Q&A with Kentucky’s rising blues sensation, Laurie Jane & The 45’s - heartfelt and wistful drive down to roots

"Music is one area in society where people can have different opinions and preferences but still get along. A real music connoisseur could go to any genre show and still enjoy the experience. They wouldn’t focus on the differences but instead enjoy the new melodies and beats that define the other styles."

Laurie Jane & The 45’s: The Blues Elixir

Laurie Jane and the 45’s are Louisville, Kentucky’s rising blues sensation. Laurie Jane Jessup’s vocals carry a torch for classic singers of the 40’s and 50’s while the band delivers Chicago blues swagger infused with the raw energy of early rock pouring out of Memphis. Their soulful originals and unique interpretations of classics delight any blues-hungry audience. Proudly representing Louisville, Kentucky's musical legacy, Laurie Jane and The 45's are a band of best friends, brothers, and a husband and wife. Their sound is a melting pot of 1950's big city electric blues with the high energy sounds of early rockabilly and soul. Laurie Jane's jazz influenced vocals, sincere and restrained, float across the churning depths of Cort Duggins' twelve-string slide guitar and deep blues picking. Jason Embry's upright bass and Scott Dugdale's drums lay down raucous swinging back beats.

In 2017, released their album “Midnight Jubilee”, a heartfelt and wistful drive down the back roads of American roots music. Laurie Jane and The 45s find themselves walking new paths that are at the same time as familiar as turning down the street to home on their new release "Late Last Night - Elixir of Sara Martin" from Down in the Alley Records (2018). Their goal, to revive the work of Louisville's prohibition era blues original, Sara Martin, but not in a purist way. Instead of trying to capture every nuance of music nearly a century old, they reach out to deliver Sara's music in the same way the great British rock bands introduced most of us to the blues. Sara Martin's words ring true through the careful, thoughtful delivery of Laurie Jane's vocals. The band's southern soul shines with layers of rich horns, cascading guitars and their trademark raucous rhythms.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues people and culture? What does the blues mean to you?

Laurie: As my interest in blues grew I began meeting musicians and fans that have devoted a large portion of their life learning the history of the music. They are always so eager to share their facts and stories. Hearing about the particular details of an iconic recording session or the childhood story of one of the old artists breathes life into the “legend” of the blues.  This oral tradition is something that is disappearing from the world. By just talking with all of these wonderful people you actually become part of that chain of passing it on and becoming in a little way part of the story yourself.

Cort: For the longest time, I tried to get as good as all of the great old players. What I found is the closer you think you are getting, well shoot, they are still a million miles away. Then I learned from a lot of the guys out playing, that you have to find your own path, your own sound, your own blues, if you will. Once you find your own blues, it starts feeling good. When you start feeling good, other people start feeling good.

How do you describe and what characterize Laurie Jane & The 45s songbook and sound?

Laurie: Our band sound is a wonderful mashup of styles and artists that we all personally like. My singing style and musical tastes were formed as a teenager. As I was busy discovering music I was also intensely interested in airplanes - especially those of the Golden Age of Aviation. Not only did that era produce some of the most iconic aircraft, it was also a time of incredible singers and musicians. As I sang along with the albums of that era, I was enamored with the style, class, and talent of the vocalists. I bring this singing style and classic touch to my band, where it is married up with our other bandmember’s tastes that include early rock, rockabilly, and blues.

How do you describe and what characterize "Late Last Night-Elixir of Sara Martin" songbook and sound?

Laurie: We want to revive Sara Martin's legacy and make her songs approachable to listeners that are not musical historians or hardcore blues aficionados. We want the songs to represent the blues roots they come from and at the same time be attractive to anyone, blues fan or not.

Cort: Sara Martin's songs are right at the century mark in age but the attitude falls right in line with what we are all about. Throw what you got at me I'll just shake it off. We took her songs and that indomitable spirit and reimagined them as our own. There is a heavy dose of vintage soul in our blues as well as a notable country element. Mix that with the jazz and early blues roots of Sara Martin's music and it becomes quite the combination.

"Blues is a low-down feeling weighing on your heart. Blues music is the cure. Even the most downbeat blues is uplifting if you find yourself in a hurtful situation. It can be a downright celebration if you have made it past your problems."

What has made you laugh from studio sessions? What touched (emotionally) you from Sara Martin's songs?

Laurie: We can often completely fall apart in the studio.  Our band feeds off of one another and there are a lot of subtle cues and eye contact. In a recording session you are more often then not isolated from the other players and in our case calamity will ensue. We fall over laughing at our silliness once we make it through. What else can we do. What touched me emotionally about Sara Martin is that we share the hometown of Louisville Kentucky but almost no one knows of her. Very very few people may be familiar with her name or have maybe read the paragraph or two that circulates on the internet or in books. Fewer still of those people are even familiar with any of her songs. She recorded nearly 100 tracks and toured much of the world. It is a shame that her accomplishments go unsung.

Cort: Our dear friend and saxophonist William Brian Hogg created these wonderful, to the point, horn arrangements for the record.  When he would explain them to me, he would mouth them out instead of playing them on the horn.  What he would do is a cross between jazz scatting and a dirty limerick. Not fit for print but permanently etched in my mind!  What touched me emotionally about Sara Martin's songs? Her first recordings from 1922 are bright, crisp and eager sounding. As each year passes her singing became rawer and hard-edged sounding.  You can literally hear the miles she was putting on her life and soul.

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

Laurie: My husband and guitarist Cort Duggins. He very often spends more time preparing his guitars and amps for a performance than we actually play! His motivation is to prevent a breaking string or failing cable from disrupting his performance. The reality is that being over prepared on the front end allows us to slow down and gain control of the hectic onstage environment. We can then enjoy the moment.

Cort: Laurie and I played a show in front of Buckwheat Zydeco. He is a Grammy winning artist but was very ill at the time. He has since passed.  He made it a priority to sit beside the stage while we played. He offered us warm hospitality and shared with us like we were family. Putting others first and being kind is the best advice. Hopefully I get there someday.

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

Laurie: Bring back the '80s! I miss the simple honest pop music we had back then.  When I was a little girl, I wanted to be Cyndi Lauper!

Cort: I hate to say it, but the power of the internet. When I was teenager getting into the blues, I had to piece together everything I knew about the artists from scrap and myth. A newly acquired album was something I would devour for weeks straight. I found a unique identity in all of that knowledge I had acquired. Today, getting let’s say, Howlin' Wolf's whole life story and every song ever recorded and every picture ever taken of him at a buttons click just takes the magic away. 

"As I learned about the music and artists, I found that blues influenced country, country influenced blues, jazz mentored pop, etc. From the view I had, everyone was learning and sharing from one another. I wish the world could work now how the musicians did back then."

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

Laurie: I have a fun memory of attending a friend’s gig and being asked to sing a few numbers. Nothing was rehearsed, but we were all seasoned musicians and I wasn’t worried. For the first song, I shouted out the key and tapped the tempo, and left the rest of the feel and musical details to happen naturally. To my surprise, this song I had sung for years took off in a completely unfamiliar direction. What was a slinky blues tune was transformed into an upbeat swing number! I had to laugh at the refreshing new spin on it and it ended up reviving the fun of the song for me. It can be exhilarating to play with new people in front of a live audience because once the song starts, you’re mostly along for the ride. I think playing in jams makes you a better performer. In this case it forced me to sing new phrasings and modify the melody on the spot to fit the new interpretation of the song. I still think back on that night and smile!

Cort: I have been fortunate to play with Scott and Jason, the drums and bass in Laurie Jane and The 45s, pretty much my entire adult life. Real early on, we were lucky enough to meet some players who had been there and back again. One day my Mother came home and I had her house full of musicians. She said, “What’s going on here?” Me: “Oh, this is my band the Jive Rockets and this guy here played sax for Fats Domino back in the day. Look Mom, we have a video of him.” Mom was like, “Oh, let me make you some sandwiches then.”

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

Laurie: When music was performed 75 years ago, it sounded like talent was at the forefront and other details were not as important. The current music industry is more about a glitzy show than the music and musical performance is secondary to image. Real talent is overlooked and lost. A lot of people simply like what is presented to them as ‘good’ and miss real talent if it doesn’t come in the right recognizable package.

Cort: Blues from the past was driven by the singer and the song. The guitar was a handy accompaniment but it always came down to the singer’s charm, wit, and personality making light out of life, love, and work. A lot of modern blues, especially what you will find in clubs these days, is guitar driven. Huge cranked guitar that pretty much turns into screaming heavy metal. Then the singer comes in with a false gruff voice talking about black cat bones and railroad depots. Don’t get me wrong, there are still great singers, great songs, and great players, but I think a lot of folks are missing the point.

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

Laurie: Celebrate the success of other musicians in your scene. If they are winning you are too. So many musicians and the groups that follow them put walls up and can be stand offish. This only hurts the musical community and prevents the scene from becoming vibrant.

Cort: I'm an obsessive perfectionist by nature. Unfortunately, perfection is by far not the most important part of music or performance. Having fun is. Laugh, take it all in. Not everyone gets to experience this.

"Our band sound is a wonderful mashup of styles and artists that we all personally like. My singing style and musical tastes were formed as a teenager. As I was busy discovering music I was also intensely interested in airplanes - especially those of the Golden Age of Aviation."

What touched (emotionally) you from Kentucky's musical legacy? What characterize the sound of local scene?

Laurie: I first heard Kentucky blues when I moved to Louisville in 2005.  I found a neat club downtown called Stevie Rays Blues Bar and immediately felt comfortable at my table for one in the corner. The band playing was fronted by local legend Lamont Gillespie and the crowd was lively and fun. I instantly felt at home!

Cort: When I was old enough to come to Louisville, the ‘big city’, there was a strong blues scene. Guitarists like Steve Ferguson, Jim Rosen on harp, charismatic singers like Jimmy Gardner, and Jimmy Brown bopping up and down like a goose on the bass. They all surpassed my wildest expectations of what I thought a bluesman should be. I became friends with a lot of those guys and learned from them though sadly a lot of them have passed on now. Real Louisville, Kentucky blues has always been played with a thirst for life and good times. It jumps and swings and makes you want to dance.

How has the Jazz, Rock n'Roll and Blues influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Laurie: I appreciate music from a social studies perspective because it gives insight into people’s lives and cultures. Lyrics tell the story, but when combined with vocal interpretation and melody it explains more than a history book ever could. A song adds an emotional layer to any story. I hear and experience music in this holistic way when I can understand the lyrics but I’ve also had a similar experience in reverse. I traveled to China a few years ago and although I could not understand the lyrics of their songs, the emotion and intent of the song still came through in the performance.

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

Laurie: Ah, but it wouldn’t be nothing without a woman or a girl! I think there’s room for all types and kinds in the blues and it feels completely natural to me to front a band and see other women do the same.

"The current music industry is more about a glitzy show than the music and musical performance is secondary to image. Real talent is overlooked and lost. A lot of people simply like what is presented to them as ‘good’ and miss real talent if it doesn’t come in the right recognizable package."

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

Laurie: Music is one area in society where people can have different opinions and preferences but still get along. A real music connoisseur could go to any genre show and still enjoy the experience. They wouldn’t focus on the differences but instead enjoy the new melodies and beats that define the other styles.

Cort: I discovered blues along with soul, rockabilly, early rock n roll, county and R&B like a flood in my early teens. It all seemed to fall from the same tree to me. All of the music I discovered made me feel good. As I learned about the music and artists, I found that blues influenced country, country influenced blues, jazz mentored pop, etc. From the view I had, everyone was learning and sharing from one another. I wish the world could work now how the musicians did back then.

Do you consider the Blues or Jazz, a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

Laurie: When I moved to Louisville several years ago from Chicagoland, I didn't know anyone in the town. Just for something to do I visited a popular local blues club.  The music was so familiar and comforting it felt like an old friend. I think the blues can be anything you need it to be.

Cort: I think it’s both. Blues is a low-down feeling weighing on your heart. Blues music is the cure. Even the most downbeat blues is uplifting if you find yourself in a hurtful situation. It can be a downright celebration if you have made it past your problems.

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

Laurie: I’d like to be in the audience of some of the greatest recorded concerts - B.B. King Live at the Regal, Glenn Miller at Carnegie Hall, or most any Freddie King concert. The wild applause and the crowd’s interaction with the artist sounds extraordinary coming through my stereo speakers. I’d like to discover if the electricity at the venue that I hear on the recording is the same in person.

Cort: Every single time I have ever recorded anything, all I hear are the warts. All the wrong notes and everything I should have done. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall when Chuck Berry was creating iconic classics at Chess. I wonder if all they could hear were the warts.

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