David Vest performs his danceable piano music – boogie-woogie – at Diners Rendezvous Jan. 28.

David Vest performs his danceable piano music – boogie-woogie – at Diners Rendezvous Jan. 28.

Bluesman strikes a chord during Nanaimo concert

David Vest performs at Diners Rendezvous in downtown Nanaimo this month

Music is often a collaborative process and no more so than in the blues.

Artist biographies and album liners notes are a who’s who of blues players in all stripes, from piano, to bass and electric guitar.

“That’s how we learn, is through sharing,” said David Vest, an Alabama-born piano player now calling Victoria home.

Vest came of age on the piano during the time of segregation in the southern U.S., when it was illegal for black and white musicians to interact, share ideas and perform in the same venue.

“They did it anyway – we did it anyway,” Vest said.

Vest hit the road, playing in bars, pubs and juke joints on the sidelines, honing his chops with Big Joe Turner and Bill Black’s Combo before touring with Jimmy T99 Nelson and performing with legends Floyd Dixon and Big Walter the Thunderbird.

Katie Webster, a blues piano pioneer, threw her arms around Vest in gratitude after one concert, which started a friendship. Tammy Wynette was also a close friend and Vest holds some of her first recordings, which he refuses to release despite their monetary value.

“I just miss her,” he said. “Sometimes it has kind of a sad element because a lot of my friends are gone now.”

He remembers influences of Little Richard and Fats Domino, who put the piano player at the front of the band. Vest was soon co-fronting the Paul deLay Band and then releasing his solo music.

Growing up in Alabama, music was everywhere, from gospel in church to the bluegrass on the radio. Back then, there was no distinction between rock, folk or blues – it was all just good music.

“It’s like you’re in the middle of the gumbo,” Vest said.

A W.C. Handy song was the first that Vest learned to play.

“I don’t ever remember not playing,” he said. “I just remember getting paid for the first time.”

While Mississippi and its crossroads might be regarded as the birthplace of the blues, Vest said his home state is the source of boogie woogie piano.

“A lot of the old boogie woogie piano came from Alabama,” he said.

In its earliest form, it took inspiration from the rhythm of the trains in the rural south but soon evolved.

“It’s the kind of music you play when you want to dance,” Vest said. “It’s dance music on solo piano.”

Vest’s road continued all the way to Canada, where he met and married his Canadian wife, settling in Victoria. He was welcomed by the blues community, performing at the Hornby Island blues camp last year, recording with Bill Johnson and touring next month with members of Downchild.

“There’s some pretty amazing people up here,” Vest said.

He plays his dancing music at Diners Rendezvous Jan. 28 at 8 p.m. Tickets $25; $20/students and members. Please call 250-740-1133.

arts@nanaimobulletin.com