The family tree of rock & roll has roots traceable directly to the blues. The Beatles and Stones in the early 60’s were heavily influenced by American blues albums they would order by mail from the United States. Later in that decade came Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix, who both took traditional blues music, put it in a blender, and spit out something that was truly revolutionary. The 70’s saw Stevie Ray Vaughn leading a blues revival. The trend continues to the present day, with artists such as Joe Bonamassa being at the forefront of the blurred line between blues and rock.
Jared James Nichols is one of the latest branches in that old, historic family tree. Only in his early-20’s, he already burns with a fire and passion befitting the long line of bluesmen he’s following. He recently released a five-song EP, Old Glory & The Wild Revival, which serves to showcase his arrival to the blues/rock scene.
“All of my influences are the old blues guys,” Nichols says. “Buddy Guy, Hubert Sumlin, Muddy Waters, even getting into the old Delta and acoustic blues… Son House, Robert Johnson. I took that all in, and then I got into the late 60’s and 70’s blues players such as Johnny Winter, Leslie West, Stevie Ray Vaughn, of course, Jimi Hendrix, Robin Trower, guys like that. I saw how they took it to another level, and that’s kind of what I wanted to do.”
Nichols started playing guitar at age 14. When asked if he was one of those guys who would play ten hours a day Nichols laughs and says, “Yeah, that was me. I can admit it. Honestly, from the point when I was 15 years old until I was in my early 20’s, I was literally soaking up every second I could of nothing but guitar. I took all those great recordings, and I wanted to know what they were doing, note for note. I had to learn it all, so I could learn the construction and inner workings. “
Playing lead guitar may have come naturally for Nichols, but lead vocals—that’s a completely different story. Blues is unique in that, as opposed to other genres of music such as rock or country, in blues, the lead guitarist is usually also the lead singer. B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Hendrix, SRV, Walter Trout, Johnny Winter, Joe Bonamassa…the list is endless. Nichols says that he knew he wanted to follow in that tradition but “you know, honestly, no, I wasn’t at all comfortable singing at first. It took a lot of soul-searching for me to figure out where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. It was always all about the guitar for me from the get-go. I knew I wanted to sing, but I just wasn’t there mentally yet. Over the past few years, I did with singing what I did with guitar. I found singers that I loved, such as Paul Rogers, Jimmy Dewar from Robin Trower, guys like that, and I would study them. It took a lot of exploration to figure out who I wanted to be as a vocalist. I feel that with a lot of players, including Bonamassa, it takes a while to find your own voice. I’m still doing that now, but it’s coming with touring, and playing all the time. It’s getting there.”
“There is a lot of demand, as a lead player and a singer, and you can’t fake it. If you fake it, everybody knows you’re faking it. The last song on the EP, Take My Hand, the dobro intro, we literally wrote the song and recorded it the next day. To do that guitar and that vocals, it’s completely different rhythms. It was just mind-boggling. If I was to sit done and think about it—playing and singing at the same time—I wouldn’t be able to do it. It’s just something that I have to shut off my brain and let my muscle memory take control, because every time I start to think about it, it doesn’t come out right.”
Nichols is currently playing in the classic power trio format with bassist Erik Sandin and drummer James Holm. That three-piece format has served blues and rock bands since the beginning of…well, since the beginning of rock music itself, going all the way back to Buddy Holly and The Crickets. However, there are limitations—one of the biggest, being when the guitarist is soloing, there is an obvious void due to no rhythm instrument. As great as Stevie Ray Vaughn was on guitar, even he added a keyboard player, Reese Wynans, to his band to fill out the sound and reduce some of the pressure on himself. Asked if he had ever thought of expanding the lineup of this band, Nichols nods enthusiastically.
“Definitely! You know, we’ve had talks ever since the get-go of having someone on [Hammond] B3 and possibly background vocals as well. So we can get a bigger sound, and more round…the guitar is so demanding. Sometimes I feel like I need a break, and the listener does as well. At the moment we’re actively searching around for a keyboard player, or even a guitar player if I found one that I really gelled with. It’s to the point where there’s so much guitar, if we could get some keys on there, I think that could sweeten up the sound quite a bit.”
Touring in support of the EP, Nichols has had the privilege of playing some pretty high-profile gigs—first and foremost, the legendary Sturgis Buffalo Chip Music and Motorcycle Festival. “Yeah, yeah, we just got back. Oh man, it was crazy! It was awesome!” says Nichols with all his youthful enthusiasm. “I’d never been there, my band mates had never been there, so we didn’t know what to expect. We just heard ‘you’re going to Sturgis, it’s going to be crazy.’ It’s billed as the world’s largest music and motorcycle festival. We got to open up for the Doobie Brothers and Kid Rock, and we also did support for ZZ Top and Toby Keith. The crowds were awesome, the people were great, and we were playing our asses off, really going for it. It was the first time I’ve played in front of 15,000 people, so it was a really amazing time for me. We started with Blackfoot, which is really up tempo, kicked them right in the face right away. That’s a good jitters song, to get all my nervousness out of the way, it’s a little more frantic and wailing, and at the end of that song I thought to myself ‘It’s OK, I can do this.’ It was hilarious—I was so pumped up and jacked up that after Blackfoot I was already out of breath, so it was like ‘Whoa, hold on, gotta take it down a notch.’”
Hot on the heels of that killer gig, Nichols was booked to an equally impressive event. “We’re going to Milwaukee to play the Harley Davidson’s 110th anniversary celebration over Labor Day weekend. It’s basically going to be like Sturgis–Aerosmith’s gonna be there, Kid Rock, the Doobie Brothers, and a bunch of the bands that were at Sturgis. It’s going to be another wild event. After that we’re doing Chicago, St. Louis, and eventually make our way back to L.A. We’re just pushin’ it.
“I’ve been real pleased about the reaction to the EP. For years I was just playing standard 12-bar blues, and I wanted to branch out, do different kinds of songs, and the people who know me were like ‘Wow, you’re taking it to another level, you’re really taking it somewhere else.’ It’s been getting really good reviews overseas. We were top 10 in Sweden, and in places in Europe on iTunes. People are putting it in that box with guys like Bonamassa, that whole blues revival deal. I’m just happy that people are digging it. When we recorded it, I didn’t know what would happen, but with all the praise it’s been getting, I’m really happy it’s picking up steam.”
The idea of putting out a five-song EP instead of a full-length, 12-14 song album has its advantages. For a new artist, it’s a good way to get one’s feet wet in the recording process, and get your music out while saving on the cost of working on a full album. Nichols concurs with those thoughts. “Absolutely. Basically what you said…we were testing the waters with our sound, and with the EP, it was also a time constraint thing, as well as a budget constraint. It was just to get it out there. I have so much more material, after the EP I’m really excited to get in there and record a full-length record. We recorded everything to a tape machine, and from there we blasted that to Pro Tools to do the mixing and mastering. We did two takes: the first take to flesh it out, and the second take was the keeper. If we needed a little more guitar or vocals we would add that, but most of the stuff was one take off the floor. I feel that with this type of music, it has to be off the cuff and live. Whenever I hear recordings that have been overdone in the studio, it doesn’t have that genuine feel–it’s not as authentic. You kind of just have to go for it.”
With only five studio songs on their resume, one might think that Nichols and his band mates might be pushing it when it comes to scratching up enough material for live performances. Not the case. “Honestly, when we play with a bunch of other bands, and we have a 30-minute set, we’ll just do the EP. For other gigs, I don’t do a lot of covers, but we did start doing [Mountain’s] Mississippi Queen, and a couple of ZZ Top covers. But—with covers, it’s weird. I’m really particular with songs I love. If it’s not done perfect, I don’t want to hear it. I’m not saying you can’t go off on it. For example, we were going to do Stranglehold, [Ted Nugent] and I learned it note-for-note, but I thought ‘Nope, it just doesn’t sound like I want it to sound, so we’re not doing it.’ I write a lot. Every day I try to write different kinds of stuff. I have about two hours of original material in the same vein as the EP; Southern rock meets classic rock with an even heavier 70’s boogie blues influence. We’re all over the board, but everything is basically in that genre, that kind of style. “
“I want to play these songs to whoever will listen to them, so we’ll be out for a while. I’m really happy where things are right now.”
For more information visit: