Being a great blues guitar player is something you can’t teach. It’s also something you can’t learn through osmosis or pick up from memorizing a songbook. It comes from the soul and either you’ve got it or you don’t. In the case of Jared James Nichols, the former applies.
Sure, the twenty-two year old guitarist took a few lessons in the beginning [and even did a stint at Berklee], but Nichols has spent most of the last eight years being locked inside of a room; taking everything he loves about the blues and finding his own voice.
Nichol’s latest album, Old Glory & The Wild Revival sounds more like the title of an old western movie, but it’s really about movement. Produced by Warren Huart, who’s credits include Aerosmith and The Fray among others, Nichols’ EP is a refreshing reminder that real blues comes from within.
I spoke with him about the new album, his playing style and gear.
Why the title: Old Glory & The Wild Revival?
“Old Glory” is what I call my Les Paul. It’s kind of a miss mash, crazy looking old custom with a ’58 body and ’68 hardware. I really liked th guitar when I bought it because it was so bad ass; all beaten and torn up. It kind of reminded me of the old American flag. It had such a great sound that I decided to use it on the record. Besides a Dobro, I used it for all of the guitar parts. The “wild revival” symbolizes what I want to create with the blues movement. I figured “Old Glory and The Wild Revival” because that’s what’s happening.
What was it like working with Warren Huart?
I met Warren while he was working with Aerosmith at The Swing House [where we recorded the EP]. I was at the studio while they were recording and Steven [Tyler] really liked my playing and asked Warren to work with me. Once they were done, Warren approached me about getting together. Not only did he produce the album, but he also mixed it and co-wrote four of the songs on it as well. We did a lot together.
Tell me the origin of the song, “Let You Go”
It started out as an old Jimmy Reed meets Lightnin’ Hopkins kind of feel. Although it sounds nothing like it, that’s where I got that main slinky guitar riff and it cued the whole song. I started jamming it and Warren said “Hey, what’s that?” So we started talking about the band Free and how amazing Paul Kossoff was. We mixed in a lot of different influences. It was very organic and we didn’t over think it. After the main riff, the song pretty much wrote itself.
Why the ‘V’ as opposed to the traditional Strat for the Blues?
For me, it’s always been about trying to sound different. Some people are just too safe with guitars and music in general. I was attracted to the V, not just because some of my heroes like Albert King and Lonnie Mack played them, but also because of the tone. It’s a really flat long piece of mahogany that has this great mid-range bite. I’ve played Strats forever, but got burned out on them. i wanted something different and moved to the V to get more of the humbucker sound. Once I did that, I also dropped the pick as well. The V [and the Les Paul] just have a much fuller sound.
Did you find it difficult dropping the pick?
From a practicing stance and having to relearn licks it was at first, but playing without a pick is much more intimate. You can get so many different sounds just using his fingers. The pick has a sharp sound, but I developed my own by using my fingers. It was a weird transition at first, but it also helped me break the rules and just go for it.
Tell me about your “connection” to Stevie Rae Vaughan.
When I was growing up, I lived right next to Alpine Valley where he died. A lot of the people I’m related to were actually first responders to the accident. So growing up, it was always apparent to me that he played his last concert there. I remember when I first heard him play, I was like, “Oh, so THIS is how you play guitar. Now I know exactly what I need to do!”
What’s your live set up like?
In a usual club setting, I’ll use either the Flying V or Les Paul along with a 2×12 cabinet and 50 watt Blackstar head. I’ve been using them for about a year and a half and like to run it like an old Marshall. It’s loud and in your face. I’ve recently modded the Les Paul so it’s almost like a Junior now. It’s got just one pickup with one volume and one tone. For pedals I have T Rex Yellow Drive which I use for more gain and boost. I have a Chicago Iron Octavia [which gives me some freaky stuff] along with an Xotic Effects EP Booster. It’s the least amount of stuff to get my fingers through the speakers.
You also studied at Berklee. What was it like being a “blues” guy being in that “structured” environment?
It was my first time being out and surrounded by amazing players and music. I knew when I got there that I didn’t want to be a teacher or one of those guys who knew every mode in every position. I just wanted to be the blues guy and play what I was feeling. I had a hard time trying to play that kind of music. I was feeling the blues in more ways than one. I already knew what I wanted to do. I just had to get out there and do it.
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