David Vest unveils live album at Victoria venue where it was recorded

What: David Vest Album Release Party
Where: Hermann’s Jazz Club, 753 View St.
When: Saturday, Sept. 18, 7 p.m. (doors at 5:30)
Tickets: $25 from hermannsjazz.com

Victoria favourite David Vest has played more than 50 sold-out shows at Hermann’s Jazz Club during the past 17 years, including a performance each month through the pandemic.

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Some of his shows at the View Street venue during the past two years were livestream-only, due to the provincial health protocols. Not ideal for a performer who thrives off the energy of his audience, but a necessary stop-gap measure. Vest, 77, has always tried to look at the sunny side of things, so he used the time to work on new material. To better improve the songs, he recorded them for posterity — the best bits of which will be released Oct. 1 on Cordova Bay Records as Live at Hermann’s.

He’s marking the arrival with a release party set for Saturday night at — where else? — Hermann’s Jazz Club. “I’ve always wanted to do [a live album] at Hermann’s,” Vest said. “I want to spread the word about the place. I’ve played all over Canada, and it’s just about the best there is to play in.”

The club has been expanding its services throughout the pandemic by upping its livestreaming capabilities and offering recordings of each set to its headliners. It was these same multi-track master recordings that prompted Vest to release Live at Hermann’s, songs for which were taken from a series of performances at Hermann’s over a two-year period.

Vest wasn’t expecting a live album to be the result, but he was moved to release the 11-song recording after discovering how well it sounded. “[Hermann’s] were testing out some new equipment and did a 16-track recording of one of our sets one night, and I was blown away.”

Another performance, recorded during the 2019 Calgary International Blues Festival, is also seeing release next month as Live in Calgary. He hasn’t had a new record to release in three years, so these albums continue a recording streak that began in the early 1960s, when Vest was living in his native Alabama and getting his start as a musician.

Some of the songs on Live at Hermann’s have been on his radar since those halcyon days, including his boogie-woogie version of Elvis Presley’s Mystery Train. Vest and his bandmates — guitarist Tom Bowler, bassist Ryan Tandy, and drummer Damian Graham — first played the song in concert last year, but Vest has a personal connection to the Presley favourite which dates back 60 years to a jam session with Presley’s father, Vernon. “I had dinner with him,” Vest said with a laugh. “It’s a long story.”

Presley Sr. was going on a date with a woman whose chaperone was the mother of one of Vest’s friends. The chaperone asked Vest, who was 16 at the time, to play piano with Presley in the parlour of the house on versions of Mystery Train and Lawdy Miss Clawdy, both of which were hits for Elvis. The night is a bit fuzzy, Vest said, but the music left a mark. Vest has begun to consider these and other time-tested songs in his set — C.C. Rider and Rivers of Babylon, among them — as important as his originals.

“I take the blues very seriously, and see it as connected to life. I want to play the kind of music that uplifts and has a healing effect on people. That was my conscious intention.”

Vest played in a group that once opened for Roy Orbison in 1962, recorded with country queen Tammy Wynette, and did time the backing band of Big Joe Turner, widely acknowledged as the father of rock ’n’ roll. He’s in a more relaxed space these days. Alabama has been supplanted by his adopted home of Victoria, to which he relocated in 2004. That’s the longest stretch Vest has spent in one place during his adult life.

“I’m a permanent resident, and married to a Canadian, and I’m very proud to be part of the fantastic Canadian blues scene. You never forget what you grew up with, but I don’t get all nostalgic. If I was down there for three weeks, I’d be asking: ‘Can anyone down here make poutine? Where can we get some fish and chips?’ ”

His three sons are spread out across the world, in New Mexico, New York, and France. He plays music with his son Jean-Paul when he visits from New York, which has not happened in some time, due to COVID-19. Now that in-person concerts are being permitted, concerts at Hermann’s are no longer exclusively online entities. The club will continue to offer livestreamed performances, but their focus is on seeing audiences return, Vest said.

Coming out of the back-half of a pandemic, he couldn’t be happier to have the opportunity.

“What people remember is not how you sounded or how you looked but how you made them feel. I’m trying to heal the way people are feeling right now.”

mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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