At an age when most people are still tentatively probing the uncertain boundaries of their nascent adulthood, Asheville singer-songwriter
Vaden Landers has already lived a lifetime in miniature. At age 17, Landers, a Knoxvillle native, graduated a semester early from high school and hit the rails, riding trains from town to town and living off wits, wiles and song. After four years on the roam, Landers settled in Asheville, where he has since been steadily building a career off lessons learned as a rambling man.
Vaden, now 24, tells that his restless yen for the open road -- or the open rail, at any rate -- was seeded early, when his grandfather introduced him to proto-country/folk/blues troubadour Jimmie Rodgers. "I listened to a lot of Jimmie Rodgers when I was younger, and he was always talking about riding trains and going places," Landers says. "He was a big inspiration to me."
Landers also began singing back in those early childhood years, accompanying himself on an old five-string banjo that he played in a traditional clawhammer style. His singing and stringing would serve him well when he took to the rails some years later, as Landers mastered the fine art of busking as he wended his way cross-country.
"I learned a lot about music, and I learned a lot about hobo culture," Landers says. "I met different musicians along the way, and they would introduce me to styles of music or songs I hadn't played before. Old-time and jug-band music is really big with the people who ride the trains, and so is blues. It brought into my life a lot of very unique human beings who cover an interesting spectrum of American music."
The experience fostered in Landers a fascinating dualism, molding him as an able interpreter of both early 20th century white proto-country, and of black Delta blues from the same era.
Landers' keening and pliant voice is the instrument which permits him to venture with impunity into either realm, and it makes plain the connection that existed between what would seem at first blush to be two geographically and culturally separate entities.
"A lot of those old country music yodelers, what they were doing was imitating the African-American voice-breaking style you hear in Delta blues, that high, sudden falsetto," Landers explains. "That was essentially the African-American version of yodeling. And a lot of country artists learned from those black artists, and put their own stamp on it.
"In my own singing, I've always said that my goal is that I want to sound like an old black man," he adds with a laugh.
As things stand, Landers only has one three-song EP that he feels he can stand behind, his other extant material being recorded before he had access to the tech or possessed the songwriting savvy to make a proper album. That should change soon, though, as he now has an ample catalog of original and traditional songs in his repertoire, and an able backing band -- the Do Rights -- for collaboration.
"I'm a career musician," Landers avers. "I'd like to get this band off the ground, and I'd like to get to the point where I can just stay on tour. This is what I live for."
Vaden "Papa Vay" Landers will play Preservation Pub Sunday, Oct. 29 at 10 p.m.