Living Blues Living Blues #236 : Page 7

VeRonIKA JACKson By Deitra Farr DF-Veronika, your style of music is called folk blues. how did you get into that style? VJ-Deitra, I first got into the folk scene. I always just liked songs that I can understand the lyrics, songs that are saying things. I was hanging out with people, mostly white folks, that were playing the guitar and singing. I enjoyed it. So one day a lady said to me, “Why don’t you learn to play the guitar, then you can back up yourself and sing?” So that’s what happened. See when I was coming up Odetta was very well known on the folk circuit. Richie Havens, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, the Mamas & the Papas, plus rhythm and blues was hot in the ’60s. When I learned the guitar a little bit I would sing nice easy songs. Then people were telling me I had a blues flavor, but I was young and I did not receive what they were saying. DF-how young were you? VJ-I was in my early 20s . . . 21or 22. That’s when I started playing music and hanging out a little bit. DF-so you were hanging out in folk clubs? VJ-Yes. This was in my hometown St. Petersburg, Florida. You know people would get together and have these gatherings, and nothing but music was being played. And I would be the only black person there. But they encouraged me. This girl said, “Find you a guitar.” So I went and found me a guitar. And then she taught me basic guitar. See now, as I’ve gotten older the flavor of blues is coming out, but I still love a good folk song. COurTesy VerOnIkA JACksOn DF-Are you performing mostly original material? VJ-I’m doing like half and half. There are some songs that other people have written that I really enjoy doing. I love Ma Rainey. I love female vocalists whether it’s acoustic or big band. And when I found out about Elizabeth Cotten, man, that left hand, guitar picker, banjo playing. I used to hear people singing this song she wrote Freight Train at folk festivals. DF-your story is interesting, because many people come to blues through other genres of music. But I think you are the first black person I know who comes to blues through folk music. VJ -Yes, I love picking a good folk song, singing songs about a person I grew up with or a home-less person. When I do a concert I love doing listening rooms. I don’t do bars. I fit in with a listening room audience and I do me a good folk song, then throw in some good old blues. I can talk to the audience and it’s just a joy. DF-When you say listening room, what do you mean? VJ-I mean a place like a concert hall or a coffee house. A place where people come in to listen to acoustic music. When I first started playing music I played in a restaurant. This guy heard me out on the beach. Once again, I was the only black person out there in all that hot sun. I was with all these folkies. This guy came up to me and said, “I want you to come to play at my restaurant tonight.” He had a duo playing, two women, and he said they would let me do a few songs. One of the songs I did was Women Be Wise by Sippie Wallace. DF-Oh yes!! “Don’t advertise your man!” [laughs] VJ-I’m telling you! [laughs] I did that song, and the people went crazy. They passed the hat, and I tried to give it to the girls because it was their gig. They said, “No, that’s your money.” The owner said he was moving to a more elaborate place, and he hired me to play music there on Fridays and Saturdays. I had never done a gig in my life. I went and bought a PA system, and I did that gig the next three years. DF-And now look at you, performing all over the world. We actually met in France! VJ-Yes, this is something I’m going to do for-ever. This is my music and my culture. I get a lot of no ’s . . . I can’t tell you how many no ’s I get. But I know who I am and how talented I am. And I’m just going to keep on doing it until my last day on this earth. April 2015 • LIVING BLUES • 7

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