Piano genius David Vest brings his astounding talents to Red Deer on Feb. 21st with a performance at Fratters.
Vest has again landed national recognition by bringing home the Maple Blues Award for ‘Piano/Keyboard Player of the Year’ which was announced on Jan. 19th in Toronto.
It is the Victoria-based pianist’s second win in this category. His latest CD, Roadhouse Revelation, was released last spring and hit number one on the Roots Music Charts for Canada.
Roadhouse Revelations kicks off to a bold, brisk start with Freight Train Rollin’. The momentum continues to build with Stand Your Ground structured around some superb rhythm and lead guitars, and the finely-crafted Ramblin’ Man which showcases Vest’s strengths as a storyteller as well.
“I wanted to make a record the way records used to be made,” he said of the project. “I didn’t want to go on a nostalgia trip or some kind of retro thing, but I wanted to go in and play all the music live, sing the same time I was playing and have it all recorded at the same time. I didn’t want it assembled like a fast food hamburger.
“There are places on my albums where I can hear that I could have cleared up a little imperfection here and there, but it’s not about being perfect. It’s about being good.”
You Came Through rolls along with a sophisticated smoothness, well Street Car brings his piano playing skills truly to the surface as does the stunning Sante Fe Steamer.
Born in Huntsville, Alabama in 1943, Vest grew up in Birmingham. “I do come from a musical home – my grandmother worked in five and dime store, and she would bring home the records that didn’t sell,” he recalls during a recent interview. “So I got to hear – she had this little record player – boogie woogie music, big band and gospel music.”
Something was sparked in Vest during those early years – a passion for not only enjoying music but also a desire to perform it and interpret it in his own way as well. “She also bought me my first piano when I was about 10,” he said. “It was really terrific.”
There soon wasn’t much time to practice. And who needs practice when you’re on the stage almost non-stop? At 17, he landed a gig in Birmingham with Jerry Woodard and the Esquires – this was the first band that recorded Long Tall Texan, later done by everybody including Lyle Lovett. “We had a show where we played seven nights and eight hours a night. We’d play everything we knew three times – and then at about the middle of the week, I’d be playing guitar, the guitar player would be playing drums and the drummer would be kicking around the piano.”
He played his first paying gig in 1957 and by the time he opened for Roy Orbison in 1962, he was already a veteran of Gulf Coast roadhouses. He also points out many of the great boogie woogie players hailed from Alabama as well, such as Clarence ‘Pinetop’ Smith who penned the hit Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie and has been noted as a major influence in the genre. “You hear a lot about Mississippi and Louisiana, but Alabama – we produced Nat King Cole and Dinah Washington.”
Vest said that ultimately, he doesn’t have a memory of not playing the piano.
“I just wanted to play this music. And I was so inspired also to able to meet and play with some of my heroes.”
By about the time he turned 21 he found himself onstage with Big Joe Turner, who said that Vest’s playing made him feel like he was back in Kansas City. “Sitting on stage with Big Joe – he just radiated soul. You think, this is what it’s all about.”
Initially, he was just an instrumentalist. “It never occurred to me to sing, because I was working with all of these great singers, like Tammy Wynette who is a pretty great singer – you’re not going to take the microphone away from her. Or Big Joe Turner, who was a fantastic singer. When I made albums in the 1960s, they were all instrumental. I took one up to Nashville and played it for the guys, and they said, ‘Where’s the singing’?
“I said it’s an instrumental, and he said, ‘Instrumentals went out three months ago’. So I was puzzled by it, but I thought maybe I had better start singing. I had always sung along with the records at home but I didn’t really record as a singer until the late 70s.
“A lot of things went out of fashion when all the singer/songwriters took over – they brought a lot of great stuff to the world, but some of the old stuff kind of got lost in the transition.”
Ultimately, Vest is a tremendously-gifted boogie-woogie piano player and world-class entertainer. His first Canadian recording, East Meets Vest, was named one of the best blues albums of 2012 by Holger Petersen of CBC’s Saturday Night Blues and earned a Maple nomination for Recording of the Year.
For Vest, there’s simply no life quite that of a musician.
“I like what I get back from the people,” he said. “You can just see what it means to them, and it’s a two-way thing. It’s not just me up there showing off – I’d get really bored with that. But playing for other people – that’s always what it’s been about for me.”