Set #9: Justin Tipton

When Justin and I sit down to talk, him on the bench with the condenser mic before him and me across the room with a desk between us, I am reminded of a conversation that I had previously had with Jim. We were discussing little insecurities we had in certain environments, one of mine being that I felt inadequate to even hold these interviews in the first place and his counter that musicians feel far more comfortable talking with their instrument in hand. There is something to be said about letting down your walls and opening up. I have always thought that the first move in connecting with another person is to submit to a level of vulnerability. For me, that vulnerability is expressed through writing. For others, it’s music. Herbie Hancock once said, “Music happens to be an art form that transcends all language.” In essence, striking a chord with what cannot be spoken or articulated in words. In fact, while talking, Justin shared a salient example of this very notion. At Lockhart Smokehouse in Plano, a war veteran approached him with the request for a war song about Vietnam. “I don’t normally play war songs because they’re typically sad, and I don’t want to bring the room down, but for some reason that I night I had written down Jason Isbell’s, Dress Blues, on the set list.” As Justin played the song, the man wept. Instances like this shed light on the therapeutic possibilities of music through the use of music as an emotional outlet.

Before Justin was booking twelve to fifteen gigs a month, he was playing purely for himself as a way to help maintain a balance. “The higher you climb the harder you fall, and I’m one of those people that if I let myself get into a rut – I’ll stay there. So I think you’ve got to learn to level things out.” However, after a distant cousin coaxed him into playing the open mic down at Buzz Brews in East Dallas, he was hooked. After cold calling restaurants and bars non-stop, sometimes up to five a day, Justin started landing gigs everywhere. It seems to me that Justin’s approach is what has made him so successful in booking gigs in and around the Dallas area. From places like Lockhart Smokehouse in Plano and Three Sheets in Rockwall, to Whitehall Exchange in Oak Cliff and Nickel & Rye in Uptown, down to the residency he holds on Saturday nights at Yucatan on Lower Greenville. Over the last few years, many restaurants have begun hiring musicians to come play as entertainment for their guests, and they are willing to pay. Enough so that Justin has been thinking about going out on a limb to play music full time. Though he used to play strictly rock & roll music with elements of the singer-songwriter fashion, he has since been bitten by the blues bug. “I never get tired of the blues.” Before the development of the National Highway System, the river functioned as the main interstate connecting the north and south. Like the old adage 'you can never step foot in the same river twice,' the blues flowed upstream undergoing constant reinvention along the way. The simplicity of the 12-bar, 1-4-5-chord progression leaves room for an infinite number of poetic possibilities. This allows for the songwriter to expand and contract on their own experiences within a flexible medium, which is something Justin has been doing to prepare songs for his upcoming EP, Barefoot’d Blues. “I feel like I’m more of myself now, and that’s really where I want to be when this album gets recorded. I don’t want to be down, or going through change, because the records are forever.”

- Brittany Griffiths