An Interview with Javier Vargas: Play with passion and enjoy yourself.

"Music gives a way of expressing what’s in my soul and allows me to bring out all my experiences and turn them into sounds".

Javier Vargas was born in Madrid shortly after his parents had left Buenos Aires where they had migrated some years before. Nine years later, the family returned to Argentina and it is there where Javier started playing the guitar. His first musical influences can be traced to Argentine rock of the late 60’s and early 70’s, bands such as Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Cream, Rolling Stones, The Doors, and musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana or B.B.King, who are powerful sources of inspiration still today.

In the 70’s, Javier decided to go to the U.S to study music. He lived in Nashville, Tennessee, and in Los Angeles, he played in clubs and took part in recordings as a session guitarist. Each night he played in jam sessions with American and English artists and met important musicians like Alvin Lee, Roy Buchanan, Canned Heat, who also influenced his style.

In 1990, he makes the most important move of his career and creates his own band: Vargas Blues Band. In 1992, Madrid-Memphis, Javier’s second album, is released with collaborations from bluesmen Carey Bell and Lousiana Red, flamenco guitarist Rafael Riqueni and the vocals of Philip Guttman and Jeff Espinoza.

The song ‘Blues Latino’ was later recorded by Carlos Santana and released worldwide in his album ‘Santana Brothers’. Santana also played ‘Blues Latino’ in Woodstock in 1994.

In May 1995, Texas Tango was recorded in Ardent Studios, in Memphis and in Austin, Texas. It was produced by Jim Gaines with collaborations from Double Trouble, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s band, Larry T. Thurston (Blues Brothers) and Preston Shannon. It was released in Spain, France, Switzerland, Colombia, Mexico and Brazil. In November 1999, Vargas Blues Band travelled to the U.S to record their first live album in “Buddy Guy´s Legends” in Chicago, with guest performances by Larry McCray, harmonica musician Sugar Blue and flamenco ‘cantaora’ Elena Andújar.

2002 is the year of Javier’s reunion with his roots on the other side of the Atlantic: JAVIER VARGAS & ESPIRITU CELESTE, TRIBUTO AL ROCK ARGENTINO, is the album that brings in together the musical experiences he lived Turing his years in Argentina and the influence of great local musicians such as Litto Nebbia, Pappo, Claudio Gabis or Luis Alberto Spinetta.  Also in 2004, Vargas begins recording LOVE, UNION, PEACE in Ardent Studios in Memphis, where he had recorded Texas Tango, with John Hampton as sound engineer  (ZZ Top, Stevie Ray Vaughan) with guest performances by Glenn Hughes, Jack Bruce, Alex Ligertwood (Santana), Elliot Murphy, Jaime Urrutia, flamenco guitarist Juan Gómez “Chicuelo”, and Devon Allman, among others. The Vargas Blues Band international renown increased and Turing 2006 and 2007, the band tours Canada, Norway, Germany, the U.K, playing along Credence Clearwater Revival; the Notodden Blues Festival playing along with Gary Moore, Johnny Winter and Jeff Healey, among others.

In March 2011, Javier started a new Project called VARGAS, BOGERT & APPICE or VBA, and travelled Las Vegas to record alongside the legendary Carmine Appice (drums), Tim Bogert (bass),  and with Paul Shortino (vocals). It was released in June 2011 and it will be released internationally by Warner as a CD  with a special CD plus CD Live Wire (European Vargas Blues Band tour 2010) plus DVD with the ‘making of’ of the Bogert, Appice and Shortino album.

Interview by Michael Limnios

When was your first desire to become involved in music & what are your first musical memories?

When I first saw Jimi Hendrix I knew that playing the guitar was going to be my life and that the guitar was my favourite instrument. Then I saw ‘Woodstock’ and all that music made me love rock and blues.


Who were your first idols & what have been some of your musical influences?

My first musical influences can be traced to Argentine rock of the late 60’s and early 70’s. Then definitely JIMI HENDRIX and JIMI PAGE, after FREDIE KING and BB KING. They taught me how a Les Paul or a Strat may sound like through a Marshall or a Fender amp. Clapton, Peter Green and the great Albert Collins were also important influences.


What was the first gig you ever went to & what were the first songs you learned?

The first song I learnt was Cream’s ‘Sunshine of your love’, my first gig in music festival.

My first gig was in my school in Mar del Plata, Argentina in 1970. I was 13 and I had a band with some friends. We played in a competition and we came in second. We played a 15-minute version of ‘Whole lotta love’. My guitar was a copy of a 335 that made it easy to feedback.


What first attracted you to the Blues & what does the BLUES mean to you?

It’s the best music for a guitar player, it’s fun and it has a lot of feeling and sensuality. The best parts for a guitarrist are found in blues and if you play them with a Marshall amp at full volume, that’s great! Also, the best riffs come from blues.


Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

The best moments, apart from the jam with Carlos Santana, were playing with Prince and with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s band. The worst the death of my mother.

Of all the people you’ve meet, who do you admire the most?

Steve Ray Vaughn, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, etc


Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

Now, because I have a lot of experience after all these years of playing live and recording. And I enjoy myself more than ever.


Why do you play GUITAR? What does music offered you?

Music gives a way of expressing what’s in my soul and allows me to bring out all my experiences and turn them into sounds. I love playing the guitar. To me, it is a magical instrument. After trying others, the guitar was definitely was my choice.


What were your favorite guitars back then & where did you pick up your guitar style?

From Chuck Berry, Freddy King, Hendrix, Wes Mongomery, they are my first influences.


Do you think that your music comes from the heart, the brain or the soul?

From the Heart and the Soul.


In which tune can someone hear the best of your guitar work?

Last Night recorded live in Chicago also in the album Texas Tango and Blues Latino.

Three words to describe your sound & your progress?

Strat and fingers, the sound comes 90% from inside you, the rest is the amp and the guitar.


What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician?

It’s about years of playing and overall playing with good musicians, if is possible better than you, so that you can learn from the best.


What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

In Montreaux Jazz Festival in 1997 is a great night for me to remember.


Do you have any amusing tales to tell of your gigs in Argentina?

Argentine fans are Amazing! Once, a young boy came up with a guitar and he wanted to give it to me as a present. It was a fantastic Gibson!! But I told him I couldn’t accept it. It was too much! Argentina is a country who loves blues and rock. There is always a very good audience ready to listen. I love playing in Argentina, it’s a wonderful place to go.


Are there any memories from Argentina which you’d like to share with us?

When I started to play in 1968 in Mar del Plata, you could hear bands rehearsing in the streets and in garages, it was a really good moment. In those years, you turned on the radio and you could hear Hendrix, James Brown, Otis Reading … I remember many young guitarists trying to play like Hendrix or Alvin Lee. It was a very inspiring time for young guitar players like me.


Tell me a few things about the story of “JAVIER VARGAS & ESPIRITU CELESTE, TRIBUTO AL ROCK ARGENTINO”, how that came about?

It’s a special project I did with my bassist and singer Luis Mayo. It is a tribute to all that music that I listened to from 1968 to 1971 in Argentina, blues and rock in Spanish.

What do you think of FLAMENCO & how close is it to BLUES?

Both are genres with a lot of feeling, music that comes from the heart, one from the Mississippi river and the other from the Guadalquivir river. They are similar but with different tempos.


How is a Latino in the US to play the blues?

The same as an American does. It all depends on what you want to do, the music talks and the audience listens.


You have traveling all around the world. What are your conclusions?

It is an amazing experience. Eventually I may even write a book too. Everywhere you go, you find nice people, very similar to me and you.


Difficult question, but who of the people you have worked with do you considers the best?

This is hard to say, it is like a dish of sushi, all are good, it depends on the moment.


Do you remember any interesting stories from the recording hours with your guest?

Many stories especially when you play with musicians like Carlos Santana or Larry Graham. You hear the story of music first hand. Also Jim Gaines, producer of Steve Ray Vaughan, told me nice stories about Stevie.


Of all the many albums you made, what was your favorites?

All Around Blues and Last Night is also pretty cool.


Why did he think that Javier Vargas continued to generate such a devoted following?

That’s is great, maybe it’s the passion for music or maybe it’s a mission in my life…


Did you ever expect, when you started recording, that the group would become such a big hit?

If I tell you the truth, when I started with my band I felt a great energy and good vibes, it was around 1991, a magic number for me.


Any comments about your JAM experiences in Nashville & LA at ‘70s?

It was special era to share with other musicians. In Nashville there were a lot of clubs and a lot of jamming every night. That was back in 1975. Also two years later, in L.A. It was the way in which others musicians would listen to you and you could find people to play or make a band.


Let’s go back even further. What do you like about your very first sessions for Miguel Rio?

Those were very intense and creative sessions. Almost everything was recorded live and I was sure from the beginning that something really important would come out of all those recordings.


Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is?

The blues is forever alive inside human beings.


How did you first meet Jim Gaines? Three words to describe him?

I met him in Atlanta, Georgia. He is history of music, he worked with all the legends from Santana to Albert King, Steve Ray Vaughan, Otis Redding, an incredible producer and sound engineer.


 “Vargas, Bogert, Appice”, how did this project come about?

Toni Tillotta, who is in charge of my agency in Germany, thought it would be interesting to do something together, so we talked with Carmine Appice and he accepted, but I went a bit further because I didn’t want to do just any album together. I kicked around the whole thing until we rounded up the project. First we thought about including original songs, but we already had the idea of a cover album, and above all, we wanted to see how the songs would end up with this amazing rhythmic base.

The first time we were together was in the Las Vegas sessions. I enjoyed myself a lot working with these guys, also Paul Shortino is an amazing singer. We recorded the album in 9 days and then spent 6 days mixing in Memphis.  I think it’s a powerful but at the same time very fresh album.


Who are your favorite blues artists, both old and new? What was the last record you bought?

Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, Albert King, Muddy Watters, Freddie King, B.B.King, Stevie Ray Vaughan were the very best, also Gary Moore.

The last record I’ve bought, one of Lady Gaga’s for my daughter! Je je!


How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?

It has changed very much, from analogical to digital this is a very big change which has opened the door to a new world. The digital World has also opened the door to illegally downloading music and that affects the music industry and it makes things more difficult for us musicians and composers. Now things are more complicated, the industry is worried and us musicians, we have to go out on tour to survive in the business.


Where do you get inspiration for your songs & what musicians have influenced you most as deasongwriter? What are your best songs, the songs you’d most like to be remembered for?

From life, everyday things, the news I read or even a dream I’ve had. Maybe Blues Latino and Riding High from All Around Blues.


Do any of the blues standards have any real personal feeling for you & what are some of your favorite standards?

All Hendrix or classic Chicago blues.

How did you feel when artists like Carlos Santana, chose your songs?

I feel grateful and happy, privileged

What characterizes the sound of Vargas Blues Band?

It’s blues, latino, rock and very open for jamming, we never play the same, every night is different.

What do you think is the characteristic of you personality that made you musician?

I don´t know when I was really young I knew very well I wanted to be musician.


From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues?

From the good players B.B. King and Freddie King are a good school also Albert King and Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton too.


What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

Play with passion and enjoy yourself.


Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is?

It’s a classic, it is in the soul of the humans, it was born with us.


If you go back to the past what things you would do better and what things you would a void to do again?

I’m happy with there I live and the people I’ve met in all these years. I wouldn’t want to change anything.


Do you have a message for the Greek fans?

Greece is an incredible country, much of the history of humankind was written there and certainly all the history of Europe was born in Greece. I was in Greek once on holidays and I love the country and the people. I’m really looking forward to play there.

Vargas Blues Band's website

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