36-year old British Blues Awards nominated guitarist and singer/songwriter Jack J. Hutchinson has been whipping up a storm since the release of his debut album in 2013, and his last record ‘Paint No Fiction’ reached No.1 in the Amazon Blues Chart and the iTunes Blues Chart Top 5.
Before setting out on his upcoming UK tour, we chat to Jack about his life, music, success, and… beard conditioner!
Tell us a bit about your early days – what influenced you to start writing music and how did your love for the Blues develop?
When I was a kid I was surrounded by music. My parents were big Beatles and Stones fans, and I can remember them playing their vinyl records a lot. My Dad also had the Queen live at Wembley ’86 cassettes, which were always on in the car. So I’d say that was a pretty good start. I began playing guitar when I was about 11 but I hated going to lessons, mainly because I didn’t enjoy being told what to do (which is still pretty true today!) I quit after my instructor told me I wouldn’t ever be good enough to play guitar on my own. However, everything changed when I was about 14 and I discovered Led Zeppelin. I got hold of a copy of that early ‘90s box set with the shadow of a zeppelin over cornfields and spent hours and hours learning Page’s parts. When I started deconstructing the elements and reading about their influences I just started working my way back to the old Blues guys. Page quickly turned me onto guys like Robert Johnson, Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf and Albert King. All the Greats!
You were born in Leicester and spent your formative years in the North West before moving to London – do you think that the move to London was instrumental in the progression of your career?
I found moving to London tough at first. I’d got it pretty good up in Burnley, playing regular paid gigs. But I felt trapped in my personal life and wanted to escape and experience something new. Those first couple of months were hard. I was skint, lonely and missing home. My first couple of gigs were also tough. I remember getting into a bit of bother with a member of the crowd at a show in south London, legging it towards the tube and tripping over in my cowboy boots. I managed to smash my face on the curb… but the guitar was okay. Gradually I started to meet more and more musicians, going to jams at venues like Ain’t Nothin’ But in Soho and other venues that have since closed, like the Alleycat on Denmark Street and Round Midnight in Angel. I was playing most nights of the week, which improved me as a player and laid the foundations for what I’m doing now.
How do you regard the UK’s impact on the international Blues stage? We seem to be producing some phenomenal homegrown talent in this genre – why do you think that is?
It feels like there has been a groundswell of talent in the last 4-5 years, some of which I really enjoy, others not so much. Social media has now made it so easy for musicians to develop a fan base, and in many ways this is fantastic. However, the amount of hype some bands receive is unbelievable, then you see them live and think, “Erm, okay, I’ll go home and watch my Neil Young DVDs…” That being said, there are some cracking artists cropping up, and I’d put Kris Barras in that category. Monster Truck are also badass – I supported them at a show last year and they are cool people too. I was lucky to hang with Blackberry Smoke briefly before my set at Ramblin’ Man last year and they are the real deal, and humble with it. I see some other musicians who act like they are fucking Freddie Mercury but can’t even write a chorus, and think, “Give me a break”.
Your most recent album ‘Paint No Fiction’ reached No.1 in the Amazon Blues Chart and the iTunes Blues Chart Top 5 when it launched on 1st December 2017 – that’s a fantastic achievement, what did you do when you found out?
It was actually on the release day of the album, which was the same date as my birthday! So it’s fair to say me and the guys were celebrating in a pretty devastating way!
I’m a bit weird with this stuff though… I like to move quite fast, and I remember having conversations with my band that night saying, “It’s done, now onto the next one!”
You’re working on a new album, which is due out this summer – can you tell us a little bit about it? Will it follow in the same vein as ‘Paint No Fiction’, or be a departure from it? What are the songs about?
It’s a heavier, more personal record than the last one. Over the past 12 months my father hasn’t been very well, and that’s coincided with me being on the road a lot. So there’s an element of guilt there that I can’t be home as much as I’d like, but I’m away doing something that I love and really enjoy. So the songs are a little bit more confessional, which I think is a good thing. But don’t expect Nick Drake… the next one sounds more like Black Sabbath! And there’s more guitar…a lot more guitar.
Your band RHR features a triple guitar-frontman lineup of yourself together with Troy Redfern and Mike Ross. How did the partnership come about and how does RHR’s debut album ‘Mahogany Drift’ differ from your solo material?
Tinder! Nah, not really. I’ve known Mike for a few years and basically he’s my go-to guy if I have any problems with my gear. He’s a superb musician and we have a lot of shared influences. He’s worked with Rich Robinson from the Black Crowes in the past, who is one of my heroes, and is one of those people with an encyclopedic knowledge of music history. We’d discussed recording some material together and this evolved into the idea for a Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young type vibe. We played a show with Troy about a year ago and then it all kind of fell into place. Darren Lee is Mike’s drummer, whilst I’d met the bassist Jack Browning at a Blackberry Smoke show a while back. He’s actually a killer guitarist with his own thing going on, but fortunately offered to play bass. In terms of how it differs from my solo stuff, I’d say it forces me to be less of a frontman and focus more on my guitar playing, which is a lot of fun!
You’ve played some high profile shows, including BluesFest and Ramblin’ Man Fair – what’s been your biggest gig to date and what’s been your favourite?
Ramblin’ Man has been my favourite festival to play so far. It’s got a really good vibe and I’ve made a lot of friends there. BluesFest was also cool, and I met Jimmy Page backstage after I played which is something I’ll never forget. But ‘big’ can mean other things. I did a show for a chap called Barry Hopwood last year at his Blues Bar – essentially a small, private venue he’s built in his garden. I was on tour in Spain and Barry messaged to say he needed an operation urgently and couldn’t afford to pay me as he’s self-employed and was going to lose income for a while. I told him I’d do the show in return for £1 and a bottle of Jack Daniels. When I eventually did the show, the place was rammed with people. It was a really magical night and meant a lot to both of us. Music is a powerful healer.
You announced your first international tour dates in Spain, France and Russia – why did you specifically choose those countries and is there anywhere else you’d particularly like to play?
My band consists of Felipe Amorim on drums and Laz Michaelides on bass. We toured together for the first time last year and they are just badass players who bring a lot to the table. They are playing on the next album as well and they are just like this wall of sound grooving behind me. In terms of the countries I’m playing this year, I just love travelling and so anywhere different is cool. One of the best things about being a musician is meeting new people and exploring different cultures, although I’m terrible at learning languages. But then again, who wants to hear Spanish spoken with a Burnley accent?!
You’re going to be appearing at the HRH Blues Festival on Saturday 13th April 2019 – who are you most excited to be sharing the stage with?
I did an acoustic set at HRH a couple of years back, but this time it will be the whole ‘shebang’. There won’t be a mini Stonehenge, but we might have some incense burning depending on health and safety regulations! Also, we might have a keyboard player, Alberto Manuzzi, joining us. I’m looking forward to catching Xander and the Peace Pirates who I have heard great things about.
What are you most looking forward to in 2019?
I got a lot of beard conditioner for Christmas so I’m looking forward to seeing how that enhances the touring experience!
Winter 2019 UK Tour dates:
21st January – Camden Assembly, London **
23rd January – New Cross Inn, London
26th January – The Albion, Ashford
1st February – The Patriot, Crumlin
3rd February – Esquires, Bedford
7th Feb – The Deaf Institute, Manchester *
8th Feb – Cluny, Newcastle *
9th Feb – The Welly, Hull *
14th Feb – Brudenell, Leeds *
15th Feb – Tivoli, Buckley *
16th Feb – Foxlowe Arts, Leek *
23rd February – The Garage, London *
24th February – Broadstairs Blues Bash
26th Feb – Haunt, Brighton *
27th Feb – Bullingdon, Oxford *
*Supporting Kris Barras Band
Photo credits: Will Carter