Q&A with versatile saxophonist Evelyn Rubio, relates to what she identifies with the idea that “The blues has no borders”.

"I miss the real live music in concerts, everything it's about computer and I worry for the new generations that can grow up thinking this is the only way to go. My hope is to sell out major stadiums around the world and my fear is technology will continue to divide us rather than bring us together."

Evelyn Rubio: The Soul of The Blues

Evelyn Rubio carries a theme in her heart and that theme relates to what she identifies with the idea that “The blues has no borders”. Born in Mexico (Neza City) and raised through her formative years in Mexico City it may be surprising to learn that Evelyn actually began in show business at the early age of nine. Then just two short years later, at the age of eleven, Evelyn would be a regular on a children’s television show “My Little Stars”. By the age of fifteen Evelyn was now earning a nice living as a rock and pop singer with various established bands in and around Mexico City and then at the age of 19 she began learning the saxophone and writing songs as well. Then in 1999 Evelyn recorded and released her first album “Evelyn Automarginados” which is a wonderful funky blues collection of music. Next, for over a period of five years, Evelyn would devote her focus on music between a black tie orchestra and a rocking blues band named “Chivo Azul”, in Playa del Carmen. Next, in 2004, Evelyn would land the lead role in Jesus Christ Superstar, a Canadian production in Mexico, as Mary Magdalene.

(Evelyn Rubio / Photo by Monika Watkins)

Shortly afterward Evelyn would emigrate to Houston, Texas and sign a multi-year album contract with the late, great Calvin Owens, a BB king band leader. Right after signing the agreement Mr. Owens would produce Evelyn’s second release, “La Mujer que Canta Blues”. Then it was right back into the studio for Evelyn’s current release, “Hombres” but unfortunately Mr. Owens passed and Evelyn continued to produce and finish the album along with Andy Bradley. In 2011 Evelyn became a member of The James Boogaloo Bolden Blues Band (the last BB king band leader) playing at festivals and went on to release an album in 2013 titled, “No News just The Blues”, and one more in 2015 titled “Hombres” the CD received the nomination for The Jimi Awards as International. Evelyn Rubio announces a May 15th release date for her new CD, Crossing Borders, on the SeaSpeed Productions label. Produced by Grammy-winner Larry Fulcher, who also contributes his dynamic bass playing to the new disc, Crossing Borders features musical contributions from a host of A-list musicians, including Fulcher’s Phantom Blues Band buddies Mike Finnigan (keys), Tony Braunagel (drums) and Johnny Lee Schell (guitar), as well as former Spirit bandmates Al Staehely (guitar) and Mark Andes. Added to that mix are world-class guitarists David Grissom and Josh Sklair and it’s obvious that Houston-based Latina Ms. Rubio has cooked up one salsa-fying, soulful stew of blues, R&B and rock to satisfy any musical cookbook. It also includes three bonus tracks sung in Spanish to round out the album. Crossing Borders, crossing boundaries throughout the disc in both music and styles, singing in both English and Spanish on the album’s 15 tracks, including a totally unique take on the Latin music standard, “Besame Mucho,” transforming it into a Delta blues classic-in-the making.   

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

Well in my native Mexico, Blues and soul are really in our counterculture, Rock is a little more mainstream. But when I've performed around Mexico, the US. and Europe I've found that people are people and they just want to groove a little and go somewhere else emotionally and simple enjoy this art form.

How do you describe your songbook and sound? What touched (emotionally) you from the Saxophone?

I would describe my songbook as being on the brighter side of the blues. Sometimes I give the boys a break and then of course sometimes I gotta let them have it. I've been told my vocal color belongs with the ballads but I feel too much energy now, maybe later but on my new album I have a " jazzy" song where my vocals follow the saxophone almost note for note and it covers a good part of my range. I've always been a singer and started to play guitar but my mentor and great friend Alfonso Miranda put a saxophone in my hand and I never put it down. It just felt natural, like an extension of my voice.

"First of all, don't compare yourself with nobody else, everybody has their own voice. Be nice with everyone and respect your brother and sisters and that respect will come back to you. I come to appreciate the difficulty of the blues musicians and their legacy of slavery and discrimination and how they prevail in some of the most horrible circumstances." (Evelyn Rubio / Photo by Monika Watkins)

How has your Mexican heritage influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I travel with an open mind and everywhere I go I try not to compare just to appreciate the differences and of course enjoying every little sip of the experience.

What characterize "Crossing Borders" music philosophy in comparison to other previous albums?

In “Crossing Borders,” I allowed myself to explore into other genres like country and jazz. This album has more personal thoughts about life like the song “I Don’t Understand.” We know the world is full of bad things, injustice, abuse, people and animal suffering, etc. but still it doesn’t mean that we have to accept it .

Are there any memories from "Crossing Borders" studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Beginning in Houston I went in the studio with all-star rock musicians, Al Staehely and Mark Andes from the super band SPIRIT and the wonderful Kenny Cordray - what a session! When we were recording “Border Town” the first two takes were ok but it wasn’t the sound that I wanted , something was missing so I mentioned to Kenny Cordray (lead guitar) that I wanted “mystery” and he got it, he changed the whole song with the sound of his guitar.

What touched (emotionally) you from "Besame Mucho"? What are the lines that connect: Afro-American and Latin music?

Most people of age can relate to a passionate kiss. “Besame Mucho que tengo miedo perderte despues;” which translate into English – “Kiss me a lot cause I’m afraid of losing you.” I have related to this myself, and that’s one of the reasons that it became a classical standard. A lot of the Caribbean music came from African influences and made their way into Latin America. “Besame Mucho” is a bolero song and bolero music was originated in Cuba.                       (Evelyn Rubio / Photo by Monika Watkins)

"Moving from Mexico City to Playa del Carmen and beginning as a full time blues vocalist/sax player and buying a little house; that was a very exciting moment for a young Evelyn. After 6 years with a hot blues rock band “Chivo Azul,” I was introduced to Al Staehely who set up an audition with Calvin Owens (a BB King Band leader) and was offered a 5 year 5 album record deal."

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

Definitely my friend and music mentor Alfonso Miranda who was my saxophone teacher and he encouraged me to became a musician and songwriter. Once here in the USA Al Staehely (music attorney and member of the rock band Spirit) has been a very important part of my career. He gave me the opportunity to play with The Staehely Brothers Band and he introduced me to Calvin Owens (BB King's band leader for 12 years, trumpet composer and producer) who signed me on his label for 5 years ,5 albums. I recorded the album "HOMBRES" in two versions one in English and one in Spanish and it topped the Billboard Charts at #1 Latin Pop album Album, #6 Blues Album and #3 Top Latin Album...

And believe it or not after Calvin Owens passed away I began playing with B.B. King's last band leader Mr. James Boogaloo Bolden who was B.B.'s band leader for 30 years and I recorded an album with him "No News jus' the Blues" and lately, I've finished an album that included most of the Phantom Blues Band members that I hope to release after the first of the year along with the video "Border Town". I'm also putting a band together with my Producer Mr. Larry Fulcher who is also a (Grammy Award Winner with Taj Mahal) on bass, Grammy Award winner David de la Garza (La Mafia) on keys, two times Grammy Nominated guitarist Corey Stood and Al Jarreau's guitar player for the last 10 years John Calderon. About the best advice I would say "Believe in Yourself" and "Enjoy the ride, even the bumps".

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

Well there are too many but just to mention one, I would never forget when I got the chance to open for BB King and there was a big crowd backstage of friends and family and everybody wanted to spend some time with the King. Unexpectedly, I found myself sharing some experiences with B.B. about Calvin Owens, and he ended the conversation so graciously asking me for a kiss and of course I was so happy to give it to him.  It was fun last year singing backgrounds for David Lee Roth, pure energy!

"Some women can pack a stadium and debut at #1 just like a man can, but it's a fact that not as many rises to that level. I'm going to do my best to add one more sister to the matrix and give it my everything. I have to be strong and remember those that came before me. You know that the Houston Rodeo Show featured 19 artist this last year, four of those were women so as you can see there is more work to be done." (Evelyn Rubio / Photos courtesy of Evelyn Rubio's Archive)

Why do you think that the Houston music scene continues to generate such a devoted following?

Because I think there are a lot of great musicians in Houston and they seem to be mostly humble and appreciative of the fans.

What moment changed your life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far? 

Moving from Mexico City to Playa del Carmen and beginning as a full time blues vocalist/sax player and buying a little house; that was a very exciting moment for a young Evelyn. After 6 years with a hot blues rock band “Chivo Azul,” I was introduced to Al Staehely who set up an audition with Calvin Owens (a BB King Band leader) and was offered a 5 year 5 album record deal.

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

It’s my opinion that great artists like John Mayall, Eric Clapton, Gary Moore, Stevie Ray Vaughan and now among others Joe Bonamassa and Gary Clark Jr. are all Blues Rock performers. I attended a Bonamassa concert in Houston a couple of years ago and he did not play one single blues song. I don’t think anyone really wants to stay in one box.

As a state of mind, did I mention Carlos Santana? I’m a lucky lady and I thank you for this opportunity to express myself.

"I travel with an open mind and everywhere I go I try not to compare just to appreciate the differences and of course enjoying every little sip of the experience." (Photo courtesy of Evelyn Rubio's Archive)

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

The originality and the lack of fear to try different things. I wish I could have that experience that people between 60-70 years old talk about, like they say when they listened for the first time to Jimmy Hendrix, Beatles, Led Zeppelin, etc... they were in awww what's that?, never heard something like this before!! I miss the real live music in concerts, everything it's about computer and I worry for the new generations that can grow up thinking this is the only way to go. My hope is to sell out major stadiums around the world and my fear is technology will continue to divide us rather than bring us together.

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

First of all, don't compare yourself with nobody else, everybody has their own voice. Be nice with everyone and respect your brother and sisters and that respect will come back to you. I come to appreciate the difficulty of the blues musicians and their legacy of slavery and discrimination and how they prevail in some of the most horrible circumstances.

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

Some women can pack a stadium and debut at #1 just like a man can, but it's a fact that not as many rises to that level. I'm going to do my best to add one more sister to the matrix and give it my everything. I have to be strong and remember those that came before me. You know that the Houston Rodeo Show featured 19 artist this last year, four of those were women so as you can see there is more work to be done.

"Well in my native Mexico, Blues and soul are really in our counterculture, Rock is a little more mainstream. But when I've performed around Mexico, the US. and Europe I've found that people are people and they just want to groove a little and go somewhere else emotionally and simple enjoy this art form."  (Evelyn Rubio / Photo courtesy of Evelyn Rubio's Archive)

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

I'm not sure. In my music travels I bring with me the fact that "Blues has no Borders". It's true and I put that on my T's and other merch. On my next album there is a song "Border Town" written by a great guitar player Memo Dueñas and the album will be named Crossing Borders so you can see that concept means a lot to me. When I'm singing and playing my sax, I feel good giving and receiving the good vibes and I'm thankful that I can bring a little fun and enjoyment and sometimes a tear to the audience. One of the lyrics on my next album says that "another life is lost just because of the color of his skin" "I don't understand". We all see color but what or why does it matter?

The great American Indian (Olympic gold medalist) Billy Mills has dedicated his life to helping Indians in poverty and has been awarded the Medal of Honor by a past President. Why should he be nervous and anxious driving through Arizona or Alabama? "I don't understand". I would like to believe that me and my music could make a change in someone's life and I will continue trying.

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

I would simple like to spend that day with my mother who passed away 10 years ago.

Evelyn Rubio - Home

Evelyn Rubio / All photos courtesy of Evelyn Rubio's Archive

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