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Jared James Nichols Interview: From SRV and Zakk Wylde to Advice from Billy Gibbons

Jared James Nichols  · 

Jeff Graham

Gearnews meets guitarist Jared James Nichols on a hot and humid afternoon in Nashville, USA. He spent much of the day taking his 1953 Gibson Les Paul, known as “Ole red” – which he once described as the best guitar he had ever played – to a guitar tech who tours with the band Heart, to some important adjustments.

Now, sitting comfortably at his desk, he is happy to talk about his relationship with Stevie Ray Vaughan, about playing with Hubert Sumlin (Howlin Wolf’s guitarist), and about ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons ‘ hilarious advice to guitarists…

This interview was originally conducted by Paul Rigg for Planet Guitar.

Jared James Nichols Interview:

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Gearnews: Exactly ten years ago you did a very successful two-month European tour, which led to the release of Old Glory and the Wild Revival: how do you remember that period?

Jared James Nichols: Yes, I’ve been thinking about that recently. It’s a mix of emotions, but I’m excited and happy.

GN: At that time, people like Joe Bonamassa said that you are “ the greatest guitarist to emerge in the last 25 years “: it’s been quite a journey since then…

JJN: It’s been a great journey. As with all things in life, when you start with a dream you don’t know what future awaits you. I am so grateful and appreciative.

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Growing up in Wisconsin

GN: You were born in East Troy, Wisconsin: what was it like growing up in a small town?

JJN: I actually grew up six miles from town. Living in the countryside, I had to learn to have fun: fishing, going for walks, lighting fires, or whatever. Later, when I discovered the guitar, I had all the time in the world to practice. I’m glad I grew up like that, because it gave me a good foundation for a simple life.

GN: Did you want to leave?

JJN: Absolutely! Especially when I started playing in clubs at 16, 17. I didn’t know anyone who was playing and I immediately realized that if I wanted to do this, I had to get out of here!

GN: So you didn’t grow up in a musical family?

JJN: Not at all. Initially, I wanted to be a drummer… but my father said to me: ” Why don’t you try the guitar? He has a volume knob .” [laughs] And I fell in love with this instrument. It was the first time in my life that I felt powerful – it was a unique experience!

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Jared James Nichols plays to fans during his 2023 Italy stop in Milan
Jared James Nichols plays to fans during his 2023 Italy stop in Milan · Source: Photo courtesy of Jared James Nichols

GN: I’ve noticed some curious coincidences… when you were two years old, Stevie Ray Vaughan was killed in a helicopter crash near your home and then, later, he became a key figure in your life…

JJN: Where I grew up was less than a mile from the crash site and one of my uncles was one of the first responders. My mother remembers seeing the medical examiner pass by our house the next morning.

The first time I saw Stevie play Live at the El Mocambo it was so powerful that I was mesmerized. And to this day it is an incredible inspiration. It is crazy to think that I come from that place.

Zak Wylde

GN: Another coincidence is that, at 14, you went to an Ozzfest, and Zakk Wylde was playing there. It’s amazing that he is such a close friend now…

JJN: Absolutely. I talked to Zakk just before I talked to you. My cousin really wanted to go to Ozzfest. I didn’t know any of the bands other than Ozzy, but the concert was so close that I thought, ” We could walk there .” And out comes Zakk Wylde with a Les Paul in front of a whole wall of Marshalls. I was scared, but there was an energy in his music.

And, just like that, in 2016, I get a call from Zakk saying, “ Hey, man, someone just showed me a video of you, and I have a world tour coming up, and I want you to open… ”.

GN: That video had 7 million views in just a few weeks: how did you deal with this sudden life change?

JJN: At first, when the video came out, I was nervous because I felt like I was exposing myself to the world. But what I love is that even today people still come up to me and say, “ Man, that video really inspired me .” I’ll always be grateful for that.

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Hubert Sumlin

GN: I read that you once played with Hubert Sumlin of Howlin Wolf’s band…

JJN: Oh, yes! I really liked the blues and Stevie was one of the gateways. I knew he really liked Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, and Otis Rush. And I learned that Hubert Sumlin of Howlin Wolf would be playing in the area. I was a 15-year-old kid and I thought, “ This is great .” And I got to meet him and play Spoonful with him!

Also, soon after, I got to play with ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards, who had played with Robert Johnson. We’re talking Delta blues. At that point my inspiration was out of control; I was really excited.

Jared James Nichols
Source: Photo courtesy of Jared James Nichols

GN: Equipboard says you own a Masterbilt Frontier and a Gibson Hummingbird acoustic: is that true?

JJN: I have a Frontier, but I’ve never owned a Hummingbird – that’s nice of you to ask. But Gibson has been so good to me that I’ve used a Hummingbird – they’re beautiful guitars.

GN: What role do acoustics play in your life?

JJN: When I’m at home, maybe three days a week, I hang out with Nashville singer-songwriters on my acoustic. If a song holds up on an acoustic, then I feel like it’s a song.

But Billy Gibbons once said to me, “ Man, we’re not librarians .” And he said, “ We need electric guitars, you know ?” And I said, “ What do you mean, librarians? ” And he said, “ We don’t play it safe; we don’t play quiet! ” And I said, “ Yeah, I get it… .”

Becoming a Vocalist

GN: You once said that you had to work on your voice as much as your guitar…

JJN: Yeah. I always wanted to have my own trio, like Johnny Winters, Robin Trower, Cream, Leslie West, and Hendrix, guys who started singing almost out of necessity. At one point, the only thing I sang was in the shower. At first, it didn’t work, but in my heart, I knew that’s what I wanted to do. So, I had to dedicate the same amount of time to singing as I dedicated to guitar. It’s so hard!

GN: You live in Nashville now – did you move there for the music scene?

JJN: For a few reasons. It’s a lot cheaper than Los Angeles, it’s centrally located when you go on tour, and Gibson is here [Jared James Nichols is a Gibson Ambassador]. And there are probably thousands of musicians who live here…

GN: I was wondering if you ever met Jimi Hendrix’s bassist, Billy Cox?

JJN: I met him and Mitch Mitchell on the Experience Hendrix tour in 2008. I wasn’t 18 and Mitch wasn’t in a good mood, but Billy was. I haven’t met him anywhere in Nashville, but around the world, I’ve seen him a few times over the years. He is the best ever!

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Peter Frampton

GN: And of course, you’re also close to Peter Frampton, who will soon be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Dave Mustaine…

JJN: I’ll see Peter on Sunday when he receives the Les Paul Award for his contribution to music. Dave and I text each other all the time. Every now and then you see these people around having fun…

GN: You wear a lot of jewelry – do you have a favorite ring?

JJN: Great question, I have it. My father wore jewelry and when he died my brother gave me a very simple silver ring of his that he wore for about 35 years [shows ring].

I got this one at the Great Frog in London, where Keith Richards got his skull ring, and it’s now worth about £1,000. I thought, “ I can’t miss this,” but two months ago I was playing at the Shepherd’s Bush Empire, I was very sweaty and I went and threw the setlist to a fan… and the ring…

GN: …Oh, no… [laughs]

JJN: [laughs] There were a thousand people there, and I thought, “ My ring! My ring! ” And amazingly, within 20 seconds they gave it back to me. Like my guitars, there’s a story behind everything…

GN: Those are amazing stories! You’ll soon be leaving for a tour of England: are you ready?

I love the people, the energy – and every time I go back, it just gets better,” Jared replies. “ It’s going to be awesome!

Jared James Nichols’ UK tour dates:

  • 21 July Maid of Stone Festival, Maidstone;
  • 22 July Milton Keynes Craufurd Arms;
  • 24 July Newcastle;
  • 25 July Huddersfield;
  • 26 July Steelhouse Festival;
  • 26 July Nottingham Rock City;
  • 27 July Chester Live rooms.

Tickets are available at this link.

More about Jared James Nichols:

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Jared James Nichols

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