Jared James Nichols: Keeping Bluespower Alive
Jared James Nichols is one of my favourite guitarists in the modern blues scene. He fuses the best elements of hard American rock with the blues, putting a new twist on the great ‘power trio’ bands of the 1970s.
Having grown up in Wisconsin – a state known more for farming than it’s thriving music scene – success for Nichols was at first not that straight forward. He moved to LA in search of stardom, but found himself overwhelmed by the cut throat nature of the music scene there.
Holding down a series of odd jobs whilst playing as much as he could, the first big break for Nichols came when he ended up winning a Gibson Les Paul Tribute Contest. He was gifted a Gold Top Les Paul, and was exposed to various record labels and studio owners. One of these studio owners was a man called Phil Jaurigui. Jaurigui was also a judge at the contest and recognised Nichols’ talent, so let him go and record in his studio.
Nichols got a band together and shortly afterwards released the EP ‘Live at The Viper Room’. Success didn’t follow quite as quickly as he may have hoped. Like many aspiring musicians – and particularly those who are unwavering in their musical vision – Nichols found himself playing to empty bars and clubs.
This harsh reality was beautifully captured in the form of a mini-documentary titled ‘Uncharted‘ by Honda. The car company put together a series of short episodes, each one focused on an individual that was pursuing their dreams. One episode follows Nichols, highlighting the punishing nature of trying to make it in the music industry, as well as the drive and determination that is needed to succeed.
Thankfully, Nichols did succeed. He was spotted by a booking agent at a gig and invited to perform as the support act for Lynyrd Skynyrd. He and his band then embarked on an American tour, opening for acts like ZZ Top and Kid Rock. A full length album followed, as did tours where he supported Zakk Wylde, Walter Trout and Saxon.
What makes Jared James Nichols such an amazing guitarist, is the sheer intensity of his playing. He plays with a huge amount of passion and feeling and so it is perhaps little surprise that he has adopted BLUESPOWER as his tagline.
From a technical perspective, Nichols is interesting, as he opts to play fingerstyle. Amongst slide guitarists, this is pretty normal. There are also a number of famous guitarists in blues and rock who play without a pick. Amongst these, Jeff Beck and Mark Knopfler are some of the most notable.
But generally speaking, the number of modern blues guitarists who play ‘fingerstyle’ is very low. When guitarists do play in this way, like Knopfler they tend to adopt a more restrained approach to their playing. This isn’t the case for Jared James Nichols. His playing is fast and powerful and his right hand attack is very aggressive.
When I try to play in a similar way, I find that my playing always loses intensity. I have a naturally heavy pick attack and it is a key part of my sound. But all of that intensity disappears as soon as I switch to using my fingers.
Evidently, Jared James Nichols doesn’t face these problems. He maintains all of the aggression and intensity with his right hand, whilst enjoying the freedom of fingerstyle playing. This gives him a unique and very interesting sound.
Jared James Nichols – The Top Songs
Over the last 8 years, Nichols and his band have released two full length albums – Old Glory And The Wild Revival and Black Magic. If you’re looking for some heavy blues and rock to add to your playlists, then I would definitely recommend listening to both albums in full. Some of my favourite tracks from them are as follows:
Both the intro and solo of this song highlight the benefits of Nichols’ finger style technique. Skip to 1.50 and you can hear the way that he is able to manipulate the guitar using his fingers. He combines this with palm muting to create a totally different guitar sound. Although the solo is short, I think it shows off some of Nichols’ best playing on The Black Magic album.
This is the opening track from Old Glory And The Wild Revival and probably my favourite song from the album. It is the perfect opening for the album – the heavy riff and killer opening solo setting the tone for the rest of the record. This is one of the band’s more frenetic songs, with a lengthy guitar solo that illustrates Nichols’ aggressive playing style and the quality of his vibrato.
Jared James Nichols is a very skilled slide guitarist. To my mind, slide guitar is one of the most expressive sounds you can make with a guitar, so I’m always surprised by how few guitarists include it in their repertoire. As is true of his regular playing, when it comes to slide, Nichols leaves a lot of space in his licks. There is no overplaying; he just adds in fills and a short solo, using the slide to add a bluesy feel over the top of a heavy rock track.
This is a much slower song that showcases a different style of playing from Nichols. Here he uses an almost clean guitar tone and adopts a much more restrained style which shows off his skilful touch and feel. The song also highlights the quality of Nichols’ singing. For although first and foremost Nichols is a guitarist, he is also a very accomplished vocalist.
One of my favourite things about Jared James Nichols, is that he is not an over player. Although he has the technical ability to shred, his playing is never gratuitous and it always serves the song. Just listen to the intro on Keep Your Light On Mama. He leaves a lot of space between the notes and the impact is immense. All of the power comes from his phrasing. It shows that a handful of notes played with feeling at the right moment is all you need.
If you want to listen further and find out more about Jared James Nichols, then check out the links below:
Who are your favourite modern blues guitarists and bands? Let me know in the comments!