Interview with Musician - Victor Wainwright
by Janet Hansen - July, 2014
The Piana From Savannah, Victor Wainwright, Talks About Two Wins as The Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year and Colors Inside the Lines About His Life as a Blues Artist
From his website, www.victorwainwright.com, three-time nominee, and two-time winner of the Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year Blues Music Award, Victor Wainwright, known globally as The Piana From Savannah, said:
"WOW!!! How can I possibly express how I'm really feeling? Three years in a row I've been nominated for a Blues Music Award. Starting last year, and now again this year, I've won the Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year. It's hard for me to believe that I deserve this. I humbly appreciate wholly everything that has come my way, and I will continue to do the very best I can!"
It appears that most legendary talent is, indeed, discovered early in the careers of musicians destined to assume their roles at the helm of various genres. In his early 30's Wainwright is on a path charted and guided by family and trusted mentors.
In patriarchal style, Wainwright is carrying on a family tradition his father and grandfather engendered. While contemporary music in other genres boast legacy names -- like Presley, Jennings, Williams, and Lennon as eagerly as in past eras with Sinatra, Cole, Minneli -- it's possible Victor Wainwright will be holding the torch high on his own terms lighting the path as his family's namesake in the Blues.
In a guitar-centric world, The Piana from Savannah opens a new door to honky tonk sounds and sensibilities PInetop Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis are famous for. Crediting their influence, Wainwright shared a bit about himself and his view from center stage on the blues circuit.
What can you tell us about winning the Blues Music Awards? Aside from the obvious appreciation for your talent, what do the BMA's mean to you and to your career overall?
It's stunning really. I didn't expect to win these awards, but hey... it was my extreme honor to accept them. It means a tremendous deal to me that it is Pinetop's namesake. It's a powerful thing when you've been touched by music... by a hero such as Pinetop, and when you're bestowed the great privilege and responsibility to carry something on. As long as you understand the spirit of the award, you're very rich and fulfilled.
How many years have you been performing/touring?
Since I was about 13 years old with my father and grandfather.
Do you play mostly clubs, festivals, or established blues venues like Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar in Nashville or Morgan Freeman's club, Ground Zero in Clarksdale, Mississippi?
I've played all those places. And I love them all; from the smallest juke joint to the biggest theater. Right now we're mostly performing tickets shows in larger venues, and festivals. However, I have and always will play any sort of venue. I love to change things up.
What live music experiences influenced what you're doing?
Besides my immediate family, I would say that seeing Jerry Lee Lewis changed my life.
Serious musicians were first music fans. As you were growing up how did you discover new music and through what mediums? Was it television, radio, records, CDs?
We are always music fans first. I'm personally an entertainer second, and a musician third. I discovered music directly from my grandfather and father, live and in person. I was put behind a drum kit at the age of two and I was banging on the piano shortly after that.
Later I discovered new music through friends in school. We would swap mix tapes and I discovered grunge music and punk. I really listened to everything that everyone else was listening to. I still do to this day. I will gladly listen to music from the 20's, the 50's, then opera and classical then listen to the top 10 pop music countdown right after with no problem. I seriously love all kinds of music and I really do listen to what's new... I don't listen to a whole bunch of blues, but I do some.
What catches my attention is what catches the attention of a younger audience; that REALLY interests me. That could be bands like Manchester Orchestra, Fun, Grouplove etc. I'm really digging Rufus Wainwright's newest record, and I'm still always amazed at the sheer amount of old gospel I haven't discovered yet. I found an incredible album and collection called "Fire in my Bones" (Raw + Rare + Otherworldly African-American Gospel). That's what gets the most spins in my car right now.
What event changed your course from being a rock musician evolving into the Blues?
Well, the first thing to note is I'm doing this interview hunched over a laptop bag riding in my van somewhere just north of Pennsylvania, not... in a plush London hotel suite as a famous rock musician. Having said that, it feels amazing and somehow like it should be.
Sometimes what gets printed... they make it sound like we're pulling up to blues shows in a Rolls Royce. That would be like going to a bearded dentist who's missing a few teeth with a cowboy hat on. Or getting on a carnival ride where the guy that takes your ticket... ISN'T missing a few teeth!?! Would you really want to take the ride?
It's real, it's tough, but it's absolutely beautiful! I would say that I've always been a roots music musician. Before I started delving further into blues music in particular I was mostly playing honky tonk and boogie woogie with my family. It wasn't until I saw BB King on the television that I began my own personal blues journey.
What kind of relationship do you have with your audience? Are you plugged into social media? If so, how does it influence your success? If not, how do you stay connected to your audience?
We're all inventing ourselves in some form or another constantly. We're all made up of some truth... and fiction. I guess something that stays true for me is the honest realization that people want to be amused. It's not a disguise, but I am realizing that I'm an entertainer, and that people truly want to be entertained more than anything.
What you bring in terms of your own memories, your own conflicts, your own experiences is just one half of it. It's like a book. A book is really nothing without its reader. So placing and encouraging smiles and/or tears where there were none, putting happiness or emotion in places where there was emptiness. Doing that.... all the while being true to yourself. There's a balance. I feel like this may be why I'm being recognized. Well, I hope at least in part. I would say I'm very tapped into my audience.
If there was one thing you could do to help raise the image of the Blues what would you do?
There's a lot of ways to examine the "image" of the blues. I love the blues, but most importantly I love the blues community. The community, the tribe, is who shapes the image of the blues. They decide who they get behind, who gets supported, and who may not. In order for all of us to help, we should continue to keep our ears and eyes open for more than just cliches and sure-bets. The world is wide open! The community is very accepting! You don't play covers of Robert Johnson? No problem! I'm tired of hearing the words "cross over," as if that's what all blues musicians must do in order to be successful. Crossing over.... !? That's already old hat. What about asking other audiences to come this way? You guys step into what we got going on. Continuing to push the envelope on "what is blues" is really important. "What is blues?" It's what we say it is. Really it's that simple. It's what my own audience will listen to and enjoy. Knocking down the walls is how we continue to raise the image.
Do you take time out to give back to the music community? If so, how so?
I get great pleasure in passing along things that I've learned, and also great fulfillment in keeping the torch lit that is roots music. Blues music has always been about mentoring and apprenticing. Hiring young musicians is one way for me to do this. Participating in workshops and Blues in the Schools programs have been another way. I have also gladly donated to the HART fund and also to the Raise the Roof campaign from the Blues Foundation.
2014 marks the 30th year of Janet Hansen's career as a music marketing specialist. With three Grammy award-winning campaigns to her credit, Hansen has also contributed to the legacy of two of history's most popular songs. "Classical Gas" by Mason Williams is the most-broadcast instrumental tune in history; and "Louie, Louie" by The Fabulous Wailers is the most-recorded rock song in history. In 2009 Hansen launched the unique music platform Scout66 to encourage reviews of live shows from the ticket-buying public. You may contact Janet at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on consulting, campaigns, and tour support.
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