David Vest was on stage with Big Joe Turner and opening for Roy Orbison before he was old enough to vote.
“I guess I’ve always been playing. I had my first paying gig when I was 13 in 1957. Now, I was playing before that, but they weren’t payin’ me so guess it doesn’t count,” said Vest.
After 60 years in the music business, Vest shows no sign of slowing down. He’ll be playing his 19th show at Hermann’s Jazz Club Nov. 19 where, he’ll take the stage in a tribute to Bob Dylan in a show that sold out almost as soon as it was announced.
“I sorta met Dylan once…well, I guess I didn’t meet him so much as we passed each other in the hall and he smiled at me,” said Vest with a laugh, his southern drawl drawing the self-deprecating humour into focus. “I was a lot younger then, but I guess, so was he. But we’re still both going, so I guess that’s something. Right?”
It’s been a big year for Vest. His newest CD, Devestatin’ Rhythm has been received to rave reviews and has just been nominated at the Maple Blues Awards, coming up in February. The CD is number one in B.C. this week and number seven in Canada. He’s also been nominated as piano player of the year for the sixth time.
“Devestatin’ Rhythm…that’s a CD that some folks were telling me I shouldn’t even put out cause it was so different from a lot of the stuff I’ve done before. Now that’s true, but the thing is, I got all kinds of music in me and sometimes it’s not a bad thing to surprise some people,” said Vest.
The CD features Vest’s traditional piano, but incorporates Fender Rhodes (electric piano), B3 organ, and an emphasis on the singing and songwriting.
“Folks know I can play a piano, so I just wanted to reach a little higher. The truth is I’ve lived so long now I’ve got more music written than I’ll ever have a chance to record, but I wanted to put this one out there. Sometimes, you just gotta follow your heart.”
Vest was born in 1943 in Huntsville, Alabama and by the time he opened for Orbison in 1962 he was already a veteran of Gulf Coast honkey-tonks and roadhouses. His affinity for jazz and blues piano has a deep pedigree and is an integral part of Vest’s being.
“Now there was a time, I thought maybe I should be a baseball player,” he explained with a laugh. “But then I found out I couldn’t run, throw or hit, so I reckon I made the right decision and stuck with the music.”
Dubbed one of the greatest boogie-woogie pianists of all times by the Oregon Music News, Vest has always valued the spoken word and the lyrics of the songs as much as the rhythm and melody.
“Music is an art form, and I don’t think you can separate the arts from each other. You can be interested in more than one thing so I try to connect with poets and writers, dancers, sculptors and painters…they can all give you something and it can all be used in the music. Dylan has always known that…so did Leonard Cohen. It’s why I love playing their stuff and it’s why I’ll be doing a Cohen tribute at Christmas time,” he said.
Vest moved to Victoria’s James Bay a few years back where his home is dominated by a baby grand piano and musical instruments of all descriptions.
“I don’t know why I keep going when I’m over 70, when so many great musicians have passed, but so long as I can, I’ll just keep going. Heck, if I were to count up all the shows I’ve done on the road in the past year, I’d have to lie down and take me a nap.”