Q&A with charismatic artist, songwriter and singer Dana Gillespie, a real force of nature with real musical passion

"I've never really noticed much of a difference between men and women in the music biz although I had to deal with what we us Brits call 'tossers and wankers' along the way, but that's just part of growing up and you learn just by dealing with this."

Dana Gillespie: Global Blues Ambassador

Charismatic English blues singer Dana Gillespie began her artistic career in the 1960s in London and has been going strong over the years. In 1964 she recorded for Pye, with Donovan on guitar and became a regular on the folk circuit. In those early years Dana got to know many of the top bands and people in the music business. Most shared her love of blues, and played their own version of it. Bob Dylan who was an old friend of Dana from the 60s showed interest in her music in 1997, when he invited her to support him on his UK tour, which included a sell-out show at Wembley. After a swathe of singles on Pye and two LPs for Decca, she moved to RCA and made WEREN'T BORN A MAN in 1973, some titles being produced by David Bowie, whose management, Mainman, also took care of her career. While her career in music was simmering away, she became better known for her appearances in London's West End theatres, in shows such as the first run of Jesus Christ Superstar (playing Mary Magdalene), The Who's "Tommy" (playing the Acid Queen) and the rock Othello, "Catch My Soul". She also appeared with   Dudley Moore in the film version of "The Hound Of The Baskervilles" and starred in Ken Russell's "Mahler" among other movies. In the 80s, Dana toured Europe several times with the "Stars Of Boogie Woogie" tour, singing either with the Mojo Blues Band. Her time with the Mojo Blues Band, a purist outfit that backed all the American blues musicians visiting Europe. She also developed her interest in Indian and Arabic music.

In 2002 Dana was invited to take her road band, The London Blues Band, on the first ever major tour by a western band of India. She filled stadiums from Mumbai to Calcutta and yet again demonstrated her infallible ability to take her music to a seemingly unlikely audience. Her songwriting is without doubt a major asset. India has always played a major part in Dana's life and she recorded 3 albums in Sanskrit, under the pseudonym THIRD MAN before reverting to Dana Gillespie. In 2005, Mick Jagger appeared as a guest and sang songs such as: "Honky Tonk Women", "Dust My Broom" and "Goin' Down" but also many other Blues artists have appeared there through the years, such as Big Joe Louis, Joe Louis Walker, Billy Branch, Shemekia Copeland, Ronnie Wood, Donald Fagen, Rolf Harris, Larry Garner, Eugene Bridges, Big Jay McNeeley, Earl Green, and others. Multi-Award winning Blues Diva has been touring the world as the true ambassador of the risqué blues. After a very long time the queen of european blues, released a new album with Al Cook, titled "Take It Off Slowly" (Wolf/2019)This time she is singing some erotic songs. The CD has brand new material, but also great covers Dana is in a great form! There is no soul blues or rock blues, just pure traditional blues! Dana, also just finished her 70th album with the London Blues Band, which comes out on Ace Records in November this year, called 'Under My Bed', all the songs are new, co-written with Jake Zaitz who is the guitarist in the band. 

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

The Blues hasn't really shaped my views on the world but it has guided my path in the music business. It's music I have loved since I was 11 years old and music has taken me all over the world many times. Just having the chance to work with great musicians who are also pals is a mega boost to my life and as I find nothing as fun as doing gigs, writing songs and being in studios, then the Blues has given me back so much more than I ever could have dreamt of!

What were the reasons that make the UK in the 60s to be the center of blues, rock and folk researches?

I was very lucky to be growing up in the 60s London and there were such great venues to go to, music was real and not screwed up electronically and most of the guys I used to hang out with were just session musicians but then they turned into huge rock stars, so London really was the place to be back in those days. Getting hold of Blues records was quite difficult back in the early 60s so those that knew of this music almost had the feeling of being in a small elite club and the love of the Blues was the unspoken membership that bound us all together

How do you describe your songbook and sound? Where does your creative drive come from?

I always considered myself a songwriter first, and from the age of 16 I was always signed to a publishing company. I started writing when I was 11 and I've no idea where this creative streak came from as my father was a doctor and my mother was a physiotherapist but I've always had music running round in my head so that means I'm never alone!

"The Blues hasn't really shaped my views on the world but it has guided my path in the music business. It's music I have loved since I was 11 years old and music has taken me all over the world many times. Just having the chance to work with great musicians who are also pals is a mega boost to my life and as I find nothing as fun as doing gigs, writing songs and being in studios, then the Blues has given me back so much more than I ever could have dreamt of!

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Thank goodness no one really gave me any advice although my parents were wise people and I often listened to them but in the end always did what I wanted to do. Of all the music managers I've had, the best was Tony Defries who also handled Bowie in the 70s and sadly they don't make mangers like that any more. He definitely changed Bowie's life for the better and me too, and we both signed to RCA in America which was a fun time to be there as the place was buzzing and we all had a ball.

Are there any memories from your first tour in India which you’d like to share? What touched (emotionally) you from Sai Baba?

I think I'm the only Blues artist that has toured India from top to bottom with the London Blues Band, the guys I work with, and it was great to go to places where they definitely hadn't heard this kind of music. It had a bit of a preaching element to it, turning people on to something they'd not heard before. Nowadays Indians are very connected to music and I've done many concerts in places like Mumbai and Bangalore. The famous Indian spiritual leader, Sathya Sai Baba, is physically not on this earth any more as He left His body about 6 years ago but I was blessed enough to perform at His place near Bangalore many times and at His 70th Birthday there were about a million people in the audience and I thought Sai Baba would want me to sing His kind of music called Bhajans, but no, He wanted Blues, much to the amazement of the audience who had not heard such music before. It's pretty amazing to stand on a stage in front of so many people!!!

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

I never think about the future as it seems a bit pointless as I could be dead tomorrow, but the way that the music biz is going is kind of alien to me. I like vinyl, CDs and even have a cassette player in my car and it saddens me that new cars don't even have CDs so everyone listens to music on their blasted computers, which don't usually have great speakers. The joy of holding a special LP in your hands has really gone and that sad as nothing is important any more and I don't like the way voices are recorded and they all sound the same and have been tampered with.

"I always considered myself a songwriter first, and from the age of 16 I was always signed to a publishing company. I started writing when I was 11 and I've no idea where this creative streak came from as my father was a doctor and my mother was a physiotherapist but I've always had music running round in my head so that means I'm never alone!"

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your paths in music circuits?

I think the best lesson I've learnt is to never give up. Just keep on keeping on. I've just finished my 70th album which comes out on Ace Records in November this year, called 'Under My Bed', and I'm just so happy that I still haven't lost the joy of writing, recording and doing gigs as many of my old friends are either dead, unwell or just not interested, but I still love this mad business.

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

I've never really noticed much of a difference between men and women in the music biz although I had to deal with what we us Brits call 'tossers and wankers' along the way, but that's just part of growing up and you learn just by dealing with this. The good side of this was that in the early 60s there weren't too many female artists so it was easy to get started and noticed.

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

I don't need a time machine and Now is fine by me...but I wish I could find a decent agent as they don't make them like they used to!!!!

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