Johnny ‘V’ turns lifetime of blues stage work into musical mentoring in Point Loma
by Bart Mendoza
Feb 13, 2014 | 2406 views | 0 0 comments | 24 24 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Blues icon Johnny “V” Vernazza takes musicians of all skill levels under his wing during jam sessions/group workshops on Mondays at Rock and Roll San Diego on Sports Arena Boulevard.                                           Courtesy photo
Blues icon Johnny “V” Vernazza takes musicians of all skill levels under his wing during jam sessions/group workshops on Mondays at Rock and Roll San Diego on Sports Arena Boulevard. Courtesy photo
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Along with reggae, the blues probably has the biggest pull among San Diego music fans. True, there are only a few local venues like Patrick’s II that specialize in the music, but it’s also true there are few venues in town of any size that don’t feature blues somewhere on their schedule.

As much fun as it is to listen to blues music, it’s even more so when you participate in making the music. To that end, music school Rock and Roll San Diego has started a combination jam session/group workshop on Mondays at 6 p.m. that are open to participants of all skill levels.

There are many places in San Diego to learn blues and even a few venues that hold jam sessions, but the combination of the two, under the tutelage of slide guitarist Johnny “V” Vernazza, makes for a rare opportunity to learn about playing — as well as performing.

Vernazza is key to this.

San Diego has many great guitar players, but few have reached the heights of Vernazza at his 1970s prime. As a member of the Elvin Bishop Group, he scored gold in 1976 with the No. 4 hit, “Fooled Around and Fell In Love,” regularly performed at stadiums to more than 40,000 people and became the most frequent guest on NBC-TV’s show “The Midnight Special,” where he appeared 14 times, including a spot backing Van Morrison.

“To get lessons from someone like Johnny, who has been out there and has a lifetime of experience is great enough, but to be able to play with him in a group setting and trade guitar licks and ideas, that’s really something,” said Rock and Roll San Diego owner Mark Langford. “It is, indeed, learning from one of the best. But it can also be a lot of fun.”

The jam session runs from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., in the school’s Hendrix Hall, with lessons in everything from scales to blues turn-arounds, beginning at 5 p.m.

“I wanted this to be more than the sum of its parts,” said Vernazza. “Yes, prior to the jam, I’ll give a short seminar about the blues and show various techniques and I’m happy to give individual lessons if that’s needed, but what I’m happiest about is being able to showcase some of the other skills necessary in music, as well, including how to work with other musicians, when to lay back in a song and so on.”

In addition to touring, Vernazza also devotes time each week to working with the Wounded Warrior Battalion West at Camp Pendleton and will next appear at the Belly Up Tavern on Feb. 18 as part of the “Concert for Heroes,” a benefit for the SEAL NSW Family Foundation.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity to give back a little and help these brave men and women,” he said.

While he said he’s happy to still be touring the world, he’s also pleased to make the transition to teaching.

“I do enjoy passing on things I’ve learned over the years,” Vernazza said. “You get the right folks around and it’s a lot of fun to show them what I know.”

He points out that learning chords and progressions are only part of the equation.

“I’m approaching it more on how to improve your playing around other players,” he said. “It’s about how to complement the musical conversation, more so than just learning chords.”

He’s played some of the world’s biggest stages, as well as some of the most intimate. But Vernazza said the differences in such concerts can be relatively minor.

“I enjoy a big stage. In the stadium days, you really had room to move around and that can make for a better show,” he said. “But the amount of work and preparation you put into a performance itself, whether the draw is 10 people or 10,000, it’s the same.”

• Blues Workshop / Jam Session: Mondays at Rock and Roll San Diego, 3360 Sports Arena Blvd., 5 to 8 p.m.
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