Feature Band

I just discovered this tribute site to John Vandiver run by his daughter Joanna or "Jojo" as she signs her notes. It is a beautifully simple site with pictures and stories of a wonderful singer-songrwiter from Dallas who I only knew of up until now as one of Shake Russell's running buddys. I do remember the annoucement on the local radio when he died a tragic death in 1985 saying that he and girlfriend/manager Debbie Davis were murdered in their home near Magnolia, TX. "I am telling John's story through the photos and stories of his friends and fans." says Joanna, "I have tried to include a little bit of everything so please explore and remember, enjoy and heal."

I found Joanna's site through Lucky and Jinelle Boyd's excellent MyTexasMusic.Com where I heard clips of John's magnificent voice and now I am beating myself up for not listening sooner. I have purchased the new release I Found A Dream and so should you! John Vandiver, like I said, had a magnificent voice and the songs on this release capture that voice and his playful laid back attitude again and again. Joanna writes on the web site, "When I was trying to decide what songs should be included on the first CD release Shake Russell suggested I use a set of songs from a tape that John was making copies of and selling out of his trunk at gigs in 1984. Not only was it a good idea, but the recordings from those tapes have turned out to be some of the best. Both in quality and musically. They were recorded at Poor David's Pub in Dallas, Tx. The songs on John's tape were from June 23, 1984. I used songs from three of his performances that year at Poor David's; April 14, June 23 and August 21, 1984. I did this in order to be able to add more songs to the playlist and so that I could get the best quality recordings. David Hough (the man in charge of the music technicalities) has done a wonderful job of bringing the reel to reel tapes back to life. I believe the final product was well worth the wait." Believe it Jojo! It's true.

A mix of originals and covers, every song also features wonderful bluesy acoustic picking by Vandiver with the standout for me being St. James Infirmary. He takes a song I always found scary and brooding when I used to listen to the late great Joey Long play it and turns it into a roof raising gospel. His original song "Comin Home" and the cover of Taj Mahal's "Cakewalk Into Town" take me right back to the early eighties when I was graduating high school, hanging out at Memorial Park and finding out about public radio, KPFT, and Shake and Dana. I've also read where KLOL was playing tapes of Shake and John around this time. I must have heard those and assumed it was just Shake. I know better now.

Comin' Home - John Vandiver (center) with Shake Russell/Dana Cooper Band at Rockefeller's.

The Photos page at the tribute site will tear your heart out. Seeing the smiles of John and Debbie together and realizing how they were tragically taken away. I can surely understand why it took so long for Joanna to start this restoration but she has done an excellent job showing the good times, their family, and the history of her father and his music.

John and Debbie

Then there's the Memories page, full of heartfelt stories and quotes from people like Robert Mendez who was instrumental in starting Joanna down this road. "John Vandiver sang the blues and played guitar in the style of the legendary blues greats from Chicago to Florida. Big Bill Brounzy, Jimmie Reed and Bessie Smith were among some of his influences. He covered pop greats like Randy Newman and Van Morrison and he wrote beautiful ballads like 'Country Girl' and harmonized with folk legends from all over Texas. During the sixties, right out of high school, he learned from greats like Mance Libscomb, and actually chauffered Mance around the southwest. He helped carry Mance's bags, and then he provided Mance an opening act, and before John turned forty, he would sing Hogey Carmichael's "Georgia On My Mind" so that it belonged to him, as much as Ray Charles. His iron worker-like fingers, armed with metal picks, never inhibited him from gracefully dancing around the first Bill Collings arch top guitar ever made while driving a baseline with his thumb which Ray Wylie Hubbard likened to a metronome. By the summer of 1977, he was a solo act. The strongest solo act many of us ever encountered." writes Robert, "Just as there were many sides to this talented special human being, there are many versions of story to tell about him. This site is dedicated to inspiring those who truly loved the man, his music and his life to join in and share your thoughts with us and help us celebrate his life."

A neat way to learn the history of John Vandiver is to read the Press pages on the tribute site. Learning how John met up with Shake and his journey around the states and back to Houston in his own voice through interviews and reviews of his shows. I tell you, I could sit here and copy pictures and quotes off this site all day but it's better you just get on over there and see it for yourself. You won't regret it.

~ mlandrum

Quotes and images courtesy http://www.johnvandiver.com

John Vandiver