There’s a look. A smile. The tilt of her head as she closes her eyes just briefly to feel the music flow from her and pour out into her guitar. Her whole body moves as her fingers dance along the frets of her guitar. She leans forward, and without hesitation, a natural and fitting voice takes you to a place of joy. The dually talented, and yet-to-be showcased guitar goddess is Jackie Venson.
Originating out of Austin, Texas, the singer/songwriter has released 2 studio albums, the latest in 2019, aptly titled Joy. The true joy of Jackie Venson is not only seeing her play live and on her Facebook streams, but it’s the actual joy she has playing and singing her blues, rock and R&B blended tunes. Attending Berkley College for piano originally, it wasn’t until she picked up the guitar that Jackie discovered her true self. “I started playing the piano when I was eight years old, and about a month or two before I graduated from (Berkley) college - after I spent about two hundred thousand dollars on piano - I decided I didn’t want play piano anymore [laughter]. So, I started playing the electric guitar, and ever since then, I’ve been working every year to get better at that craft. Working on playing the guitar, singing, putting on a show, and having a stage personality. It was something that I always wanted to do, but I never felt that the piano was the right instrument for me.”
Not surprising, fans in Texas flocked to her shows and named her the 2017 Breakout Artist Of The Year, highlighted by her appearances at SXSW, the Austin City Limits Festival in 2018 and an appearance as a part of the house band on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The attention she gained early on from her live performances is certainly earned by both her hard work and pure talent. Following up from her debut album in 2014 titled The Light In Me, Jackie released a live album in 2016 called Live at Strange Brew. “I love to play live”, shares Jackie, “And I love to play my own songs. I started playing the guitar when I was 21, and I wasn’t even good enough to play in front of people until I was 23. So when I started playing live - I had had worked 2 years just to show up with a guitar in my hands and I didn’t have anything. Of course I didn’t have songs, merch or anything, all I was focused on was playing the guitar - and that took all my focus. Every day I practiced. I learned that two times. I learned that with piano and I learned that with the guitar. You can’t take a day off, you have to practice every day! I did everything I could just to show up at an open mic and play a three song set. So, when I can play my own music, its mind blowing. I’ve never had a big break or a hit song, but I’m still able to play my own music and make a living. That’s crazy. Every time I put on a guitar and strum the first cord from a song that I wrote, its ecstasy from there on out.”
That ecstasy is exactly what you hear in Jackie’s 2019 album Joy. This album is a culmination of her hard work and her own personal joy of playing music. The Carlos Santana-esque ease of her bluesy stylings shine on songs such as “Rollin’ and Tumblin” and “Never Say Die”. Jackie’s contagious and angelic smile gives way to her Prince-paralleled vocal stylings. Combine both of these impressive talents on songs such as the albums first track “Only Have You”, and “Witchcraft” and you have an album that you can’t believe hasn’t had more recognition. “[Witchcraft] that’s the most popular one on the record, and the most requested – not the most played, but the most requested one…[and] I let the music decide what’s going to be on the album. I just write songs. I’m not really OCD. I’ll write a verse, if I like it, good – done. I’m an artist who feels like when it’s done, it’s done. Some people take years to write an album and they get in their head and take it too seriously. They can’t decide when it’s done. Me, on the other hand, I just write a shit-ton of songs, like 30 or 40 songs, listen to them and match them to each other, and that’s how I come up with an EP or maybe an album.”
With both of Jackie Venson’s studio albums: The Light In Me, and Joy, you hear the passion and true love Jackie has for playing guitar. Perhaps that’s because the virtuoso has a bond with each of her guitars. While performing live for a recent streamed video, Jackie called out to a guitar by name who she believed was speaking to her - a guitar which was beckoning to be played. When asked if her guitars speak to her, Jackie laughed, “They kinda do. I’ll start playing it, and the guitar will take control of my hands…sometimes I can’t even feel my hands making the movements, they’re just making it. That’s what my guitars do, they do what they want with my hands when I play.” Jackie has even named her guitars, as they have their own unique personalities when she plays them, “My main axe is an Epiphone Les Paul, and her name is Selina. My back-up axe is a Gibson Les Paul, and her name is Rosetta. For years I played on a Fender ‘Strat. I played the entire Live at Strange Brew and Live at Green Hall, which hasn’t come out yet, on a white ‘Strat named Herbie. He is responsible for all the songs on Joy and pretty much everything prior to November 2019. My upcoming album, coming out in September: Vintage Machine was written on Rosetta. I have nine guitars, but I’m getting ready to auction three of them off for a charity. It’s an artist charity to help musicians in Austin….and I donated three of my guitars.”
The effects of the current COVID-19 has hit everyone hard, and perhaps musicians the most. With the lack of touring and no outlet to support their new releases, Jackie is still hopeful that late summer will provide an opportunity for her to share her up-coming album Vintage Machine live with fans in Milwaukee at Shank Hall on August 22rd. “All of my shows in June and July have been cancelled. I’m nervous about the Shank Hall one, but I’m more than likely going to have an early release of Vintage Machine for that show. I’m ordering some early vinyl now for a pre-album release party, and I’m going to play tons of songs off it and Joy.
Classical piano music be damned. It’s clear that Jackie’s passion and love of guitar playing shines through her performances and throughout all 14 tracks on Joy. Resisting the temptation to cover other blues or rock legends, Jackie blends the rare qualities of guitar grace and effortless vocals on her live Facebook streams. Her weekly live streams, coupled with her ‘wing-it live’ playing style is unmatched for someone yet to be discovered. The personal joy that Jackie gets from playing her guitar is shown with each performance and is a part of Jackie’s true inner-self. “The only way I can describe it, is to put imagery to it. It’s like a well that is covered, and the only thing that can take the cover off the well is music. It’s its own category. The joy I get from hanging out with my family and friends is completely different from the joy that I get from playing music. It’s a well of joy, and the guitar is the key to that well.”
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CD: Joy Record Label: Jackie Venson Music
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