For having spent only a few months gigging in mid-Michigan's music scene, John Vasquez possesses a range and clarity of musical vision that belies his youthful appearance.
And like degrees of awareness, Vasquez is finding his own unique voice and eschewing the familiar and safe ways in creating music. He seems to understand that without passion moments of truth are few and far between. His spirit imbued with fire, energy and air that seem to compel him to write with courage and honesty, Vasquez is able to project his yearning for love and meaning through his music, giving it a true soulfulness.
John listens to his thoughts as they materialize and he gives birth to music that is pure and unlabeled - is it folk rock or mariachi soul?
I listened to several of John's recordings, some of which are slated to appear in a late September CD release and was lucky enough to hear a sneak preview of a few of John's songs.
I have to tell you that they are brilliant - The Other Side, Talking and Walking, and the Gold Gun are acoustic gems that combine the soul and intensity of Woody Guthrie with the street vocabulary of Tom Waits and the voice of the 'everyman'.
Vasquez even does a traditional reading of The House of The Rising Sun, restoring the premise of the original lyric in which young girls are caught up in the "sin and misery" of prostitution. It's much more powerful - and makes more sense- than the 1964 hit version by the Animals.
John Vasquez has something going on here - fresh and original even when he borrows from the masters.
We met early on a recent Saturday morning for this interview.
John was punctual; I was late - and I was sweaty and nervous. But I kept my funk. John didn't seem to mind. It was a thrill to finally get to know him even though I was cantankerous and ornery and I told stories and lied repeatedlyŠand it wasn't even my interview.
Review: John, can you give me a little background
John: I was born and raised in Saginaw. I've played music for about 13 years. It started in band at North School then later at Arthur Hill High School.
Review: So you were in high school bandŠdid you go to band camp? Things happen at band campŠhmm, never mind. Tell me more about your early years.
John: I originally wanted to play drums but my name wasn't drawn so I chose the trumpet by default...but I learned to love it. I had my own personal drive - you take the initiative or you don't. Two or three years later I picked up the guitar. I play bass, drums, piano and guitar. I've played guitar for ten years now.
Review: Did you take guitar lessons?
John: No. I was self-taught from "The 7-Basic Chords" guitar book. The drive to learn had something to do with it. I had the will to do it and I enjoyed itŠI love music.
Review: Did anyone inspire your love for music?
John: I was influenced by my mother's music, Def Leopard, Led Zeppelin and othersŠI also loved root music that my father loved. He listened to R&B and Latin - Mariachi music. Mom enjoyed dad's records too. They were open to all types of music. That's how I became interested in not limiting myself and it all mixed so well for me. It influenced me to be very beat oriented. I like strong rhythm - without the beat there's not as much actionŠI like people moving and I'm not a scene person. I'm all for the feel. If it feels good, it's good. I don't want to set boundaries for myself.
Review: Describe your music
John: Contemporary with an urban feel, definitely folk rock. Being from Saginaw certainly gives it an edge.
Review: Saginaw has always been a wild and wooly town since the lumberjack days. It always had an undercurrent of violence and we were always a bit naughty - for instance the brothels run by Rose Morton, the most famous Madame in Michigan history. How has Saginaw influenced you?
John: I grew upon the east side of Saginaw half my life. I was a little white kid on the east side playing with little black kids. We just played and had fun. It helped me differentiate my outlook. I know the other side, so I'm not so quick to make a judgment. Saginaw, for my generation, a lot of things are going to changeŠI think for the better.
I have a studio downtown in the Bearinger Building and I never have a problem. The people are great.
Review: How do you write your songs?
John: It starts when I collect ideas and words. I pull them apart and put them back together - at the right place and the right time. I don't force anything.
I hope to have some kind of impact on someone. I want people to walk away feeling important, to walk away and say 'he gave it his all and he's given his all for us.' Inspiration comes from experiences, conversations, waking and getting up in the morning. I have a child - Benjamin is 7 months old now - he's an inspiration to me. He's beginning to crawl and reach for things. He loves music already and I've taught him to clap his hands after I finish a song. He's born in a musical family. My father-in-law is a musician too - I can see Ben picking up a guitar.
Review: Who's your father-in-law?
John: John Krogman.
Review: Well, you sure DO have a musical family. John is a legend in Saginaw and created some of the most timeless music and sing-a-long anthems in our collective history. How has John influenced you?
John: He's given me drive and coached me about how to approach the music scene - what to look for and what to look out for. He's lent me equipment - the old P.A. he used at White's Bar. He believes in me; He helps me out. I've played a few times with him at the Junction on Hamilton Street and a few other places. We like to jam together and toss around ideas. If I approach John with an idea about a song, he gives me a real answer. He's always truthful. Honesty can sometimes be the best high.
Review: I understand you're working on a CD
John: Yes, I self-recorded it at my studio in the Bearinger Building. It's due out at the end of September. I didn't want the expense of linking to another studio and an outside producer. I really don't want to put something out that someone else produces. I just want to put out what's in my head - not altered by someone else's perspective. I have an ear for things and I know what I enjoy and what people around me enjoy and it helps me construct a particular sound. Writing music is a passion. I strive for simplicity. I don't like my music to be super chaotic. More is not necessarily better.
Review: You're billed as John Vasquez & the Bearinger Boys. Who's in your band?
John: Sean Chadwick is the drummer and I've known him for 13 years and my cousin Nate Kaiser plays electric guitar.
Review: What are you up to these days?
John: Well, I'm playing the Merlita Farm Festival on Labor Day weekend. I'm also involved with the Spectrum Group, a community of poets and artisans that volunteer and support community projects. We hope to beautify the city. We did the Rally in the Alley, creating 6 x 3 murals and placing them on boarded up and abandoned homes. Three beat poets- Bakari, Torn Line and Erin lead the group. You can join Spectrum through MySpace.
Review: Is there anything I missed?
John: I think I'm doing pretty well, only three months into the scene. I got tired of hiding. I'm really striving for authenticity. I play every show as if it's my last
John Vasquez is an artist with a deep interest in moral choices and through his music he reaches out to love and beauty. He is a dancer that goes deep inside himself and allows his body to respond to the music in its own way.
16th November, 2023