English singer-songwriter Chris Jagger interprets Americana of all stripes as if raised across the Atlantic. His 16 track retrospective All The Best visits country, Cajun, hip-shaking rock & roll, zydeco and the very essence of ‘the blues’. Even before he entered the music industry, his appreciation of African-born and other global rhythms led him toward an inevitable path.
Multi-instrumentalist Charlie Hart will join Jagger on his forthcoming Australian tour. Jagger recalls, “Charlie says, ‘Listening to music is a great art. Don’t underestimate its importance. It’s all very well to play music but until you listen well enough, what are you going to play?’ I was fortunate enough in my youth to listen to some of the best. Watching Ike and Tina Turner on YouTube the other day, I thought, ‘Man, I remember when that show came over with The Rolling Stones in the 60s. I was there watching it all, taking it all in.”
Jagger’s family listened to ‘whatever was on the radio of the day’. “My mother liked lively music, dance music, light classical…even a bit of gypsy fiddle,” he laughs. In fact, All The Best track ‘Lights Of The City’ has a fiddle-laced Klezmer sound. He serves a cheeky country-style slap to ‘very busy, very important’ record company execs on ‘He’s In A Meeting’. Bluesy vocals take a stroll down Chicago way with honky tonk piano on Big Maceo’s ‘Wintertime Blues’. New single ‘Avalon Girls’ was inspired by his recent Glastonbury appearance. There’s also some distinctive guitar work from David Gilmour.
As a journalist, Jagger hung out with blues greats like Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. Besides guitar and washboard, Jagger plays a mean harmonica. “It’s one of those things a singer plays when he doesn’t know what else to do. My brother loves Little Walter, who’s like the doyen of it all, still. I was watching Junior at a little club gig once. Just a small guy, well into his 60s, in no way kinda handsome…but he had a charisma. Hat on. Sharp suit. Out front, mesmerising all these young girls. Junior sings a line, then there’s a gap, then the harmonica lick. It’s subtle and so cool. It was a lesson in how to put on a show and what to give people,” he says.
Jagger’s work roles have included guitar production, theatre and radio. All The Best comes with a DVD of documentary I Got The Blues In Austin featuring interviews with Pinetop Perkins and Hubert Sumlin. Like so many fans, Jagger first heard the blues via artists like Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones. Mining back, he discovered modern music’s African roots sung in English. “The language of Shakespeare. You hear someone like Robert Johnson and think, ‘Man, that’s poetry.’ So you’ve read your Shelley and listened to ‘The Crossroads’.”
After decades of writing, recording and performing, Jagger is happily working with the support of BMG Records (Berlin), dedicated to taking his music to a wider audience. “Charlie makes the point that it takes a long time to build up a body of work [to] get respect. In my case, it’s taken a hell of a bloody long time!” he laughs. “Partly because of who my brother is and the [inevitable] comparisons. I get the brother thing quite a lot. If you have a super famous brother who’s the life and soul of party, people can pass you over.”
The infectious ‘Concertina Jack’ (from 2013’s Atcha!) tells the story of a wayward ancestor. The squeezebox-playing baker shot through on his large family to settle in Sydney. Combined vocals of the Brothers Jagger make for a rollicking blend in the chorus. Last time in Bendigo, Jagger played solo shows. He says, “I’ve known Charlie (accordion, piano, fiddle) since I was 19. There’s a bit of magic goes on when we start playing. Kind of just a nod or a wink. You’re on the same page.”
Written by Chris Lambie
The Bendigo Blues & Roots Festival runs from November 9 – 12.Tickets can be purchased via www.bendigobluesandroots.com.au/tickets/
Jagger will also be performing at Birds Basement in Melbourne on November 6, and Saints & Sailors Portarlington November 18.