By TERRY MATHEWS
Arts/Copy Editor of The Winnsboro News
Multi-talented musician Vance Gilbert will be in performance Saturday, Jan. 16, on the Bowery Stage at Winnsboro Center for the Arts.
Kate Hearne will open for Gilbert, beginning at 7:30 p.m. Gilbert will take the stage at 8 p.m.
Gilbert grew up in New Jersey, attended college in Connecticut, receiving a degree in biology. He currently lives in Arlington, MA, near Cambridge.
Although he’s on the road about 100 nights a year, Gilbert took time from his touring schedule to answer a few questions about his musical influences, favorite artists and teaching.
The Winnsboro News: Where did you go to high school?
Vance Gilbert: John F. Kennedy High School in Willingboro NJ. Danced to a lot of David Bowie my junior and senior year. R.I.P. Ziggy. (David Bowie died Jan. 10 just two days after he released “Blackstar” on Jan. 8, his birthday.)
TWN: You taught multi-cultural arts for a while. Talk about that experience.
VG: I was a post-busing integration gun for hire. I supported the history books and theatre productions with instruction and facilitation designed to bring urban and suburban kids (read black and white) into the same universe and foster their working together on a project.
TWN: What made you decide to quit teaching and make music your full-time career?
VG: I was doing both for a while, in fact most of my classroom work involved the guitar in the classroom to boot. However, someone offered me tickets to a Shawn Colvin show and I guess I went on a whim. Ever since then I have wanted to be a 5’5” white woman.
TWN: Besides, Colvin, who were some of your musical influences?
VG: Stevie Wonder, James Taylor, June Tabor, Andres Segovia, Ray Charles, Richard Thompson, David Fathead Newman, Kenny Loggins, Kenny Rankin, Charlie Parker, Clifford Brown, Donny Hathaway Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughn, Dizzy Gillespe, Dakota Staton and Dinah Washington.
TWN: How old were you when you picked up a guitar?
VG: 17. I was a sophomore in college!
TWN: Are you still teaching/mentoring other singers/guitar players?
VG: My Wednesdays are packed with private students in performance, songwriting coaching, voice. [I teach] via Skype, and they come to my house. [I have students] scattered other days too, generally about 7-12 students a week.
My youngest is across the street, Sierra, and she’s 13.
Rick is oldest at 67.
TWN: Talk about your love of the late Kenny Rankin.
VG: Hah. Kenny was his very own jazz interpretation workshop. Just him and the guitar, and tunes you thought you knew weren’t just given new life, their meaning became clearer in his hands.
For example, what he did with Randy Newman’s “Marie.”
McCartney and Lennon weren’t stupid when they asked him to play his version of “Blackbird” at their induction into the Songwriter’s Hall Of Fame.
TWN: Talk about the impact Ella Fitzgerald had on music.
VG: I’m still wrapping myself around the perfection of her vocals on everything. She heard the lyric, respected the melody, and yet her improvisation was worthy of note-for-note transcription in any jazz class. It wasn’t just that she could sing anything, but she made everything seem like it was written *for her*.
TWN: You have opened for some of the greats – George Carlin, Shawn Colvin.
VG: Shawn Colvin was introduced to me by my manager at the time.
I’m certain Shawn though my songwriting was fair to “meh,” but my 30 minutes in front of the audience was legendary, and she trusted me.
She knew it was a diverse, fun set that I’d do, and that I wasn’t going to try to be Townes Van Zant or God forbid, try to be another version of her, a “Shawnabee.”
So she said yes to my opening the whole of the Fat City tour in North America.
The rest is history.
It brought me form absolutely unknown up to relatively obscure in the music business..
Truly, I wish I could have that 3 months with her today. I’m a much better writer.
George’s management caught me at a festival in Colorado, and thought I’d be just fine in front of him.
In a lot of ways I again had to have what I’d call the hottest 32 minutes of folk music on the planet, because we played to packed houses of 2-3,000 – sheds, casinos, performing arts centers, and for the first 10 seconds I was the absolute last thing any of these audiences wanted to see – they wanted a cross between the “7 dirty words” and the conductor from “Thomas the Train.”
I had 11 seconds to nab them. One hundred and forty-plus shows later and I don’t think I ever failed.
Truly. too, I was bait for hecklers at these shows.
George’s show was just that – a scripted 70 minute thing, and there was no room for disruptive fans. I learned to triangulate between me and two bouncers just who had had too much, and whether they needed to be, uh, bounced.
By the time I was done, folks were amazed that they actually sat through, listened and liked acoustic music without throwing vegetation at the stage.
TWN: Talk about the impact Amy Winehouse’s music had on you.
VG: She took my legs. To see the embodiment of all of Dinah Washington, Donny Hathaway, Chaka Khan, and Etta Jones in this under-30 English Jewish kid’s body was a mind-blowing for me.
She didn’t over-sing either. It was all so worldly, authentic, smart, and measured, like she was already 60 years old. It was a full and truthful appropriation, really.
I was distraught at first, like I was a drop in some galactic bucket.
I still am, but I’ve recovered to realize that I had a story to tell too.
Plus she played guitar quite nicely.
It’s just wasn’t fair…
TWN: Talk about the impact Sam Cooke’s talent had on you.
VG: Sam Cooke was self-defining. He had a vocal thing that became the backbone for artists as varied as Ronald Isley, Rod Stewart, Paul Young. Steve Perry wouldn’t be Steve Perry if it weren’t for Sam Cooke.
And what a writer….How many people know that “A Change Is Gonna Come” was written by him in his hope to have an anthem parallel to Bob Dylan’s “Blowing In The Wind.”
And like anything else a halfdecent student of music will do, I checked out as much of his gospel work with The Soul Stirrers as I could. Mind blowing.
TWN: Will we hear “When Sunny Gets Blue,” “’Round Midnight,” “Dindi” or “Ain’t Misbehaving” at the show?
VG: Maybe! There are so many tunes!!You will definitely hear Kris Kristofferson’s “For The Good Times.” Yes, that ended up on the jazz album. Don’t ask why. I just *had* to do that song asap!
TWN: Talk about your songwriting process.
VG: Oh, dear. Well, the age-old question is answered thusly – for me, lyrics come first.
At least a story line. Or at least language. That’s the legacy I want to leave. I want to be known as a good cobbler of tunes.
I can sing anything. I have pipes. Melodies are out there, harmony too.
But I want myself and my world to wrap around the story being told, or even if there is no distinct story, I want to use language in such a way that audiences leave the hall chewing. Pipes don’t last forever. Songs do.
I work out of 2 notebooks at once so that I don’t have to flip pages when I copy lyrics over, as that initiates the editor, in my mind.
I want the editor to be the last thing to come to play when I’m trying to tell the story, my legacy, or use language. It’s strange but it has been a boon to my last few years of writing.
TWN: What is the best part of touring?
VG: Knowing that your live work lives on in someone’s ears. That and buffet Chinese food.
TWN: The worst?
VG: Loud hotel room air conditioner units.