Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Amazing Blues Musician, Gaye Adegbalola

Gaye Adegbalola, Photo by Marc Norberg

I first heard of Gay Adegbalola this past fall when she was a guest on the award winning-podcast, Feast of Fun. Intrigued by her voice, her music, and her civil rights activism, I purchased her album and found myself lost in her sultry voice and tickled by the humor of her songs.

She is a Blues Music Award winner (formerly called the W. C. Handy award) and a founding member of Saffire – The Uppity Blues Women. She plays guitar, harmonica and is a composer. She has recorded 9 CDs on Alligator Records and has toured widely throughout the U.S. and internationally. Gaye has also released albums on her own Hot Toddy Music label. Including “Neo-Classic Blues” with Roddy Barnes and “Blues Gone Black” by Blue Mama Black Son (Gaye & her son Juno). Her most recent album, “Gaye Without Shame,” was the album I purchased and fell in love with. Ms. Gaye was nice enough to take the time to answer a few of my question for Prove & Confusion

As a blues musician, did you have any trouble with peer acceptance as a woman or as a lesbian?

By peer, I am guessing you mean other blues musicians.  No, haven’t had any real problem as women.  We (Saffire) have been encouraged and acknowledged by other musicians from day one.  As a woman, I think the most discrimination we’ve experienced has been from sound technicians and the media.  Sound techs, for the most part, often don’t want a woman telling them what to do.  Acoustic instruments are harder to mike than electric ones and if the tech hasn’t had experience, we need to advise them and that, occasionally, has been a problem.

Early on, when Saffire first went full time, the media made us into a novelty act and disrespected.  We were 1) women; then 2) old women; then 3) old bawdy women; then 4) old bawdy culturally diverse women; and then, at long last, 5) old bawdy culturally diverse women who happen to make good music.  Took a long time to get to the “good music” aspect.

As a lesbian, the verdict is still out.  I performed at the Blues Music Awards in 2009.  Did “Queer Blues,” “Honest I Do” (with Resa), and “Hetero Twinges” — with 6 other musicians (3 also BMA nominees).  People seemingly loved it, BUT. . . a major radio DJ from the NY – NJ area and the head of a major blues label both chastised me.  i was very surprised because both of them profess to be liberals.  Haven’t heard anything from other industry people.  However, I have not gotten any negativity from other musicians.

Your songs are both personal and political; as an artist, which is easier to approach?

It is really difficult to fit everything you have to say about an experience or about a political topic in 3 to 4 minutes.  One tends to be as hard as another when it comes to crafting a really good song.  The re-writes are usually harder that what initially jumps out.  What is harder still is writing something humorous about something painful.  To wit, check out this video:

This one took 4 years to write — while it’s not political, it is topical, somewhat personal (I am a cancer survivor tho I’ve never had chemo) and had to be written in such a way that it didn’t disrespect the patients  Ultimately, every song comes out as it wants to come out. Some are difficult to write.  Some are easy.  Guess it’s up to the Muse of the moment.

There is a great sense of humor in your music. I love “Bareback Rider” and “Hungry Woman Blues.” Is humor difficult to work into music?

If the hook is just right, I can usually “milk the metaphor” — as in both of the songs you mentioned.  In “Bareback” of course, I just relate to riding — amusement park height charts, pulling on the reins, the crop.  In “Hungry Woman,” there are 3 segments — 1) how hungry am I; 2) what am I going to eat; and, 3) how will it be prepared.  Once I identified the segments, again, I just milked the metaphor.  Another good example is “Big Ovaries, Baby.”  Once I establish a parallel with “balls,” then it’s all about a game:  I’m in this game of life, I don’t need balls to play, off sides, penalized, offense, defense, etc.These are also fun to write, but it all starts with crafting the hook just right.

“Lying Preacher” and “I Ain’t Ashamed,” made me wonder, what are your opinions about Gospel music?

Gospel music and blues music are both about salvation — how to survive the troubles of the world.  However, gospel music is about having salvation later on and blues is about salvation right now.  Gospel tells you how to lead a life to get to salvation.  Blues music is about what you can do to make things better right now.

Another way to look at it is that in gospel you say “Lord, Lord,” but in blues you say “Baby, Baby.”  Or yet another way to look at it the difference is that it is said that there are two kinds of people in the world: religious ones and spiritual ones.  Religious ones fear going to hell.  Spiritual ones have already been there.  Blues is spiritual music.

“Honest, I do” is one of my favorite songs. At its core it’s about being true to your emotions and honest with other people.

Jimmy Reed wrote that song.  It’s what we call a blues “chestnut!”  Reed is one of my favorite songwriters.  What makes his writing so very beautiful is that it is so simple and, simultaneously, so deep.  (I should note, however, that I tweaked the lyrics on this song to make it more of an “in love with each other” song instead of one where the singer pleads to be in love).  You should check out some of his other songs:  ”Big Boss Man,” “Bright Lights, Big City (. . . going to my baby’s head).” “Baby What You Want Me to Do?,” “Take Out Some Insurance,” “You Don’t Have to Go.”  Don’t mean to sound like I’m preaching to you.  It’s just that part of the mission of “Gaye Without Shame” was to introduce the queer audience to the magic of the blues.  So, I am thrilled that you like Jimmy Reed!

Saffire has just played its last show, what was that last show like for you?

Of course the last show was bittersweet, but I think we were all ready for it.  I, for one, am ready to make music that is a bit different.  I turned 65 this year and, Lord willin”, I might have another 10 years of good performance time.  So, if I am going to do something different, now’s the time.  I often work solo and in a duo.  This gives me the freedom to lead a show from start to finish.  Also, I have started an electric blues band.  I love to dance.  Drums and a thumping electric bass move me to really shake my ass! Again, better shake my bootie while I can.

All three of us have been playing in various settings for quite some time, but we have always put Saffire first.  Aside from the level of touring Saffire was doing, it was also our bread and butter.  Now that’s the scary part.  i have no idea as to what my future source of  income will be.  At present, I am taking a break for a few months.  Perpetual touring is exhausting.  Just trying to have a lil R&R.  (BTW a mini-vacation is on tap in January — going to Las Vegas to see the Bette Midler show and Lion King!!  Can you say “hallelujah!?”)  Come February, I’ll probably get the band back together.  This group is called “Miz A and the Freedom Band.”

What are your future recording/performing plans?

I do want to record again — something to move forward with the mission of Gaye Without Shame.  However, that’s in the not-too-soon future.  I need to start writing and selecting songs.  That’s not a quick task.  I have, however, just finished a new one that would be most appropriate.  It’s called “Laying Down the Law.”  It’s an ode to Mariska Hargetay — you know, the hot woman on Law & Order SVU.

I am also checking out other non-performing options.  I do a bit of public speaking.  (For example, on “Gaye Without Shame” there’s an excerpt.)  I already have a speaking date in April.  I teach blues vocal techniques and performance.  I am doing two of those workshops in July.  What I am very excited about is that someone has approached me about writing my biography.  (Yep, I’ve done a lot of living.)  And someone else has discussed the possibility of my writing children’s books.  I’m fairly wide open.  This R&R has another purpose — to provide time/space to allow me to breathe while the universe guides me.

I just ordered Blues Gone Black, Blue Mama Black Son (Click on image below for a listen), what was it like collaborating with your son, Juno (aka DJ Blacula – The Junabomber), how was that experience compared to your other recording? It doesn’t get much better than that!  Think about it:  I am creating the music I love most with the person I love most! The recording experience wasn’t a typical one.  Juno programmed the tracks beforehand and I laid down the vocals in the studio after.  He selected all traditional songs that I had written and rearranged them in his genre.  What joy!  Just the very fact that my son found my songs worthy was absolutely priceless.  I was also surprised at the songs he selected which were all near and dear to me.  In live performance, I think this was my most favorite incarnation!  While these shows are rare, they’re mighty special. Check out this video.

Are there any specific musical influences/inspirations on “Let it Be Me”?

That version was based on a Nina Simone version that she sings with her brother.  I think that song is one of the most beautiful songs ever written and, while it’s not blues, I had to have it on that CD.  I opted to do it as a duet, as Nina’s, but. . . with a woman.  BTW, a few couples have told me that they used the song as their “wedding song!”

Cleome, who sings with me, was one of my blues vocal students at a blues workshop in Port Townsend, WA.  I knew the timbre of her voice would mesh well with mine. During the mixing, the producer wanted my voice to be more prominent in the mix, but hers is so very beautiful, I wanted her to shine.  Also, I asked her to write a piece to fit with the “Great Pretender” to support the transgender community.  Her talent is incredible.  She now lives in Oakland, CA, and plays all over the left coast.

The Boston Phoenix wrote about you: “a vocal range that varies from the lubriciousness of Sarah Vaughn to the crisp sonority of Nina Simone.” Were they influential to you and what other musicians, inspired you?

When I first read that quote, I was bowled over!  To be mentioned in the same breath with those two is truly high praise.  I never heard Sarah’s voice in mine, though what the writer mentions is its smoothness, its liquidity.  I don’t quite hear mine that way, but I’ll take the compliment with a huge smile.  However, Nina Simone is my major influence. Her repertoire has been most influential to me.  She has inspired me to mix the political with the personal.  Also, her delivery has been most inspirational — her phrasing, her vibrato, her octave slurs, her imagery.  I have learned so very much by listening to her.  (I also have seen her live maybe a couple dozen times — yep, I was her groupie.)  Additionally, because of her music, I grew into my blackness.  I took pride in my heritage.  She has opened my eyes more than any book.

Other inspirational musicians are, of course, the classic blues women of the 20s and 30s.  I always say that I want to be Alberta Hunter when I group up!  So, Alberta, Sippie, Bessie, Ida, etc.  The list goes on.  Of contemporary musicians, I’d have to say Etta James, Tina Turner, James Brown, KoKo Taylor and Taj Mahal.   For songwriters, Denise LaSalle, Jimmy Reed, Keb Mo’ and, the greatest of all blues writers, Willie Dixon.

You include a beautiful speech near the Gaye Without Shame where you talk about civil right and gay rights, with Proposition 8 in California and Maine gay couple losing the right to marry, how do you stay passionate?

The simple answer, of course, is love.  Love of self, of family, of community, of all humanity.  God is love!   And, perhaps, vitamins and Jose Gold!  Just joking.  But, Gilbert, for sure, this question is too big for me to address in more detail.  Suffice it to say that I’ve simply found my dharma.

For more of Gaye Adegbalola and to buy her music click on image below:

For more of Gaye Adegbalola, click on image

Images, Videos and Music used with permission of Gaye Adegbalola and found on Adegbalola.com.

[Via http://proveconfusion.com]

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