Q&A with D.C. Soul-Blues band Vintage#18 (Robbin Kapsalis & Bill Holter) - classic 60’s Soul n' hot Blues

"Blues and Soul music is the theme song for a lot of what’s going on in the world; just watch a documentary of movie, you’ll hear a Blues or Soul song conveying the mood."

Vintage#18: Movin’ & Groovin’

D.C.-based Soul-Blues band Vintage#18 debuts with their album titled GRIT. The album reflects the band’s love of classic 60’s Soul and Blues, featuring a mix of originals as well as two covers (ZZ Top and Bob Dylan) and a whole lot of elbow grease. Grit, you might say.  Vintage#18 chose to self-produce GRIT, and a framework was in place before most of the album was written. One of the goals when they first started rehearsing was to make sure that the sound didn’t fit solely into a single genre. Blues, Soul and other familiar elements appear but should mix in a way that brings unexpected experiences for listeners and dancers too. This idea worked well in live settings, so the album was approached the same way. If you do it, stay true to it—but you can always do “it” in new ways. Performing together since 2013, the band started in the clubs near their home in Northern Virginia. Residencies in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia are the backbone of a circuit that extends across the Eastern Seaboard. In 2016, they represented the Central Virginia Blues Society at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee and continue to appear in the city. They have been fortunate to share stages with several great performers, among them The Nighthawks, Billy Price, Lil’ Ed and the Blues Imperials and Albert Cummings.

They’ve always shared the same thoughts about music and in particular their live shows, “we’re here to move you, one way or another.” The sound reflects their love of traditional blues and soul but also the desire to bring it current for new audiences. Vintage #18 brings a high-energy show with hard-driving blues rhythms and soul grooves that will move you. Built on a framework of uniquely talented and dedicated musicians, the album features the unique sound of Bill Holter on guitar (a.k.a. #18), while the groove is laid down by Alex Kuldell on drums and Mark Chandler on bass. Soulful vocals are delivered by newcomer and bandleader Robbin Kapsalis, and the collective Good-Mojo-Getdown is provided by all. There’s a lot to say about making music in general but sometimes words don’t cover it. When you write, rehearse, play and record music then you’ve said a lot already. So really the only thing left to do is hear it. Vintage #18 hopes that you do, but you might want to move some furniture first. No sense getting hurt when you’re movin’ and groovin’, y’all.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues and Soul music and what does the blues mean to you?

Robben: I learn there is no limit to the amount of self-expression when either listening or performing Blues and Soul. It means when we perform in front of Blues fans, what we’re expressing through music is every man or woman’s song. When I listen to a Blues performer, my spirit is calmed. Doesn’t matter if the song is an upbeat shuffle singing about good loving and the party, or a slow blues crying about love gone bad. Blues to me is a good time and a safe place allow your emotions freedom; and what makes it even better – 95% of the people in the room with you are feeling the same way. When you’re at a show and someone from the audience jumps up to scream/testify to the lyrics or can’t stop dancing…that the blues.

Bill: I learned that…If you can put people on the dance floor and keep them there, you are doing it right. It's all about the groove. Blues is the foundation of all jazz and rock. It infuses feeling and groove into the storytelling of living.

How do you describe Vintage #18 sound and songbook? What characterize band’s philosophy? What is the story behind band’ name?

Robben: Our sound is a combination of soul grooves rooted in the blues, all designed to speak to you, whatever you’re experiencing. I’ve had several people who’ve listened to the album say they felt as if I were singing either to them or about them. The songbook, all written from my experience in past personal relationships, including my second marriage, and of course good memories too. Recording songs about my experiences so close to the heart were more cathartic than merely writing it down. Sure it felt good to get the lyrics on paper, however, to sing each song, show after show; It’s like having a glass of wine at the end a long day.

Bill: Our sound is based in the blues and soul sound of the late 1950's and early 1960's. That music was all about people dancing with each other and having a good time. The name comes from a guitar effect pedal that I evaluated for a company out of Nashville, TN. They sent me serial number #18. The company was promoting their guitar amplifier show (Trade show) with full page adds in a number of national and international guitar magazines. My name, Bill Holter #18, was in the middle of the ad under "Who's coming". I showed it to the band and Robbin said "Why don't we call ourselves Vintage #18!".  Everybody liked it…So it stuck.

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

Robben: My compassion for people and situations have grown ten-fold.

Bill: There's always a blues lyric that pops into my head when traveling, that fits a situation that world travel throws you into.

"If you can put people on the dance floor and keep them there, you are doing it right. It's all about the groove. Blues is the foundation of all jazz and rock. It infuses feeling and groove into the storytelling of living."

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

Robben: Gosh, in the past five years I’ve met some really amazing musicians. The conversations I’ve had with them have been teaching moments, laugh out loud moments and plain ole friendly. After relocating to the DC area, and deciding I needed music back in my life; I sought out Gaye Adegbalola for her wisdom and guidance. Gaye responded and we’ve been friends ever since, she is my “Blues Momma” and recently she told me she was “proud of what I’ve accomplished”. That means a lot coming from Gaye, because she is a fierce trailblazer, who took the time to answer my questions, and offer encouragement as I developed myself.

Another dear acquaintance is Mark Wenner of the Nighthawks. I was so determined to be heard, I once drove three hours to hear the Nighthawks perform and hopefully get a chance to sit in with the band, lol. I was really scared, but Mark Wenner was gracious and had me up for the last song, and when people filled the dancefloor, it was a feeling like no other. Once Vintage#18 got up and running, Mark Wenner gave us several awesome opportunities to open their shows.

My experience with Daryl Davis also made a big impression on me, the man is brilliant, and over lunch broke down a lot about the business side of music. I always smile when I think of the first time I met Bob Margolin, we sat and chatted about Muddy Waters (he has amazing stories), laughed and have remained in touch, a very cool guy, and I asked him, what can I do as a newcomer? He said, “play everywhere”, and I did.

All of these amazing musicians have shared their wisdom and made quite the impression on me, and I’m a better singer and bandleader for it.

Bill: Everyone that I meet has something to offer to the journey…

I met a man in India once that had studied with many famous Guru's…I asked him what he had learned from that experience. He thought for a moment and said "Be your own Guru".

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

Robben: At our last New Year’s Eve show, which was family friendly and very crowded. I saw out the corner of my eye a young girl, maybe 12 years old dancing with her mom, so I went to the side of the stage and gestured for her to join me onstage and dance with me, when I returned center stage, there were three other little girls who parents had popped them onstage when they saw what I was doing! It was hilarious, and we all danced and I “interviewed” them, too much fun. Cameras everywhere, very memorable!

Bill: So many, so little time…We (Vintage #18) were performing in the lounge of the Amp show hotel in Nashville when a man came running up to the stage wearing a washboard shirt. He was furiously sweeping it with thimbles on his fingers…He had a big smile on his face. He wanted to sit in with the band. He had been drinking...

"To be a female artist in the Blues world quite obviously dominated by men; I believe you need to be clear with your communication and decisions. Don’t be afraid to say no or make unpopular decisions. Learn the business as much as you learn the song or instrument."

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

Robben: I don’t miss much from the past except whenever we lose a great player. Blues continues to evolve and produce so many wonderful musicians and vocalists. My hope is that the “Blues In the School” program will remain in place and grow so our young people will have first-hand experience with the genre. My fear is all music programs will be reduced or removed completely from school curriculums, and our young people will never know the music of other genres, but that of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Sister Rosetta Tharpe or Big Momma Thornton.

Bill: I miss the raw purity of it, the primal nature of its feeling. There are many new artists that will carry the Blues flag forward…It will never die.

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

Robben: Lol…I’m diggin’ the scene right now, check with me in another year!

Bill: Make EDM go away...

Make an account of the case of blues in Virginia. What touched (emotionally) you from the local music circuits?

Bill: Seeing John Jackson perform at a blues festival full of blues greats in Washington, D.C. in 1971. One man in bib overalls played a blistering set of Piedmont finger style blues…He was very humble when he walked on stage, and then he started to play…he burned the place down! He was a grave digger professionally...

"I learn there is no limit to the amount of self-expression when either listening or performing Blues and Soul. It means when we perform in front of Blues fans, what we’re expressing through music is every man or woman’s song. When I listen to a Blues performer, my spirit is calmed."

What does to be a female artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?

Robben: To be a female artist in the Blues world quite obviously dominated by men; I believe you need to be clear with your communication and decisions. Don’t be afraid to say no or make unpopular decisions. Learn the business as much as you learn the song or instrument.

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

Robben: Whew…that’s heavy! Blues and Soul music is the theme song for a lot of what’s going on in the world; just watch a documentary of movie, you’ll hear a Blues or Soul song conveying the mood.

Bill: Trying to keep things real while chaos swirls around us all.

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

Robben: Transport me back to Chicago so I could spend the day with KoKo Taylor, just chopping it up about Blues and her experiences, hopefully catch one of her shows and then whisk me away to Miami to hear Sam Cooke live at the Harlem Square Club! The first time I heard that CD I was mesmerized by his energy and could only imagine what he was doing onstage. Bliss!

Bill: To see and be at the gigs that some of the old guitars that I've owned over the years. The stories they could tell...

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