“Blues are the only thing that makes me happy. Isn’t that ironic?” (‘Lost Love’ from the debut CD’)
At Bonn Harmonie on Thursday, remembering his late father Luther as a front runner of the electric Blues, Bernard Allison called her “The newcomer, coming along to pull up the rear end”. She’s the newcomer on this year’s Blues Caravan Tour. Talking to Vanja Sky after the show I asked for her favourite Rory Gallagher track and got a long list back – it would have been longer but Mike Zito reminded her there were a queue of people patiently waiting with CD’s in hand for autographs. With such an obvious enthusiasm for Rory 3songsbonn took an immediate liking to the young Croatian and asked to send a few questions her way. She was kind enough to do so next day. On the evidence of Thursday’s performance this girl is going to be around for quite a while on the Blues scene, so here is where your knowledge of Vanja Sky and her music starts. Where it ends is up to the lady herself. The sky, as they say, is the limit…
My research tells me that only five years ago you were a pastry chef? Is that right?
Your research is spot-on – I finished the school for a pastry chef and I was working in the kitchen since I was 17.
And then, so the story continues, you went to a Blues show in Croatia and decided to stop making pastry and start making music. A Eureka! moment it seems. Tell me a little about that. Who was the inspiration? And what happened?
When I was 19, I went to my first blues show at “American Bar” in the city of Umag (a coastal city in Croatia) and saw a guy, Denis Makin, playing the blues and yeah, it really was a Eureka! moment ha!ha! The energy, I can’t even describe it in words, but it was a life changing moment because the next day I ordered a cheap guitar, knocked at Denis’s door and asked him to show me some chords.
After a while, I stopped working as a pastry chef and started to clean houses, buildings, was a dishwasher, worked in a factory, just in order to dedicate myself to music .
You then spent some years gigging in Croatia and Serbia. There must have been comparisons to Ana Popovic. Was she an inspiration for you when you started out?
Yes, I’ve heard that comparison a lot of times, but no, she wasn’t my inspiration because when I was starting my heroes were Rory Gallagher, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Albert King, Alvin Lee…
I like that heavy rock-blues sound !!!
How did you come to be named Vanja Sky?
Well, for me ‘sky’ is something that can describe freedom, believing, trust. Every time I look up there I can feel that there is somebody. It’s the same feeling you get while you’re on stage. A feeling of freedom, believing in the music, and when you record something it stays forever, just like the sky ! 🙂
Did you release any records prior to signing for RUF?
No, Bad Penny is my very first release .
How did you come to be signed to RUF Records?
Guitarist Laurence Jones recommended me to Mr. Ruf, and then Mr Ruf traveled to Croatia to hear me on a show. It was acoustic, but I played couple of my songs, he liked them – and the adventure started !
Suddenly you were recording in Tennessee…
We went to Bessie Studio in Stantonville to record the “Low down & Dirty” song for our blues caravan .
The producer is Mr Jim Gaines, an amazing man (Producer for Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana and John Lee Hooker amongst other legends – Editor)
I mean, the whole experience for me was just mind blowing. At one moment you dream about something and then the dream is starting to be real ! Bernard Allison, Mike Zito, Yonrico Scott, Dave Smith, Mr.Gaines , they all made me feel comfortable and helped me out to do it right. I’m very thankful to all of them.
The disc is described as “Modern electric Blues with a straightforward Rock n Roll Attitude”. Is that a fair description? Or do you see it differently?
I think it’s very fair !
That’s the way I see music – power, energy; to be able to transfer that to people and make them happy. That’s the right deal !
I remember some year’s ago interviewing Oli Brown on the Blues Caravan Tour as a fresh Bluesman. He’s now gone firmly in a hard rock direction. How do you see your own style developing?
Good question. I would like to go right on that blues-rock way. As I already told you, Rory Gallagher is my hero. When you see him you can just see a person that does it with total honesty, enjoying the music 100%, and just spreading that energy on people like a magic dust.
So, that’s the way I wanna go!
The Bad Penny CD includes Luther Allison’s ‘Low Down & Dirty’. and here you are, playing it with Luther’s son Bernard. How does that feel?
Huuuh, even now, still unreal!
Right now I’m the happiest person on this planet, sharing the stage with Bernard, Mike, Roger & Mario. I call it LIVING THE DREAM.
I’m learning so much from all of them, they are willing to help me, giving me great advice and we are having tons of fun !
Germany is amazing !!!
The new disc is named after a track on Rory Gallagher’s 1979 album ‘Top priority’ (an album recorded in Cologne I should add) and seeing your battered looking Stratocaster style guitar on the stage before the show was great. What are your thoughts on Rory? Did you ever get to see him play live?
My guitar was made by Mr Tiho Krajnovic at Indra Custom Guitars – big thanks to him for making my dream guitar !
Rory,Rory,Rory, I just can feel a part of him in my heart & soul .
Unfortunately I never saw him live because I was just one year old when he passed away.
It’s a big honor to have a chance to carry his music on.
I haven’t heard the track ‘Bad Penny’ yet. How did you come to choose it especially from Rory’s huge catalogue, and how did you approach the song as compared to Rory’s original version?
Bad Penny was the first Rory song I learned, so we decided to do that cover .
The biggest compliment for me is when people say to me that they can feel that energy and spark that Rory had while playing Bad Penny. I adore his dirty, soulful guitar sound.
Who are the musicians who also inspire you, besides Rory and why?
Beside Rory, my favorites are SRV, Albert King, I like Alvin Lee a lot, and i’m a big ACDC fan 🙂 Also Black Crowes and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Since the Blues Caravan started there are a lot of female guitar players out there now – many of them first got noticed internationally through RUF like Ana Popovic, Samantha Fish, Erja Lyytinnen and Joanne Shaw-Taylor. How much has their success been an inspiration for you in choosing to make a living playing the Blues?
Its an inspiration for sure, all of the girls are great players and they have their own style of playing . It’s great to see all of them are doing good, and of course to see them playing good old blues!
Why do you think so many girls are on the scene playing electric blues now?
Its great to see that, blues is spreading all around, and my recommendation to every girl that wants to play -just take the guitar & Blues on !:)
You’re not just playing mean guitar though, you also wrote some of the tracks on Bad Penny yourself. Tell me a little about them and what inspires you as a songwriter.
Yes, ‘Bad Penny’ & ‘Low Down & Dirty’ are the only cover songs on the album. The other 10 songs I wrote myself, and Laurence Jones helped me with the arrangements on some tracks, Mike Zito is the producer of the album, and he also helped me to shape out the songs.
I get my inspiration in everyday situations – men, broken heart …
Each of the songs is honest and I always give 110% while performing them so people can feel it .
Roger Innis is bassman on the tour and you have songs on the new disc assigned to ‘Laurence Jones Music’. What’s the connection with Laurence?
Roger, I love him so much! Amazing musician, amazing man and friend .
As I mentioned before, Laurence helped me out arranging the music for some of the tracks .
Very thankful to him too because he also introduced me to Mr Ruf .
You are already well into the Blues Caravan tour and have played a number of dates together with Mike and Bernard. How is it going so far? What are you learning from them – and indeed from Roger Innis who is also something of a Caravan veteran?
So far I’m having the best time of my life, every day is amazing, crowd is great, we are having so much fun!!
I learn every day from the guys, they are very patient, and willing to help out and show me whatever I ask. They are a dream team, my big brothers.