Each episode, our Long & McQuade Sound Stage features a live performance of a local Vancouver Island musician. This month it’s David Vest.
“Interviewer: We are here with Wayne Forseth of Long & McQuade, and we are going to introduce our musical guest, David Vest. Welcome.
David: It’s good to be here. Thanks for having me.
Interviewer: Thanks for being here. That’s great.
Wayne: Yeah, we’re very happy to have you on the show, David. I understand your first gig was in 1957, was it?
David: That’s right. I remember it because it was the first one I got paid at. I had done gigs before but the dollar makes you holler. It made an impression.
Wayne: Right. Now, I also heard that you performed with or were the warm-up for Roy Orbison?
David: Yeah, we were the opening act for him on New Year’s Day 1962, which would have been at least 10 years ago.
Wayne: Considering he’s been dead for…30 years or whatever.
David: Well, he was a great guy, very friendly to all the younger acts, considerate person.
Interviewer: There’s been so many accolades sent your way including you were named “Top Piano Man” of the year.
David: Yeah, they gave me that at the Maple Blues Awards in Toronto and it just kinda blew my mind because I had no idea…I mean I knew I had been nominated, but the other names on that list are, you know, legendary, great piano players. And so when they gave that to me I thought, maybe I came to the right country. And so I got up there, I went up to accept the award, and I said, “I wasn’t born here but I got here as quick as I heard about it.”
Interviewer: Now, you’re originally from Alabama, is that right?
Interviewer: And so what brought you here? I mean, we lucked out.
David: I met a Canadian, met a Canadian.
Interviewer: Yes, the old love story.
David: But you know, I’m one in a long line of American blues musicians who immigrated to Canada, and all of then stayed. You know, the great Lonnie Johnson who immigrated to Toronto, inventor of blues guitar. The great Vann “Piano Man” Walls, my idol, who was the first one to win that award I got. And when I found out I won the same award my hero got…no idea.
Wayne: Now, weren’t you nominated three times for that?
David: I’ve been nominated a bunch of times. I’ve won it three times. You know, but now, it’s not really a competition. It’s more of a friendly thing. You know, these guys are all my friends now. So last year I was over there and I was nominated and I was sitting with Michael Kaeshammer and he was nominated, and we’re friends. And I thought, well, which one of us will get it? And then Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne went right between us and won.
Wayne: And you also write a lot of your music as well?
David: I do.
Wayne: Now, it’s so diverse. It’s from…I believe, Tammy Wynette’s recorded some of your songs.
David: Yeah, I wrote the first songs that Tammy Wynette ever recorded. She was a friend of mine and I still miss her friendship, you know, just hanging out at the drive-in, having a milkshake, talking about what we were gonna be if we ever grew up. I never found out.
Wayne: And Downchild, the blues band, you’ve written songs.
David: Just last year, the legendary Downchild Blues Band recorded one of my songs, a song called “Worried About the World.”
Wayne: Oh, I have that album. I love that song. I didn’t realize it was yours.
David: Well, it was number one in the world on the Roots Music chart. Number one in Canada and the world. And they sent me an email that said, “You know, we’ve been going 48 years and this is the first time we’ve ever been number 1 in anything. Thanks for the song.”
Wayne: Wow. I didn’t realize you wrote that one. Yeah, awesome song.
Interviewer: Your career has spanned such a long time. What is your secret?
David: Well, my secret is that I don’t have one. You know, I try not to tell myself how old I am.
Interviewer: That’s the key. That’s the key.
David: That’s the key. And I’m always listening to the new stuff too because, you know, I think it couldn’t be anything cornier or more boring than only being interested in the music of your own generation. I mean I wasn’t that way even when I was young. I wanted to hear the real old music and the up and coming stuff, and I’m still that way.
Interviewer: And so what do you have planned for in the future? Are you still writing? Are you…
David: I’m still writing. I’ve done a whole new album of mainly original songs that’s coming out in the spring of this year. I haven’t quite settled on a title yet of the album. And then I’ve got some shows coming up in the area. February the 2nd, I’ll be at Herman’s Jazz Club. We did a tribute to Fats Domino there back last December and it was so popular, I may have to do that one again because…
Interviewer: Let us know.
David: …I love playing The Fat Man’s music.
Wayne: Did you ever meet Fats Domino?
David: I never met him, but I’ve got friends that have been in his band. Reggie Houston, who now lives in Portland, was with Fats for 20, 22 years. And I asked Reggie one time, “Do you ever get tired of playing those same hits every night?” And he said, “Why would you get tired of playing the hippest stuff in the world?”
Interviewer: It’s true.
Wayne: Good point. It’s a good point, yeah.
David: His language might have been a little saltier than mine.
Interviewer: How did you begin? Who were your influences? You named a few, but you know, did you come from a musical family?
David: Yeah, my grandmother was a singer. She sang in the church, had sort of a Judy Collins type of voice, but more of an Appalachian Judy Collins. And she bought me my first piano that I owned. And you know, my mother made sure that I got exposed to all kinds of music. And if there was a gospel group coming through town that had a great piano player, she’d take me to see that gospel group. Or she’d hand me jazz albums, “You need to be getting into jazz. What do you mean you don’t know W.C. Handy’s music? He’s from Alabama.”
And he was from that little magical corner of Alabama over there where Muscle Shoals is. You know, W.C. Handy’s home is right there across the Tennessee River from the little town where Helen Keller was born, and her house is still there. You know, you go there on tour and they take you in Helen Keller’s home and they say, you know, “Here’s the dining room table where Helen threw mashed potatoes at her family.” And then you go out in the yard and there’s that water fountain, you know, just like the movie, just the story. So that’s kind of an interesting part of the state over there.
You know, being a blues musician, I sometimes think that Mississippi gets a lot more credit than Alabama, and deservedly so. There’s so many greats, you know, just starting with B.B. King and Johnny Lee Hooker and going down the line from Mississippi. But we had a few in Alabama too, like if you count Nat King Cole from Montgomery and Dinah Washington, the empress of the blues, and Wilson Pickett and Percy Sledge and Arthur Alexander and Emmylou Harris and Hank Williams
Wayne: Hank Williams, yeah, I mean…
David: The first boogie-woogie piano player who had a hit playing, it was Clarence “Pinetop” Smith, “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie,” he’s from Alabama. We held our own, you know.
Wayne: A few names down there, yeah.
Wayne: Now, how many albums have you released in your name?
David: Oh, my Lord. Well, since the year 2000, I’ve done 6, I think, and this will be the 7th, and the last 3 since I moved to Canada. The first one I did in Canada was called “East Meets Vest” because I recorded it with the Downchild guys and members of Fathead over in Toronto, and that got nominated for record of the year in the blues field. And then I did one with Cordova Bay Records called “Roadhouse Revelation” that that went to number one on the charts and stayed there for a bit.
Wayne: Right. And that’s a Victoria-based company too, isn’t it?
David: Yeah, they do all kinds of music, not just blues. But yeah, it’s one of the wonderful cultural things is to have a great record company like that right here on this island. And for this new one, I thought…you know, I’ve done three straight records in Toronto and there are all these wonderful musicians right here at home. It’s about time I made some music with my homies, you know, and explored this Vancouver Island sound. So that’s what I’ve done on this new one. I’m really excited about it because these guys, you know, they’re world-class players. I didn’t really realize, I must confess, how deep the music scene is in Canada before I moved up here, even when I first got here.
You know, I traveled across Canada and often I’ll have a band to back me from the local place and I’ll get to, say, Calgary and I need a guitar player, well, there’s Tim Williams, you know, or Amos Garrett. You know, and you get over in Toronto and there’s the Downchild Band or Fathead or Paul James, people like that. A friend of mine who toured in a play called “Life, Death, and the Blues,” Divine Brown, you know, award-wining soul singer…you know, I didn’t know who a lot of these people were until I got up here. You know, people are always saying, “Well, you’re from down where the blues was born.” And I said, “Yeah, but that might have been where it’s born, but where’s it livin’ now?” You know, it grew up and moved away and it’s up here now. It’s living right here, I’ll tell ya.
Interviewer: Well, David, I am so excited that you were ale to come and speak with us, and I’m even more excited because you’re gonna be performing a little bit later for us, aren’t you?
David: Yeah, play you a little boogie-woogie.
Interviewer: Well, thank you so much.
David: Thanks for having me.
Interviewer: We will be right back, and thank you, David Vest.
David: Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming, to the Long & McQuade sound stage, boogie-woogie legend, David Vest.
Interviewer: That was amazing. Thank you, David. Thank you so much. Well, everyone, that is it. Thank you to Leann [SP] for letting me sit in. Thank you to all of you for making my maiden voyage as guest host a blast. And until next time, we are here at the Victoria Event Center every third Monday, so come by and see us. We are culturevulturetv.com. And until next time, enjoy the rock.”