Interview with multi-talented frontwoman Eliza Neals - the voice of the ‘new blues’ for this generation

"I think it (Soul, Blues & Rock music) continues forward because it speaks to the hearts and souls of people it's a mixture of the classics and it’s not perfect imperfections are perfection!"

Eliza Neals: Detroit Blues & Soul Diva

Eliza Neals is a dynamic front woman, multi-talented musician, confident producer and outstanding live performer plus the voice of the ‘new blues’ for this generation. The award winning sultry and powerful blues rock soul vocalist, recording artist, composer, performer, publisher and producer is being compared to greats like Etta James, Janis Joplin and Ricki Lee Jones among others. Performed with notable acts such as Barrett Strong, Kenny Olson, Vernon Reid, The Four Tops, Temptations, George Clinton, Earl Klugh, Tino Gross, Howard Glazer, Eddie Gregg, Bart Walker, and more. Eliza Neals is a 2013 Detroit Music Award winner for "Messin with a Fool" which received "Outstanding Blues/R&B Recording (album)" and "Rock Songwriter" In 2012 Eliza won "Outstanding Blues Songwriter" at the DMAs. Eliza Neals voted by Real Detroit Weekly readers as the ‘Best Blues artist/group in 2013.’

New album “10,000 Feet Below” (2017) is spelunking the new depths of the Blues with Eliza Neals as your fearless guide. Cavern’s of sound well up through Eliza’s supernatural voice and piano driven songs, as Howard Glazer‘s guitar pierces the echo with honest tone. Breaking and entering an abandoned temple of blues-rock left long ago, descending each rung carefully to uplift your musical soul. Producer Eliza Neals rigged the journey, surveyed then mapped the suffocating walls, while finding soulful keys through narrow fissures of sound. Cascading guest guitarists Paul Nelson (Johnny Winter) and Billy Davis (Rock n Roll HOF) cast light on adventurous dark paths. Colossal drummers Skeeto Valdez, Demarcus Sumter, Brian Clune, Rubin Nizri and John Medeiros supply a profound rumble to orientate your feet. As the ceiling drops, blasting bassists Paul Randolph, Johnny Abraham, Mike Griot and Lenny Bradford resonate through the crawlspace. Eliza Neals unflinchingly dives headfirst to underwater eyelets that only a skilled writer can reach. Falling lower to get washed up on golden grotto beaches, a new entrance to blues once left undiscovered, 10,000 Feet Below…

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

I learned that the truth can be heard from the blues the real raw intent is brought out when you listen to the blues. Blues means truth!! My voice can bring out the passion and soul the gritty robust tones to identify with the pain and suffering or pure joy of the blues. Being an Armenian American my family escaped the genocide of 1915 from the Turks the pain and hurt in my soul is unleashed through singing and writing the blues.

What were the reasons that you started the Blues/Soul-R&B and Rock researches and experiments?

I’m a blend of new blues and classic rock from being a child in Detroit and hearing all the iconic music out of Detroit. I started singing and playing the Blues because it moves me ad didn’t even know it was Blues. I would sing a blues standard by Koko Taylor or Bessie Smith and my voice would come to life. I started writing songs on the piano that were always within the chord changes of blues or classic rock progressions and phrase within the blues structures unleashing pain, passion and fire.

How do you describe Eliza Neals sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

My sound and songbook consists of a intermingling of sounds and styles all pressed into one fuzzy yet at times clean tone. My songbook consists of approx. 200 songs or more. I have Motown legend (Barrett Strong) as a co-writer on a lot of my songs which lends a more r and b Motown Edge. As I continue to write on my own my style has morphed into a simple yet complex one for writing new blues-rock which is strong female fronted vocals that are passionate powerful from the heart n' soul. My music philosophy is learn it all sing it all and then make the sound your own. I studied opera (BA in music) and I know the streets because I would go out 5 nights a week to learn from the greats in Detroit by sitting in. I played every smoke filled club and sat in with people like Earl klugh to Aretha Franklin.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Singing with Alberta Adams after a blues showcase in Detroit before she passed... So iconic...she said this about my voice... "you got something there" which was so very cool...

How do you describe ‘100.000 Feet Below’ sound and songbook? What characterize album’s philosophy?

"10,000 Feet Below," is spelunking the new depths of the Blues with Eliza Neals as your fearless guide. Caverns of sound well up through Eliza's supernatural voice and piano driven songs, as Howard Glazer's guitar pierces the echo with honest tone. Breaking and entering an abandoned temple of blues-rock left long ago, descending each rung carefully to uplift your musical soul. Producer Eliza Neals rigged the journey, surveyed then mapped the suffocating walls, while finding soulful keys through narrow fissures of sound. Cascading guest guitarists Paul Nelson and Billy Davis cast light on adventurous dark paths. Colossal drummers Skeeto Valdez, Demarcus Sumter, Brian Clune, Rubin Nizri and John Medeiros supply a profound rumble to orientate your feet. As the ceiling drops, blasting bassists Paul Randolph, John Abraham, Mike Griot and Lenny Bradford resonate through the crawlspace. Eliza Neals unflinchingly dives headfirst to underwater eyelets that only a skilled writer can reach. Falling lower to get washed up on golden grotto beaches, a new entrance to blues once left undiscovered, 10,000 Feet Below..."A new entrance to blues once left undiscovered, 10,000 Feet Below."

"I’m a blend of new blues and classic rock from being a child in Detroit and hearing all the iconic music out of Detroit. I started singing and playing the Blues because it moves me ad didn’t even know it was Blues." (Photo: Eliza Neals & Little Milton, Memphis TN)

Are there any memories from studio sessions of ‘100.000 Feet Below’ which you’d like to share with us?

I worked with Mr. Billy Davis who played with and was good friends with Jimi Hendrix, he's in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Hank Ballard). Billy is a dear friend and early band mate of my mentor Barrett Strong Jr., (I Heard It Through The Grapevine, Papa Was a Rolling Stone, War) he played on ‘At The Crossroads’ which blew our collective minds jamming with him in the studio was fantastic + mutual as he says "I'm his favorite singer" now.

How has the Blues and Soul music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

After visiting the UK and being named "Top Live Acts 2016" by 'Get Ready To Rock UK' I noticed how much the UK was different from the US in terms of the listening audience. They LOVED hearing the music and our brand of classic blues-rock you could hear a pin drop! People feel the passion in my songs, vocal delivery and connect to it. Hopefully I have made them feel better than they did when they came into the show.

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

I miss the mono culture around the radio and the excitement for a rock band coming to town now it's all online and so much happening it gets lost in the mix! My hopes and fears are ... Is to tour the world to see and connect with all my fans and hope my radio play can go mainstream because my songs will and do uplift the people.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences?

Meeting Legend Barrett Strong in a health food store in Detroit not knowing who he was and actually singing for him and working with him (to present day).

"Being an Armenian American my family escaped the genocide of 1915 from the Turks the pain and hurt in my soul is unleashed through Singing and writing the blues." 

(Photo: Eliza & Barrett Strong)

What is the best advice ever given you?

"One monkey don't stop no show ".

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

I laughed recently from a new female comic on Vine named Brittany Furland where in 6 seconds she makes a joke using new media and she's hilarious! And of course anything Larry David does or says is a huge laugh. The chitlin circuit is empowering because you learn from the older more seasoned players ...things from them you can't get anywhere else ... It's also a travesty because they are not making the money that they need to live their lives above the poverty level in some cases.

Make an account of the case of the blues in Detroit. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

The Blues scene in Detroit is quite diverse and competitive. There are the pure blues folks and then the blues rockers and the in betweens. It’s a cool scene and almost everyone supports each other. After winning two Detroit Music Awards 2013 & 2016 for "BEST BLUES ALBUM" and two more for "Blues songwriter" in 2012 & 2015, I could feel the jealousy like a coat. Considering I'm a woman (then check my album cover) proves this is very hard to do and I am honored to be a Detroit born artist.

Which is the moment that you change your life most? What´s been the highlights in your life so far?

The moment that changed my life the most was meeting the LOVE of my life my man. I'm lucky enough to be on this music adventure together with him. The Highlight so far has been when I released my album ‘Breaking and Entering’ exactly two years ago and it crashed the Blues Rock Scene and Blues World where it debuted at Number #2 on the Blues Rock charts (RMR) and was added into heavy rotation on BB Kings Bluesville. 5 songs were on Amazon Best Selling top downloads for five months straight.  This is still amazing unmatched by so many in the music game today.

"I learned that the truth can be heard from the blues the real raw intent is brought out when you listen to the blues. Blues means truth!! My voice can bring out the passion and soul the gritty robust tones to identify with the pain and suffering or pure joy of the blues." (Photo by Richard Blondy)

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Etta James, Janis Joplin and Ricki Lee Jones with your generation?

The lines that connect these 3 women to me are the simple words unique and original ...their vocal sound and delivery. They were not trying to fit in.

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

Well the implications of blues is I see all types of people at my and other Blues shows. Sometimes there are a few 'angry or crazy' people who want to say things like 'you can't sing the blues cause of what color your skin is…' (no one doubts Eminem) but those people are few and far between. All in all, my Blues is mixed with classic rock raw channeling 1967-72 and the music that started the last Blues resurgence in America. If I get a comparison to Janis, Jimmy or Koko Taylor I did my job. I take on politics and confront "the man" on each album I do, there's songs for each person to interpret and feel their own political emotional way about them.

What does it take to be a female artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in Blues?

Being s female in a man’s world is a battle like going to War! Men most times ignore and downplay female talent and are scared of their potential power. Future for Women in blues? I am a new female in the genre of blues with Rock overtones ...Detroit DJ Doug Podell says this... "There aren't many women in Blues Rock nowadays...but Eliza Neals is filling that gap and doing it better than anyone else!" I feel that if you stay true to your talent and are different you will survive and rise to the top of the male dominated Blues world.

"I miss the mono culture around the radio and the excitement for a rock band coming to town now it's all online and so much happening it gets lost in the mix! My hopes and fears are ... Is to tour the world to see and connect with all my fans and hope my radio play can go mainstream because my songs will and do uplift the people." (Eliza Neals on stage / Photo by Mike Toumey)

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

I think it continues forward because it speaks to the hearts and souls of people it's a mixture of the classics and it’s not perfect imperfections are perfection!

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

I would change who runs the record biz because they are signing the wrong people and using young kids as pawns so to speak ...pimps and ho's ...whose using who? It's a quickie one hit wonder mentality... The real magic is with the seasoned real musicians making music that will last forever.

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

I would love to go to Woodstock and be a singer there with Jimi, Janis and the rest of the classic rock icons of the 60's to see how they would like me... I have been compared to them all.

Eliza Neals - Official website

Photo by Sue Plummer 2015

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