/DC, I figured they were going to be all over that. But it’s cool cause I didn’t think we would be on the road this soon. But me and Tyler are always saying, “We got to keep doing it, we got to keep bringing it, we got to do this.” And it’s like the reality of the vision is coming true. I love their band, they love us and it’s amazing cause we’re all at that same point together; we’re all about the same age, we’re putting in the work, we’re doing interviews, and now we’re on the road together. It’s pretty amazing and I’m happy.

Tell me about the guitar that you predominately use

The one that I am using now, I am actually not going to use tonight cause I broke it the other night. It’s not completely broke, I just snapped a knob off it so I’ve got to find a guitar shop. But it’s a Gibson Les Paul Custom. It has just one pickup on it. It’s a custom ordered one, a one-off from Gibson, and basically I still have my old Old Glory Les Paul but this is like the new and, I don’t want to say improved, but the new road warrior one. To me, it kind of captures everything I love about a guitar. It has all of the right features and whenever I pick it up, it’s inspiring. It’s a one of a kind, for sure. They don’t make them and sell them at the store. You would have to call Gibson and the funny thing is, Rickey Medlocke from Lynyrd Skynyrd, he just got one made to the exact specs of mine. I saw a picture and I was like, Oh my God, that’s my guitar!

Are you still not using a pick?

No picks. But you know what, in the studio if I have to do a part or something, not on my stuff, but in the studio I’ll definitely pick one up. For me, it just feels better, feels so much more natural not using a pick.

The blues has always been the main thing for you but do you now find yourself gravitating to a wider spectrum of music to get inspiration from?

Absolutely and the best part is, to me, the blues is the bread and butter. That’s the main ingredient. But now I’m opening up more, especially to rock & roll. It was like, that was my door and now we can do stuff that reaches more of an audience than just a traditional blues artist. Even with Zakk, he does the acoustic stuff, he does the metal stuff, but it all comes from the same place and it’s to the point where the blues was my opening and now I can move into rock more easily.

 

Live photographs by Leslie Michele Derrough; group photograph provided by Jared James Nichols.

 

 

 

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