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: Midnight Jubilee

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 latest album “Midnight Jubilee”, a heartfelt and wistful drive down the back roads of American roots music.

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.

"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.

"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.

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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