By Johnny Griffith
Music is a funny thing. It’s really all up to interpretation as to how it affects the listener, no matter what the original composer intended. That’s why music performed live and in person is so important to conveying a certain feeling with that music as it gives a chance for people to experience the performance rather than just listen to it, and there might not be a better example of a musician in this area bringing people into the experience of music than Wesley Pruitt Jr.
A lifelong music fan, Pruitt has been immersed in the blues since he was a teenager, but his outlook on life is anything but blue. He believes he had the destiny to play music and share his joy of performing with those around him and he has been sharing that joy on stages for a couple of decades now. A talented vocalist and accomplished guitarist, Pruitt takes the stage with his band and delights audiences with his interpretation of blues classics. I sat down with him earlier this month to learn more about the bluesman:
Johnny: Let’s start with a little history lesson. Are you from East Texas originally?
Wesley: I grew up right here in Canton. I moved away for a brief time but currently reside in Canton. I graduated from Canton High School in 2001 and later received my associates degree from TJC. Earning my associates was a personal goal I set before completing high school and it was a “must do” before I pursued music full time. I’ve worked some jobs while playing gigs but I’ve been a full time musician since about 2007.
Johnny: So when did you first start taking an interest in music?
Wesley: I honestly don’t think I took an interest as much as it took an interest in me from the time I was a baby. Long before my dad, Wesley Sr., passed I remember he and mom telling me stories of how proud he was that he finally had a son. He would ride around the community with me as a baby listening to music, and I really remember the music. I remember the guitar bends of BB King, the driving bass lines of Waylon Jennings, and the smooth phenomenal vocals of Bobby Blue Bland. Still to this day, Mom is shocked how I can remember describing what I heard. Since then I’ve been chasing what’s been in me the whole time.
Johnny: Was there anyone in particular that helped push you in those early years and kept you focused on music when it would have been easier to have gone another direction?
Wesley: In my early years there wasn’t really anyone that helped me. However, as a young boy I was heavily drawn to the electric guitar and I loved when they had gospel quartets at church. My sister took piano lessons, so in grade school I broke the house rules then of not being allowed to play the piano without supervision. Back then I was trying to play by ear and didn’t really know what I was doing. I just heard what I liked and it had to be figured out. While growing up James Temple would play songs for me when mom took me to the music store. He knew I was destined to play and was very patient in helping me understand the things I ran from in my early days of trying to learn guitar. Rob Toups is the single most important person that lit the fire under my behind with music. He taught so much more than learning how to play. He provided all of the band students with every tool it took to be successful in high school and beyond! Oh did I mention I was a sousaphone player in the Canton High School Mighty Eagle Band. My first choice was to play the sax but we couldn’t afford the instrument.
Johnny: Who were some of your early musical influences?
Wesley: My early musical influences range from B.B. King; a gentleman by the name Stanley McGee who was at the time the lead musician – he was a guitarist of Evangelist Temple C.O.G.I.C; and all blues guitar players that I heard while growing up. I received my first electric guitar at age 7 and I have to admit the enjoyment and work ethic at learning didn’t last long at that point, but at age 15, I was introduced to Stevie Ray Vaughan. He blew me away and I’ve never looked back since then.
Johnny: At what point did you first get the feeling you could take this beyond just a hobby and do something else with it?
Wesley: At age 15, I was learning at a very speedy pace and by age 17, I was one of two guitar players in the high school Jazz Band. I absolutely got crushed day after day by my band director Mr. Toups and it was the best thing that really could’ve happened at the time. I was learning everything backwards. All I cared for and knew was that I wanted to shred and play like Stevie Ray Vaughan. Well, obviously there is so much more in being a musician and mastering the guitar. I’ll never stop learning ya know! The jazz band played at one of our pep rallies and the school literally exploded with cheer when I first sang and played “Tightrope” with the jazz band. It was so loud, none of us could hear the vocals or music like we needed to. After that, I knew there was really something there and I started to see a path to push forward.
Johnny: When and where was your first public performance and what do you remember from it?
Wesley: I have had so many performances, but I think at my first performance I wasn’t even a guitar player at the time. I had put together a band to perform at church. It went well but I wanted so much more.
Johnny: What is the current line up of the Wesley Pruitt Band?
Wesley: The core line up of The Wesley Pruitt Band is Chase Murdock on drums, Calvin Sheffield on bass, and myself on guitar and vocals. I hire out guest players as our fourth piece. We’ve been very honored to have players such as Junior Knight, Chris Keathley, Andrew Frye, Danny Phillips Jr., and so many more.
Johnny: You’ve played a lot of stages around the region and state, do any stand out amongst the rest?
Wesley: For the longest, the Main Silverado Stage of the Great State Fair of Texas has always been one of our favs. It truly is one of the best of what we call “the big” stages.” Performing at Piedmont Park in Atlanta, Georgia ranks really high, but one of the best shows, and best times, we’ve had on stage is when we performed on the outside stage at Omas Secret Garden. It’s in Gruene, just outside of New Braunfels. We played 3 hours straight our first time there with no break. We tried to end the show and got two standing ovations in a row with encores. That’s a feeling, and a stage, I’ll never forget!
Johnny: East Texas isn’t necessarily synonymous with the blues like other parts of the country are, yet there have been notable blues artists to come out of this area and find success. Do you feel it has been more of a challenge to “convert” local fans to the gospel of the blues or do you feel there is a firm foundation in the genre here for newer generations of blues artists?
Wesley: I think the foundation of the blues is as firm as ever, but I only feel that way because everything has the blues in it. I get such a kick out of seeing younger musicians than myself be taken by the blues. It feels so good ya know. With that being said and thankfully getting to pick up knowledge from reading things by my idol, Buddy Guy, I no longer try to “convert” people with the blues. I used to be ashamed early on to perform it amongst certain “cool” people, but from hearing from the added list of influences that I have now, it’s all about just saying something, man, from deep within. The end result is digging out, loving one another, and spreading the love through music.
Johnny: What have been some of the biggest challenges in your musical career thus far?
Wesley: The biggest challenge has been to balance music career full time and be a father with school for my son and all the responsibility that comes with that. Sometimes I have to miss him for a day or two during the week because of out of state shows. I also know at times I will be more demanded and will miss even more. I try to make sure I spend as much time with him as I can at this point. He’s definitely my heartbeat! I thank God every day for the awesome support system I have through my mom, aunt, and best friends that are always there for him as well. It really does take a village.
Johnny: How many albums have you released to this point? Are there any plans for one in the near future?
Wesley: I’ve released a total of three albums: two EPs and one full album, “Line ’Em Up.” There are definitely huge plans for several more in the future. It’s not officially launched but I’m currently in the middle of kicking off a campaign to raise funds for a new album, two music videos, radio promoting, artwork, album designs, radio tours etc. Our number one goal in the beginning was to get businesses and individuals to sign on for 10 private shows for “X” amount of dollars. There have been a few to already commit to that. All of the funds, except for what we have to pay out for sound, will go straight to our album campaign. It’s very hard and we learned so much from having such a great album with “Line ‘Em Up” but now we are not able to put all the resources behind it. I’m not saying we have it all figured out, but a lot has been learned since our first chart single fizzled out at number 39.
Johnny: When you take the stage each night, what is one thing you hope you can convey to the fans before they leave to go home?
Wesley: Before every show I can almost see it from beginning to middle to the end of how I hope it goes! It’s not always that way but the path of life I’m on, which comes with my faith in Christ, is to speak good things into existence. I want people to leave our show much happier than they came and I want them to have a sense of peace in their hearts. I don’t think the world can have too much of that.
Johnny: What do you have coming up on the radar that excites you for the rest of 2019 and beyond?
Wesley: We have shows all the way through next year and our calendar can be seen at wesleypruittbandmusic.com. Anytime we are at Moore’s Store in Ben Wheeler, Texas it’s a blast. I know we are doing some Arkansas runs and very excited to be performing a festival in Missouri, I think in mid October. I’m very excited to perform at Moore’s Store for New Year’s Eve again this year and raise funds for The Van Zandt County Children’s Advocacy Center as well. Some of the proceeds from us and other ways will go towards the Advocacy. Keep watch on our website for more information as we head into 2020 with a bang.