Jay Tamkin interviewed by Carol Borrington
From the Delta to Torquay and out again into the world; Jay Tamkin joins a growing band of young talented and dedicated musicians working to bring the Blues to the fore with a new generation. Jay is a multi-talented musician, guitarist, pianist, vocalist and composer and is able to take his pick of genres and blend them beautifully in his Blues based song writing. His lyrics show great promise. His guitar work is technically masterful and expressive for his tender years. This is bringing him into demand to play alongside Blues contemporaries. Vocally he is able to sing both polished rock and gritty Blues. He belongs to that growing number of musicians who see music as ever evolving while retaining its essence and beauty, and as something deeper and more intrinsically human than just celebrity and hype…
Do you have any formal music training?
I started piano lessons when I was in primary school, like most children with encouraging parents. I never really enjoyed it to be honest, but it definitely helped. I used what I learned in lessons, chords etc, to teach myself the music I enjoyed, like working out my favourite songs, although I pretty much discarded the academic side and I was going by ear. My teacher always said I had a ‘good ear’ whatever that meant at this point. I carried the lessons all the way through my education. Through GCSE’s, A-levels, which were all pretty much music related, and then through the jazz diploma course. It was kind of compulsory to have your “grade 5 theory” which is the one that all the music courses like to know about. So I got one of those and also got to about grade 5 on piano, before I kind of changed direction.
What first drew you to the Blues?
Probably from going to gigs from a young age with my parents; there was always an abundance of legendary guitarists’ albums in our house, and from growing up hearing that whilst seeing live music, usually Blues bands, and of course my dad taping the Paul Jones show every week to listen to in the car, I was bound take a heavy influence from the Blues.
Your CD ‘Sorted’ displays that you are capable of playing a number of genres. Why pick the Blues over say the lucrative rock or popular music genres.
I’ve been in rock bands and tried out pop bands, but there are so many rock style outfits around and with pop ever changing and being affected so strongly by media and commercialism, there isn’t really an honest and satisfying approach to making music that you can enjoy yourself which is any different to anyone else. With the Blues, it takes real feeling and soul to express it properly which is why all Blues is based around real love stories and problems, and not everyone can do it because they don’t have the emotion for it, or they haven’t felt ‘heartbreak’. It can’t be commercialized, its real music with real soul. And when I say ‘I Got the Blues,’ I mean it!
Who are your Blues influences?
Clearly the usual suspects; SRV, Walter Trout, Albert King, Freddie King; people always say ‘Jimi’ to me but I honestly never really took influence from his playing style, more like his ‘ahead-of-his-time’ song writing was just real good listening. I’d say Jimi Hendrix fits in with the rest of us; taking influence from the same people which is why, his name comes up so much. I like to claim two prioritizing influences proudly because of their early impact. Two songs at two different times on a tape recorded off of the Paul Jones Blues Show really made an impression on me. ‘Same Old Blues’ and a tune called ‘Protected’, both performed by Poppa Chubby. After hunting down the original ‘Same Old Blues’ I decided that Poppa’s was significantly inspirational. Also after seeing John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers with guitarist Buddy Whittington, that was another pinnacle moment for me. Since then I have been fortunate enough to play with both artists. Another highlight moment for me!
Can you introduce us to the band members?
Aside from me, there is Peter Searle on bass guitar. We met at the jazz college. I was mainly playing bass and he was mainly playing guitar, but I decided he wasn’t just gonna be another one of ‘those’ guitarists. We swapped instruments, I had lots of material I wanted to try out, it really worked, so we set out for maximum effect. Nick Ramos Pinto plays the drums, but fortunately has a van as well. I’d been playing with Nick for years on and off, and then when I decided to do something a little more significant I offered him a position on a more permanent basis.
Have you gone for the classic 3 band members for a particular reason or would you like to add other instrumentalists at a later date and if so have you any ideas about what instruments they would be?
In every group there’s always one who kind of takes control, and obviously I’ve always been that one, and I’ve always strictly played as a three-piece, it’s tighter and much more efficient. Unless a singer is distinctively great e.g., Freddie Mercury, if they aren’t filling the sound up with an instrument then it seems rather uneconomical. It sounds a little bit strong to say but that’s the way I’ve always done it. I’ve always really wanted an organ player. For many reasons, I write all the music on the piano/organ so it always comes across in a different way when a song has been completed. I do actually have an organ on stage next to my mic just to add the bits that are in my mind from the beginning of the writing stage, and as a kind of dedication to its importance to the songs, considering everything was written on it. Also, without spreading myself too thin and getting a reputation for that, it adds a unique extra dimension to the gig which isn’t a common one.
You’re a singer/songwriter and multiple instrumentalist; which instruments do you play?
I hate this question. When people ask me what I play I don’t say I’m a guitarist straight away, because there are so many really good guitarists and that’s easy to find, but it’s what makes that guitarist special. I’ve always surrounded myself with lots of different instruments. I’m intrigued by every instrument, I always start learning new ones, like I’m still learning the main ones; guitar, piano etc, and you never stop learning. I see music as a language, all the instruments are just ways of communicating it, so any musician will be able to guide their way around any instrument. I play one tune on one instrument and then on another to see how different it sounds, you can get a lot of inspiration just by doing that.
According to your promo you already have a guitar collection. Which is your favoured guitar and why?
Definitely my white Start with the maple neck!! I’ve got two identical white Strats, one with a maple fretboard and one with a rosewood fretboard. I’m certainly no gear-head, but I bought a standard American blonde white Start brand new, instead of getting an old one, or a new one that looks old. I figured I’ll play mine for thirty years, then it really will be an old beat up one. I liked it so much that, when I broke a string, I had nothing that compared to it, so I just bought another one exactly the same. I’ve also got some nice ones hanging around, like a white Tokai Strat, and a Parker Nightfly, which is the nicest of them all, but you can’t play ‘da’ Blues on that!
What’s your music practising schedule like?
HA! You must be joking. No schedule! I play when I have the blues or when I’m inspired – which is most of the time!
You’ve already got a good CV of musicians you have played with. Is there anyone you have not already played with that you would like to jam with in the future and why?
Donald Fagen; a huge influence on me on the sardonic jazz side of music. Jools Holland, because he has jammed with everyone and I see him smiling up at the guest and loving it, I love jamming and I’d love to be in that position, him playing piano along to one of my songs and enjoying it. Oh, and Dr John and Larry Graham, ‘cos those cats are way too cool for school, products from the very back of the fridge!!!!
Tell us about your new CD, “Sorted”
I was kind of going for an eclectic mix of styles. This is like a document of my musical experiences so far. It can either not work, or work very well. I’m glad to say that so far responses show it to be potentially very well accepted indeed. And the best thing is that it’s an open table so far, I haven’t particularly slotted into one style. Although you can be sure that the next album will be some serious Blues-infused JTB sounds.
Do you think it is time that we had a visual media programme, focusing on the new generation of Blues musicians coming through at this present time? If so have you any ideas of the format it might take to showcase young musicians like yourself?
There needs to be a greater promotion for young Blues artistes on the way up. In the 50′s and 60′s the blues scene was all the rave, with legends like Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix being considered as popular music. Now the Blues is starting to re-emerge and its drive is mainly the younger generation. It is due another blast and with people like Joe Bonamassa playing on Jools Holland it can only be an important step and a very promising turn to pave the way for the rest of the new generation. So, all these new artistes have to be brought into the light so that the rest of popular music can benefit from this return of the Blues. There needs to be more focus on all these great new acts, they need to be featured in all the popular magazines and TV programs; and there have to be some well promoted big shows and festivals to publicize the importance of this new generation of the Blues.
What plans do you have for your career in the next twelve months?
I’m really going to spend this year working on the profile, building up a name for myself so that next year we can get out there with some heavy ground behind us and a nice following. Its been going well for us in the past, working our way up independently, but now, with a few more hands on deck, it should take off a lot easier.
Is there anything you would like to say to Blues Matters readers?
I want to say how important the Blues Matters organization is, between all the readers and blues fans out there to all the players and artistes who do it for all the right reasons, ‘Blues Matters’ is one of the most important engines that keep the blues scene so active and alive, and it is the ‘middle-man’ between the players and the listeners, which is the most important card to play. Thank you! CB