"I associate the blues with life. I think the blues represents every facet of life out there, whether it be good, sad, or bad, or anything else. In other words, I think the blues is the soundtrack to life."
Alicia Marie Venchuk: The Future
Alicia Marie Venchuk is a guitar player/vocalist, 22 years old. She was born in Hinsdale, but is currently living in Oxford, MS to attend the University of Mississippi. Alicia is proving that training and talent can be an incredibly gifted combination. She have been playing guitar for about twelve years now. She especially enjoys playing blues, swing, and jazz music. Started playing guitar because she saw B.B. King on T.V, and he was talking about how he plays and does his vibrato. Alicia has been very fortunate to become acquainted with Marty "Big Dog" Mercer; one of the Chicago area's finest blues performers and RJ Spangler, Detroit's premiere jazz and blues drummer and promoters. They have given her the opportunity to play with seasoned players in and around Illinois and Michigan, creating experiences that would last a lifetime. Alicia has her debut wonderful CD out, Old Soul (2017).
She has also had the great opportunity to have played or performed with Rodney Whitaker, Kenny Brinkley, Mark Elf, RJ Spangler, Stu Tucker, George Friend, Tom Holland, Mondo Cortez, Kenny Parker, Brother John Kattke, Dr. Bruce Conforth, Dan Devins, Dennis Wilson, Candye Kane, T-Bone Paxton, Etienne Charles, Laura Chavez, Bex Marshall, Kennan Shaw, Dana Hall, Fred Rautmann, Chip Ratliff, Hassan Khan, Jackie Scott, The Vincent Hayes Project, Pauline York, James Olcott, Bill Sears, Fremont John, Dora Gholson, Kevin Depree, Scott Bonshire, Randy Gelespie, Diego Rivera, and Twist Ferguson. She have had the privilege to perform either by myself or sit in with many wonderful musicians at the 2008 Chicago Blues Fest, 2009 Idlewild, MI Music Festival, 2010 and 2011 Detroit International Jazz Festival, 2011 Western Michigan Blues Society Fest, 2013 Joliet, IL Barbecue Rhythm and Blues Bash, and Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago. Alicia Marie Venchuk brings young talent to Michigan music scene. Alicia is a 2015 graduate of the University of Michigan--Ann Arbor where she received her BA degree in English, minor in American Culture, and completed an English Honor's thesis on the life and lyrics of Memphis Minnie. Alicia is currently pursuing her PhD studies in English Literature at the University of Mississippi--Oxford.
Alicia, when was your first desire to become involved in blues and jazz music?
Well, Michael, I became involved in blues music because I just happened to buy a backing track guitar book by the Hal Leonard Company called, Blues. I think I recognized one name in it at the time, Stevie Ray Vaughan, so that’s why I purchased it. I had only been playing guitar for close to two years at this point, but I used to put on the tracks and jam to them for hours. I never really cared for learning the licks in the book outside of “Hideaway” and “Frosty”, so I mainly focused on my own improvisation. I realized I was having so much fun playing along with the tracks, that I decided that I wanted to check out more of the artists in the book. The book contained artists like Albert King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, Otis Rush, John Lee Hooker and Larry Davis. I started buying many different records and ended up discovering the Chess Records label and box set somehow, and yeah, it really took off from there.
I got into jazz for a totally different reason. In my eighth grade year, I was asked by the high school jazz band director to join the high school jazz ensemble. He happened to hear me playing some rockabilly in the choir room, and asked me if I’d like to join the band. I was the first eighth grader in the school’s history to be asked to do this, so naturally, I was really excited and flattered and of course, I joined. I had only been playing for about three years, you know? I had never been in a band situation before that point, and I had never read band charts before. So, I figured…Well, I better start truly learning this genre so I can adequately fulfill my role as a guitarist in a jazz band. I think I first listened to Wes Montgomery, but once I heard Charlie Christian, the Buddy Johnson Orchestra, Kenny Burrell, and Gene Harris in my freshman and sophomore years of high school, I was hooked. I mean, I had listened to swing music by Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Artie Shaw, and all the other “Kings of Swing” before this point, but I never really thought about playing the genre until I got into jazz band.
How has Blues and Jazz culture influenced your views of the world and the journey you’ve taken?
I think the culture and journey of the female blues and jazz guitarist is one that I identify with very much. After I started exploring the biographies of artists like Memphis Minnie, Beverly Watkins, Bonnie Raitt, and Emily Remler, I instantly felt a strong connection to them not only because we all play lead guitar and the same kind of styles, but because our experiences are similar.
Guitar is predominantly played by males and if a woman plays guitar with proficiency, male musicians often turn music into a competition rather than a collaborative effort. Of course, not all male musicians are like this, but it is typical for a woman guitarist to encounter this kind of behavior on a regular basis. It wasn’t until I read the bios of the aforementioned women that I realized I was part of a community united by those experiences and the hard-driving resilience to get past them. Like Emily Remler said: “you have to keep pushing.” Knowing that they pushed back against the same things I have experienced makes me push even harder.
Consequently, my journey has been shaped by theirs. Without them, I wouldn’t be here. I try to honor their legacies through my playing and my academic research. After reading numerous accounts of Memphis Minnie in blues scholarship for my honor’s thesis at UMich, I noticed that her skill-set and accomplishments were often down-played in works about her. This troubled me greatly because she’s a woman who played a mean lead electric guitar (which was rare for a woman to do in that time period), she was second only to Bessie Smith in record sales, and the songs she penned were feminist before feminism took off as a large movement. In my thesis, I pushed back against pre-existing rhetoric about her and I tried to bring attention to how much she accomplished in her lifetime. I continue to make that a priority today via my papers and presentations on her and other women guitarists.
"I think blues is a feeling, and soul is also a feeling. You’re always putting your heart on the line. It’s just a natural progression and sometimes, as with Little Milton, it’s a natural combination."
What do you learn about yourself from the Jazz and Blues music and what does the blues mean to you?
I learned that I could truly be myself when playing these genres. I never had to put on an act. I always felt light and free while playing. My emotions just seemed to flow out of me, and I guess that is when I realized this music was for me. I felt like I belonged, and you know, I never had that feeling before. It was liberating to feel this way after so many times of feeling the opposite. Additionally, I also learned that I like learning things on my own, through trial and error. I love to feel as if I’ve discovered something. I like learning from watching and listening. Even at the very beginning stages, I wanted to try creating my own sounds, and ideas within each genre, but I wanted to emulate the sounds of the greats as well.
I associate the blues with life. I think the blues represents every facet of life out there, whether it be good, sad, or bad, or anything else. In other words, I think the blues is the soundtrack to life. The blues means a connection to my life, other people’s lives, my feelings, life in general, my creative side, the list goes on. The blues is all of that. It’s always there no matter what. And, personally, blues always lets me be me. I can fully express myself.
How do you describe Alicia Marie sound and progress, what characterizes your music philosophy?
I think the best word to describe my sound would be old-school. I naturally gravitate toward clean guitar sounds a la Little Milton, Lonnie Johnson, or BB King. I have never been a fan of pedals or effects. I really dig natural, smooth sounds. I don’t like playing that’s too cluttered or too forceful, so I try to approach the music in a minimalist, laid back fashion. I try to always say, “Just let it flow.” First and foremost, I think the only way to do that is to have the music come from the heart and soul. I think this comes from a lot of listening and exploring. I have to feel it. It has to come from me. I can’t really think about it. If I think about it too much, I think the music becomes too rigid, or too formulaic. I also think that exploring different genres is beneficial. I like gaining a new vocabulary and dabbling with different musical feels. I am always trying to explore something new, or go in another direction that interests me.
"The blues means a connection to my life, other people’s lives, my feelings, life in general, my creative side, the list goes on. The blues is all of that. It’s always there no matter what. And, personally, blues always lets me be me. I can fully express myself."
How do you describe Old Soul’s sound and songbook? What characterizes the album’s philosophy?
I would have to describe Old Soul as a throwback blues, jazz, and swing record especially in terms of its sound, musicianship, song selection, and arrangements. First and foremost, my main goal was to get a live sound on this recording—that is, a minimally processed sound that accounted for every nuance, crescendo, and accent that the musicians were making. Consequently, I wanted the record to have a sound quality like the hard-bop recordings of the 1950s and 1960s. On those recordings, to me, it sounds as if the band is having a jam session in your living room, so we recorded the album like some of the old-school jazz or blues records—all in one room at one time with no overdubbing. We did most of the tunes in a couple takes and the studio was the first place we met up to play them. It was great to be able to do that thanks to the caliber of musicians I had on the recording. I really think all of that created a nice, organic feel to the album.
It was also important to me to pay respect to the blues and jazz artists who have inspired me over the years. I did this by covering tunes ranging from Memphis Minnie to Charlie Christian. However, rather than copying their tunes note-for-note, I did their songs my own way via my own arrangements. To me, I think that’s one of the best ways to show appreciation. I’m able to maintain a reverence for the blues or jazz tradition, but I am also able to put my own voice into the mix as well. That is what music’s all about in my opinion and I wanted to put out an album that reflected that philosophy. And lastly, I also wanted to put out an album with some of my original material, so you will find a couple of my originals on the disc.
If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
I would get rid of jealousy. In my experience, jealousy often divides music communities and makes music a competition rather than an art. From my perspective, if jealousy wasn’t present, there wouldn’t be as much sexism, egotism, or bitterness to contend with. Without jealousy, the music world would be unified and musicians would be more supportive of each other. Resultantly, making music would be the main focus rather than external issues that tend to get in the way.
What touched you emotionally from English Literature? What were the reasons that you started the English Literature researches?
I took an English class centered on the American experience in my sophomore year of high school. This was the first English class I took that moved away from book reports and taught us how to really close read (or read a text in an in-depth fashion—that is, picking apart an author’s word choice, imagery, or themes, etc., and using those observations to make an argument about the text).
People often talk about teachers who inspire them and my English teacher was certainly cut of this cloth. He was the first teacher I had that treated us like college students. Essentially, after we read The Awakening and works from the Harlem Renaissance by Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen, I realized that deep social issues and cultural forms (blues especially) could be embedded in literature and that opened up my eyes to the true merit of knowing how to close read and grasping the greater sense of a text.
I started doing more academic type research in undergrad. My undergraduate papers at UMich allowed me to develop a broader sense of the field and its concerns. My honor’s thesis, therefore, was a culmination of my work thus far and a point of discovery. I realized I could do extensive research on a topic that not only involved close reading or engaging in dialogue with other critics, but also involved analyzing the blues (lyrics in particular) in a literary context. In that sense, I was able to use my English skills to further my knowledge about a genre of music that I was extremely passionate about. That combination of passions was the ultimate bliss to me and that precise thing took me to grad school so I could pursue it even further.
"I think the culture and journey of the female blues and jazz guitarist is one that I identify with very much. After I started exploring the biographies of artists like Memphis Minnie, Beverly Watkins, Bonnie Raitt, and Emily Remler, I instantly felt a strong connection to them not only because we all play lead guitar and the same kind of styles, but because our experiences are similar."
What moment changed your life the most? What’s been the highlights in your life and career?
I have been blessed with many great moments in my life. It is hard for me to narrow them down in fear of lessening the importance of one over the other. However, two moments equally stand out to me.
One, I was the first eighth grader to get into the high school jazz band at my school and this opened up a whole other avenue of experiences for me. For instance, the high school jazz ensemble would compete every year at various high school jazz competitions across the state of Michigan at schools like Michigan State, Central Michigan, and UMich. Those events were always the highlight of my school year. I would treat those events very seriously because I knew the band and I would be adjudicated by prominent jazz musicians. It was an exhilarating experience and I always played the very best I could at those events. I was fortunate to win various jazz soloist awards at these competitions and that really instilled a sense of accomplishment in me as a young player. It was very encouraging to know that my hard work was paying off.
Two, the Mississippians Jazz Ensemble, the University of Mississippi’s top jazz ensemble, competed at the Notre Dame Collegiate Jazz Fest last year. That was a wonderful trip and event. It was the first time the Mississippians played at this festival and the first jazz competition most of my bandmates had been in, so our excitement was high, we really practiced hard, and put our all into the performance at the festival. I knew from the moment we played our first notes on stage that we were going to have a great performance.
The Mississippians received all high marks from the judges, a standing ovation, and the trombonist and I received jazz soloist awards that night. It was honestly one of those nights that I will always remember. I had a solo on “Air Mail Special,” a fast burner made famous by Benny Goodman with Charlie Christian. One of the directors of the festival came up to me afterwards and said: “Charlie Christian lives!” Charlie’s my idol, so I cannot even begin to tell how much of an honor it was for someone to say that to me and for us to get so much high praise overall at such a prestigious festival.
Why did you think that the Jazz and Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?
I think that blues and jazz generates such a devoted following because once you get a little taste of the music, it’s hard not to fall in love with it for the rest of your days. It really draws someone in like a magnet. The music makes you feel connected, satisfied, unique…And once you get a taste of that, it’s hard to step away from it. I feel like an addict sometimes…Gotta get my fix.
I also think that someone has to be devoted in the first place to listen to the music. It isn’t mainstream pop or something you can always hear on the radio. You kind of have to seek it out, you know? The blues with its double entendres and sexual beats, and jazz with its extensive bits of improvisation and attention to instrumentation; they’re not necessarily genres for everybody. So, I just think you’ve got to be naturally devoted as well. I also think the level of devotion increases depending on the type of jazz or blues you’re into. In my opinion, since everyone isn’t playing hard bop, or everyone isn’t playing Chess style, you have to be even more devoted. Those facets are not as popular, so you kind of feel separate from the current scenes.
Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given to you?
I wish I could mention everyone, but there are a few moments that really stick out to me. In my sophomore year of high school, jazz bassist and Michigan State University professor, Rodney Whitaker, and his Bebop Spartans (Michigan State University Jazz band) came to our high school to do a clinic. What an exciting day! I remember Professor Whitaker came up to me and gave me some musical advice. He told me to listen. I’ve never forgotten that, and it’s probably one of the best pieces of advice I have ever been given. Whatever I do, I’ll never forget that one of the key components to learning music is listening.
Also, in my eighth grade year, I met Chicago bluesman Fernando Jones. He came to my school for a blues in the schools workshop. He ended up liking my playing so much that he invited me to play later that evening at his own show. Oh my goodness, I was so nervous, but so excited! Once we started playing and he let me take a solo, I just couldn’t stop playing. I just kept going and going. Looking back on it now, it is hard not to smile. Professor Jones even gave me the nickname of ‘bluesbaby’ during the show. I think that moment was a turning point. I was really into blues before that, but that moment really solidified in my mind that I loved performing the genre and that I really wanted to pursue it even further.
New York jazz guitarist Mark Elf came to the University of Michigan in my freshman year at UMich. He put on a clinic. I got the opportunity to play for him. I think I played, “Lester Leaps In.” He really enjoyed what I did, so much so, he had to grab his guitar and do a tune with me. Boy! I couldn’t believe it. He asked me if I listened to Charlie Christian a lot. I told him I did. He said he could tell. Haha! That was great. I mean, here’s this swinging bebop guitar player, and he digs what I am doing. It was a special moment for me. I think it was the first time that a jazz guitarist really liked what I did. It was the highlight of my freshman year.
"I think the best word to describe my sound would be old-school. I naturally gravitate toward clean guitar sounds a la Little Milton, Lonnie Johnson, or BB King. I have never been a fan of pedals or effects."
Are there any memories from gigs and jams which you’d like to share with us?
Definitely! Gosh, there’s so many…I played at the 2009 Idlewild, MI Music Festival with Professor Fernando Jones and he invited me to play a few songs. First, I was just excited to be in Idlewild alone. It’s a place filled with rich, cultural history. In its heyday, it was referred to as the “Black Eden.” Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong played there, among others, and it was mecca for blues and jazz from the ‘10s to the ‘60s. Secondly, once Fernando let me take a few solos, I realized that the audience really loved what I was doing. What an honor, especially in such a historic place. They were really cheering for me. I took my solo and then I looked at the crowd; a whole sea of people was clapping for me. I can still picture it. Wow! I walked away with a sense of accomplishment.
Marty “Big Dog” Mercer, my blues brother from Joliet, let me jam with him at a place in Crest Hill, IL. I had met Big Dog on Myspace, so this was my first time seeing him in person. He must have let me play thirty tunes with the band that evening. I had a ball! I played many different songs with Big Dog, and local favorites like Twist Ferguson and Pauline York. Twist and Big Dog were cheering for me when I took solos. It was something else. It was my first jam session ever and I really enjoyed myself. I remember Twist Ferguson telling my parents, “I’m gonna steal her!” Too funny.
In 2008, Professor Fernando Jones invited me to play at the Chicago Blues Festival. I was only thirteen. He saw me in the crowd and invited me backstage. He told me that he wanted me to jam a little. I didn’t even have my guitar or anything. Gosh, I didn’t even have a pick, haha. I used the guitars on stage and played some licks. The cameramen by the stage started taking pictures of me. People started bobbing their heads to my playing. Man! I couldn’t believe it. I was playing at such a prestigious festival too! I’ll never forget that moment. I met Willie “Big Eyes” Smith backstage and I saw Louisiana Red back there too…It was just the coolest.
More recently, RJ Spangler invited me to play with him and Detroit’s own, Planet D Nonet. That was wonderful! I never had the opportunity to play in a T-Bone Walkerish type style with live accompaniment, and I got to do it with this band! It was truly a dream come true. I couldn’t believe I was really playing one of favorite combinations of genres: blues/swing. I felt like I was stepping back in time and I was doing it in a setting that didn’t involve backing tracks. Yes!
I have also had the opportunity to do some blues fingerpicking with my professor Bruce Conforth in his office a few times. He is a blues fingerpicker and he learned from Skip James and Rev. Gary Davis (just to name a few) in the 1960s. I should say that the only reason I got into fingerpicking was because of Bruce’s in-class guitar demonstrations. He really inspired me to check out the acoustic fingerpicking genre. So, as you can imagine, it was quite an honor, but also a little nerve wrecking for me to get a chance to jam with him. But… The nerves went away quickly. I feel like some of the nicest jam moments have occurred in that office. Both of us were laid back, there wasn’t a competitive atmosphere, we listened to each other, and there were even a few times where we played the exact same dynamics or used the same inflection. And…We didn’t have to say anything. We just went from tune to tune and it was like we were working from a script, but we weren’t. We just knew what was coming next. I never felt that before. I don’t know what it was exactly, but those jams felt pretty special to me.
What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of music?
The thing I miss the most about blues from the past is subtly. When I listen to some of today’s blues, it feels forced. I think the singer’s sound like they are screaming, the bands sound like they are playing metal, and the guitar players are playing too many notes with too much distortion. I feel like the old time blues had finesse. Everyone wasn’t trying to go ‘balls out’ all the time, if you know what I mean. They knew how to relax.
In regard to the future of music, I hope music becomes more organic again. There’s only so many synthetic sounds that I can take. A lot of it sounds far too polished, and I’m not a big fan of that. In a sense, I hope there’s a resurgence of the old style ways of playing; natural instrumentation, real singing, etc. I really believe that’s going to happen too. People get tired of the same old thing, especially when it involves too many electronics. For the future of the blues specifically, I fear that the electric side will take too much of a rock direction. Not that there’s really anything wrong with that, but I feel like blues should have a different sound and approach than a rockish one. I hope people will not lose the historic sense of the music. And… I also have another fear: will there be an audience for old school music once the baby boomers pass on? Since there was a brief revival of swing music in the ‘90s by mostly twenty-somethings, I do have a little bit of hope. But…you know, it is something I think about on occasion.
Which memory from Marty "Big Dog" Mercer, Kenny Brinkley, Tom Holland, and Kenny Parker makes you smile?
When Big Dog invited me to play at the Joliet Blues Festival this past summer, and I played “Sweet Little Angel,” it was a thrill. It was a blast playing with such a great band and for such a responsive crowd. When I was singing, I used the line, “You’re like Kentucky Fried Chicken, you’re finger licking good” and everybody thought it was hilarious. We still joke about that line months later.
When I sat in with Detroit’s own, Back Door Blues Band, I got the opportunity to jam with former Motown touring saxophonist, Kenny Brinkley. He told me that he could listen to me play all night. I was floored! He was such a nice soul too and he played great that evening.
I played with Tom Holland at one of Big Dog Mercer’s, Best of the Burbs Jam Sessions. It was really cool jamming with one of Chicago’s local legends. I mean, whoa, I was playing with James Cotton’s guitar player! I had a whole lot of fun.
I also jammed with Kenny Parker when I sat in with the Back Door Blues Band. I really liked his style, and it was one of the few times I heard a live guitar sound similar to the greats I listened to on record. It was clean and smooth…Oh yes! I remember talking with Kenny after the show, and we were exchanging artists’ names. He loved BB King and Eddie Taylor’s work. We chatted about that for a little while. I loved that. He gave me his record and also signed it for me. What a nice guy! It was a joy to play with him that evening and we still converse to this day.
What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Jazz and Rock music?
I think blues is a feeling, and soul is also a feeling. You’re always putting your heart on the line. It’s just a natural progression and sometimes, as with Little Milton, it’s a natural combination. I think a lot of the progression is natural because of the church. The stop times are similar, the inflections are similar, the call and response…It is all interlinked.
In my opinion, jazz gets a lot of its identity from the blues. Jazz artists like Kenny Burrell and Lou Donaldson are of the same opinion. Lou just did an interview talking about how important the blues is to jazz and Kenny openly credits the blues as one of the key factors that shaped his sound. To me, blues seems to establish jazz’s way of phrasing, and a soloist’s sense of voice. It establishes a feel. In my opinion, blues is the foundation for jazz. I don’t think the two can be mutually exclusive. In my view, if you don’t know the blues you can’t play jazz. There’s a lot of people that would disagree with me on that, but when I listen to their music, I can tell there isn’t a blues influence. It seems like it’s missing something.
I subscribe to that old saying; rock is a child of the blues. I mean, rock is essentially blues with different musicians, punchier sounds, and a different audience. They’re very similar, but I guess one could say rock is blues in a mainstream form.
Do you know why the sound of slide and resonator guitar is connected to the blues? What are the secrets of?
I think the incorporation of slide into blues comes from the ‘diddly bow.’ As far as the relationship between blues, resonators and slide, I am not entirely sure. I could certainly see why it would be appealing-it has such a unique, eerie sound. It’s much different than playing slide on a regular acoustic. It’s more jingly and stinging. Resonators are just so responsive and they possess a ton of attitude. Well… The secrets of slide? I wouldn’t know anything about that. I am definitely still working on trying to learn slide myself. As a far as I can tell with the limited knowledge I have, slide can either be piercing like Bukka White or smooth like Tampa Red. It all depends on what you dig, and I am not really sure what style I prefer yet.
"I would love to be around Chicago during the 1950s. I’d love to be able to witness the recording sessions of the great Chess artists and go to some of the clubs and watch them play later that evening. I’d probably like to meet Howlin’ Wolf more than anyone else."
From the musical point of view, what are the differences between electric and acoustic? What do you prefer?
I think electric guitar lends itself to lead guitar playing. You can bend notes easily and there can be more sustain. I think an acoustic can be used to back yourself up and also take solos. It’s a more all-encompassing lay-out, I think. That’s not to say you couldn’t do the same thing on electric, but it’s a little different. I think acoustic lends itself to being more for solo settings, whereas the electric guitar is more for a band setting. I also think, on the whole, acoustic guitar can be revealing. You can’t hide behind effects (well unless it’s an electric acoustic). You’re one with the instrument.
Acoustic guitar lends itself to lower volumes, so if you’re playing with somebody else, it stays pretty low key. The vibrations you feel are from the guitar itself not the amp behind you. Electric, of course, can be played softly, but I think it’s rare to see that. Everyone’s interested in playing loud. To use a comparison, acoustic guitar is like whispering, while electric guitar is like shouting. That’s just how I see it anyway.
Also, techniques wise, electric guitar is generally played with a pick (unless chicken picking is involved, haha), and acoustic guitar is fingerpicked. Those methods aren’t absolutes, but I think that’s a common difference too. I think it adds to the type of sound expected from both.
What do I prefer? I couldn’t pick. It’s like asking someone to pick their favorite kid-I adore them both and it varies depending on the mood I am in.
What is the impact of Blues and Jazz Music on the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?
I feel like I could write a whole paper on this topic, but I think if one has a greater sense of blues and jazz music and its features, one is able to grasp the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications present in America, especially the way in which its citizens have navigated such an environment. Jazz, especially, allowed musicians and listeners of various socio-economic classes to come together. Jazz bands were rarely integrated in formal theater settings during the 1930s and 1940s; however, blacks and whites still frequently played jazz together, especially in afterhours jam sessions. Jazz functioned as the great integrator and unifier not only in style but also in terms of how it brought (and continues to) bring folks together.
What does it mean to be a blueswoman in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says?
I can only speak from my limited experience. I play guitar, so I think my experience is different than if I just sang or played bass for that matter. So… I guess I am more of a “blues guitar woman” than a “blueswoman” in that sense. The only way I can accurately describe my experience it is to use Rodney Dangerfield’s famous line: “I don’t get no respect.” I even had someone tell that I need to work twice as hard because I’m a female musician. With a few exceptions, being a blues guitar woman means that I always have to bring my A game and that I have to have thick skin to put up with lots of different personalities, sexism, and delusion. It’s fair to say I am almost always trying to prove myself. I’m often not taken seriously enough and people usually have low expectations for my abilities. If I exceed those expectations, lookout! Be prepared to be thrown into some cutting heads contests and volume battles, haha. That sounds extreme, but it is often the truth, at least based on what I’ve been through so far. There are some great souls out there who don’t subscribe to any of that, but I think a majority of people do unfortunately.
Make an account for current realities of the case of the blues in Illinois and Michigan. What are the differences?
This is a loaded question. No matter what I say, I think there will be someone that would disagree with me. So, I don’t know how accurately I can speak about this since I don’t play around a lot, but I think both Illinois and Michigan have closely knit blues communities. I think Michigan’s scene tends to incorporate a lot of different styles into their blues such as soul and swing. I think there seems to be more horns and the use of upright basses. I think Illinois’ scene tends to be more electric and it leans towards one style. I think most bands are either three-pieces or four pieces. But… It’s impossible to define each place though. There are so many variables.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?
What a great question! I would love to be around Chicago during the 1950s. I’d love to be able to witness the recording sessions of the great Chess artists and go to some of the clubs and watch them play later that evening. I’d probably like to meet Howlin’ Wolf more than anyone else.
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