Upon attending blues rock phenom Gary Clark Jr.’s concert last week, I was lucky enough to be able to sit down and talk with the opening act, Jackie Venson.
Venson is a blues rock guitarist herself, also with an extreme talent for vocals. Hailing from Austin, Texas, she was raised with music all around her.
“I just grew up with it in the house,” she says. “Whatever my dad’s band was playing, I always heard that. But if it was my choice, Disney. It was the shit man.”
Venson began her musical career at a young age, learning to play classical piano at about age seven. On occasion she would sing or play keyboard for her dad’s band, who were primarily a blues, jazz, motown group.
“Whatever needed to be played. Sometimes they’d even play country.” Her father had quite a bit of success playing clubs in Austin, and that became the reason her parents decided to move there. “I’m glad they did man. I would not be the same without it.”
Venson began playing guitar when she was 21 years old. “I was bored with piano and I wanted to switch.” Having grown up with and been accustomed to playing blues, she was able to pick up the instrument, and the genre, much easier.
“Seriously, getting into a genre is just as hard as mastering an instrument. That’s why it’s smart to get into a genre while you’re learning the instrument.” Having favorite musicians is important to learning a genre or an instrument as well, to serve as examples for how you want to play. “[My biggest influences are] Buddy Guy. Derek Trucks and George Benson. And probably BB and Albert King. Those are pretty much the primary colors of my guitar influences.”
Venson has stayed busy while touring and making other projects. “Every now and then someone’ll send me a message on Facebook and ask me if I give lessons, and I’m like ‘nah man, do I look like I have time to give lessons? I’m making a music video. I just released a new EP, do you have any idea how much time that takes?’”
It’s a full time job, and Venson feels that completing such tasks is a very important aspect of her creative process. “You have to finish a project because you don’t wanna work on it forever. You have to get it done so you can clear your creative pallet and move on.”
As if touring and making music wasn’t hard enough, the social implications of being a musician offers an infinite array of troubles on its own. We discussed some of the issues surrounding her position as a black and female musician. “Oh I get way more shit for being a girl than for being black. In music, it comes down to how good you sound, period. It just does, and it doesn’t matter what you look like. Black people have been dominating American music ever since American music became American music. Black people are a huge reason why American music is what it is, a tremendously huge reason. And it’s not a debate, it’s just fact. Just look at history.”
She commented on the industry as well, “It’s a really bad way to run business, think about all the black acts that could get you so much money, just because they have a huge market in your town. You get punished for that shit, you get financially punished for being racist. You do not get financially punished for being sexist, there’s not enough women.” Being a woman in the music industry Venson says, is much more difficult and frustrating. “It’s not blatant, it’s sinister. It’s like it’s an energy thing, they just treat me different and I can tell.”
“They think I don’t know, because I’m a chick. Like they underestimate me. They always underestimate me on the guitar, so that’s always a good time! I’m like ‘oh you didn’t think I could play? Oh sorry! Maybe you should have like, looked me up, instead of just assuming shitty things. You’re bad.’”
“And so, the reason why I’m saying it’s an energy thing is because that happens before the show, and then after the show all of a sudden everybody’s my best friend, including the people who were like, weird to me before the show. Like ‘oh now you think I’m cool. I had to physically go out and like sweat, and give my all, and now you’re gonna offer me coffee.’” Despite these many challenges, Venson makes a single request for those who can’t seem to handle a girl playing the blues: “Just don’t call me ‘little lady’. I get pretty pissed, I’m not little. You wanna fight about it? You’ll find out very quickly that I’m not little.” Before the interview she told me she had six older brothers so, it is solid advice.
As far as Venson’s future endeavors, the world is in luck. “I just came out with [my] Transcends EP. It’s on my new website. It’s like a yellow and red album cover so, you can’t miss it. It came out on Friday, and I just want people to go listen to it.”
She says it differs from her previous albums by having a greater focus on songwriting, as opposed to being all about the guitar playing. Her favorite track is “Flying”, and her second favorite is “Transcends.” For anyone interested in a bluesy, soulful, pop with a hint of reggae musical experience, Jackie Venson is your girl.