An interview with bluesman Stomping Nick Jackman, who hails from ChristChurch New Zealand, and plays his own unique style of Punk Blues as a one-man band. Here Nick speaks about his influences, the blues and playing as a one-man band.
How long have you been playing music and interested in music?
NJ > I first started playing some bongo drums when I was six. I would take them to school and pretend I was some kind of cool bohemian. Then I would go home and obsessively practice along to an album of African music my parents had. So I guess you could say I've been interested in music all my life. When I was a kid I also did the piano lesson and school choir thing. I learnt guitar and harmonica as a teenager and started to embark on the musician's lifestyle. I learnt how to play a drum kit in 2003 when I was much older – that's when the one-man-band thing started, after I put all the instruments together. I hadn't been a solo performer before that.
Could you name some of your influences in the blues and other forms of music?
NJ > My biggest influence is a local musician who died in 2004, Ken Nichol. He played guitar and mandolin and we worked together from 1995-2002, mostly around the small towns and backblocks of the Canterbury countryside. Often we played as a duo or we would team up with a fiddler or banjo player, or sometimes a drummer. Ken had a philosophy of taking the music to the people and trying to uplift audiences whenever he played, and I have tried to stay true to this code. A lot of the attitude in my music, as well as some of the rhythms and repertoire, comes from the period I worked with Ken. He was a rambling party man and a lot of folk miss him.
Most of the blues I listen to is older stuff, although I really dig people doing their take on a punk blues sound. I like a lot of Sun and Chess label stuff, and similar music from that era. I also like to listen to the older blues – field recordings, jug bands and other pre-WW2 artists like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Tampa Red and Big Bill Broonzy. Other blues artists I love include John Lee Hooker, Hound Dog Taylor, Muddy Waters, Lightning Hopkins, Chuck Berry, Howlin' Wolf, Bo Diddley, early Stones in particular and 1960s British blues in general. Some of the blues harp players who have had an influence include Little Walter, both Sonny Boy Williamsons, Sonny Terry, Noah Lewis, Jazz Gillum, Papa Lightfoot, Sugar Blue, Charlie Musselwhite, and John Popper.
The one-man-bands Joe Hill Louis and Doctor Ross are big influences – my act is based on these two artists. There are also a lot of other one-man-bands I dig like Hasil Adkins, Scott Biram, Bob Log III, plus plenty more from around the world I have discovered on various social network sites.
Old country music is also a big influence. I have studied and played a lot of American oldtime and bluegrass harmonica so this crosses into my music, such as my version of the Orange Blossom Special. I also like a lot of that 1940s/50s honky tonk, although there is not so much harmonica in that, apart from Wayne Rainey – he's quite a strong influence. I am also quite well-versed in traditional Irish and Scottish music, which I think is the real roots music over here in New Zealand, at least with Pakeha. I don't think this has crossed over much into the Blues Grenade sound but what has is the Irish concept of “the craic”. This is an atmosphere of fun, levity, dancing etc. I try to get the craic going whenever I play. This is what music is all about for me – trying to help people forget about the bad things in their life, even for just a few songs.
On the rock side of things there is so much that I like. My favourite band is the Gun Club. I am influenced by a lot of that primitive stuff like The Stooges, The Cramps, White Stripes, Gories, Soldad Brothers, The Coachwhips, but there is so much more I like, both underground and pop.
Why do you choose to play all of the music as a one-man-band?
NJ > I love the primitive approach to music and being a one-man-band tends to limit you to playing this way. It's also satisfying and a lot of fun making a big sound all on my own and watching people go nuts over it. It can be difficult having a vision for a certain sound and approach to music and finding the right people to achieve it, so it has been great being able to do it all myself and not having to rely on anyone. I like being independent and I hate being let down by musicians.
Any plans to put a band together?
NJ > The idea behind the Blues Grenade is that it could expand to a bigger band but I'm not working on anything like that at the moment. However, it might be a good move to do that one day if the right people come along.
Could you name some of your all-time favourite blues artists and albums?
NJ > Here are a few of them:
- Hound Dog Taylor and The Houserockers (the album and the band)
- Little Walter: Hate To See You Go
- Nina Simone Sings The Blues
- Doctor Ross: Call The Doctor
- Joe Hill Louis: Boogie in the Park
- Ramblin' Jeffrey Lee with Cypress Grove and Willie Love
- Hooker and Heat
- Hooker Alone
- George Thorogood's first album
- Robert Johnson's recorded work
Do you get the chance to play live?
NJ > Yes, but I haven't been playing so much this year. We've had some really bad earthquakes where I'm living, in Christchurch, so that has disrupted things. It has been very devastating here. About 200 people died in one of the earthquakes and large parts of the city are broken and buckled with areas that have been abandoned. There have been over 7000 aftershocks here and when you think they are starting to die down you get a series of jolts to remind you how unstable the ground is. Everyone here knows that another big one could strike at any time. As a result of the earthquakes there aren't many venues that are in one piece, although new places are starting to spring up now, and there are also more house parties. It's very interesting here. Because of the shortage of buildings, businesses have appeared that operate out of tents and shipping containers and similar temporary structures. This has begun to be seen in the entertainment and hospitality industries. I've been playing in a new bar that is a temporary structure on the site of an historic pub that fell down. The bar is the type of building you might see erected for an expo or festival, with bolt-on panels and windows made of clear plastic that roll up on a hot day. It virtually sprung up over night. We call this kind of thing a “gap-filler” - something created in an empty space which recently had a building on it. Although new venues are starting to emerge here, the future for me will involve a lot more touring, or perhaps moving altogether, because Christchurch will take a long time to recover and it may never be the same place it was that provided me with a decent amount of work.
Is this genre of music popular among New Zealanders?
NJ > There's quite a strong interest generally in Americana music but it has only been in recent years that younger fans and musicians have really picked up on it in a big way. Before that, a lot of people considered it a bit uncool to play blues and country. The older hippy generation has always been into blues, country and folk so the audience now is mixed in terms of age. I'm also doing it more punk and dirty than most New Zealand bands of a blues or country ilk, so I cross over into an audience that is more into its rock. I don't know many people doing it this way so I guess I am virtually alone here in terms of a genre or sub-genre.
I also think by just being a goodtime dance band that tries to connect with the audience I appeal to a lot of New Zealanders who might not be specifically into those genres but just want to have a good time. Women and children generally have no problems dancing to my music, and it all just flows from there.
Any interests outside of music – what do you do when not recording?
NJ > I don't really have time for many other interests. I have so many instruments to practice, and because I am on my own I have to do all the promotion and marketing. When I have time, I try to keep up with reading, mostly about current affairs, history etc. I try to grow vegetables but because I tour I can't grow anything that needs a lot of maintenance.
Any plans for the future?
NJ > I have recorded a bunch of tunes both in the studio and at a show so I'm just looking at how and when I will release that. I'm also working on getting more gigs outside my area. I have just procured a van so I am looking to drive around, play shows, and sleep in the van. I would also like to tour Australia, USA and Europe one day but I need to plan that more. I'm keen to network with anyone who might be able to help me achieve this. Apart from all this, the future will involve just trying to stay healthy and sane, and attempting to keep the blues in check.