Q&A with singer Joanna Best of Virginia & The Slims, classic Jump Blues n' Swing group based in North Carolina

"I've coined my own phrase when it comes to musical paths: what is noble in making music is making music. Music is like eating. It's never wrong to eat. Some folks will covet certain music more than others, and as with cooking certain universal truths relating to physics and aesthetics will prevail, but the quality is always personal, for listener and for performer."

Virginia & The Slims:

Let The Good Times Roll... and Dance!

Popular North Carolina jump blues and swing group Virginia and The Slims have released their debut full-length album “Busman’s Holiday” (2021)! The CD features 10 original songs, seven of which were composed by founding member James Kamp. Virginia and The Slims started in the Summer of 2013 with Virginia DeMoss on vocals, Perry Lavin on drums, James Kamp on tenor sax, Harry Schaefer on bass, Ginger Drake on alto sax and Sean Anderson, on guitar. Virginia’s husband came up with the name and the band loved it. The idea was to play blues but to play songs people would respond to, especially swing or jump blues as no one else locally was focusing on that. Eventually Virginia left to start a family, Ginger left for Nashville, and Perry and Harry left to pursue their first love, Indian classical music. James and Sean reorganized with Sid Heilbraun, a rock solid bassist, and Brian Gant, a Nashville pro on drums. Rebecca O’Quinn came on board as the new singer. After about a year she left, and the band met their current vocalist, Joanna Best. Joanna can bring across old time blues like no one’s business and has a great disposition.                                         (Photo: Virginia & The Slims)

Then Virginia and The Slims added a long term friend and killer harmonica player, Bill Mattocks as well as saxophonist Vinny Corda and Marco Noto on drums. Howie Neal joined on Guitar, John Davis on Bass, John Barrett on drums for the recording of the CD. In support of the release of “Busman’s Holiday” album, Virginia and The Slims have taken a mini tour across NC with backup guitar by Charlie “Mojo” Rapp and Charles Singletary on bass. Currently Charlie plays bass and Charles plays keys. The band’s calendar stays relatively busy with local venues. Plans to travel more and play festivals are currently in the works. In closing the band has this to impart, “We will keep playing so folks can dance and enjoy blues-based music that is upbeat.”

Interview by Michael Limnios          Special Thanks: Billy James (Glass Onyon PR)

How has the Swing, Jump n' Blues music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Discovering jump blues, for me, was like finding a missing link. I can sing at a gig in vintage 20s attire, appeal to deep thinking musicians, wow the tapping foot or the fanciest of dancing, with wailing guitars and sexy saxophone lines. It covers the bases. It honors voodoo, societal structures here and gone and invites smiling. From there you just meet more and more musicians; it's a gateway.

How do you describe Virginia & The Slims sound and songbook? What do you love most working with the band?

Virginia and the Slims grounds itself in swing, blues and jump blues while going places. Our original songs honor the genre of jump blues, but laud creativity and collaboration, which are the best parts.

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

We certainly have a good time; we are not prone to drama, and everybody works hard. We had an enjoyable tour to the east coast of NC (we headquarter in the mountains of western NC) and we left a dog bark in one of our recordings that slipped in by mistake. We also seek out cemeteries for our photo shoots.

"Discovering jump blues, for me, was like finding a missing link. I can sing at a gig in vintage 20s attire, appeal to deep thinking musicians, wow the tapping foot or the fanciest of dancing, with wailing guitars and sexy saxophone lines. It covers the bases. It honors voodoo, societal structures here and gone and invites smiling. From there you just meet more and more musicians; it's a gateway." (Photo: Virginia & The Slims - Joanna Best, James Kamp, Howie Neal, John Davis,and  John Barrett)

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

I liked my musical pursuits more before videos; but my experience is only 48 years long. I remember gazing only at one photo on an album cover as I listened to hours of music as I child and I liked that. I think my ears and mind were more engaged before my eyes were invited to the party. In fact, I don't watch videos of myself, typically, until about six months after they come about. Then again, I loved MTV and I do value film in the circulation of music.

What would you say characterizes the North Carolina music scene in comparison to other local US scenes and circuits?

Good, bad or indifferent NC has at its roots a southern, Bible belt foundation.  Ante-bellum rural life with king cotton, post-bellum industry based on tobacco and 21st century everything else make it at least diverse and at most pretty active musically across the state (which is 500 miles long).

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

Marilyn Monroe supposedly said, "I don't mind it being a man's world as long as I can be a woman in it;" and I suppose my experience with music is the same way. Without presuming everyone understands gender the same, I very much identify with the fact that I am a light, lyric soprano. Despite the versatility of my voice (based on my various pursuits and wide interests in music), I remain a woman whose vocal range is undoubtedly feminine and who enjoys dresses and high heels and bling and theatrical compliments, in a traditional way, aside from those tangible aspects, I gravitate towards male musicians who respect that I have formal music training and the soul to pour my heart into my art.

"I liked my musical pursuits more before videos; but my experience is only 48 years long. I remember gazing only at one photo on an album cover as I listened to hours of music as I child and I liked that. I think my ears and mind were more engaged before my eyes were invited to the party. In fact, I don't watch videos of myself, typically, until about six months after they come about. Then again, I loved MTV and I do value film in the circulation of music." (Joanna Best / Photos by Ken Voltz)

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

I wish for humans a pause before dismissing any music at first hearing. 

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

I've coined my own phrase when it comes to musical paths: what is noble in making music is making music. Music is like eating. It's never wrong to eat. Some folks will covet certain music more than others, and as with cooking certain universal truths relating to physics and aesthetics will prevail, but the quality is always personal, for listener and for performer.

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

I have sought to learn all I can as I go through my musical life; music is no doubt shaped by socio-cultural factors and understanding that is part of being educated. I have challenged any notion that any other person should or would tell me (or anyone) what kind of music I can or should do. Of course, the sensory experience of listening to music is also the choice of the hearer, so it's a two-sided coin. It's always a quest. I want people to connect with being alive when they encounter music. I value the serendipity of when it is my music that helps them connect with life that way.

Virginia & The Slims - Home

(Photo: Virginia & The Slims)

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