Brushy One-String is a Jamaican singer who has become somewhat of a YouTube superstar in the past few years; his songs are inspiring, his energy is magnetic and grand, and he plays a guitar with, you guessed it, only one string. He’s currently touring North America, and in past few years has been able to bring his music to live audiences around the world, but his life hasn’t always been this perfect. He was orphaned as a child, illiterate until adulthood, and even as a youngster trying to seek out a musical path, he could never quite get the hang of playing a six-string guitar.
His vision for simplifying his guitar down to only one string was mostly met with disapproval from family and friends, but Brushy had a dream and continued to write more and more songs, performing in local markets and bars wherever possible, eventually being noticed by filmmaker Luciano Blotta while filming a documentary in Jamaica. And the rest is history, Blotta’s videos of Brushy went viral, his performances became sought after, and now his albums are being sold all over the world. I spoke with Brushy One-String about his unique relationship to the blues, both in music and in life.
So, how long will be in the US for this tour?
The tour I’m on is called “Creole Carnival” and it goes for about 2 months straight, going all across the States, from east to west, north and south.
I noticed you have multiple guitars with only one string, which begs the question, how did the one-string playing start?
You know, it’s actually one main guitar, the other one in the “Chicken in the Corn” video (below) is an old one that I had, but it’s now broken. So I have a custom-made African guitar that I use as my back up these days. It all started with a vivid dream I had when I was a kid, where I was visited by a short man who handed me a guitar with one string and said to me: “Take care of the guitar and the guitar will take care of you.” So I played it in the dream, and all the jungle animals came out to listen and approved of me, almost like in a children’s story, it was beautiful. But when I woke up the reality was different, I had to learn to play it! So I found an old guitar, took the strings off of it and I sat down to practice. After days and days I was able to play some basics, so I took to the streets and never looked back. Or, like they say, the rest is history.
… And why have you kept this mode of playing throughout your career?
The One-String is me, it is how I found myself musically, I am not doing it to get attention. It is a part of myself. I will always keep my essence and continue playing my guitar as much as I can. It has been my friend and companion and what makes me happy. Plus, why do what everybody else is doing?
Do you feel that strict limitations often inspire greatness?
I know that it happens that way, but I don’t think about it. I just do my work the way that comes out of me and this is it.
Your message, and the way I have noticed that people listen to your music, provides quite an uplifting perspective and hope! Does this somehow link back to the blues?
Ohhh the blues, yes, yes. But my music is inspired by Jamaican reality, my life, my family, my environment and the things I see and have to deal with on a daily basis. But I guess it comes out in a universal way, we all feel and suffer these things. That’s why one of my songs is called, “Life is for Every Man” (below), where I open saying that I don’t think I am better than no man and therefore I see no man better than me. We are all on the same level as humans. And also a new song is called “Same Problems” precisely because that’s all it is, no matter who you are, we deal with the same universal problems.
Your music incorporates elements of reggae, gospel, blues, hip-hop, soul, and many other styles. How do manage to spread out so much while retaining your true artistic integrity?
I think it’s a natural blend of the musical environment inherent in being in Jamaica, where music surrounds you, and the influences that I’ve had along the way, by simply listening to the radio. Blues and American artists with great voices like Teddy Pendergrass. But I go where the inspiration takes me, it’s not spreading out really, but moving further inward. I think my actual integrity is to give the people what comes out of me naturally, if I was trying to control it or intellectualize it then that would compromise that integrity. But I think blues, reggae, and R&B have all influenced me quite a lot.
Who are your biggest artistic influences?
Oh too many but ok: Teddy Pendergrass, Barry White, The Temptations, my biological father, Freddie McKay, and of course, Bob.
Who are your favorite young musicians out there?
If we are talking about Jamaica, there’s always young talent coming up, but honestly, these days I am disappointed about the quality of musicianship being presented. Everything seems vulgar and superficial and music is lost.
That is something I want to express in my mission — we have to use music to heal and to be professional about it. I am an old soul that way.
I am personally excited about another RiseUp (film) artist, this girl named Kemoy Reid. We’ve met each other thanks to the film and I’ve been trying to get her to record with me. It is something that is planned and will happen soon. I also want to take her on tour with me to do backup vocals. And worth mentioning are my fellow artists on this Carnival Tour, Emeline Michel and the band Casuarina, they are excellent musicians and human beings from what I can tell already.
Do you have a piece of advice for young, aspiring musicians out there?
I think that if you are doing Jah work you are going to be alright, as long as you are not going into it for the wrong reasons, you will be fine. It’s not easy, but once you are doing your job, the rest is not under your control. Be happy and people will too. Thank you.
Check out this incredible artist on his 2016 North American tour! He’s only in the US until March 22nd, so hurry up and get tickets: http://brushyonestring.com/events/