Interview with Nashville-based duo of Markey Blue & Ric Latina - The Blues Are Knockin' it really hits the spot

"Blues music touches you in such a deep way. Its history and roots are where so many other music genres have come from. There is such accessibility and community in Blues music."

Markey Blue: Blues To The Next Level

Nashville-based duo of guitarist Ric Latina - a veteran of many country and blues groups and sessions - teamed up with singer Jeannette Markey in 2012, their second album, 'The Blues Are Knockin' (2016) it really hits the spot. Since starting her career at the age of 17, Markey is a seasoned talent who instantly communicates a passion for her craft to everyone who sees and hears her. When it comes to the different performing stages, this entertainer, singer-songwriter has spanned the gamut. Markey has played everything from big stages and theaters around the world, to clubs, festivals, television, film, and radio shows. Her band an amazing group of talent brought together in the studio and on stage, creating their own unique sound of music.

Markey has had the honor of performing for three past presidents, and has opened for and performed with the likes of Bobby Blue Bland, Candy Kayne, Taj Mahal, Steve Cropper, Anson Funderburg, Guitar Shorty, Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Frankie Valley, Andy Williams, Michael Fienstein, Smothers Brothers and many more. Markey has already seen success on a couple different music charts as a songwriter, arranger, and producer. The band has teamed up with the charity Strings for Hope- curing hunger one note at a time.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What were the reasons that you and Ric Latina started the Blues and Soul researches and experiments?

Markey: We initially just got together to play a few gigs around town and maybe write a 4 song EP. We didn’t have an agenda as far as what style. We just sat and started writing. The songs and Ideas all came out so quickly we knew we were on to something as far as being good writing partners. I think we both just pulled what we liked from out own musical back grounds, what we grew up listening to as kids. I think that’s why Steve Cropper took such an interest in our first project. He said on stage the first time he heard us, “This band is playing the music I would be writing today.” The First CD was defiantly more Soul/Blues we had planned to release triple AAA radio, Rand Chortkoff from Delta Groove records heard us and advised us against that and we were to be his first signed act with his new publicity department. When “Hey Hey” did so well and the door was really opened up to us in the blues community we really wanted to give blues folks more of what they wanted to hear. At the same time, we got signed to a TV/Film publishing deal and were asked to write a few specific blues songs for a couple different TV shows. Three songs off of our first CD and three songs off of The Blues are Knockin’ are signed for TV placement. The Last song “Worries” was just signed to the FOX Sci-Fi Thriller Wayward Pines directed by M. Night Shyamalan, starring Matt Dillon & Jason Patrick.

How do you describe Markey Blue sound and progress?

Markey: We call our music New Indie Soul/ Blues. It’s got a little new indie rock, soul and blues. We were trying to create our own sound. Co-writer and co-producer Ric Latina and I are both huge Stax Record's fans. We have co-written our previous CD bringing in a few close friends and Jack Pearson, who has been a member of the Allman Brothers Band. This project has definitely gone in the “Stax/Memphis sound” direction. We recently opened for Stax legend Steve Cropper and he stopped his show to talk about our band and the music we were making. He said that it's the music he would be making today. What a thrill hearing that!! Cropper is my producing hero. Markey Blue has only been together a few years but some pretty amazing things are happening. We were nominated for Best Blues Artist in the 2013 NIMA Awards and were just featured in Rust Music Magazine. We’re thrilled that “Baby I'm Crying” is being included on an independent movie soundtrack as well.

"Blues crosses all lines. Blues is any man or women who have been through something terrible or sad or joyful in their lives and they can feel where this music is coming from."

What characterize your music philosophy?

Markey: As far as our music philosophy, I recently had the opportunity to sing with Walter Trout on one of his shows. He grew up with Duke Ellington as a hero. He told me about trying to find his own sound – don’t limit yourself. Duke Ellington told him he never liked when people would say “I'm a blues player – or I'm a jazz player.” Giving yourself those confines was an excuse for not getting better at your craft. I like that philosophy. I heard a great quote that said “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone”. I'm used to singing “gut bucket blues” and sing it hard and growl it out. I had to completely relearn to sing these songs. But I feel it’s made me grow as an artist.

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from The Blues Are Knockin’ studio sessions?

Markey: When recording “Nobody’s Fool,” (a piece written after the Ferguson incident and the fraternity boys that got on a bus in Oklahoma and decided to sing about lynching), we really wanted to make this song special, more of a concert piece. Create something different than what’s on every blues album. The middle section was so hard to explain to musicians. When it’s the blank section on a piece of paper and you’re trying to explain what’s going to be in this section, it’s tough to do. We experimented with a few musicians …and then another few and found a couple guys that really got it. It’s one of the more well-crafted songs on the album. Just as a side note the guitar throughout the song including the solo, was the “scratch track” recorded in one take while laying bass and drums.  That never happens! I guess it was meant to be.

Ric: One of the most fun highlights of the record for me, was being taken into Ocean Ways Studio- (one on the top 10 studios in the world) by producer/engineer Mike Poston, who wanted to cut a “live track” on Markey Blue. Being able to cut live with all musicians in the same room and Markey singing full out each take the energy was amazing. Not having to engineer and play at the same time was a breath of fresh air. Just being able to focus on playing was a real treat and I think it shows in the track.

Which is the most interesting period in your life?

Markey: When I was in my late 20's early 30's I used to open and perform with a lot of big stars and I guess I didn't think it was out of the ordinary. Just getting to hang out with the different ones like Bob Hope, Phyllis Diller, Andy Williams, Frankie Valley, etc. was a thrill. I loved listening to all their stories of how they made it in the business and experiences they'd had. You can learn so much of what to do and most of all, what not to do. Robert Goulet once told me, “always remember, you meet the same people on the way up as you do on the way back down.”

"We call our music New Indie Soul/ Blues. It’s got a little new indie rock, soul and blues. We were trying to create our own sound. Co-writer and co-producer Ric Latina and I are both huge Stax Record's fans."

Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

Markey: Worst moment was when I quit music. I was in a seven year abusive marriage with a husband who was in the music business. Long story short, each time he would get “messed up”, his anger would turn to me, and he would tell me, “You can’t sing, you can’t write, you should just quit.” So I did for almost seven years. He left for a good part of a year out on tour with the Rolling Stones and I joined a small band. I played rhythm guitar and sang harmony and a little lead. It was like I was whole again. Our drummer asked me to write a song for a competition. The right person heard the song and my Blues career began. That was my best moment.

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

Markey: Blues music touches you in such a deep way. Its history and roots are where so many other music genres have come from. There is such accessibility and community in Blues music. There are blues societies all over the world where blues lovers can get together and nourish the growth and continuation of the genre.

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

Markey: I was on Delbert McClinton’s blues cruise and at a late night jam. I had Anson Funderburg on guitar, Andy T on guitar, Willie Nelson's son on keys, Tab Benoitt on drums, whew!! The next night Delbert got me up to sing and he played keys and sang back up for me. Unreal! Probably opening for Anson Funderburg at a NAMM Show after party. I had just been signed to blues label I55 Productions and was in the studio recording my CD. It was the first time I'd heard Anson with his clean, pure tone and sense of space and letting a song breath. I remember it had such an effect on me that I redid every single lead guitar track on my CD. Anson and I have since gotten to play together a lot and he still laughs when we talk about it.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of music?

Markey: I love to see a music genre grow and change. I love a 1-4-5 shuffle like anyone else, but the last couple years at the BMA’s, most of the songs up for “Song of the Year” were more complex. They contained interesting chord changes and creative songwriting. I think as the music evolves it will gain more fans that never would have found blues music. So many young folks today are starting to trace their favorite artist and who their hero's were.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences?

Ric: A surreal moment would have to be when Steve Cropper got a hold of us and said he “couldn’t get one of our songs out of his head and could he be a part of it?” So we went into his studio and found him rocking out to our music blasting away, and he would keep giving me the thumbs up sign on hearing my guitar licks while Steve was playing air guitar. “Ten to one” it was probably Steve’s licks I’d heard as a kid and that I unknowingly played them on the track.

Markey: I’ve worked with so many stars over the years, Bob Hope, Phyllis Diller, Frankie Vallie, the Reagan’s (when they were out of office) and even Sinatra to name a few. I have so many great stories from over the years and learned what to do, and what not to do, from hearing their experiences. But a couple of years ago Walter Trout was in town and was gracious enough to have me sing on stage with him an asked that I come early and hang. I love his take on music! He grew up with Duke Ellington as his mentor and shared with me his thoughts and takes on creating your own sound, being your own inventor, and lastly, never call your self just a blue player. He said that’s just an excuse not to really learn your craft. I love that!!

Which memories from Bobby Blue Bland and Frank Sinatra makes you smile?

Markey: Man oh man... When the Bobby Blue Bland show happened it was the middle of summer here in the south. HOT AND SWEATY! We have these large bugs here in the south called cicadas. They hibernate underground and come up every 7 or 12 years depending on the breed. Well we showed up at the outdoor venue and there were holes all over the ground where the bugs had come up. Little did we know they are attracted to loud noises. When I played the back of my dress was covered in the critters. Their little red eyes glistening were the perfect shade of bling. One flew in my mouth and one up my dress. When Bobby came on it was like something out of an Alfred Hitchcock movie. They were dive bombing. The poor horn players kept swatting them away and the louder the drummer played the more he was being attacked.

Frank Sinatra was just plain cool. I was performing at a benefit that he and Bob Hope were putting on in Palm Springs. That was an unreal star-studded event I will never forget.

When we talk about Blues usually refer past moments. Do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?

Markey: Of course I believe that Blues exists now and the Blues is always with us. I did a radio interview in Chicago with Vastie Jackson and Jeff Stone. Everyone kind of summed it up that the Blues is anyone who's going through something in their life; someone who's feeling down or had something happen to them. I think we all fall into that category.

What's been your experience as a blues woman in a “Man's World” as James Brown said?

Markey: I guess I never looked at it as a handicap. I think we’re all in this together in writing and playing the music we love. I look at us all as a family of kindred hearts.

"Everyone kind of summed it up that the Blues is anyone who's going through something in their life; someone who's feeling down or had something happen to them. I think we all fall into that category."

From the musical point of view what are the differences between Nashville and the other local scenes in US?

Markey: Nashville is definitely “Music City”. Every type of music is made here. Most people move here and become a little duck in a very big pond of talent. You either sink or it will force you to get better at your craft. The folks here in Nashville are so willing to help you. I've not found that anywhere else. Artist and multi-rock hit songwriter Butch Walker says it the best when it comes to playing a show in Nashville. “Nashville is the only place where a lot of your audience can sing better than you, play better than you, write better than you, but they still come to see and support you.”

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

Markey: Well, singing in the studio always used to scare me. I would go in the little booth and feel so uncomfortable with what I would hear in the head phones. So, I finally found my comfort zone by standing right in the middle of the control room with no head phones listening to the monitor turned down. It gives me more of a live performance feel. It’s also makes edits go a lot quicker. I guess we all need to find our comfort zone. I heard Lynyrd Skynyrd did the same thing and would love to know if that was true.

You are teamed up with the charity Strings for Hope. Would you tell a little bit about that?

Markey: Strings for Hope gals are amazing. They take used bass and guitar strings and make jewelry out of them. They sell the jewelry at festivals and they feed needy families. One set of strings will buy 80 meals!! Pretty cool! Look for them at a blues fest near you or find them at stringsforhope.org

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past?

Markey: Simplicity. First off, I'm definitely guilty of hiding my mediocre guitar playing behind lots of gain and effects. I've noticed a lot of that on the radio today. Secondly, way over produced vocals. I think all singers these days should be able to get up on any stage and able to sing live and sound like they do on their CD.

"I honestly think blues saved my life. I’ve been through so much bad stuff in this life and was in a very dark place. When I finally made up my mind to turn around from rock bottom I discovered the Blues."

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Ric: Everybody thinks music is free today. That musicians play for nothing and writers write for free, and downloading and streaming shouldn’t cost. I wish the compensation for musicians, who have spent their lives honing their craft and working countless hours on a piece of music, would be worth more. (Ric quote- Blood Sweat, and Strings).

Markey: what I love about the blues world I wish were the same in other genres. People don’t care how old, or how much someone weighs, they just wanna hear good music. Blues fans are like no other - they hold on to music and a sound they love and support the artists creating it. In so many other genres if you’re past your 20’s you can hang it up. There are so many talented folks out there who love making music. Thank goodness for the internet that more folks are able to get their music out to the masses.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues from Mississippi to Chicago Blues and Muscle Shoals sound?

Markey: The “feel” of a song is the twine. From MS Delta Blues (raw feel), to Chicago (more produced) or Muscle Shoals R&B – (which back then it used to mean rhythm AND blues.) Even STAX used a lot of blues woven throughout their music to get more of a raw sound they prided themselves on.

What has been the hardest obstacle for you to overcome as a person and as artist and has this helped you become a better blues musician?

Ric: Coming from years of touring with big acts as a side man, and now having to step out front as the artist and playing my own music has taken some getting used to. It’s taken me a while to break out of my comfort zone and really start to perform as a frontman.

Markey: Coming from a history of domestic violence has defiantly had an impacted on my writing. More so since I’ve been working on making Markey Blue. I can’t start to tell you the amount of hours I work day and night trying to make this happen. Day gigs, night gigs, and touring and taking care of the touring cost and marketing and what it takes to own your own small business. It’s a lot of work, when you’re just a musician and don’t have a barrel of cash in your basement you gotta put in a lot of hard work and a lot of hours. But I’m here to tell ya YOU can make it happen.

"I think as the music evolves it will gain more fans that never would have found blues music. So many young folks today are starting to trace their favorite artist and who their hero's were."

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

Markey: I honestly think blues saved my life. I’ve been through so much bad stuff in this life and was in a very dark place. When I finally made up my mind to turn around from rock bottom I discovered the Blues. A dear friend took me to my first Blues Music Award (BMA) show. The music really spoke to me and I understood and could relate to it. That’s when I started writing again. It’s been a wonderful journey of discovery.

What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Ric: Well I didn’t take my parents advice because I’m still a musician.

Markey: Mickey Rooney once said to me “The world should never celebrate mediocrity, always strive to be better.”

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Markey: Blues crosses all lines. Blues is any man or women who have been through something terrible or sad or joyful in their lives and they can feel where this music is coming from. It’s telling their story, as Ric say Blues takes you from the train tracks to the top of the mountain it doesn’t matter highs or lows. Blues sees no black or white, just Blue.

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

Markey: I think it would be cool to have spent a day as a “fly on the wall” in the Stax Records recording room. Back when they were tracking Sam and Dave, Otis Redding or Booker T listening to the ideas they were kicking around, how they were coming up with the arrangements and coming up with all the parts. I so enjoy producing and would love to see how those cats did it.

Markey Blue - official website

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