G interviews Singer/Musician J.J. Vicars

Posted by The G on August 1, 2010 under G Interviews | Read the First Comment

Photos courtesy of J.J. Vicars.

JJ Vicars

J.J. Vicars is a singer and musician who has mastered musical styles from Blues and Jazz to Latin, Soul, Pop, Country and Psychedelia.  He has played shows around the world and when he’s not touring, he keeps his plate overflowing by working on numerous recording projects simultaneously including The Hillbilly Resistance, a rockabilly trio that Vicars is a member of;  Longhaired Leftovers,  a collection of previously unreleased tracks;  a currently untitled EP that Vicars describes as his  most experimental work yet,  and  “Long Way From Home,”  which is scheduled for release in early 2011.  I interviewed J.J. Vicars via email and you can read that interview after the jump.

G:  Hi J.J.  Where in the world are you?

J.J.: I’ve been residing in Chofu, on the west side of Tokyo. Interesting place, it was home to Kondo Isami, the historical “last samurai.”  I moved here 7 years ago when I got fed up with the Right-wing takeover of the U.S. and the failing economy. When I arrived, this area was like a village out of a Fantasy novel, lots of strange little creatures running around.

G: Can’t say I blame you for moving!  There’s an old joke, what do you call someone who speaks two languages?  Bilingual. Someone who speaks three languages? Trilingual. Someone who speaks one language? American. How good is your Japanese?

J.J.: Barely enough to get by. I stay pretty busy working on various projects so I mostly pick it up by ear. The sentence structure is completely different – subject, object, verb for starters. That’s why when they speak English it takes so long to get to the point. Written language is another can of worms!You learn a lot about a culture from their language, it’s how they organize information into logical patterns.

G:  I always think of English as a “greatest hits” language.  We’ve simplified everything so much that it’s practically impossible to accurately translate foreign phrases into English because the dialect is too simplistic.  When you play music in Japan, what are the differences in crowd reaction if any, versus playing for an American audience?

J.J.:  I was playing at a local club that had just opened up in the business district, lots of suits stopping by after work. The crowd was about half Western, half Japanese. The club owner was pointed out that the comparative audience difference was clearly demonstrated right there. The Japanese would sit quietly, applaud politely and keep to their own crowd. The ’round eyes’ would be whooping and hollering, screaming over top guitar solos and talking to anybody and everybody that happened to be in the place.

Also, Japanese tend to be very analytical about everything so they scrutinize the performance and discuss it afterward. Local audiences are noticeably looser outside of the city. The video on my site is from a club out near the airport, 2 1/2 hours from my house. It’s a rowdy place and we always get the best crowd response up there.

G: On your website, you have a lot of free mp3s.  And thanks for being so generous!  What songs make the crowd go wild?

J.J.: Live shows are recorded whenever possible and the decent ones are posted on my site as free downloads. Sometimes we get some good moments. On  Live in Japan Vol. 2  it was actually somebody else’s gig, another guitar trio, and I was just there to sit in. Well, the guitarist didn’t show up, another club had closed down and they were emptying the bar, so he asked me to cover it 15 minutes before start time. I sat down and made up a quick set list of songs that would be easy for the band to follow and enjoyable for the crowd. There’s a whole other set from that night that we never got around to editing. Has a pretty good rendition of “One Way Out.”  A lot of women seem to like “See See Baby,” a Freddie King tune I covered on my first album, even though they usually don’t know who Freddie King is. “Wild Man” from The Hillbilly Resistance always goes over good.

J.J. Vicars gettin' his groove on!

G: What’s one of the craziest things that’s ever happened to you at a gig?

J.J.: On Live in Japan Vol. 3  some jackass pulled the plug out of the wall during “Sunshine of Your Love!” The PA and amps were plugged into one strip cord and this fucker yanked it on his way out the door. You can hear it on the recording.

G: Do you find it helps to play covers to get the audiences going?

J.J.: Having some familiar songs gets the crowd going but you have to make it your version. A couple I’ve completely reinterpreted, Fat Joe Williams’ ” Baby Please Don’t Go” and Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle.”  Some I just play straight without deviating too much like “Sleepwalk,” which sounds different just because I’m not playing steel guitar, and “One Way Out” because I only have one guitar and one drummer. Audiences like to hear familiar songs but you have to be careful not to overindulge them, once you slip into Bar Band Hell they’re not interested in anything else you’re doing.

G:  I share your love of “Baby, Please Don’t Go.”  I have to admit that I prefer the Van Morrison cover to the Big Joe Williams version.  Speaking of preferences, when you are not recording or playing live, which musicians do you listen to?

J.J.: I go through different phases. My original guitar heroes were Lightin’ Hopkins, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Jimmie Vaughan, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Johnny Winter. The foundation of Texas Blues. Wore their records out back in the days of vinyl. I rarely listen to them now, because they’re so ingrained in me. I don’t want to rehash the same thing. Gotta keep it fresh.

For Blues these days it’s a lot of Ike Turner, especially his pre-Tina instrumentals like “Prancing,” “Twisting The Strings” and Magic Sam’s “West Side Soul,” which I think everybody should own. For Blues-Rock it’s Lonnie Mack and Rory Gallagher. Rory is my role-model as a guitarist these days, an all around cat devoid of cliches.

My Jazz leanings are primarily organ trio-Jimmy Smith, Kenny Burrell, Jack McDuff- and some Miles Davis (“Kind of Blue” and “Sketches of Spain”). 

For straight out “longhairs in the parking lot” music it’s Humble Pie and Free.

And I got a Rockabilly jones, real Rockabilly not Psychobilly; Gene Vincent, Eddie Cochran.

G: Do you listen to anything current?

J.J.: All the new stuff I listen to is stuff from my musician friends including Jill Jones and Jeremy Gloff. Their music has had a bigger influence on mine than they’re probably aware of.

G: I love both Jeremy Gloff and Jill Jones.  I got to see them perform live doing a cover of The Grand Royals’ [a group Jill was in] “So Much In Love.” That was insane!  I am proud to call both of them my friends!  It’s a little known fact that Jeremy and I have collaborated on songs together and I keep trying to get him to move to New York so we can collaborate some more.

Jeremy Gloff and Jill Jones. Photo by G.

J.J.: Gloff’s “1987” got tattooed on my brain. I thought it would sound good rocked up so I cut a demo of it planning to use his vocals. Technical glitches prevented that so I just went at it with my wife doing backup vocals. There’s several Prince quotes in the guitar solo too, as a nod to one of his musical influences. It’s a disc-only bonus track on my last album “Longhaired Leftovers.” Gloff also plays piano on “Too Good To Be True” from that album. It’s being re-released this year with two songs dropped. One of them is replaced with “Seven Days A Week” which Gloff co-wrote and played piano on.

G: Jill is in a category all her own. She is one of the nicest and smartest people I’ve ever met and that woman can sing like nobody’s business.

J.J.: What impresses me most about Jill’s catalog is each album is incomparable to the other. Her debut can only be compared to other Prince protege albums and it’s one of the best as evidenced by the fact that people are still in love with it 25 years after its release. She told me Miles Davis really dug it. “Two” is a masterpiece and I tip my hat to [producer] Chris Bruce. “Wasted” is cool because it’s so laid back and the Grand Royals full band tracks are rockin’.  I have a song called “Rain Keeps Falling” which I’m trying to get Jill to sing on. I think she could do something really cool with that song. Of everything I’ve written, I think it’s the perfect song for her.

G:  I guess I’ll put it out there in the universe for all of us to have a writing session in New York in 2011.  Maybe we can all do a cover of “Crawling King Snake.”  I have chills thinking about it.

J.J.: I would love to go to NY for a recording session.  Adding touches to other people’s songs is where I do my best collaborations. I worked with Tara Tinsley, a singer/songwriter from Tracy, CA. She sent me a couple songwriter demos and I really got into the tunes so I added parts.  Hope to record those with her for one of her albums.

The Minister of Rock and Roll - J.J. Vicars

G: .What do the next few months have in store for you?

J.J.: After re-releasing “Longhaired Leftovers” I plan to release “Long Way From Home” in 2011. We began work on it two years ago and stopped halfway through recording due to personnel problems. It’s a pretty diverse album but it’s cohesive. “Maybe I’ll Know You” is a catchy Rockabilly number. “Solitude” started out as a Santana-like ballad. “Ballad of the Bumbling Pygmies” is a true story. The sound effects are taken from a video on my YouTube page. Icebreakin'” is my tip of the hat to Lonnie Mack. Rough mixes of all these songs and a few others can be downloaded for free until the album comes out. If all goes as planned there will be a big promo campaign with LWFH, hitting radio and press with both barrels.

Longhaired Leftovers by J.J. Vicars

G: What about touring?

J.J.: I’m looking to play some dates back home in the good ol’ U.S. of A. Been gone too long. Been back to visit a couple times but didn’t do any playing. Would also love to play in Europe. My first album “Sci-Fi Diner” did well over there and the reviews indicated they really got where I was coming from with that one. As cool as the indie DIY thing is I still like certain traditional models, like having an agent and so forth. Stuff like booking takes a lot of time and that’s time away from practicing, rehearsing for the gig, recording and everything else. And I hope to do more collaborations with my musician buddies in the near future. That’s one of the greatest perks.


You see more from J.J. Vicars and purchase his music at these links:


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