Victor Wainwright

Aug 19, 2020

Victor Wainwright
Credit Victor Wainwright

Muddy Bottom Blues

Program #215 (August 21 at 8:00 p.m. and August 22 at 3:00 p.m.)

Playing revved-up boogie-woogie and vintage blues, Victor Wainwright is a pianist and singer who embraces the traditions of the blues while carrying them into the 21st century.

Blessed with a tough, soulful voice that matches the speed and force of his keyboard work, Wainwright's music is steeped in boogie-woogie and blues, but he's added enough other flavors to entertain fans outside the immediate circle of blues purists.

On Wainwright's debut album, 2005's Piana from Savannah, his approach was straightforward vintage honky tonk music, but his later efforts with his band Victor Wainwright and the WildRoots (2011's Lit Up!, 2015's Boom Town) added more extensive instrumentation as well as accents of jump blues and first-era rock & roll. With 2018's Victor Wainwright and the Train, he debuted a new band that took his roots in blues and boogie and beefed them up with large arrangements, more extensive guitar work, and a jam band sensibility.

Victor Wainwright was born in Savannah, Georgia, on February 4, 1981. He was exposed to blues music at an early age; his father and grandfather were both musicians who favored the style, and they were friends with Pinetop Perkins, the legendary blues pianist who had worked with Muddy Waters, Robert Nighthawk, and Earl Hooker. Young Wainwright started taking piano lessons as a child, and was able to play Beethoven's "Für Elise" at the age of ten.

Growing up, Wainwright was influenced by country and blues artists such as Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Ray Price, and Johnny Cash. In his teens, Victor developed a taste for grunge bands like Nirvana and Alice in Chains, but also continued to study the blues, and he started playing Savannah nightspots backing blues guitarist Eric Culberson.

In college, Wainwright studied air traffic management and psychology, and went on to land a job in Memphis as an air traffic controller. However, when Wainwright struck up a friendship with musician Stephen Dees, the latter encouraged Victor to focus on his skills as a pianist, and Dees would produce Wainwright's first album, 2005's Piana from Savannah, which they released on their own Wild Roots Label. After the record's release, Wainwright and Dees assembled a band, Victor Wainwright & the WildRoots, and they hit the road.

Wainwright and the group cut a second album, Beale Street to the Bayou, which was released in 2009, while Lit Up! followed in 2011. Thanks to enthusiastic reviews and steady roadwork (in both 2012 and 2013, he played more than 300 shows a year), word began to spread about Wainwright and his band among blues fans, and after jamming with guitarist Damon Fowler, the two assembled a side project, Southern Hospitality, who released the album Easy Livin' via the Blind Pig label in 2013. Victor Wainwright & the WildRoots reconvened in 2015 to release an LP for Blind Pig, Boom Town, which rose to the Top Ten of the blues album charts.

In 2016, Wainwright received the Blues Foundation's Blues Music Award for B.B. King Entertainer of the Year, and in 2017 he earned the Blues Music Award for Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year. By this time, Wainwright had split from the WildRoots and formed a new group, Victor Wainwright and the Train, with a larger lineup and a more eclectic approach that incorporated jam band and psychedelic flavors into the mix. They released their self-titled debut album via Ruf/Proper Records in March 2018, and the record earned a Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album.

Emboldened by critical success and extensive touring, Wainwright and the Train returned in 2020 with their second full-length release, Memphis Loud.

(provided by Allmusic)