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I've Got A Mind To Ramble
Meet Jimi V and Screamin’ John
Winners of the Kentuckiana Blues Society’s 2010 blues band and solo/duo contests, The Bryant Stevens band and Jimi V & Screamin’ John are gearing up for the 2011 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN. The Blues Foundation has presented the IBC for twenty-seven years. It is now expanded to a four-day event with two days of quarter finals and one day of semifinals in various clubs on Beale Street. The finals will be held in the historic Orpheum Theater on February 5. This worldwide showcase of blues talent gives deserving musicians a chance to take their act to the next level. These two contestants have been busy raising money and rehearsing for the big dance.
I met with John Hawkins and Jimi Vallandingham just before their regular Wednesday night practice session in the big rehearsal room behind the Musician’s Union Local 11-637 office on Bardstown Rd. They have been woodshedding every Wednesday, trying to cram twenty-five minutes of blues energy into their allotted time for the competition. They are also working on a show set with original material which they will start doing when they return from the competition. You can get a preview of what this intense duo can do by going to their website: jimiandscreamin.com. Their masthead says, “Low down dirty tones that make you feel good deep down in yer bones.”
We talked about their winning the KBS solo/duo contest on a hot August Sunday afternoon in the sweltering back room of Lisa’s Oak Street Lounge. Jon Boy Slim, the previous solo/duo winner who was judging the competition, came up to them and said “energy, energy, energy.” They had worked hard preparing for the event Since they had no drummer or bass, their energy replaced the rhythm. John’s staccato strumming of his guitar strings and beating on his National Estralita hollow body provided the necessary beat. Jimi said, “We try to be percussive.” And John added, “We have a certain sound in our heads different from others.”
The purpose of my interview was to get some background about these two talented musicians. John’s father, Bill, played acoustic guitar and enjoyed blues and bluegrass, especially Doc Watson. Bill owned a pawn shop and became the founder of the Guitar Emporium. He later was co-owner of the store with Jimmy Brown. During the Seventies, John was a young kid when musicians like Jimmy Brown, Lamont Gillispie and Ricky Mason would come by the house. When John was nine years old, Ricky taught him the basic twelve-bar blues chords and the riff to Chuck Berry’s “Carol.” In high school, John played in a band called Shades of Blues. While in his late teens, John would sit in at the Bluesday Tuesday jams at the Rudyard Kipling with his white Stratocaster. This underage kid looked more like Opie from the Andy Griffith show than a precocious guitar slinger. The older musicians gave him his nickname Screamin’ for his guitar style and the similarity of his name to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. Following high school John performed with Max Maxwell, playing mostly rock. They even got to tour in Europe.
When that group disbanded, the Predators was formed. While Jimi was working as a D.J. at Phoenix Hill, he got together with John one night and they decided to start a blues band. They had their first gig a few months later on March 1, 1992. Besides John and Jimi, the band included Jeff Crane on bass, Billy Burke on second guitar and Max drumming. They traveled regionally, averaging four gigs per week for three years. The Predators took a break from 1995 to 1999 when the twenty-six-year-old Hawkins formed the rock band Edenstreet. The band signed a contract with A&M Records and recorded in Los Angeles. Unfortunately that major label was dissolved in a merger with Interscope Records and Edenstreet became a tax write-off. In 1999 John started Hog Operation. a bluegrass band that he continues to perform with today.
The Predators are alive and well, with John, Jimi, Jeff and Donnie Highland on drums playing more low-down dirty blues regularly at Stevie Ray’s, Dutch’s Tavern and Phoenix Hill. John worked on and off at the Guitar Emporium from 1994 to 2004 He returned to school to get his Bachelor’s Degree in Arts Administration in 2007, followed by a Master’s Degree in Business Administration in 2009 at Bellarmine. When John is not performing, he gives guitar lessons at Louisville’s School of Rock to beginners and adults.
James Vallandingham is more commonly known as Jimi V. There were no musicians in his family but his mother was always listening to music. She passed away when he was twelve years old. Jimi was a late bloomer musically, when he began singing in a Top 40 band called Nouvo following high school. He had an epiphany in 1984 when Wayne Young’s son, Derrick, got him into the Toy Tiger while working the lights, to hear Score.
Jimi said, “I liked everything I heard from their first song and decided I really wanted to sing.” During 1988 he sang with RUOK and began to teach himself to play the harmonica listening to records. He began to incorporate the harp into his songs. During that time he maintained his friendship with Score, including guitarist Greg Foresman. After Score’s singer Sherry Edwards quit the band, he was asked to join and they immediately went to Nashville to play gigs and to record. The group became The Hammerheads, playing classic rock and a little Stevie Ray Vaughn. After that band broke up, Jimi started working at Phoenix Hill where he met John. Jimi got more serious about playing harp when he heard an old Charlie Musselwhite album and then met Jim Rosen of da Mudcats. They became friends and Rosen took Jimi under his wing.
Jimi said, “Rosen came off as a hardcore, gruff guy but he was a big teddy bear.” One time when Jimi was in the audience listening to da Mudcats at Phoenix Hill, Rosen invited Jimi to the stage and handed him his harmonica, something harp men would rarely do, and said “Play you M---F---. Jimi learned a whole lot from the band that night. They often traveled around town in Rosen’s Blues Cadillac running errands. One time they visited Intasar, a Voodoo Lady, who had lived in Crescent Hill. When they entered her shop she said “Ooh! Boy, you are two strong Aquarians.” She was right. They both purchased a mojo bag of bones from the conjurer. When Jimi is not playing, he is a salesperson for Cox Interiors, specializing in interior trim for builders.
Jimi and John have been occasionally performing as an acoustic duo since 2009. They opened for the KBS 22nd Anniversary Party at the Vernon Club on November 13. They stayed out of the gutter rollin’ and tumblin’ plenty of strikes during their lively set. To promote the event they did a live performance in the studios of Crescent Hill Radio which was filmed by KET for a Louisville Live Show.
We wish best of luck to Jimi V and Screamin’ John and the Bryant Stevens Band as they compete for the big golden carrot at the IBC.