All good bluesmen have a killer back story. 22-year-old Jared James Nichols grew up in the shadow of Wisconsin’s Alpine Valley amphitheatre – the site of Stevie Ray Vaughan’s final show and tragic helicopter crash – and seems to have channelled the area’s aura.
“I used to sneak up there with my guitar,” he tells MusicRadar. “I remember when I was about 15 years old, I rode my bike up there and stood right on the big X in the middle of the stage for three hours and just riffed out.”
His tribute seems to have pleased the blues gods, as Nichols has since developed into one hell of a promising torch-bearer – blending his beloved SRV, Paul Kossoff, and Alberts Collins and King, into an electrifying brand of his own.
“My mum used to take me out to blues jams and say, ‘My son plays guitar, can he play with the band tonight?’ he recalls. “They’d all look at her funny, and I’d be scared to death, then sure enough they’d call me up and I’d play with them. One thing led to another and we started doing that three or four nights a week.”
The chance to get onstage and jam from such an early age helped Nichols find his burgeoning inner bluesman – and get a hold on the essential ‘feel’ that can prove so elusive to younger players. “I just dropped what I thought I was supposed to play and started doing what felt good,” he says.
‘What felt good’ was losing his guitar pick, and now – aside from his Les Paul Junior and Blackstar Series One – it’s that which has the biggest impact on his tone.
“When I play with my fingers, I can coax all of the different tones I want with just the volume and the tone knobs,” he explains. “If something goes wrong, it’s the guitar, the amp or me!”
It’s a stripped-back approach to the instrument that’s in-tune with the blues ethos, so if you’re struggling with your playing, start listening to yourself...
“The biggest thing that hinders most players is not finding their own voice,” summarises Nichols. “You have to see the greatness of that [past] music and then take it somewhere else.”