SCOTT NEV: HE’S COOLER THAN YOU. IT’S OK. HE’S COOLER THAN ME TOO.
Interview by Aaron Porter
Transcription by Kim Sells
Scott Nev is cool. He’s not just cool but very cool. He is a man of many talents, from tuckpointing to juggling. Scott is a musical virtuoso. Find a instrument that he doesn’t play and we’ll give you a dollar (not really). That’s not what makes him cool though. On top of all that he’s a father and a husband. Scott Nev does it all, and he does it with a smile on his face and a song in his heart (The Weee-Oooo song we think). For that we give Scott mad respect. For the man who keeps it going long after the crowd is gone, for the man who invites you to drink even though he doesn’t know you. Ladies and gentlemen, Scott Nev.
Bluesletter: What in particular got you into the blues?
Scott Nev: My brother and I used to share a bedroom, and he’s about eight and a half years older than I am. When you’re a little kid and you got a big brother, you do what your big brother does. My big brother was listening to tunes and I grew up listening to a lot of hard rock and heavy metal was what they called it back then, now it doesn’t qualify, but…Uh, I got into Blues because he brought he brought home B.B. King’s “Live in Cook County Jail” and I started listening to that. So yeah,
probably living in the room with my brother.
[pullquote]I’m a tuckpointer. I used to be a full-time musician. I have a couple of kids, and I found myself working at Starbucks to get health insurance in order to provide for my family.[/pullquote]
BL: Are you a Chicago native?
SN: I am from the area. I grew up in Mount Prospect.
BL: When and what was the first concert you attended?
SN: I was probably about eight or nine and my mom took me, a buddy of mine, and my older brother and his friends down to Navy Pier – used to be ChicagoFest – and Journey was playing. I got to go see “Wheel in the Sky.” I don’t know if that was the first show because my brother took me to see UFO when they did Strangers in the Night at the Chicago Amphitheater. I was there on a Sunday night and they did three live shows. That was right around the same time my sisters took me to see Ted Nugent at the Aragon Ballroom when he came out with, (singing) “Never before have I turned on you – You look too good to me – Your beady eyes, they can cut me in two…it’s a free-for-all.” So it was one of those three shows. I was exposed to all that stuff when I was younger. The first blues show I ever saw was Albert Collins at Navy Pier during ChicagoFest. I definitely remember that. Albert Collins was just one of the best. He always made a connection with me where I ‘d go see him and just have a ball listening to him play and tell his stories and stuff. Albert Collins was my first blues concert. It was all interesting.
BL: Cool. How long have you been playing music?
SN: Let’s see…I started playing drums when I was ten and now I’m forty-two, so what’s the math there…thirty-two years. I picked up the guitar at fifteen, so I’ve played the guitar since then.
BL: Are you a full-time musician?
SN: No, I used to be, but now I am a guy who hangs on the side of the high rises down in the Chicago loop – I’m a tuckpointer. I used to be a full-time musician. I have a couple of kids, and I found myself working at Starbucks to get health insurance in order to provide for my family. I tried looking down the road – I tried to visualize where I was gonna be in ten years and I actually started playing more and more jobs for children, because I realized parents had money allocated for the kids parties – so I started doing that. I did any kind of gig I could get to make money, whether it was playing for kids at preschool or playing for elderly folks at the nursing homes. I even played with a jobbing (pickup) band playing disco tunes…swear to God!
BL: That would be awesome.
SN: I’ve done a variety of stuff. So, yeah for about two and a half years I was a full-time musician. But, it was a difficult thing to make everything happen, and to get everything…you know, a good place to raise children and to have a decent, consistent outlook on life with playing music. I found it was easier to get a day job and just play clubs that I want to play, to play places I enjoy playing instead of having to play every two-bit joint on a Wednesday night in the middle of nowhere, where I got a bunch of drunk people asking me if I play any good music.
BL: How old are your kids, by the way?
SN: I have a five year-old daughter, and my son turned nine on the 28th of October.
BL: So you’ve played for children – was any of that decision having to do with your kids?
SN: No, I did that before I had kids. I started out playing music as a drummer…you know the inherent thing of being a drummer is you have to put things on autopilot, and I later went on to play other instruments – the guitar and what have you. I thought, you know…I had a band and I got a call from an agent to do a gig at a library. They called for a blues band at the library and I thought, okay sure – I’d be happy to do that gig, and then I got to thinking about it…what am I going to do there? ‘Cause it ain’t like a nightclub where you’re playing for people who are drinking and who are having fun and wanna party – how am gonna keep these people really entertained? So, I thought about, and we did the gig. I pretended the drummer was sleeping and we did this goofy thing for the kids and for the retired folks over there, and it actually worked out pretty well. It was a gig during the day, it paid better than the clubs did, and I thought – how do I get into this and actually make money? It was actually because of that when I started thinking – oh, I can hit a drum and hit the cymbal with my feet while I still play guitar. I started concentrating on playing tunes where on the guitar – they call it Travis picking – where you’re pickin’ bass notes and melodies and chords all at the same time. So, I figured I’d do that plus add the feet and thrown in some kazoo and harmonica and a whistle or whatever. That’s how I got started playing for kids.
BL: Cool. And you said you were a tuckpointer?
BL: What does tuckpointing entail, I’ve never really heard of it?
SN: Okay, tuckpointing specifically is on a masonry building, brick or terra cotta where in between the bricks there’s mortar, and over time because of the weather – with the change of weather between the hot and the cold, it deteriorates. We grind it out. It’s fascinating.
BL: Haha…it is to me.
SN: Then we put it back in. It’s laborious, intensive, hard work. It also causes mesothelioma.
BL: That sounds wonderful.
SN: Haha, yeah it’s great, and you don’t have to smoke if you’re gonna do that.
BL: Besides the tuckpointing and playing for children, do you do anything outside of playing music, like hobby-wise?
SN: For money, you mean or just playing around? I’m a piano tuner. I’ve been the piano tuner on the Odyssey Cruise Ship for like the last fifteen years. But actually for fun, hobby-wise, my wife will tell you I’m obsessed with two wheels – motorcycling. I’ve been motorcycling since I was seventeen, and mountain bike cycling too.
BL: So, you like to mountain bike – didn’t you say you like juggling too?
SN: Uhh…yeah, but I haven’t done that in years. Yeah, I juggle and ride a unicycle. I’m big into off road motorcycling. I race motorcycles about a half dozen times a year. I’m a woods racer. I don’t do the motocross with the big jumps, although I have. Actually, this last August I cleared like a fifty-five feet tabletop – at forty-two years old. So, I’m still riding. I ride a lot. I’ve ridden to all four corner states of the lower forty-eight on separate motorcycle trips. Now I’m into more off road riding. I like to race off road.
BL: How did you get your start at Legends?
[pullquote] …Really it’s just about having a good time, letting the audience feel relaxed and having a good energy about the room. [/pullquote]
SN: My start at Legends? I got started here…a couple of things happened – I used to come to the Open Jam about twenty years ago and just sit in at the Open Jam. George Baze was running the Jam with Orlando Wright on bass; John Kattke was in George Baze’s group playing keys, although he’s a guitar player; and Kevin Johnston, the drummer. I got my start just coming down to the jam just because I wanted to play – and Buddy’s always offered a really kick-ass jam – then I got a gig playing with Harmonica Hinds. Because of the jam, I met a bunch of different people in the city who were working musicians, and I started getting into the scenes a lot more. I started working on my own, getting gigs and hiring guys to play. And, so I talked to a couple of people, I got Brian’s number and called him and he gave me a chance. I’ve been working here at Legends, I want to say it’s been six or seven years, doing the acoustic.
BL: Sometimes when you’re on stage you invite the audience to partake in refreshment with you. How did that tradition come about?
SN: How did that tradition come about? Umm, the tradition if you can call it such, just came out from my wife and I talking one day about performing and entertaining, and I read a book…James Taylor has a brother named Livingston Taylor, and he impressed upon me how you really need to make a connection with the audience and that the audience wants to feel like they’re part of the show. Greg and I(the bass player) were talking about naming the two of us and Greg said, “How about, The Drinking Brothers?” Because I like to have a couple of beers. So I thought that maybe we’ll throw out a couple of cheers. Really it’s just about having a good time, letting the audience feel relaxed and having a good energy about the room. So, it just came up from everybody that comes out to the nightclub. Most of the people are gonna be drinking something, so let’s just have a little toast, have a little fun. They’ll get to realize I’m just a regular guy and we can have a drink together. It’s a nice way to celebrate a good evening.
BL: There is a song you sing that’s call and response. What do you call it?
SN: I call it the “Weee-Oooo Song.
BL: The “Weee-Oooo Song.” I actually really love that song. Do you enjoy involving the audience in that way?
SN: Oh yeah, that’s why we’re here man – as entertainers. Really, unless you’re just a genius on an instrument, whoever you want to bring to the table – I’ve got to realize the facts and say, it’s better that the people have a good time listening to me and maybe we’ll have a little bit of rapport. I can’t just stand there and not say anything and just let my guitar work dazzle everybody. Because, honestly, there’s thousands of great guitar players out there, so I try to have a little niche and get to know the people a little bit, and have them get to know me. I’ll ask them, “Hey, where are you from?” This club’s an international club, it’s like the best club on the planet to play blues. People come from all over the world come to this place, to Chicago to see our museums, and they wanna hear blues. They’re coming to this club, so why not make ‘em feel welcome?
BL: Yeah, even Buddy – he’s an amazing guitarist, but he still understands the value of entertaining during his sets.
SN: That’s the whole deal right there.
BL: And then that’s what makes a performer memorable; being a performer and an entertainer.
[pullquote]My mom she’d say, “You know what? You can do whatever you want in life if you believe in yourself and you work at it, you can do it.”[/pullquote]
BL: Do you have a preferred method or style of play? I know you said you do like the kick drum, the hi-hat – and then you do the Travis picking?
SN: A preferred style of play? No. I like all kinds of music. Not only do I love the blues and rock’n’ roll but I listen to Latin music – Latin jazz. I listen to African music, I listen to just all kinds of stuff, and as far as playing the guitar or what have you, it just depends on the time and maybe the place where I’m playing. You know, I’m not gonna come here and play “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath, you know? But I love that tune, and I’ll play that tune and I’ll rock the shit out of it, man – but I ain’t gonna do it here, you know?
BL: Right, right. What’s on your mind when you take the stage at Legends?
SN: Just to have a good time. Yeah, have a nice time, get the people involved. Hopefully, give them a nice experience – a nice show, you know. Kinda put all my daily thoughts of life aside and just live for that moment of being up on the stage, and giving people an opportunity to hear my twenty-seven odd years of studying guitar and playing. So, a little disappearing act or time to get in the club and enjoy life – not so much stuck in our daily grind.
BL: If you only had one show left to play, who would be in your band? And, they have to be alive.
SN: E.G. McDaniel on bass; Kevin Johnston on drums, and Tom Viatis – “The Wizard” I call him. He’s a good buddy of mine. A phenomenal, inspirational jazz piano player who can play just about anything. And my buddy, Paul Streff, also a bass player. However, if I had like a fantasy thing where I could just call up guys I’d want to play with it would be Jeff Beck. I’d like to play with Maceo Parker, the sax man that was leading James Brown’s band. There’s a Cuban group called Cubanismo – I’d love to just play the shaker with them, or the cowbell and not play guitar at all. I mean, there are so many different musicians that are out there, it’s hard to say.
BL: Favorite drink of Scott Nev?
SN: Favorite drink? Uhh…you know, I enjoy beer. I enjoy a good Bloody Mary, and a good rum and Coke. As far as beer goes – it’s just like music, I like all different flavors.
BL: Do you have a favorite saying or mantra?
SN: You know, lately I heard a nice quote in reading this book – they had a quote from Henry Ford. Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re always right.” So, I’ve been trying to kinda keep that in mind. You know, if you tell yourself you can’t – whatever it is, you’re right, you’re not going to. You tell yourself you can, and you keep working at it – hard work – you’ll get there. My mom was big on that. I used to take drum lessons and she would take me. My mom she’d say, “You know what? You can do whatever you want in life if you believe in yourself and you work at it, you can do it.”
BL: Does anyone else in your family play an instrument or sing?
[pullquote]The main thing for me is to play clubs where people like to hear the music that I wanna play.[/pullquote]
SN: You know, it’s interesting – nobody in my family plays anything. My two sisters, my brother, my mom and dad – I don’t have any aunts or uncles that play anything. Something just happened, I don’t know why it happened with me, but I’ve always enjoyed music.
BL: What keeps Scott Nev playing?
SN: Playing music or just playing as a big kid? I play all the time. My wife will tell you. Haha – what keeps me playing music? It’s just a part of me whether I have a bunch of gigs laid out in the month, or I don’t have any. I’m always playing at my house. I literally have the same drum set like Ringo Starr – the old Ludwig kit; I’ve got a Fender roads; a Hammond organ; and an old upright piano. I’ve got a bass, I’ve got an old five string banjo – a lefty because I’m a lefty. I’ve got a nylon string guitar, a steel string, a twelve string, a steel string acoustic, and a couple of electrics. I’ve always got a harmonica in the car so If I’m driving home in traffic, instead of listening to the radio, which personally, I really can’t do much of these days – I’ll practice some harmonica. It’s just a part of me inside. I can’t really say what keeps me going…the constant strive to learn. There’s always a new puzzle to put together. I think of them as puzzles. Songs are puzzles, you know? There’s always new little bits and pieces to put together. There’s always learning. When you think you’ve gotten there, there’s always another mountain to climb, or another new tune to learn.
BL: Right! What are your plans looking towards the future? Are you thinking about getting back into a full band? Or do you feel like what you’re doing now is working for you?
SN: I love playing with a band. I’ve been trying to play here with my band. Although, I’m appreciated here as the acoustic guy with the niche of the guitar, drum, hi-hat; I enjoy just as much, if not more so, leading Kevin Johnston, whom used to play with Buddy. He was the drummer. I love the interaction of playing with other guys. Right now I’m working on a CD to get out to clubs to just use as a demo just to get gigs. I do have plans of playing more night clubs and shows, but for me it’s difficult to have a full-time regular gig and still be a dad and a husband. So, I’ve always got intentions of playing. The main thing for me is to play clubs where people like to hear the music that I wanna play. I could go out and get thousands of gigs playing Jimmy Buffet and whoever is the latest tribute that’s hot, and I could give a rat’s ass. I’m sick of it. There are people at House of Blues who are f**king tribute bands, you know?
BL: Right. Do you have a website?
SN: No. My email is email@example.com if people want to contact me or find out about shows. They can email me.
BL: Ok, last question – what is music to you? Or what is blues to you?
SN: To me music is about the groove – it’s about the feel. Now it may be about the story, but what grabs me more so is just that rhythm. It’s really a rhythmic deal. Take a song that you know really, really well – the melody. It could be a song from the time you were a kid – maybe just “Happy Birthday.” If I clapped the rhythm(clapping) and if you didn’t know I was going to clap “Happy Birthday,” you’d have a pretty good chance of picking out what song that was. If I just sang the melody without the words, but with a screwed up rhythm, you might not know what the tune is. So for me, it’s the rhythm, the feel. I came up playing drums, so for me it’s more about rhythm than it is so much about the story or about the lyrics, although those have great value in the music. You’ll have people from other countries listening to music that they have no idea what’s being sung, or why. Why do they listen to it? You know, they like the groove, they like the sounds, the colors that come out with the different instruments. Music for me is not all just about the rhythm, it’s about all of it put together – without being too philosophical or whatever. Music’s a part of life. It’s a great way to let your spirit out. They say, when you’re singing, God comes out of you, regardless of what you believe or what you were brought up with. I mean, it’s really something special that human beings can communicate or relate to one another whether they speak the same language or not. It’s kinda like food – I don’t wanna eat hamburgers everyday, I like a variety of it all. Music offers all that. You’ve got different rhythm, different tonalities. You can go to another part of the world where the scale that the music is based on is broken down into more finite sections instead of the twelve keys we have. In other parts of the world they’ve got more notes – they go in between the black notes and the white notes on the piano and they hit pitches in between those. We think it’s out of tune, but our ear isn’t used to it.