Interview with veteran musician Jack Wargo, a.k.a. Guitar Jack - blend of rhythm n' blues, soul and the blues.

"The racial, political socio-scene has more affect on the blues culture. It’s getting harder for the average person to make ends meet. The music is some relief from the day-to-day struggle. There are a lot of blues societies and people involved in supporting the blues but they are basically just maintaining, working hard, keeping the blues alive and well!"

Guitar Jack Wargo: Keepin It Real

Jack Wargo, a.k.a. Guitar Jack, is no newcomer to the music scene. He has toured nationally and internationally for years with artists such as Billy Preston and Solomon Burke, and has recorded with Ray Charles and The Jacksons. Guitar Jack was also the house band at BB King's Blues Club at Universal CityWalk in Los Angeles. The Guitar Jack Group has opened shows for Chris Cain, Little Jimmy King and Smokin' Joe Kubek & Bnois King.

Guitar Jack's new album "Keepin It Real" (2017), is a blend of rhythm, soul and the blues. “Keepin’ It Real” deals with some of the events of the day, homelessness and terrorism. Guitar Jack says: We all deal with situations and emotions. I guess the philosophy is caring about each other and having a positive attitude. John Lee Hooker says blues is a healer.My sound is all about a groove and a blues feeling. Everything I play is from the heart.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues/Soul people and culture? What does the blues mean to you?

I like to be around people that make the best of a situation. I connect with Blues & Soul people.  It’s all about remembering your ABC’s: Always Be Cool.

To me the blues is like comfort food. It helps us get through the hard times. When you get knocked down, you got to get back up and keep on keepin’ on.

What characterizes "Keepin' It Real" (album) philosophy? How do you describe Guitar Jack's songbook and sound?

“Keepin’ It Real” deals with some of the events of the day, homelessness and terrorism. We all deal with situations and emotions. I guess the philosophy is caring about each other and having a positive attitude. John Lee Hooker says blues is a healer.

My sound is all about a groove and a blues feeling. Everything I play is from the heart.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Working with Billy Preston was a great experience. Besides him playing with two of my favorite bands, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, Billy was Eric Clapton and George Harrison’s right hand man. They all have been a big musical influence on me. Besides getting to tour all over the world with Billy, when in Los Angeles, we played together at Brookins AME Community Church where Billy’s sister, Rodena, was choir director. Getting to play with some of the top gospel musicians and singers in LA was also a great learning experience. Billy played keyboards on “Angel of Mercy” from my Private Tears CD and on “First Love” on my first CD, “Losin’ Hand.” Billy was a minister of music, one of the greats! The best advice I ever received was follow your bliss.

"I miss a lot of the blues clubs that are closed down and a lot of blues people that are no longer with us. When I first came to Los Angeles, I got a gig at the Rubiayat Club on 14th and Western. People from the Johnny Otis Show used to come by there. I first met Linda Hopkins, George ‘Harmonica’ Smith and Big Mama Thorton there."

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, opening acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Playing at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH was very cool! It was the opening of the John Lennon Wing. Yoko Ono asked Billy Preston to play at the event. Seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan as a kid and actually playing at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with the fifth Beatle was very special to me. Also playing at the Hollywood Bowl with Solomon Burke opening for Etta James was pretty neat.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss a lot of the blues clubs that are closed down and a lot of blues people that are no longer with us. When I first came to Los Angeles, I got a gig at the Rubiayat Club on 14th and Western. People from the Johnny Otis Show used to come by there. I first met Linda Hopkins, George ‘Harmonica’ Smith and Big Mama Thorton there. That was a very special time. They would encourage me and eventually get me on other gigs. I loved playing with Linda Hopkins, she was a beautiful soul.

Music has to change from generation to generation for it to grow. It needs its roots, which it the blues.

What touched (emotionally) you from Hank Ballard, Screamin' Jay, Ray Charles and Solomon Burke?

A lot of the early rock ‘n’ roll, rhythm & blues, and blues artists got totally ripped off. Hank Ballard wrote a lot of great songs. His biggest song was a hit for Chubby Checker, ‘The Twist.’ It took him twenty years to get his publishing back. Instead of being bitter, Hank would say ‘God bless Chubby Checker.’ Hank was a cool dude.

I used to play guitar on demos for songwriter, Billy Osbourne, brother of Jeffrey Osbourne. They were co-founding members of LTD. I played on a song that Billy wrote for Ray Charles. Ray liked the guitar and had me play on the record. We were talking about music theory and Ray said, ‘you have to learn it all and then forget it and play.’ I remember as a kid hearing Ray on TV, I was blown away. Billy Preston called Ray his musical guru.

Solomon Burke was an ordained bishop with 21 kids. Solomon’s voice and emotion would make people cry. Screamin’ Jay Hawkins gig was a lot of fun. First time I went to Holland was with Jay. Sometimes he would be tough on musicians at rehearsal but on the gig anything goes. All these guys were old school and if you mess up, you would get fined!

"I like to be around people that make the best of a situation. I connect with Blues & Soul people.  It’s all about remembering your ABC’s: Always Be Cool. To me the blues is like comfort food. It helps us get through the hard times. When you get knocked down, you got to get back up and keep on keepin’ on."

How has the Blues and Rock culture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

American music, especially American blues is loved all over the world. When the music is honest it resonates with people everywhere. It makes me realize we are pretty much alike no matter where we come from. We are all living on a blue planet.

What is the impact of Blues and Soul music and culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

The racial, political socio-scene has more affect on the blues culture. It’s getting harder for the average person to make ends meet. The music is some relief from the day-to-day struggle. There are a lot of blues societies and people involved in supporting the blues but they are basically just maintaining, working hard, keeping the blues alive and well!

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I would love to spend the day with Jimi Hendrix, watching him create in the studio at Electric Lady in NYC. A genius at work!

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Music in the schools and support for the arts is very important. Music and the arts elevate our quality of life.

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