Published July 2019
by Joseph Jordan
Featured Interview – Victor Wainwright
Victor Wainwright’s remarkable keyboard abilities and playing are at the very least, rollin’, rampaging and rambunctious. He’s a natural entertainer and his uncanny sense of finding humor onstage and in his music is probably unmatched in the blues & roots world. Not a lot of slinky sophistication here, just remarkable keyboard chops, great ensemble playing and his singing packs a wallop. Whether on organ, electric or acoustic piano… the keys are in for a ferocious pounding coming out of the boogie-woogie school of piano playing, Victor’s a point of lightning. He’s a marvelous barrelhouse piano player with fast, soulful, and remarkably deft fingering.
After gigging with his various bands, The Wild Roots; Southern Hospitality & Victor Wainwright and The Train for over 250-nights a year, he now keeps it down to a more reasonable number of showcases. Considering his being a well-seasoned performer in his late 30s, and especially how much he & his band put out during a performance, that seems like a prudent and reasonable course to follow.
“No, we’re not quite able to maintain that rigamarole anymore. But I could when I was in my late teens and early twenties. But I’m nearing forty now, so it’s a little bit different. We do perform around 200-gigs per year. It goes up and down depending. One of the challenges of touring with a six-piece band is getting everyone, number one, in one place at one time, but also, making sure that the venues we play have a big enough stage, have enough sound reinforcement to allow us to be and to live up to our full musical potential every night in our performances. Luckily, the blues world has been very accommodating to us, and we spend a lot of time in the blues and roots-music community and play lots of festivals. It’s a very healthy community with lots of places to perform… and (has supportive) blues societies.”
A big, bearded and extremely friendly man, Wainwright’s also incredibly gracious, and articulate. He’s of course highly appreciative of the success his music and career has garnered and feels “blessed.”
He’s a highly-decorated artist, having been a 6-time Blues Foundation’s Blues Music Award (BMA) winner and 4-time BMA Piano Award winner; and impressively, won the Band of the Year Award, the highest award an ensemble can be awarded in the blues and roots world.
Also, of all the blues groups and solo artists to record anywhere, Wainwright won the most prestigious Blues Music Award of them all, The B.B. King Entertainer of the Year in 2018.
“I really appreciate that, and I really love the Blues Music Awards and the work The Blues Foundation does and all the things they do for musicians to discover the music, whether it be the IBCs (TBF’s International Blues Challenge,) and all of their additional programs. I’m a big supporter of the Foundation and throughout the years they’ve recognized me. I just feel so overwhelmed when it comes to all of that and what it’s done for my career.”
His recording “Victor Wainwright and The Train” was nominated for a 2018 Grammy Award in the “Best Contemporary Blues Album” category, (eventually won by Fantastic Negrito’s “Please Don’t Be Dead.”)
He laughs, “I don’t know if my album, ‘The Train,’ should have won the Grammy Award, however, it was my first time being nominated for anything related to the Grammys. According to some, we were the second most played contemporary blues album that year, right behind Buddy Guy, (The Blues is Alive and Well,”) as per the charts.
“Regardless, ‘The Train’ was well listened to and well-liked by a huge amount of people. For us to be nominated, a lot of eclectic, collective talent from very modern to very soulful, we were just real proud.”
Victor’s recording, Victor Wainwright and The Train was 2018’s Most Played Contemporary Blues Album of the Year according to N.A.R.A.S., and was the second most played Blues Album of the Year. Add on the buyer accolade of it being 2018’s Number One on the Billboard Top Ten Blues record chart, and one can readily ascertain Victor and his band are on an unbridled, upward trajectory. And no small feat, his various live and studio-produced music-videos and songs have enjoyed well over 5-million views/listens. (Check many of them out via YouTube.)
Wainwright’s originally from Savannah, Georgia and is now happily based in Memphis, Tennessee. He was raised in a home surrounded by live music played by his grandfather, uncle and dad who collectively introduced Victor to playing music well before he was ten-years old.
"I didn’t take any lessons on piano. I don’t know how to read music at all. I’m pretty limited, believe it or not, and I’m very honest when I say, to what I can do on the piano. I feel I learned what my grand-dad knew and I took that and listened to the music that I loved, and I translated that into something, I guess, quite original and people are finding it an original way to play the piano. I don’t play it like other blues or roots piano players. I just play it like myself. And I like to sing and entertain as much as I like to play piano, and that’s a thing my grandfather taught me. He gets credit for teaching me how to play the piano, but he was a great entertainer, He really took up all the air in the room when he entered it. He was a massive personality. And my dad too… my dad’s the same way. My dad’s retired now but he played a lot of (live) music during most of his life, along with my uncle. My grandfather passed a couple of Decembers ago, but the three of them taught me a lot, and they were a major part of my musical upbringing.”
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