Introducing Blues Burner Jackie Venson

Classically-trained local pianist wrestles electric guitars

Back from a European tour, blueswoman Jackie Venson returns to local stages this Sunday at the One-2-One Bar – to put a leash on the dog days of summer. The Austin guitarist’s “Midsummer Night’s Groove” will doubtlessly feature her trademark verve. “I’ll be playing a full set of originals with the intention of hypnotizing folks on groove,” she proclaims.

Venson’s story is unusual and unlikely. She’s a classically trained pianist and Berklee College of Music graduate who found herself seduced by the blues. We spoke recently to discuss her live physicality, her trajectory, and goal setting.

Photo by Pooneh Ghana

Austin Chronicle: You recently came back from a European tour. How was that different from U.S. shows?

Jackie Venson: It was incredible. The people were insanely into the music, and the way they respond to music is different from the folks over here. It was crazy to see that. Also, it was inspiring and eye-opening to step outside of American culture and feel a different vibe.

AC: Let’s talk about your decision – electric over acoustic. Most start acoustic, then cross over.

JV: I picked up a guitar my last semester in college, and I was sitting in my room listening to Pandora. I had heard blues before, but it blew my mind. I was like, “I really want to play that.” It’s just really amazing that you could do all that on an electric guitar. You can’t do that on acoustic.

AC: Guitar’s also a very physical instrument. You play it as if you’re wrestling with it.

JV: I really try to ham it up with the guitar for all the moments I couldn’t move because I was stuck behind a piano. Sitting there, it doesn’t even look like I’m doing anything. It’s like I’m just focusing on not messing up. All classical piano these days is about not messing up.

AC: That takes serious discipline.

JV: Well, it came from classical piano because I would have to do that for one song. It took me a full year to learn how to play one song. The song is 12 minutes long. It took me a whole year. It took me three months just to learn how to play the first page. It’s much easier learning how to play a guitar. It’s just way more laid back compared to what I was used to.

AC: What inspires your lyrics? I hear a lot of different experiences for a young artist.

JV: Sometimes observations on what’s happening in the world. Sometimes relationships I’ve had. Sometimes spiritual beliefs. Even if I’m observing events that happened in my own life, now I’m talking about it from an observational standpoint.

AC: What are your goals? Finding a label? Do you have a process, or are you just letting it happen?

JV: I don’t know what to do about labels. They’re a weird part of the industry where they may or may not be helpful. I’ve decided not to chase that. I’m just playing and working on my craft. Whatever happens happens. Maybe I’ll learn that I’m wrong and change my ways.

AC: Back in the day, label A&R scouted musicians and developed them.

JV: You’ve got to promote yourself. They’re like, “Hey, you’re making a lot of money. Let us make you more money and we’ll take a cut.” I’m like, “I’m cool with that.” You’re not going to get to Super Bowl without finding somebody [to sign you].

AC: They facilitate it.

JV: I dream big, but I’m not banking my happiness and success on something like that.

AC: Author Joseph Campbell says that when the hero is ready, the adventures find them.

JV: Exactly. Everything is happening the way it’s supposed to happen, and I’m not in any hurry. It took me 10 years to even learn how to play an instrument, so it’s almost like I’ve been playing for 14 years. It’s just a lifetime of everything.

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