Q&A with blues-rock guitarist and vocalist Jon Geiger, one of Southern California's hardest-working blues men

"I have no fear of the future for that kind of music… What I miss I guess and what I hope for is more venues to do such in, and for club owners and the like to realize that if they build it, people will come… And to trust that music that comes from that place will always be needed… and people will always look for it… Because it is a soul healer…"

Jon Geiger: Rockin' The Blues Soul

Jon Geiger has been called one of SoCal's hardest-working blues men, and for good reason: The blues-rock guitarist and vocalist is seemingly always gigging, whether throughout Southern California, at a Blues Festival, or elsewhere. Through hard work, solid performances and stick-to-it persistence, Geiger has emerged as a national touring act, performing on the Main Stage at the 2023 Woodystock Blues Festival in Lake Havasu City, and set to perform at the New Blues Festival in Long Beach, California in September 2024. A veteran of the Austin music scene, Geiger grew up in New York and became a brown belt in Jiu Jitsu just to make it home from school safely on the tough streets of Harlem.  The deep soul of BB King’s “Live at the Regal” and the ferocious intensity of Eric Clapton’s guitar work were life-changing for Jon. Playing guitar became Jon’s reason for living.                                           (Jon Geiger / Photo by Chip Schutzman)

The talent and passion of teen-aged Jon were quickly recognized by jazz greats such as Emily Remler and Hiram Bullock, both whom took him on as a student.  Remler even referred to Jon as her 'protégé.'  His talent and hard work paid off with a full scholarship to the Berklee College of Music. After completing his studies in Boston, Jon promptly moved to Austin and began working alongside Austin's numerous great musicians while playing Antone’s and the Texas' numerous blues haunts. Presently, Jon and band continue their ascent on the Los Angeles music scene, with his unique blend of captivating guitar work, soaring vocals and artful songwriting. Geiger has opened for Robben Ford, John Mayall, Charlie Sexton, Doyle Bramhall, and Joe Ely among other greats. Jon Geiger, who's quietly become one of the busiest blues guitarists in the Southland, releases his new album, Jon Geiger: Live at Harvelle's (2023). The thirteen-track album was recorded completely live this past Spring and Summer at famed blues club Harvelle's in Santa Monica, Calif., where Geiger was a regular, headlining performer.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues/Jazz/Rock music influenced your views of the world? What is the role of music in today’s society?

I think, in many ways, the experience of being so deeply affected by music and particular life experiences tied to music, has profoundly influenced my view of the possibilities in the world as far as inter-personal connection… The understanding that even in a cynical world or in a western society, which has so much of a bottom line or results oriented Mindset built in, that the power to affect a life in times of great need for such; whether it’s to comfort, or to inspire, or to make one feel less alone, or any number of aspects where one’s soul feels an invisible extended arm around its metaphorical shoulder… That my view of the world, and indeed the role of music in today’s society is that it is more important than ever… We live in a world that is becoming much more disconnected from one another as we bury ourselves inside technology and 30 second attention getting devices, and the power of deep thought, and the human experience being passed along around a campfire whether in Celtic days or in our old west has become more myth than reality in peoples’ inner lives… Music brings us back, creates connection, and above all has the capacity to heal and give comfort to human hearts, and souls, when seemingly nothing else will or can… It is shamanistic.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

I describe my sound as original blues-based soulful rock…with a jazz influence as well as far as harmonic ideas, vocabulary and improvisational dynamics and interplay…, Post Cream, Post Allman and Blind Faith music, guided by the standard of passion by all those who came before and set that standard… Whether it’s Gregg Allman‘s voice, or Ray Charles, BB Kings’ guitar or Eric Clapton… or Mike Stern or John Scofield or Hiram bullock… And all that follow… I feel genre wise, a kindred spirit to those out there doing such as I mentioned above… Artists such as Tedeschi trucks band, Warren Haynes… And so forth.

The balance between technique and soul is crucial… And the order must be soul first, and technique only to remove barriers and blocks and limitations from the freedom and liberation of one’s flight of expressing that soul… In other words, technique is in service to and of expressing the soul… And thus one must have such yearning and feeling and ability to touch that within themselves, and have the courage to wish to be the Live Wire to extend it outward vulnerably with no vanity, in order to touch others… And there is a danger in technique, sort of the Darkside of the force lol - one can feel incredibly insecure without it… But as one acquires some, there is a temptation to use it in order to impress because it is the easiest vehicle to get attention initially… Like an actor, who tries to convey emotion by yelling in a scene, rather than through nuance and trusting authenticity… There is no value of or in music when created or expressed to impress, only to move… If you move someone, they will be impressed. If you impress someone, they will not necessarily be moved… I have no interest in impressive music… I have no interest in listening to music for technique… Music is not the Olympics….

"Music is the clearest indication of what we shared, and share, in our humanity, and in then our soul as human beings… When one strips away all else… We’ve all felt alone or beloved, had aspirations and disappointments, so much more that leads to the profound experience of listening to a favorite record alone in the living room on a rainy day and remembering someone that that music was shared with, or something that was felt that made one feel the intellectually known misassumption that the artist actually knew you when they wrote that, and yet emotionally, it feels so true…" (Jon Geiger, one of SoCal's hardest-working blues men at Harvelle's Long Beach, CA 2023 / Photo by Krystal Kozak)

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

This is a profound question, and a great one! The meetings that have been the most important experiences for me, undoubtedly have been finding my teachers and mentors, which have led to so much of my path, and countless conversations that would fall under the category of the second part of your question about the best advice… Some of it has been technical and some of it has been life and some of it has been about finding your own voice… And then there was meeting BB King… Where there was no greater exemplar of humility, of kindness, of all that one wished to find in a hero as far as the spirit of generosity… I will never forget the time that he gave me and his example in all ways of modesty and humanity… But beyond that, meeting and becoming a student of Mike Stern, of Emily Remler, of Hiram, bullock, of John Scofield… Charlie Banacos… These are some of the greatest blessings in my life and it is hard to cull from all of the counsel given as far as the best advice, but perhaps it boils down to; “Find your own voice, honor everything that you are inspired by respecting that standard in how you approach what you wish to put into the world… Honor those who came before you and then reach for your own authenticity and know that it is not about you. It is about the music…”

Some of the greatest advice I received, was just simply in witnessing how the pursuit was modeled before me… Watching Mike practice every day, watching Hiram go about putting music together and perform… Spending time with Emily, sitting Indian legged on the floor, playing standards together and watching how much she made it a real and human campfire experience, made it attainable… Took it off a pedestal, and made it human… That if you were of this tribe, it is not about the ego, it is about real and vulnerable, and that all of my heroes had their heroes, and the way to honor them is to respect the music ultimately more than any individual pursuit.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?                              (Jon Geiger / Photo by Chip Schutzman)

Well, there are so many, but I will share two that come to mind for different reasons… Both were openings… One was when I had the opportunity to open for John Mayall, who obviously was such a deeply influential figure to me from my teenage years because so many of my favorite guitarists came through the British scene and Clapton and Peter Green were at the highest levels of influence for me that way… And so having the opportunity to open for the guy who was the bandleader who had a Clapton and a Peter Green was something that set my 15 year old soul on fire, even though I was no longer 15… And so of course on the day that I’m going to open that show I came down with a horrible flu and it was about 103 1/2° of fever and I could hardly stand without it being an Indian vision quest hallucinogenic, feeling experience, lol and yet I was so empowered by the stage health that seems to sweep us up in it at such times, And as Emily once said to me; “the oddest thing is sometimes my best gigs are when I’m sick”… Well, I had that experience… And I remembered what Emily had said to me about how sometimes when you feel that way, it just removes all the self-judgment and all the self-consciousness because you just don’t have any energy left for that… And that happened that night where I played and sang in a manner that I was proud of, and I learned that lesson about self-judgment and self-consciousness, and how much of that apparently there was present all the time because that night I was relieved of feeling those things, and all of a sudden - as things happen in life - when you are relieved of them, all of a sudden you become aware of, or are made aware of, how normalized the feeling has become of carrying them with you all of the other times… So that became a very interesting moment of consciousness about such…

The other experience that was so powerful for me and exciting was the opportunity the first time I had the chance to open for Robben Ford, and he and Roscoe Beck and Tom Breichtlein (who were the members of the band), unbeknownst to me actually watched my set and were so kind and became friends afterwards… All these are guys that I idolized in music school and that I used to transcribe and go see when they would come through and the idea of having done right by the music in their eyes was profound to me… Once again, not about the ego, but really, well I love the wonderful expression about success, that it can sometimes be defined as having the respect of those whom you respect… Well, there’s no one I respected more than Robben… And certainly, Roscoe and Tom… It meant the world to me to feel like I was doing something that they felt was of value… And I’ll never forget how they let me know that and how much that mattered to me and still does.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past?

Well, that’s a tricky thing because I’m a live music guy… All of my heroes played their instruments and sang, and they did it live and they did it every night and the standard was to never mail it in… Well, I believe if you know where to look, that’s not music of the past… It just may have been more of a prevalent, normalized, expectation… But to me, that’s the music of the present and the music of the future… Because, as I said, in an earlier answer, the only value of music to me is to touch a soul, to be shamanistic in the LiveWire experience, and to give everything you have to lift people up… Well, there are others who practice that and that’s what will survive in the future because that will never lose its’ value… It is organically what Music has to offer… After everything else falls away…

"I think, in many ways, the experience of being so deeply affected by music and particular life experiences tied to music, has profoundly influenced my view of the possibilities in the world as far as inter-personal connection…" (SoCal's blues-rock musician Jon Geiger / Photo by Krystal Kozak)

What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I have no fear of the future for that kind of music… What I miss I guess and what I hope for is more venues to do such in, and for club owners and the like to realize that if they build it, people will come… And to trust that music that comes from that place will always be needed… and people will always look for it… Because it is a soul healer… And what I hope for and what I miss is the number of places that were devoted to having that on a daily basis… And I hope desperately that people return to creating more venues for such experiences, and for such music to be played, and for players like me, and those of my same passion, to be able to pour it out for folks every night, and everywhere… and in the words of James Earl Jones; “oh people will come, Ray”.

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

Music is the clearest indication of what we shared, and share, in our humanity, and in then our soul as human beings… When one strips away all else… We’ve all felt alone or beloved, had aspirations and disappointments, so much more that leads to the profound experience of listening to a favorite record alone in the living room on a rainy day and remembering someone that that music was shared with, or something that was felt that made one feel the intellectually known misassumption that the artist actually knew you when they wrote that, and yet emotionally, it feels so true… This is a connection of the spirit, it is the connection of our humanity.

It is a constant reminder of what we share… Well, isn’t this the connective tissue of compassion and empathy?… The way that we can actually see ourselves in someone else and thus care about lifting them up, care about giving them some of what we have… We make our own community… But that community can be as broad as we actually have the heart to encompass… Music reminds us that we are all human beings trying to feel safe and loved, protected, cherished, and of value… We all are or were someone’s child… We all need love and peace to feel safe and of value in the world… Music is a conduit for recognizing our soul’s counterpoint in someone else… And thus, it is a vehicle for love and peace and compassion and unity beyond words.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?                            (Jon Geiger / Photo by Krystal Kozak)

The lesson of patience is ongoing, the distinction between feeling desirous versus being ready for the next step… The shedding of skins of levels of playing dress up as someone else who is an influence versus finding one’s own voice… Being conscious of what the differences are, or indeed learning to recognize that one may have thought that one was expressing their own voice, and then coming to the shocking realization that it was merely another version playing like your heroes, or writing or singing like them… The need to broaden one’s sphere of influences, so that is less prone to happen… And the really inconvenient truth that at some point the teacher can’t tell you everything… That the roadmap ends, and what must be stepped into has not been charted if it is truly to be your voice in the world… And then the criteria of good or bad is not viable, and comparison is not sustainable… It is only whether it is authentic, and the voice of one’s soul through their medium that is the guiding light… One must finally take the baton from those who offered it, and find what you were going to do with that baton… And the influence and the inspiration for such things can come from anywhere… And must be looked for anywhere… This is crucial… The inspiration can come from other art forms or other artists, from books or from meditations… I saw a Savion Glover workshop the other week that so profoundly affected me in that he connected mental health of pursuit in the arts, finding ones own voice, honoring teachers… Just one more example of how universal these things are… But it is the commitment to becoming conscious of these things, and stripping them away that is one’s commitment to actually giving what they have to give through their art… Because this is being a craftsman in my view, it is the hard work that allows one to refine refine refine what they can offer to the world, and it takes courage and it takes commitment, and it takes endurance, because one might be selling hats or shoes or taking people through training workouts, or any number of things to be allowed the opportunity to grow their skills as an artist until their opportunity arrives for being an artist as actually being their job…

So, there’s a commitment to being the artist that one has the capacity to be authentically in the world - which is finding your own soul’s Truth and developing the skills to express it, and then there’s trying to find a way to manage one’s self-image in the pursuit of that becoming a way to live in the world… So that it is not a diminishment in self-reflection of your value when the world hasn’t given you the means yet in the means that the world expresses value in, for those are not always consistent with one, and one’s pursuit, and what one truly has to offer - and so that may take time… But it is so noble if it is your truth- and I really believe that it is this age’s version of slaying dragons, and being a knight on a quest… In my favorite book since ninth grade were both volumes of “Le Morte D’Artur”, because it is the story of the humanity of those knights in those pursuits, their frailty’s and their courage was that in spite of their fear, they stepped forward, they were not invulnerable… They were quite vulnerable… And the courage was that despite that, their passion for their quest was what they clung to through the fear of stepping forward into it.          (Jon Geiger / Photos by Krystal Kozak)

"The balance between technique and soul is crucial… And the order must be soul first, and technique only to remove barriers and blocks and limitations from the freedom and liberation of one’s flight of expressing that soul… In other words, technique is in service to and of expressing the soul… And thus one must have such yearning and feeling and ability to touch that within themselves, and have the courage to wish to be the Live Wire to extend it outward vulnerably with no vanity, in order to touch others…"

Do you think there is an audience for blues music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?

100,000%… But I do believe that it’s important to make two points on this; the first point is on the responsibility of the musician… And it goes back to things I’ve said previously in other forms; we must not cling to doing impressions of what has come before to fulfill our ego’s desire to be applauded or to be made to feel good enough… We must put something that is of our own forward - and that means that what “is” needs to be an authentic extension of what others have already planted… And we must strive to go through the process of what we all absolutely have to go through, which is sounding like others… But at some point, we have to move the music forward, and that is not to be done artificially, but if we truly are drawing from a broad palette, and we truly are finding ourselves within it, then there should be something that is not the blues version of a tribute band… Stevie Ray Vaughan sounded like Stevie Ray Vaughan in short because his palette was broad and included Albert King, Lonnie Mack, Jimi Hendrix, and many others...

Someone else who’s palette includes Albert King and Jimi Hendrix and perhaps Danny Gatton instead of Lonnie Mack is going to start having their own voice and there will be aspects that are similar, but beautifully different as well… In our quest to be given attaboys and to be accepted, it is very easy for the artist to find “that one person” and just copp their stuff and step out into the world… That will not grow the state of blues music, that leads to diminishment in any music form… Miles Davis changed in virtually five eras, and regardless of what you may like the most and wish that he stayed in, he knew that to stay inauthentically in one place was to die… Well, I’m not saying that one needs to move through five different areas of their own music, but I am saying that he is a metaphor for music… we must reach to grow it… We must reach for what is what we have to say, and THAT is NOT contained in mimicry… to grow our influences we must spend time in the precious deep dive and devotion into those influences to really unearth what is going on there and then to make it our own and then to marry it to other aspects of ourselves without worrying about whether that actually SHOULD fit or has been done before… All that matters is whether it is true to you, and really felt… And really really felt… So that whole aspect is what creates something that is a growing medium of a genre, and for that there will be an audience because it will be felt, and I point again to Tedeschi Trucks Band and people of that ilk whom I believe are perfect examples of that… The other part, the part that is on others… as you say, the future audiences and fans… Is to reach for new music and new artists… The listener has an active role as a responsibility to reach for what they haven’t heard before, and to support it… Or not… But often times when one goes into reading interviews with artists, that one already knows that they have a deep love for- then it can be incredibly important opportunity to discover through them.         (Jon Geiger / Photo by Krystal Kozak)

Countless times I had a deep dive into who that artist listens/spoke about having listened to, and indeed that grew my library of listening immeasurably. I would read and read and read all the interviews of all of my favorite players, and when I was fortunate enough to be reading an interview with someone who had the circumspect nature to point out whom they loved, then all of a sudden I would check those out and maybe I wouldn’t like all of them, but it would open doors - and then when I found someone there that I liked, I would read about whom THEY liked and before I knew it I was hearing Hindu scales and hearing where it would marry an Albert king bend, or I’d hear the tone of Freddie King, but it was coming out of a reed instrument, or Coltrane soprano sax… And when the divisions between presuppositions of what should separate one music from another would fall away and off through actual Knowledge, rather than the ignorance that stands until that is investigated, then the listener is liberated to discover anew… And then music in the genre grows because there’s an audience that up to it, and they feel overjoyed that they too did the work to discover it, and find as a result something anew in their life that they can cherish, and that brings them life, and that they can share forward with others, and that is how the audience for Blues music grows and stays alive, because Blues music isn’t a stagnant set of chord changes, or a shuffle, but it’s a feeling… it is a feeling.

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