Little wonder that blues giant David Vest has garnered the wide-spread acclaim that he has.
His latest disc, released nearly one year ago, is stellar from start to finish and local fans can hear his mastery firsthand at the Elks Lodge March 9th.
Vest will be joined by Kenny ‘Blue Boss’ Wayne for the show, which kicks off at 8 p.m. and is being presented by the Central Music Festival Society.
Although he’s a Maple Blues Awards winner who lives in Canada, Vest is described as ‘an authentic, Southern-bred boogie-woogie piano player, blues shouter and world-class entertainer’.
Born in Huntsville, Alabama in 1943, Vest grew up in Birmingham near Tuxedo Junction.
“My grandmother was a great singer – she sang in the church choir and when I was little and just crawling around on the carpet in the living room. She would be standing in front of the mirror brushing her hair and singing,” he said during a recent chat. “She also worked at a five and dime store downtown in Huntsville, and she would bring home out-of-date records and comic books and stuff.
“There would be all styles – there would be boogie woogie records and big band records and top singers like Vaughn Monroe. Just everything – and she’s also the one who bought me my first piano,” he said.
He was about 10 at the time. There was no money for lessons, so Vest pretty much taught himself.
“I would just look over the shoulder of the person playing at church,” he said with a laugh. “And I was encouraged just to try to play along with recordings by myself. I was already playing a bit when I got that piano, as I don’t remember really ever not playing,” he said, adding that the keys came quite naturally to him.
“In those days, radio stations were also more open to people just wandering in off the streets. They would give me records they weren’t going to play, so I could take my pick of them.”
Alabama was also famous for producing W.C. Handy, known as the ‘Father of the Blues’. A lot of the important and early boogie woogie players were from Alabama as well, noted Vest.
Meanwhile, even though his skills were continuing to flourish, he opted to earn a degree in education and became a teacher to maintain a sense of practicality. But a pivotal moment came about when he was about 30.
“I played a concert at a college in Virginia and there was a student in charge of hospitality,” he said. “After the show, she said, ‘Mister, I don’t know what you do for a living but if it’s not this, you are wasting your life!’
“I thought, well, she may be right,” he recalled. “I can still see her face and hear the tone of her voice to this day. It was one of those zingers that just gets you.”
The career did nothing but grow.
And ultimately, he married a Canadian in 2005 and settled on the west coast.
And he’s never really looked back. “It immediately felt like home to me. And there is such a great music scene here in Canada. I had no idea how musical it was!”
As mentioned, his latest self-titled disc is a charmer from the get-go, with cuts like the simmering Some Old Lonesome Day, What’s the Matter Now and Renoviction Man melding seamlessly with upbeat gems like Crocodile and Gotta Travel On.
“If you go and play the blues, you are asking to become part of a community. I wasn’t part of the community that invented the blues, but if you are going to ask for a place at the table, you can’t come in and demand to sit at the head, and take over.
“You are a disciple and an apprentice. You have to be sort of invited. I had the opportunity with a lot of the old masters of the blues,” he explained, referring to folks like Big Joe Turner, Jimmy ‘T99’ Nelson.
As for Kenny ‘Blues Boss’ Wayne, this guy is also the real deal – a master in the boogie, funk and New Orleans-influenced R&B. Vest said the duo are going to play the show together – it won’t be split into two parts.
“We will be rip-roaring playing together,” he said. “Our styles also dovetail just perfectly. We’re good friends too. Kenny’s the greatest guy you will ever meet. His character is as solid as his time as a musician.”
Born in Spokane and now based in B.C. as well, Wayne has indeed built an extraordinary reputation within Canada and abroad for his lively attire and energetic concert performances.
Tickets for the show are available at www.centralmusicfest.com.