To witness the raw energy and emotion of Jackie Venson live is like having a sonic explosion in your face!
Her music defies easy characterization, combining R&B, soul, blues and a healthy dose of hard-edged guitar shredding. She has been described as having an astonishing mix of raw soul, superb musicianship and laid-back grace.
This rare combination of qualities came shining through in Jackie Venson’s recent show at the Cactus Club in Milwaukee. Playing as a duo with her drummer, she filled the house to the rafters with her songs, supplementing her guitar and the drums with synthesized backgrounds and pre-recorded sections.
Venson plays with an infectious abandon that sweeps her audience up in her passion and emotion. Her marvelous voice is enchanting—at times soaring gracefully, almost wistfully, and then crashing back to earth as she rips through her introspective songs. Jackie plays with a wonderous smile on her face that lets you know that the stage is her space—the place she needs to be.
Don’t think of Jackie Venson as just another blues guitarist or accuse her of emulating anyone. While her music may show its influences, she is a one-of-a-kind singer-songwriter.
Jackie Venson hails from Austin, Texas and has been singing and playing professionally for most of the past decade.
Music has been part of her life since a young age. Jackie originally trained as a classical pianist at Berklee College of Music. But she made the huge transition from classical music to her gritty R&B and soul style when she picked up the guitar and began writing the songs that reflected her heart.
Her reputation is expanding exponentially as she develops a larger national and international base of devoted fans through her non-stop touring. Her blues influence shows clearly in her music. However, she definitely is not just another blues-only player—that’s a path she intentionally avoided going down early in her career.
She made a close connection with the packed house at Cactus Club in her second appearance there, taking time between songs to chat about her songs, her background and views on life.
As she explained to the crowd during her show, blues is the parent of all music genres. “Blues,” according to Jackie, “is the music of our grandparents. But, while I want to party with the grandparents, I also want to party with the kids!”
Touring constantly, Jackie is equally comfortable playing in huge venues as well as small spaces and has opened for and appeared with numerous legends, including Gary Clark Jr. and Buddy Guy.
Milwaukee band Will Pfrang and The Good Land Gang opened for Jackie Venson. Will Pfrang is a singer-songwriter hailing from Port Washington, Wisconsin. While the band has been together only since early 2018, Pfrang has been on the local scene for several years. The band, described as blue-eyed soul and indie rock, has been getting a lot of attention and air-play, particularly through a large number of college radio stations.
The show was sponsored by LÜM, a new music streaming service. LÜM’s mission is to establish that direct connection between music lovers and up-and-coming artists.
Sitting Down with Jackie Venson
I had the good fortune to sit down with Jackie prior to her show and got her views on touring, the economics of U.S. versus European tours, acoustics and other advantages and disadvantages of large and small venues, and her admiration of blues legend, Buddy Guy. Here’s an extract from our conversation:
Americana Highways: How did you get started with the kind of music you are doing now?
Jackie Venson: I moved away from Austin for college and came back, picking up the guitar. I started learning how to play the guitar around 21. I took private lessons. I started from nothing on the guitar. I had knowledge of how to read music and I knew scales and I knew theory, but that doesn’t mean anything to your hands. My hands were at zero. I had to learn how to hold my hand—I had to learn everything from the beginning.
It took me a good year and a half to get to the point where I could even play along with somebody. It’s not like you can say, hey you play this while I sing the melody. It took me a year and a half to even get there, and that was a year and a half with everyday 6-hour practices with only one day off a week.
After I got to that point, I started to go to jams. I would jam with blues players and that’s how I started to get into guitar solos. And then I would do open mic and test out the songs I’d been writing. I also hosted karaoke for money and that made my singing really strong.
And that all came together about year 3 when I thought that I didn’t want to host karaoke for a living. I also didn’t want to just be in a blues band or a wedding band. I’d written a few songs in my free time, so I started a website and started releasing recordings. Eventually I started touring.
I’ve been building and adding and subtracting here and there for probably about 7 years now.
AH: You started touring in the United States but over the past couple of years, you’ve been touring internationally. How do you like touring internationally?
JV: It’s so expensive to get to Europe so I make more money in the United States. The crowds are bigger in Europe, but because the expenses are so much higher, it really doesn’t mean anything. I usually end up getting the same returns, so I need to work on that. However big the crowd is in your home country, the crowd needs to be 3 to 4 times bigger in the other country.
So that’s the hard thing about Europe—you have to work harder to get the same exact return where you work a third as hard in the US or wherever you live.
AH: Your show at the Cactus Club in Milwaukee will be in a very small venue. Compare that to large venues where you have been playing.
JV: Honestly the biggest difference is the sound. Sometimes the bigger venues don’t have very good sound and the rooms are really echoey. I hate that. I also have to get the drummer’s hi-hat in my monitor, which is crazy. To get a hi-hat in your monitor is the loudest freaking instrument ever. And in those really big theaters I have to have some of the drums in my monitor because I can’t hear them when the ceilings are so high and it’s just—eeeee—and I hate that! It’s hard to find a big venue with great sound.
Also, stages are like 6 or 8 feet tall or something crazy in a lot of those big venues and that makes me feel like I’m kinda alienated from everybody. I actually prefer something like 500 cap rooms—that’s the sweet spot for really great sound. Anything bigger than that—if it’s outside then it’s awesome! If it’s inside, then it’s hit or miss.
Venues aren’t necessarily set up for good amping. A lot of theaters are really old and were built before amplification. The larger venues can be really, really tough with the sound.
Outside though is rad. Outside large, like 10,000 people outside, that’s the best way to do it, for sure.
AH: You started off in your career playing with blues bands and I think that has influenced your music. Are there specific blues artists that you emulate or that you view as good role models?
JV: I try not to emulate anybody. But a good role model is Buddy Guy because he is so fierce no matter what age he is. He’s still fierce and he doesn’t care what anybody thinks and that really rubbed off on me. That’s the only way to play solos and to be bold because you can’t be in your head about it. And he’s not in his head. He is just all energy. He’s always been like that and he’s still like that at age 83.
AH: Have you had the chance to play with him?
JV: Yes. I sat in with him on an encore on an ACL (Austin City Limits) Live in Austin. That was good!
AH: Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?
JV: Hopefully still doing what I’m doing now, but on a bigger level. That would be nice. Everything now but scaled up. Yeah, that would be great.
One of these days, it would be really cool to have one or two more players. It would be nice to have some background singers. I just don’t have the funds for that. That’s what I mean by scaled up. It would be nice to not be limited or restricted by money. That would be really cool.
You Owe Yourself the Joy of Jackie Venson
Just like her role model, Buddy Guy, Jackie Venson plays with a fierceness and inner fire that catches you in the heart! Check out her new album, Joy, and watch her YouTube videos to get a flavor of this passion.
Better yet, be sure to see her in person as she continues to expand her universe of venues and fans. Her winter tour kicks off in late-January 2020. Check out her website for dates and locations. https://jackievenson.com