Q&A with authentic, virtuoso musician Vince Lee, roots music with deepest love to early electric and country blues

"I have always been drawn to vintage music. Mostly from the 20s to the 50s so I am not well educated on anything much after that. If I get into a modern act, it’s probably because they have a vintage style or sound. I don’t worry too much about the future of this kind of music."

Vince Lee: All Abut The (Authentic) Blues

Vince Lee has been a mainstay on the South West's live music scene for many years. An authentic, virtuoso blues musician who's band 'The Big Combo' have become almost legendary around the Devon & Cornwall area. Since forming in 1996 the band has gone through several line-up changes but has always kept it's roots as a trio focusing on Vince's considerable talents as a blues guitarist and singer. His involvement with many of the areas finest players has lead to several notable musical projects, bands & recordings. He toured the UK & Europe extensively for 10 years as frontman with The Wildcards, a 4-piece rockin' rhythm & blues band releasing 3 successful albums between 2004 & 2010. He has recorded & helped produce 4 further albums with fellow blues songwriter/guitarist Thomas Ford who has received great acclaim on the European blues circuit in recent years. Vince performed with Thomas Ford's sister, Becca Langsford. He produced and played most of the instruments on Becca's debut album 'Big Surprise' which was released in 2011, and they played many shows together as a guitar/washboard duo until 2021.                   (Photo: Vince Lee, blues musician based in the South West of England)

In 2022 Vince launched a brand-new duo with his partner and double bass player Sophie Lord who had returned to Plymouth after 10 years working as a bass player in London. Their style touches on American roots music, jump blues, calypso, swing & ragtime. A keen collector of vintage American guitars and amplifiers, Vince has become a slightly obsessive expert on Harmony guitars & related brands from the golden age of blues & rock 'n' roll.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

I have only ever traveled as a musician. I played in bands locally in the South West of England throughout my 20s before finally getting to tour different European countries in my early thirties. So, I guess I have only seen the world through the lens of a travelling musician. I have seen the same problems and issues affecting music scenes across the board. It can be an insular and surreal experience bouncing from one country to the next playing seedy little Rock n Roll joints along the way.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy, and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

I have been playing guitar for nearly 45 years now, so my sound and musical taste has developed and widened over time. I constantly switch from electric blues to ragtime, from gospel to surf music over the course of a gig. I fool around with Cuban and Calypso stuff in there too. I am interested in all kinds of roots music, but my deepest love is early electric blues, and classic country blues. I like to mix it all up to keep an audience on their toes. I’m always on the look out for vintage (semi-obscure) songs with a strong hook or melody line for my live shows. As for my creative drive... again it has changed over time. Now I am older and fairly comfortable with how I make music I get the greatest enjoyment from reaching new fans and turning them on to blues guitar and roots music. My partner Sophie Lord is a fine upright bass player, we regularly upload our duo video performances to social media. We have racked up quite an audience in a relatively short period with 43 thousand followers on my Facebook music page now. Our videos are well received by people from all over the world. That can only be a positive thing!

"I have always been drawn to vintage music. Mostly from the 20s to the 50s so I am not well educated on anything much after that. If I get into a modern act, it’s probably because they have a vintage style or sound. I don’t worry too much about the future of this kind of music. I think it will find the right people just like it found me. I have seen young musicians on the internet who are nailing old time music much better than I did at their age. There are still many more vintage songs/artists I haven’t discovered yet. Generally, I find that pursuit more inspiring." (Photo: Vince Lee & Sophie Lord)

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

I have many stories but having recently visited Southern California for the second time this Spring that’s what’s dominating my thoughts right now. Sophie and I went on a 4 week holiday there and caught up with many of my musical heroes. I even got to play with a few of them. Al Blake & Fred Kaplan from The Hollywood Fats Band, Junior Watson, Kid Ramos, Tommy Harkenrider, Nathan James, Bill Stuve, Mark Hummel and many others. Sophie and I had the pleasure of performing at Topanga Blues Festival and Gator By The Bay in San Diego. We had a fantastic time and will hopefully be returning next year.

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

I have always been drawn to vintage music. Mostly from the 20s to the 50s so I am not well educated on anything much after that. If I get into a modern act, it’s probably because they have a vintage style or sound. I don’t worry too much about the future of this kind of music. I think it will find the right people just like it found me. I have seen young musicians on the internet who are nailing old time music much better than I did at their age. There are still many more vintage songs/artists I haven’t discovered yet. Generally, I find that pursuit more inspiring.

What were the reasons that made the UK (since 1960s) to be the center of Blues/Rock/Roots researches and experiments?

I’m not really a fan of the whole 60s British blues explosion period. In my teens I would listen to Peter Green a bit but most of the other stuff sounded pretty lame to me. I know it helped a lot of original artists get much deserved recognition, but I always found the original American blues performers moved me in a way those British rockstar/blues folks could not. As for UK blues/rock music throughout the 70s and beyond I have no interest in that kind of thing... sorry.

"A wise man once said “when it comes to music, always trust the ears over the eyes” it seems to me that a lot of folks need something visual to help them enjoy listening to music. You could blame MTV I guess but the situation reminds me of the emperor’s new clothes story. As our attention span shortens so does the quality of the content we consume." (Photo: Vince Lee)

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

I really don’t know much about current socio-cultural implications regarding the kind of music I make. I’m interested in music from another era so I don’t give it much thought I guess. The old songs I love could never be written today. The lyrics are not politically correct that’s for sure! Not inclusive enough to not be considered acceptable today.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

A wise man once said “when it comes to music, always trust the ears over the eyes” it seems to me that a lot of folks need something visual to help them enjoy listening to music. You could blame MTV I guess but the situation reminds me of the emperor’s new clothes story. As our attention span shortens so does the quality of the content we consume.

Do you think there is an audience for Blues/Roots/Rock n Roll music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?

Yes I think there will always be a niche market for vintage music but i don’t think we’ll see a whole bunch of young people digging into the old stuff like they did in the 60s. It was no different when I was growing up in the 80s. All the young guitarists wanted to play hair metal back then and folks like me were seen as weirdos. The way musicians promote & sell their music has constantly changed over the years also. It’s an evolving industry which has become less sustainable and more erratic, especially since streaming platforms have entered the game. Now AI has appeared on the horizon I wonder if humans will eventually lose their ability to make music/art all together.

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(Photo: Vince Lee & Sophie Lord

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