Guitarist extraordinaire and the modern-day Blues Rock Ambassador Jared James Nichols spent some time with recently to talk about his new single “Bad Roots” off his upcoming EP Shadow Dancer to be released in September 2021, his return to performing live, being a Gibson Brand Ambassador, touring with John 5 and memories of the late Dusty Hill from ZZ Top. Catch Jared James Nichols on tour starting August 10. For all things Jared James Nichols click here.

Hello Jared – thanks for taking time to talk with – Are you in Nashville or LA today?

JJN: I am in Nashville, just got back from LA yesterday . . .

Obviously, you were in LA for the Soundcheck Live show which was unfortunately cancelled last minute due to Covid concerns – that was going to be an EPIC show with yourself, Orianthi, Doug Aldrich, Gilby Clark about a million other musicians.

JJN: I was extremely bummed, I was REALLY looking forward to it. I was going to see so many old friends and it was gonna feel like the times we all know, love and miss. Such a bummer . . .

When you play those types of shows – is there any rehearsal with the other musicians or do you typically just jump onstage together and let it roll?

JJN: To be honest, no rehearsals, I have never done anything like this with rehearsals . . . I remember one time I went to Lake Tahoe to play with Gilby Clarke – he sent me a setlist the week before then said, “alight man, I’ll see you at the gig”.

That’s probably funny to people that aren’t musicians but there’s this kind of commonality between all of us as players. Only thing that happens is right before we go on it’s like “OK – I’m playing this part, you’re playing that part” and then its just the energy and excitement and the common knowledge of the music together.  

I was so looking forward to Soundcheck Live, I was gonna do a tune with Orianthi, one with my buddy Doug Aldrich then a Jam at the end of the night but things happen and here we are – no gig.

File Photo by Chris Loomis

You have just released two badass songs – “Skin N Bones” back in June and “Bad Roots” earlier this week from your upcoming Shadow Dancer EP. “Bad Roots” has a real catchy rock n roll groove to it – kind of reminds me of Deep Purple – its kind of a little different sound both guitar wise and vocally – tell me a bit about how that song came about.

JJN: Thanks for that. With everything that’s been happening the past year and a half, when I got home off the road, I started writing and I really took the time to try and write some different songs, with what I was thinking, what I was feeling.

With a song like “Bad Roots”, I went back to my roots and just started listening to music again and thinking to myself – what is it that makes these songs so good, what is it I love so much about those songs. With Deep Purple, Sabbath – all that stuff, it was always the groove, the feel, the overall sound of the band.

So with “Bad Roots” we went there, I said to myself, “I want to make a hard hitting, rock n roll, turn it all the way up song” – like you are speeding down the freeway just burning it up. What ended up happening, when we got in a room to do the song, we were so excited about it, we started at one speed/tempo, then were like no . . . faster, faster until we got it where we liked it. We recorded that all live – no computer – just to tape, like the old days and I think it really took us somewhere else.

And vocally too, I have been trying to further develop my vocals and try different things and not be nervous about it. “Bad Roots” was one of the big ones to do that and I am so happy I did because it took me somewhere else.

Well, I think you nailed it – it is a GREAT rocking tune.

JJN: Thanks – I so appreciate that.

Check out the lyric video for “Bad Roots” here

File Photo by Chris Loomis

The Shadow Dancer EP comes out in September. What is the inspiration for that album title?

JJN: I was watching this weird documentary and it was talking about what a shadow dancer was – it was saying Indians used to refer to them as ghosts . . . I thought that was so cool – watching that always stuck with me.

This riff I wrote – the title track “Shadow Dancer”, it’s a really off the wall riff for me, almost like grunge – like the style of Alice in Chains. So that riff, I just played it over and over and I was like man, if there was ever a riff I have written that sounds kind of “ghostly” – it’s that one. So I wrote that song “Shadow Dancer” around that riff.

And what’s so funny, when I played it for everyone in its raw form they were like – ehh that’s cool, whatever. But when we started to work on it and developed it a bit more in the studio, all the sudden everyone was like whoah – that is a cool, cool song. So the song went from underdog to title track.

I think people when they hear it are really gonna dig it . .  . if you like Soundgarden, Alice in Chains – that style of grunge – you are gonna love it!

Your band is super tight live, do you still have Dennis Holm on drums and Baron Fox on Bass/Keys and are they the ones recording with you?

JJN: Yes – Dennis Holm is still on the drums and Baron unfortunately wasn’t with us for the session. He is still a big part of what we are but due to the Pandemic he had some challenges and had to sit this out. We actually brought in an old friend of ours – Nashville native Clark Singleton on the bass. He was here and we have been working with him.

So will Baron be out on tour with you or is he still on Hiatus?

JJN: Baron remains on hiatus – no hard feelings, nothing bad has happened – we are all on the same page but we are super lucky to have Clark onboard.

When I lived in Los Angeles and I used to see Clark playing and I said “Man we are gonna play together someday” – this was like 10 years ago. Fast forward to February 2021 and I hit him up and I’m like – what are you doing?” and he’s like – nothing – what’s going on? I said I got some music and it just worked out.

Clark is super organic, and we are just good old friends . . . so he will be with us on the John 5 tour.

Let’s talk about a few things Gibson . . . you have two signature Gibson guitars – the “Old Glory” and the “Gold Glory” and you were recently named a Gibson Brand Ambassador alongside Slash and Dave Mustaine – that’s some pretty elite company to be mentioned with. What exactly is a Brand Ambassador and what are your responsibilities as such?

JJN: So the Brand Ambassador – in the beginning when Gibson asked me, I didn’t even know what it meant. So what this means is, it is signifying the relationship Gibson and myself have already established but its basically ensuring more signature guitars in the future across their different product lines. I have been asked to do so many different things with Gibson . . . I just did a commencement speech for a bunch of young Gibson guitar players – that was so cool and an honor.

As far as advertising goes – I have had a ton of opportunities to share myself in different avenues in the music industry . . . I guess in layman’s terms – it elevates my profile with Gibson and puts me in a different place compared to players who are just endorsed.

I am so honored, and I really mean that – I am honored to have such a powerhouse of a company giving me all this prestige – its just feels amazing. If you have told me when I was kid – I would be where I am now – I would have never believed it, but here we are.

Check out Jared’s signature guitars here

One of the unique aspects of your guitar playing is you play pick less (without a pick using just your fingers). Did you start from the beginning playing without a pick and what specifically does playing without a pick do for your guitar tone?

JJN: The reality is, I am a lefty . . . everything I do in my life is left-handed. When I first picked up the guitar I wanted to play lefty. I was at the guitar shop and I remember being there with my parents to get me my first guitar (the starter pack with the amp, the cables) – I was so excited – so stoked.

I was holding the guitar as a lefty (like Jimi Hendrix did) and I remember the guy at the guitar store said “hey man – you have to flip the guitar” – you need to hold it the other way . . . you want to be a righty on guitar because if you are a lefty you will have a real hard time trying to find guitars to play.

Being young – I didn’t know – I figured the guy was right so I flipped the guitar righty and I started to pick the strings with my thumb and index finger and was just doing that – then the guy was like – “you need to use a guitar pick” . . . so I did play with a pick the first few years but there is something about playing with your fingers – maybe it’s because I am a lefty . . . It’s like if you were to wear a glove on the hand that you use on the neck – you wouldn’t feel anything. I crave that touch and sensitivity when I am picking – I want to feel every note I am picking.

When I started doing that – it wasn’t like I was trying to be different, it just personally felt right to me. It’s funny cause now it’s like “you’re that no pick guy” – but to me it’s no big deal.

When I moved to Los Angeles – I was sticking out like a sore thumb – no pun intended – and it just became my thing. I am pretty aggressive with my fingers and it gives me a little different tone and a different edge – it’s been great as it’s helped me find my own sound – it’s very personal to me and its awesome people are into it.

We are always focusing on your guitar playing but you are also a fantastic vocalist – when did you realize you could sing?

JJN: With the vocals, I’ve always loved to sing. When I was a kid my Dad would play like Patsy Kline and I would sing along and I would sing a lot of old country stuff. Even when I was getting into guitar – I loved singing BUT it took a back seat completely as I was totally obsessed with the guitar.

When I moved to Los Angeles in 2010 – I started to jam with Dennis (Holm) but we were like – OK who’s gonna sing? And at that moment I said “I guess I will sing” . . .

So with that I had to start finding my own voice, so slowly but surely I started singing and developing it – but I was looking for my own sound. Interestingly I really didn’t start to take my voice seriously until I was at home all this time with this pandemic as I said to myself – I want to get to the next level vocally.

So just like with the guitar – my voice is a work in progress, but I feel like I am really starting to “move some mountains” and I really dig the way my voice sounds with this new music.

So did you ever have self-confidence issues hearing your own voice once you started singing?

JJN: 100% – vocally I would always hide behind my guitar so to speak. I always did the vocals because I had to do it, but it wasn’t until recently that I said to myself, ”hey man let your guard down” – once I did that it was one of the most freeing things I have ever done – I stopped being so nervous.

So, the self-confidence thing, it has taken years to get over, but I’m there now.

On August 10 you head out on the road with John 5 (again – you have already done a couple tours with him) – how excited are you to finally be playing live again and tell me a bit about your relationship with John 5.

JJN: This will be my third time touring with John 5 but like the song says – “Feels like the first time” – I can’t wait to get back out there and play.

So I gotta say – maybe 2004, I saw John play with Marilyn Manson and I was like who is this crazy dude on the guitar and I figured his personality was as wild and scary as his persona was on stage but when I met John that couldn’t have been further from the truth as he is one of the sweetest guys I have ever met.

He’s funny and he is really, really kind and just an all-around sweetheart of a person. We actually shared a bus together, so not only was I on tour with him, but we were living together for about a month and a half.

And I gotta say – everyday, one of the most consistent guys I have ever met, always in a great mood, happy to be out touring, connecting with his fans and playing that guitar. And with guitarists I would say sometime there is oh some competitiveness or ego and I gotta say from day one there was never any kind of weird vibes and of course I respect him and I look up to him as a player. He has always treated me so cool – I’ve gotten to jam with him and play his guitars – it’s just so cool.

And to travel with him, someone who has been in the industry so long and played with so many people – he has so many stories – it’s just a great time. I feel lucky to be in such close contact with him – hopefully some of that mojo and that talent can rub off on me.

One last question, we had the untimely death of Dusty Hill from ZZ Top pass away recently . . . did you know Dusty personally or have a Dusty Hill story to mention?

JJN: I didn’t know him as personally as I know Billy Gibbons, I’ve had many epic memories with Billy but yes I had supported ZZ Top and played on a few bills with them. I met Dusty a handful of times and again – consistently, sweetheart of a guy – always had time to talk, always would give you the time of day. He was one of the titans of his era, when I think about ZZ Top – I am such a fan and whenever I got to be around them, it was a special moment, I felt like I was talking with a giant.

One of my earliest shows I went to was ZZ Top and seeing that live and hearing the sound of that trio blew me away. So whenever I think of my influences, ZZ Top is right up there. Dusty’s passing is just sad and it’s a huge loss for not only his family and friends but for us as fans as well.

We all will keep his spirit alive and that guy created something that will live on forever – it’s a sad day for rock n roll.

Jared, thanks so much for taking the time to talk all things music – have a wonderful day and see you on the road soon!

JJN: Thanks so much