Feb. 26, 2004—Guitarist, songwriter and producer Vasti Jackson may well be the busiest musician in Mississippi. In the last several years, the Hattiesburg resident has appeared in several feature films, a documentary and a TV show, co-produced a Grammy-nominated album, and worked as a session man and road musician for numerous artists. Jackson also performs with his own band and as a solo acoustic act, and recently stepped up front with a new CD, "No Border to the Blues," that might be seen as a distillation of all the work he's accomplished to date.
"I love collaborating, but this CD is me putting the music out there from my own personal inspiration," Jackson explains. "There's music that's more traditional blues, acoustic, electrified and more rocking, but at the core of it is a compelling Mississippi attitude."
Alongside straight-ahead blues workouts are "Up In Here," a survey of Mississippi blues venues that features hip-hop beats; "Sweet Magnolia," a ballad that pays tribute Jackson's home state; and several songs that have a New Orleans feel. The album also contains several Jackson compositions that first appeared in other media. Jackson wrote "Casino in the Cottonfield" for "Last of The Mississippi Jukes," a 2003 documentary about Jackson's Subway Lounge, and also recently performed the song in the film "Infidelity," which will appear on the Lifetime network. Jackson first performed his composition "Train Rolling" in the film "Warming By the Devil's Fire," part of Martin Scorcese' PBS Blues series, and "America, Proud and Strong" is a patriotic anthem that Jackson wrote for the Mississippi ETV show "Mississippi: The Birthplace of America's Music."
Guests on the CD include Bobby Rush, who plays harmonica on "The Fix-it Man," bassist George Porter, Jr. of Meters fame, and vocalist Patrice Moncell, a frequent Jackson collaborator, who sings "No Deposit, No Return." Jackson's wife, Kathi, provides backup vocals, and his 17-year-old son Keisean, a pianist, is showcased on "Katie Webster's Hands," a tribute to the Louisiana pianist whose band Jackson led in the 1980s and early '90s.
Jackson, whose grandfather and grandmother both played acoustic guitar, grew up in McComb, and played his first professional gig at 15 with local blues heavyweight Big Moody. In the late '70s he moved to Jackson, where he studied music at Jackson State under instructors Kermit Holly, Jr., and William W. "Prof" Davis. More informally, he credits local guitarists Jesse Robinson and Skeets McWilliams for instructing him about, respectively, blues and jazz.
Once in town, Jackson began working with gospel groups including the Williams Brothers and the Jackson Southernaires, soul and blues artists Geater Davis, Tommy Tate, and Sam Myers, and his own funk and R&B group, Wisdom. After a short stay in L.A, Jackson returned to Jackson, where he became the musical director for Z.Z. Hill just on the cusp of Hill's huge success with "Down Home Blues" on Malaco. Jackson played guitar on the Malaco records of Latimore, Denise LaSalle, Bobby Rush and Johnnie Taylor. He also drew on his formal musical training in writing horn and string arrangements for the label, and co-produced Rush's Grammy-nominated CD from 2002, "Hoochie Man."
Jackson recently worked on records by Cassandra Wilson and Michael Burks, as well as New Orleans-based Henry Butler and John Cleary; he'll be backing the latter artists during South By Southwest in Austin this year.
Also exciting, Jackson has been working with New Orleans vocalist and pianist Harry Connick, Jr. and his new nine-piece unit. "This group, this is soulful, funky New Orleans music with jazz overtones," Jackson says. "[Connick] keeps it open for all the players, with lots of solos. He's looser than with the big band stuff."
In between gigs with Connick, Jackson will be appearing March 6 at the Roots Reunion show at Saenger Theatre in Hattiesburg, and on April 2 will perform acoustically at Tougaloo College.
"No Borders to the Blues" is available at BeBop. See www.vastijackson.com