Interview with singer/songwriter Julie Black -- a soulful sound that is genuine and emotionally uninhibited

"Jazz and Blues music speaks to the soul. These genres have a honesty in approach that honors real life, real people, real emotion."

Julie Black: Follow The Muse & Angel

Based in Florida, Julie Black's roots extend into Illinois & California. Her musical taste was defined early in life, when she fell in love with Solomon Burke's 45; Cry to Me. Amazingly before his passing Julie had the opportunity to connect with Burke and personally thank him for his influence on her musical journey. Burke offered up kind words of support and encouragement, remarking that he liked Julie's music very much. His influence and encouragement were invaluable and further fueled her creative intensity. Based in the blues, early influences like Solomon Burke, Etta James, Nina Simone & Junior Wells continue to flavor her sound today. The emotional intensity of these icons can be felt in the music Julie creates.

Julie Black's debut release, Call Me Angel for Blues, was issued in 2007 by BOJA Records. The album had fans & critics buzzing. Julie released another successful album "You Just Might Win" in 2010, again featuring all original material. Glowing reviews poured in, critics and fans connected strongly with Julie's songwriting and musical style. Released late 2012, Come On In This House, the first single of Julie Black's digital release project put a spine-tingling spin on the well-known blues classic. Demanded by blues lovers, the song expanded upon the influences of soulfully charged Blues influences like; Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Elmore James, & Koko Taylor and was received with open arms.

Committed to originality and the artistic process; Julie Black explores many creative possibilities. In addition to performing with her own band, she writes & co-writes songs for/with other performers (including celebrated vocalist & recording artist Shaun Murphy and Finnish Blues/Rock band The Ärräpää Orchestra), is part of a free-form  music looping duo, and is a visual artist as well (sculpture, painting & mixed - media). Black is currently working on album three. She has just reached the final stages of recording fourteen incredible tunes with BOJA Records and a release date is being set for the new album titled Follow the Muse.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How do you describe Julie Black sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

My sound is more about intention than form. I have a deep connection to blues and soul; these sounds were some of my earliest influences, and stood so definitively apart from the other types of music I had been exposed to. Blues and Soul nurtured me, soothed me, inspired me, and gave me this glorious sense of defiance that strengthened my independence, and celebrated my own free mind. I believe the trailblazer's of the Blues will echo through my music until I stop writing.

In addition, like any artist, I am influenced by everything, every drop of life, everything I see, hear and do. In my lifetime, I have heard incredible music, of all types and genres that has moved my soul & influenced me in some way. I have lived an extraordinary life, and that is also part of my music. And then, there are the people I meet, each with their own stories, or my perception of their stories, which get pulled into what I'm writing, feeling, conveying.

To simplify: My sound is life, all of it. It's Blues...with an open mind. Genuine. Original.

Life is an evolutionary process. Knowing this, I understand that each song I sing, every album I record, is a snapshot in time. When I go back and listen to earlier work I've done, it feels a lifetime away, although it's still me. I believe the music I've created has touched, and will continue to touch people, yet stands on its own for me as a window in time.

I think my most noticeable progress as an artist, is the increasing sense of openness in my work. I'm introverted by nature, which presented a challenge for me in the beginning of my career.  When I listen back to my earlier work, I feel like I'm seeing a crack in the door instead of the whole universe that's waiting on the other side.

As a student of life, my philosophy on music is a work in progress. Certain viewpoints are unchanging though. I believe that music is larger than a physical thing, and it has the power to connect us. I feel my music contains hidden messages, the messages contained are heard by those who need to receive them, and the message heard may not be the same for every person. There are times when the message conveyed is unknown to me, the messenger. There are also times when the message is for me. I believe music is a healer that gives you what you need...inspiration, passion, peace, comfort, strength, vitality. I think if we listen, we hear, and we can find what we need. In my eyes music is sacred, and I honor that with my intention.

What experiences in your life have triggered your ideas for songs most frequently?

Great question. People. Every person has a story, every life is worthy of a song. I'm a quiet person, who often perceives things others don't.

Why did you think that the Jazz and Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Jazz and Blues music speaks to the soul. These genres have a honesty in approach that honors real life, real people, real emotion. We feel this music in the most visceral way. It is a most profound communicator that reaches people of all cultures, ages, genders, socioeconomic levels, religions and experiences.

What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had? Which memory makes you smile?

That's a tough question; I've been blessed with a lot of good memories. The House of Blues, Ground Zero, Bradfordville Blues Club, Dunedin Wines the Blues, New Seeds Festival, Skipper's Smokehouse, Bert's, The Palladium, the Southwest Florida Music Festival....on and on...so many great stories and experiences. 

Clearwater Sea Blues holds a lot of good memories for me, I met so many people who felt touched by my music and took the time to tell me. I felt so honored; they really moved me. Clearwater, of course, is a beautiful city to begin with and they really know how to celebrate the arts and the artists. It's a fantastic festival with stellar line- ups. I've been honored to share the bill in Clearwater with so many highly regarded artists like; Taj Mahal, Shaun Murphy, Tab Benoit, Lil' Ed & The Blues Imperials, Ana Popovic, Marcia Ball, Elvin Bishop, Coco Montoya, Johnny Winter...the list goes on. Can you imagine? How amazing is that? I feel lucky to live this life and all of it makes me smile, because I'm so grateful, and because these experiences have become a part of my own story.

There are funny things too. I was playing the festival one year and in my rush to hit the stage I'd forgotten to remove my artist's pass. So there I am belting out the first song, there's a strong breeze coming off the water, and the pass starts whipping around my face. I realize this is going to be an issue; I have my hat on, so taking the pass off isn't really an option. So, I grab the pass and swing it over my shoulder thinking, it'll hang from the back of my neck instead of swinging in front of my mouth. Problem solved right? Wrong. Toward the end of the tune, I stepped out farther on the stage and see there's a Jumbo-tron screen (which was a surprise in and of itself) on the side of the stage. At that moment, I realized the pass did not whip around to my back, but instead had been caught up in my long hair and was waving proudly like a flag on the side of my head. That moment, and my reaction, was caught on a 20x40 ft. screen. Too funny. It's still a good laugh.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? 

Some of the most important experiences have happened between my fans & I. To know my music touches them, brings something into their lives...it's a powerful thing.

Connecting with one of my heroes, Solomon Burke, was mind-blowing. He deeply affected my life, and my musical journey, and to have him reach out to me was so profoundly emotional and inspiring.

The connection with the producer of all my original albums to date, Bob Langford, is another one that affects my musical journey and my life/ being. Bob has so much experience, stories and insight. He's worked with so many artists; Lynyrd Skynrd, the Atlanta Rhythm Section, James Brown, Al Cooper, Deep Purple...I could go on forever. He's a thinker, an inventor, a dreamer and he's so humble, genuine and kind. He gave me the opportunity to share my songs with the world. The man changed my life, because he believed in me.

Shaun Murphy and I have a powerful connection. We met through our friends; photographer, Mark Goodman, and producer T.C. Davis. Shaun has an incredible legacy in music, she's talented, creative, and beautiful. From Motown to Bob Seger, Live Aid to Little Feat, and now to her own solo project, she has lived an amazing musical life. Very inspiring. We started writing together a few years ago, a pairing which resulted in us both being up for a Grammy nomination for the song Heartless Man Blues. To top it off, she's a lovely soul, and as you can imagine, I adore her.

I also have to mention Sax Kari here. Sax Kari was a lifelong musician, songwriter, bandleader and businessman, who's career started in the 1940's and carried on until his passing in 2009. He'd worked with all kinds of legendary artists; Billie Holliday, Della Reese, Allen Toussaint, Etta James, Rufus Thomas and Bobby Bland. And he'd experienced everything from big band to the Chitlin' Circuit. I met him in the last year of his life. He was sick with cancer and in a healthcare facility. He had contacted me through our friend, blues-man Walker Smith, and asked me to come meet with him. He told me great stories, and shared some of his experiences. He was funny, charming and quick-witted. He played a little music for me, and told me that I had a very special gift. He also told me, with great care and concern, that music life isn't always what it seems like on the outside. Not an easy life he said. I was at the beginning of my journey, and he wanted to make sure I knew what I was getting into. I would have liked to have spent more time with him, it was sad to see him go.

What is the best advice ever given you?

The best advice I ever got came from WMNF Tampa's Blues DJ, Larry Lisk. He'd come out to a gig I was playing at this bar one night; the guitarist I'd been working with bailed at the last minute, and so I had someone sitting in for the night. Now my original music can be challenging to jam on if you don't know it well, so I had swapped out some of my original tunes for songs that were more familiar to the guitarist that was helping me out. Larry walks in during the second set, grabs a seat for him and his lady, and listens in. At the end of the set, I go over to chat and he says to me "You should be singing your own music. If you don't, who will?" Although he didn't know the whole story, he had a good point. Those words have been with me ever since.

Are there any memories from recording time which you’d like to share with us?

Recording new music is always exciting. To take the songs I've written and then hear them come into full bloom. It's an extraordinary feeling. When I think about recording I think of inspiration, chemistry and magic. I think of great stories, laughing and good food. Woven within all of that is sometimes frustration, and challenges. In the end, triumph. I'm high on excitement, and eager to share my music with the world.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I feel like the music of the past was more focused on music itself, less on "the show", dancing,  the package etc. Celebrating music for the love of music, created an environment where all these fantastically talented vocalists and musicians could be heard. Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Solomon Burke...may not have had the opportunity to be heard if they started out today because they don't fit in small boxes.

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

Music is my salvation. For many people, including me, music is medicine.  Blues is human emotion in it's purest condensed form, all the highs, all the lows for better or worse. Blues allows me to express feelings that are larger than words, or too large to bear. It releases me, it eases me, it burns a fire in me, it flows from me. Its voice is boundless, honest, raw and universally available.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music circuits?

I see the humor in so many things. I've never expect the journey to be perfect. At the end of the day if I can have a good laugh about the trials,...the imperfections, well... it makes it a little easier.

I've spent many years trying to pinpoint what it is that touches me emotionally, what is the shared quality that exists in the music that I enjoy? I've come to the conclusion that the songs and the artists that touch me, that appeal to me, all have one quality in common.

I've found that quality in all different genres of music. I've found that quality in the most celebrated professional recordings, and also found it in homegrown recordings from artists who have yet to be understood and celebrated. I found that quality in people who are just starting the musical journey and in people at the end of the lifetime. I've heard it on buses, or slipping out of the windows of houses and cars, from mothers to their children, from a lover to his beloved, at funerals and weddings, and many, many other places. I have even heard it in bad notes, scrappy voices, and grizzled tones.  I am moved by music that is genuine. I am moved by a sincere connection.

What does to be a blueswoman in a “Man World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in Blues?

Well I imagine that every woman's experience is different. I will say that music is a tough business for any person. Part of that is because music needs to be more valued. If we value the music, we must value the artist who created it. I think sometimes that there is a disconnect of those two things. The journey of an artist is a long, and often hard road. Things fall into place very slowly. In the meantime you must exist.

I think the status of women in Blues is probably what it's always been. An artist is an artist; a messenger is a messenger, regardless of gender. I think there are people that find a woman's voice inviting & sensual. I think there are people that recognize the strength, and power, and perspective of a woman's voice. A woman's voice, is representative of half the voices on the planet. A wise man listens with both ears.

My belief is that of each artist out there, there is only one. In light of that... I don't think you have the next Etta, or Ella or Billie. I think you get an artist for their lifetime, so smart people celebrate them while they're here. I appreciate the distinctiveness of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Howlin' Wolf, Etta James, James Brown etc...and I appreciate the distinctiveness of living artists as well (Shaun Murphy, Seth Walker, Dr. John, Tab Benoit, Bonnie Raitt, etc...) We only get one of each artist, and it will likely be that way until the end of time.  Hopefully the people that connect to the music I create understand that it's unique to me.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Jazz and Rock music?

There are music historians who could give a more in depth answer. Of course, Blues precedes and influences all of the other genres you mentioned; I think its connections are palpable in different ways, depending on the song or the artist.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

I think I'd go back to the recording studio of Stax Records in its heyday. Why? Imagine all those incredible artists. What inspiration!

Julie Black - official website

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