David Vest launched his musical career alongside the pioneers of rock and roll, and the boogie woogie pianist is bringing that same era of music to the Dream Café.
He made his first dollar as a musician in 1957, and by the time he was 18 in 1962, Vest was invited to perform as the opening act for Roy Orbison in Alabama – the state he grew up in.
“There were two shows, and the first one hadn’t been advertised on the poster so it was poorly attended,” said Vest. “Roy went out and performed for about 100 people or fewer, and he gave the same show he gave that night (to the fuller audience). I mean he held nothing back, both crowds got the whole thing. That’s the way you treat people – every time you go on stage you bring your best.”
Having adopted many of his preferences through 1950s pop culture, the piano has been used by Vest as the lead instrument all throughout his career.
“Everywhere I looked there was Gerry Lee Lewis in front of a band, or Fats Domino, and Little Richard.”
As a popular instrument, the piano has gone in and out of style throughout his lengthy career, but Vest never changed his formula.
“There was a time in the ‘70s and ‘80s when nobody wanted a piano player – you needed to play a synthesizer. I wouldn’t have known how to pick one up or what end to grab it by,” he said. “And then everybody went crazy over the B3 organ. I just went right on to play the boogie woogie, and it kind of feels like the times coming back around by the way it’s being received.”
Vest said he tries his best not to modernize his sound, and while he admits that it’s inevitable, his latest album, Roadhouse Revelation, shows that he still uses the same vintage blueprints.
“My new songs kind of sound like they came from the 1940s and even earlier, because that’s just the bag I’m in.”
His music continues to achieve commercial success; several of the tracks off of Roadhouse Revelation are listed among the top 30 songs on many radio stations throughout Canada.
“That really surprised me. I guess the kids listening to those stations hadn’t figured out how old I am.”
His mindset is immune to the effects of aging, so being 71 years old is something he has to see to believe.
“Every morning when I get up, I think of myself as a 19 year old, and I look in the mirror and see the truth and think, ‘God what happened to you? who did this?’”
In the mid-1960s, shortly after he was 19, Vest moved out of Alabama to Nashville, Tennessee. While Nashville is reputable for having strong music culture, he wasn’t able to embrace it.
“Most of the music I liked has been composed by black artists, and it couldn’t be more clear that black artists weren’t welcome in Nashville.”
Only a few years later he relocated to Virginia. Vest then spent some time in Europe before moving to Texas. It wasn’t until he fell in love with a Canadian that he moved to British Columbia.
“It was love at first sight. I came up to have a cup of tea with her in Victoria at Murchies (Tea and Coffee) and I got off the boat, looked around, and said ‘how long has this been goin’ on?’”
He said he’s never thought about leaving Canada after stepping foot inside, and has since become a permanent resident.
“When they gave me the Maple Blues Award the first time (in 2012 for Piano/Keyboard Player of the Year), that really felt like the music industry was saying ‘welcome to Canada, we’re glad you’re here.’ When they gave it to me the second time (the same award in 2014), it felt like they were acknowledging that I’m here to stay.”
Vest performs at the Dream Café on Oct. 10. at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $30 and can be purchased by calling 250-490-9012.