by Stefan Wyeth | 4,0 / 5,0 | Approximate reading time: 8 Minutes
Jared James Nichols

Jared James Nichols  ·  Source: Jeff Graham

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Gearnews catches up with guitar sensation Jared James Nichols on a warm and humid afternoon in Nashville, USA. He has spent a large part of his day taking his Gibson Les Paul 1953, known as ‘Ole red’ – which he once described as the best guitar he’d ever played – to a guitar tech who tours with the band Heart, to make some important adjustments.

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Now, seated comfortably at his desk, he is happy to chat about his bond with Stevie Ray Vaughan, playing with Howlin Wolf’s Hubert Sumlin, and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons’ hilarious advice for guitarists…

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

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Gearnews: It was exactly ten years ago that you did a very successful two-month European tour, which led to the release of ‘Old Glory and the Wild Revival’ – how do you recall that time?

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

GN: And in that time, people like Joe Bonamassa have said that you “were the greatest guitarist to emerge in the last 25 years” – it’s been quite a journey…

JJN: It’s been a big journey. It’s like anything in life, when you start out with a dream, you don’t know what future lies ahead. I’m just so thankful and grateful.

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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: Actually, I grew up six miles outside. Living in the country, I had to learn how to entertain myself – going fishing, taking walks, starting fires, or whatever. Later, when I discovered the guitar, I had all the time in the world to practice. I’m glad that I grew up like that because it gave me a good foundation for simple living.

GN: Did you want to get out?

JJN: Absolutely! Especially when, at 16, 17, I started to play clubs. I never knew anyone who played music, and I quickly realized, if I’m going to do this, I’ve got to get out of here!

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

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

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, Stevie Ray Vaughan was killed in a helicopter accident near your home and then, later, became a key figure in your life…

JJN: Where I grew up was less than a mile from the site, and one of my uncles was one of the first responders. My mother remembers seeing the coroner drive by our house the morning after.

I first saw Stevie play ‘Live at the El Mocambo’ and it was so powerful, I was mesmerized. And still to this day, he’s an incredible inspiration. It’s wild to think that I’m from that place.

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Zak Wylde

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

JJN: Absolutely. I talked to Zakk right before I talked to you. My cousin really wanted to go to the Ozzfest. I didn’t know any of the bands besides Ozzy, but the concert was so close 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 this energy in his music.

And, flash forward to 2016, I get a phone call from Zakk and he goes: “Hey, man, somebody just showed me a video of you, and I got a world tour coming up, and I want you to open…

GN: That video had 7 million views within a few weeks – how did you cope with that 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 still to this day, people come up and say: “Man, that video really inspired me.” I’m forever grateful for that.

Hubert Sumlin

GN: I read you once jammed with Howlin Wolf’s Hubert Sumlin…

JJN: Oh, yeah! I was so into the blues, and Stevie was one of those gateways. I knew that he really liked Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, and Otis Rush. And I learned that Howlin Wolf’s Hubert Sumlin was going to play locally. I was a 15-year-old kid, thinking: “this is bigger than the world.” And I got to meet him and play ‘Spoonful’ with him!

And furthermore, right after that, I got to jam with ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards, who had played with Robert Johnson. We’re talking Delta blues. My inspiration was out of control at this point; I was so excited.

Jared James Nichols
Source: Photo courtesy of Jared James Nichols

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

JJN: I do have a Frontier but have never owned a Hummingbird – it’s good that you checked that out. But Gibson have been so good to me that I have used a Hummingbird – they’re gorgeous guitars.

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GN: What role do acoustics play in your life?

JJN: When I’m home, perhaps three days a week, I get together with Nashville songwriters with my acoustic. If a song holds up on an acoustic, then I feel like you have a song.

But Billy Gibbons told me once: “Man, we’re not librarians.” He goes: “We need electric guitars, you know?” And I went, “What do you mean, librarians?” He replied: “We don’t play it safe; we don’t play it quiet!” And I’m like: “Yeah, I get it…

Becoming a Vocalist

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

JJN: Yeah. I’ve always wanted to have my own trio, like Johnny Winters, Robin Trower, Cream, Leslie West, and Hendrix, guys who started to sing almost out of necessity. At one point, the only singing I did was in a shower. It didn’t work at first, but I knew in my heart it is what I wanted to do. So, I’ve had to put equal amounts into singing as I put into the guitar. It’s wild!

GN: Now you’re living in Nashville – did you move there for the music scene?

JJN: For several reasons. It’s a lot cheaper than Los Angeles, it’s centrally located when touring, and Gibson is here [Jared James Nichols is a Gibson Ambassador]. And there’s maybe thousands of musicians that live here…

GN: I’m wondering if you ever come across Jimi Hendrix’s bassist, Billy Cox?

JJN: I met him and Mitch Mitchell at the Experience Hendrix tour in 2008. I was not 18, and Mitch was not in a good mood, but Billy in the best ever. I have not run into him anywhere in Nashville, but across the world, I’ve seen him a few times over the years. He’s the absolute best, man!

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Peter Frampton

GN: And of course, you are also neighbours with Peter Frampton, who’s soon to be in 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. And me and Dave text back and forth all the time. You see these people around, just hanging out, having a good time…

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

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

I got this other in London’s Great Frog, which is where Keith Richards got his skull ring, and it is now worth around 1,000 pounds. I thought: “I can’t lose this,” but I was playing Shepherd’s Bush Empire two months ago, and I was so sweaty and went to throw a setlist to a fan… and the ring…

GN: …Oh, no… [laughs]

JJN: [laughs] there were a thousand people on that floor, and I was like: “My ring! My ring!” And sure enough, within 20 seconds they returned it. Like with my guitars, there’s a story behind everything…

GN: They’re great stories! You’re soon off to tour Britain – are you looking forward to it?

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

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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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