Q&A with East Coast guitarist Peter Veteska, steaming full-bore blues, funk, soul and swinging good time music

"I think it’s fair to say at least from my perspective most blues guys & gals' politics lean to the left. Blues emanates from black culture who struggled & suffered in America where there was a lot of racial tension."

Peter Veteska: Blues Train Running

After a long hiatus from the music scene, lead guitar man and vocalist Peter Veteska formed the original Peter V Blues Train in late 2013. In 2015 the band released its first album – “Peter V Blues Train,” which the Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation selected as o send to the IBC in Memphis. By 2016, they had followed up quickly with another release, “On Track,” and Peter was inducted into the New York Blues Hall of Fame. While playing venues like the legendary B.B. King’s in New York City and festivals throughout the tri-state area in 2017, the band released its third recording, “Running Out of Time,” which reached RMR’s Top 10 and garnered glowing reviews from across the world, as well as a feature article in Big City Rhythm and Blues magazine.

“Shaken But Not Deterred,” released in 2018, peaked at Number #3 on RMR. In 2018 through 2019 Peter V Blues Train had two albums in the Top 100 RMR contemporary blues category and charted in 14 countries worldwide. Peter, along with Blues Train drummer Alex D’Agnese and bass player Coo Mo Jhee, began work on the band’s fifth music project in 2019, while performing as far north as Rockland Maine and as far south as Brooksville FL as one of Camping With The Blues Festival’s featured acts. Everything is full steam ahead for New York Blues Hall of Fame inductee, Veteska and Blues Train, who have released six albums in seven years. Following the internationally acclaimed 2021 release, Grass Ain’t Greener On The Other Side, which was chosen by Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation as their entry in the best self-produced record competition at the 2022 International Blues Challenge (IBC) in Memphis TN, Veteska & company return with new album titled "So Far So Good" (Release Date: January 21, 2022), a twelve-track album on Blue Heart Records featuring eight dynamic originals. The guys once again teamed up with Joseph DeMaio at Shorefire Recording Studios – New Jersey’s longest running recording studio.

Interview by Michael Limnios          Photos © by Patti Martz / All rights reserved

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues people and culture? What were the reasons that you started the Blues and Jazz researches?

I grew up in a very tough neighborhood in Brooklyn NY for me Blues is about overcoming adversity and meeting life challenges head on. It is through that experience that I relate to the Blues. Blues is a guttural music, It’s about expressing a feeling despair or jubilation through music. There’s a simplicity to Blues which makes it challenging. Jazz however is a different skill set They are both improvisational. So, for me, fusing the two genres works It’s important to push the boundaries with music other you’re just doing what’s already been done.

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

Our songbook consists of originals and covers. Each song is inspired by different things for example Alibi is about me growing up on the streets of NY when I was a teenager. The previous album title is a variation of “Shaken but not stirred’ So I changed the last word to deterred. It addresses my attitude when people criticize our musical approach, some feel that we’re not pure blues, in which I respond, if you don’t push the boundaries it’s gonna sound recycled and rehashed. Let’s face it, if you’re coming out of BB or Albert your just not gonna do it as well they did it.

Fresh, vibrant & diverse ...infusing elements of Jazz, Funk & soul Although my sound is guitar driven, I like to add sax & B3 to add more layers to our sound I make a conscious effort to avoid musical clichés. So, we usually cover lesser known Blues classics. When we record a classic, such as T-Bone Shuffle I create my own arrangement and the song takes on a new life. I put much emphasis on my vocals as well. East coast urban blues! Creative drive; I’ve listened to many artists and different genres. Jazz R&B Soul/funk. I get inspiration from numerous artists and life events. I like forging ahead and creating a new sound.

"Blues remains a niche genre, and I do love the way that streaming services have broadened my audience, particularly internationally. I’ve developed great relationships with DJ’s and fans around the world – Australia, France, the UK, Netherlands, Italy, and I know it’s this technology that’s making that possible.  It feels great to connect musically with so many people in so many places and with such ease, which helps to temper my views on some of the downsides." (Peter Veteska / Photo by Patti Martz)

How do you think you’ve grown as an artist since you first started making music?

My guitar approach has evolved considerably since my first two albums.  I’m not a fan of “in your face” playing or running scales. I try to lay down solos that have meaning, feeling and are memorable in their melodic content. For me, it’s important to sound like myself and not a combination of other blues greats. My goal is to have a recognizable, distinctive sound.

My vocal approach has improved as well. My influences early on were rooted in crooner style -- Johnny Hartman and Sinatra, and then later on, Brian Setzer, Stevie Wonder, Robert Cray and Eric Clapton. It’s helped me a lot with my phrasing. But I think with these last two albums I’ve finally found my true voice.

At the same time, the band members have experienced their own growth. The new line-up with CMJ on bass and Jeff Levine on keys, along with original band member Alex D on drums, has created a seamless fluidity, a musical connection that allows us to anticipate each other’s moves. We’ve reached a point where improvisation is integral to our process. We’re totally in-sync musically.

What has remained the same about your music making process?

The constant here is our collective passion for the music and commitment to keeping it fresh. When we head into the studio, we discuss the overall approach, rehearse it once or twice, and then we go for it. Blues should sound spontaneous, often an old story, but being told in a new way. While it’s always been part of our approach, I think our more recent albums reflect the vitality I’m describing.  I hate cliches and continue to avoid them. I don’t want the music to sound predictable. People like surprises. For example, on several tracks on So Far So Good, I laid down my solo at the end of the song. And I always want each track to have something unique about its sound. It’s about striking a balance between keeping the sound fresh and new, but still identifiable as PVBT.

"I was born in NYC and spent my first 19 years there – first in Bushwick, Brooklyn and then as a teenager in Jamaica, Queens. So while I’ve lived most of my life in New Jersey, I’ll always consider myself a New Yorker. It’s a mecca for the new for obvious reasons – the diversity you find there in terms of cultural influences, life experiences and perspectives, and the drive to compete and succeed." (Peter Veteska & Blues Train, Shorefire Recording Studios, New Jersey 2021 / Photo by Patti Martz)

What characterizes “So Far So Good” (2022) album’s philosophy? Do you have any stories about the making of it?

During the making of this album, from January to July 2021, there was a lot of pessimism in the air with Covid and politics. I didn’t want to do a down-trodden blues album. I wanted to produce an antidote to the gloom and pessimism, something positive. 

I think all the musicians involved, my band and special guests, were genuinely excited about the vibe we were creating. I knew I wanted to invite Jen Barnes, Roger Girke and Mikey Junior back for another round on this album as well as a host of local musicians. One day we had four guest musicians sit in at Shorefire Studios and within an hour there was a party going on. But then it’s hard to have Mikey Junior in the room and NOT have a party.

I went on to invite more local musicians to contribute on various tracks, and my girlfriend Patti was involved on the lyrics side on six tracks. My role as a producer was more intense and encompassing on this album.  While I didn’t start out to make a more collaborative or inclusive album, it did turn out that way.  In retrospect, the camaraderie that resulted was probably right for the times and was ultimately reflected in “Can’t We All Get Along.”

What moment changed your life the most?

That would be the moment I saw a black guitar in a Jamaica, Queens pawn shop and knew I had to have it. I first picked up the guitar at twelve and I put it down at 20 (1980). Fast forward to 2009, emerging from some very tough economic circumstances, I picked up the guitar with a new vigor and sense of urgency to create.  I haven't put it down since. In a way, I'm making up for lost time.

What have been the highlights in your life and career so far?

In terms of performing, a blues festival in Florida in 2019. There was clearly magic in the air. Although we were only a trio, the energy of the audience took our playing to another level. In the studio, a highlight has been playing with musicians the caliber of Jeff Levine and Danny Walsh, who have inspired me to be the best I can be. It’s also a pleasure to feel that synergy among my core band members that I’ve already mentioned – it’s not easy to find the right mix, and we have it. All that being said, some of my low points have ultimately produced the greatest growth, and the highest highs, by re-focusing my energy.

"To stay humble, be kind to the people you meet. Life is a big circle. Most musicians are very passionate about their music and don’t take criticism well, so don’t offer it."  (Peter Veteska / Photo by Patti Martz)

Artists and labels have to adapt to the new changes. What are your predictions for the music industry? How do you think the music industry will adapt?

A benefit of being my age is that I feel comfortable remaining squarely in the present and not thinking too much about what comes next. In any case, I’ve never focused much on the business side – probably to my detriment in some respects, but for me it’s always been about composing, arranging, recording and performing. Fortunately, in recent years I’ve had some great people working with me to help me keep up with changes and adapt.

Blues remains a niche genre, and I do love the way that streaming services have broadened my audience, particularly internationally. I’ve developed great relationships with DJ’s and fans around the world – Australia, France, the UK, Netherlands, Italy, and I know it’s this technology that’s making that possible.  It feels great to connect musically with so many people in so many places and with such ease, which helps to temper my views on some of the downsides.

So, I guess if I have any prediction, it’s that more up and coming artists, both blues and other genres – whether they’re with a label or not – will have greater opportunity to be heard and feel more emboldened to get their work out there. I’ll leave it to the industry to figure out how to adapt to that.

Why is NYC a mecca for the avant-garde?

I was born in NYC and spent my first 19 years there – first in Bushwick, Brooklyn and then as a teenager in Jamaica, Queens. So while I’ve lived most of my life in New Jersey, I’ll always consider myself a New Yorker. It’s a mecca for the new for obvious reasons – the diversity you find there in terms of cultural influences, life experiences and perspectives, and the drive to compete and succeed. 

But I don’t think NYC has a corner on what’s new and progressive in blues. There are distinctive blues sounds that are identified with different parts of the country and artists are always generating fresh takes that reflect the origins of blues in a particular region but take it further. For example, I’m currently listening a lot to Kingfish Ingram, who I view as emblematic of the future of blues, and Memphis is a far cry from NYC.

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from local NYC blues scene?

NY Blues Hall of Fame the Criteria they used for induction was unexpected. I was inducted after 4 years on the musical scene although I was deeply honored I’m not sure if it was deserved at the time.                                 (Peter Veteska / Photo by Patti Martz)

"That would be the moment I saw a black guitar in a Jamaica, Queens pawn shop and knew I had to have it. I first picked up the guitar at twelve and I put it down at 20 (1980). Fast forward to 2009, emerging from some very tough economic circumstances, I picked up the guitar with a new vigor and sense of urgency to create.  I haven't put it down since. In a way, I'm making up for lost time."

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

More emphasis on the music and less about the image.

How do you describe previous album "Grass Ain't Greener On The Other Side" sound and songbook?

This was my fifth album. The previous albums were pushing the blues envelope a bit. I was injecting some jazz & funk and found I was straying from the pureness of the blues. With this album, my approach was different - most of the songs stay true to the blues genre, and none of the tracks were previously rehearsed. We did them live in the studio with one or two quick rehearsals and on some tracks the rehearsal was the actual take with minimum overdubs. I want the songs to sound live and have energy. I also did away with my pedals to get a more organic and less overdriven sound - except for the title track. As for the song book, I wrote five songs and co-wrote the sixth. There was a huge change that took place in my life, and love and passion played a large part in the songs’ inspiration, lyrically and musically.

Are there any memories from "Grass Ain't Greener On The Other Side" studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

A few studio sessions stand out. I asked Mikey Junior to join us for two songs. When he arrived, he marveled at the sight of an original 59 Fender Bassman amp. He started playing through it and his energy level just blew through the roof. He used this on the opening track, “Am I Wrong.”

The second was the session with Delaware bluesman Roger Girke who contributed co vocals and guitar on “Heartbreaker.” It was just a fun session - the musical chemistry was great as we worked through different tempos and final arrangements. That session also included some stellar session work from drummer Alex D ‘Agnese, bassist Coo Moe Jhee and B3 legend Jeff Levine who laid down a live killer solo and intro. During much of the session work, our drummer Alex was battling a serious decease and still showed up and gave 100%, in my opinion doing some of his finest drum work.

"When we record a classic, such as T Bone Shuffle I create my own arrangement and the song takes on a new life. I put much emphasis on my vocals as well. East coast urban blues! Creative drive; I’ve listened to many artists and different genres. Jazz R&B Soul/funk. I get inspiration from numerous artists and life events. I like forging ahead and creating a new sound." (Peter Veteska / Photo by Patti Martz)

What touched (emotionally) you from Ahmet Ertegun's Heartbreaker and Willie Cobb's You Don't Love Me?

It’s usually the groove that captivates me. The Ray Charles version of “Heartbreaker” is such a great groove and I loved his vocal approach. That’s what moved me. I think it’s a mistake to try to recreate what a master has laid down, which is why I took it in a different direction.

The Allman Brothers version of “You Don’t Love Me” is the version that inspired me as a guitarist in the early to mid-70s. This song for me was huge, especially Duane’s playing and the way they jammed on it. We opened up the song in the extended outro. The energy of the rhythm section picked up a few notches and the back and forth with Jeff’s amazing B3 playing was sublime.

What do you love most and what is the hardest part of writing a song? How do you want it to affect people?

Personally, I don’t find writing to be difficult unless I force the issue. Most of my recorded original songs flow out of me and are initially written in 30 minutes or less. I then work on them for about 2 weeks and fine tune every aspect of the song. My favorite part is once we record the backing track. Once that is complete l go back and do my finished vocal and guitar tracks. At this point it becomes very gratifying. I do however enjoy the whole process. Obviously, each song is different - some songs are strong rhythmically, others melodically. Above all, I want the audience to be moved by the song.

What characterize the philosophy of "Shaken abut Not Deterred" (2018)? What is the difference debut and previous albums?    

We started working on Shaken But Not deterred just as our previous Running out of Time was released (which was in voting Grammy consideration). So, the songs have a bit more confidence than the previous three CDs Also, I kept the songs more blues based and simpler than the previous Cd. The Rodeo. No BS. Was written about our experience at the local IBC It was a bit tongue in cheek. My girlfriend Joanne wrote the lyrics, definitely has attitude lol.

"I grew up in a very tough neighborhood in Brooklyn NY for me Blues is about overcoming adversity and meeting life challenges head on." (Peter Veteska & Blues Train, New Jersey 2021 / Photo by Patti Martz)

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

We’ve recorded four studio albums and all four have been recorded at Shorefire Recording Studio. Mixed, engineered and co-produced by the owner, Joseph DeMaio. During the recording process you need an independent ear that can guide and advise you in an objective way. Joe has provided that for us and has become an extension of the band. You go into the studio with preconceived ideas, some work and some don’t. I rely on Joe for his musical input because his wealth of experience Is invaluable. He is respectful of the artist and knows when and when not to offer his opinion.

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

To stay humble, be kind to the people you meet. Life is a big circle. Most musicians are very passionate about their music and don’t take criticism well, so don’t offer it.

Do you consider the Blues & Jazz a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

Jazz & blues do overlap each other, but they are certainly two separate genres. Obviously, there’s more complexity and skill with Jazz. Jazz players play all the chord changes when soloing. The first- and second-generation blues artist played mostly pentatonic scales while soloing. There’s a simplicity and yet a complexity to that style of playing. Many of today’s blues players play the changes. That’s how I approach it. When your soloing frames out the chords it has much more melodic content. Bending & vibrato is also very important in blues playing. Blues is certainly more feel.

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

I met many fine musicians mostly at various blues jams. Two people in particular helped me by giving me guidance & advice. Bob DelRosso who is an incredible blues guitarist helped me with my tone & discussing the importance of dynamics.

His feel & pocket is second to none and always plays in the moment. Ernie W also gave me immeasurable advice by telling the importance of being a good rhythm guitarist and slowing down on my solos and landing them correctly less is more, this applies to most creative things music, art, architecture etc.

"Blues is a guttural music, It’s about expressing a feeling despair or jubilation through music. There’s a simplicity to Blues which makes it challenging."  (Peter Veteska / Photo by Patti Martz)

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

As is with country music the blues music today is infusing other genres of music. Rock, jazz, funk country etc.  some of it is done quite well but much of it strays off too far from blues. It’s important that we don’t dilute what the first-generation blues greats created. I’m all for pushing the envelope but we must respect the past.

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

Blues music as I’m discovering is like a big family. Weather on a local level or national there’s tremendous camaraderie and some very interesting Individuals.

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

I think it’s fair to say at least from my perspective most blues guys & gals' politics lean to the left. Blues emanates from black culture who struggled & suffered in America where there was a lot of racial tension. I see many of today’s blues musicians DJ’s & publishers speak out against our establishment in FB posts. I think they have an impact.

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

Witness live & in person a young BB King live at the Regal in that Legendary Concert. The passion & energy that he played with electrified the audience It was the birth of the electric blues.

Peter Veteska & Blues Train - Home

(Photo: Peter Veteska & Blues Train)

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