An Interview with songstress Dani Wilde: Blues & Soul music has helped to change the world we live in.

"Women have always been there playing the blues alongside the men and boys."

Dani Wilde: Shining Blues & Shining Heart

Young British Blues & Soul Songstress Dani Wilde first broke in to the public eye at the tender age of 17 opening for Steeleye Span's Maddie prior. Having been brought up listening to her father’s record collection ranging from Bob Dylan to Motown, Stax and Chess records, Dani's childhood dreams were always of singing, songwriting and performing.
Dani grew up in Hullavington, a small Wiltshire village, just a few doors down from popular jazz artist Jamie Cullam. At the age of 18, Dani moved to Brighton where she spent three years achieving her 1st Class Ba Hons Degree in Music whilst also promoting herself as an artist. In 2006, she was noticed by Jools Holland's younger brother 'Christopher Holland'... One thing led to another and by Christmas that year, she was opening for Jools Holland at The Royal Albert Hall.
News of Dani's incredibly soulful voice, unique finger picking guitar style and growing success soon spread and in September 2007 she was picked up by prestigious international blues record label 'Ruf Records'. In January 2008, with the release of her debut album 'Heal My Blues' , Dani Wilde embarked on the 'Blues Caravan' tour of the UK, Europe and America. Each night she had the opportunity to open up for her hero's Sue Foley, Candye Kane and Deborah Coleman. Following this tour, Dani continued to tour the USA opening for Candye Kane and Robben Ford as well as headlining European tours with her young British band. In March 2010, she went back into the studio to record her second album for Ruf entitled SHINE. The record, produced by legendary British blues producer Mike Vernon really has captured Dani at her very best. In the meantime, Dani is continuing to fundraise for her on-going charity work in the slums of Embu, Kenya. Her new album 'Juice Me Up' just realese from Ruf Records.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Dani, when was your first desire to become involved in the blues & who were your first idols?
My Dad brought me up listening to Blues, Soul, Rock’n’roll and Bob Dylan. From when I was a baby, the record player in our house would be turned on loud for hours each day. I’d wake up to music and fall asleep to music, and so I grew up knowing and loving artists like John Lee Hooker, Howling Wolf, Buddy Guy, and all the Stax and Chess Artists as well as hearing a lot of soul and Motown records. The first songs I learned on guitar were John Lee Hooker and Bob Dylan songs and by the time I was 13 I was gigging these songs at village pubs and local festivals.

What was the first gig you ever went to & what were the first songs you learned?
You know, I can’t really remember my first gig because my Dad would have taken me to gigs when I was still too young to talk or walk.  The gig that had the biggest influence on me was Bishopstock Blues Festival in the UK. I was about 13 and for the first time I saw contemporary blues women including Shemekia Copeland, Sue Foley, Susan Teseschi and Deborah Coleman and that really made me realise my ambitions. I knew I wanted to follow in their footsteps. It was a dream come true years later when I toured all over Europe and America with Deborah Coleman, sharing the stage with her every night. I’ve toured the UK and Eastern Europe with Sue Foley and shared festival bills in the USA with Shemekia and Susan, and all of these experiences have meant so much to me because these women were my childhood hero’s. Up until that festival I had just been playing acoustic. After seeing these women perform I got a band together and we’d cover Sue Foley’s song ‘Empty Cup’, Shemekia’s ‘Ghetto Child’ and Susan Tedeschi’s ‘Rock me Right’.  

Any of blues standards have any real personal feelings for you & what are some of your favorite?
Wow, so many! I always loved Elmore James’ ‘It hurts me too'. Most likely everyone can relate to that song in one way or another… that’s why it’s a blues standard I guess. I put that song on recently and the lyrics really hit me hard because I realised I was in that same situation as Elmore had been, of loving someone who loves someone else and caring about them so much that when they are hurting it really does ‘hurt me too’ and you just wish they were yours because you know you’d treat them right. It’s much easier to do a song justice when you can relate to the message in it and put all your heart and soul into the song.

Do you think that your music comes from the heart, the brain or the soul?
When I write a song, it comes from the heart. I try to perform it with soul and sincerity. When I’m in the studio recording the song or working with my band to arrange the song, that’s where the brains come in. So, all three of the above is my answer.

What does the BLUES mean to you & what does Blues offered you?
The blues is a culture, a tradition and for blues musicians a way of life. It’s something that has been passed down through generations from player to player evolving along the way and I am humbled to be a part of it. When I was in my teens, I met British blues songstress Dana Gillespie and she taught me about songwriting. Louisiana Red taught me some finger style guitar when I was about 15 years old. James Brown’s god daughter soul singer Carleen Anderson is a friend and hero of mine and she taught me how she uses every inch of her face and body to get the vocal sound and delivery she desires. Carleen taught me performance skills and gave me a lot of encouragement. The Blues has offered me so many opportunities. I have travelled the world playing the music I love in the UK, Europe, Africa, Canada and the USA. I have worked alongside my hero’s opening for Jools Holland at The Royal Albert Hall, opening for Johnny Winter in New York City and sharing the stage with Pee Wee Ellis (James Brown’s Saxophonist who co-wrote ‘I’m Black and I’m Proud’) at Womad World Music Festival.

What do you learn about yourself from music? How do you describe your philosophy about the music?
My philosophy is to appreciate the power of music. Blues and Soul music over the past 80 years has helped to change the world we live in. My label mate ‘Louisiana Red’, who sadly passed away last week, grew up in a world of horrific racial prejudice.  His father was killed by the KKK. African American music helped to break down these racial barriers. Curtis Mayfield’s songs became anthems for Martin Luther King’s Civil Rights Movement, James Brown sang ‘I’m black and I’m Proud’ and he really took the power back and gave people hope, Sam Cooke refused to perform to segregated audiences. These artists used music to better the world. I really take inspiration from that. Other than my music, my other passions in life are the street children I work with in the slums of Kenya, Africa. All of my albums have included songs about the hardships these children have to endure and why we should come together to help them. Through donations and raising awareness at my concerts, I have been able to give thousands of slum children access to education. 

How/where do you get inspiration for your songs & who were your mentors in songwriting?
I love Soul music. Stevie Wonder, Sam Cooke, Al Green, Donny Hathaway, and Bill Withers have all really inspired me as a songwriter. I think on my new album ‘Juice me up’ you can hear how my song ‘Sweet Inspiration’ was influenced by Al Green in the way I’ve approached the changes and the vocal melody. When I wrote ‘Don’t go making me cry’ you may be able to hear that I had been listening to a lot of Otis Reading. The Song ‘Juice me up’ has much more British Rock’n’ Roll influences like The Faces and The Stones. I take inspiration from everywhere.

To which person do you want to send one from your songs? What do you think is the main characteristic of you personality that made you a songwriter?
I would send one of my songs about Africa and the children I love there to Nelson Mandela in the hope that he would let me come and sing for him. He’s a hero of mine and I’d love to meet him. I like to express all my thoughts out loud as I think them and as a result I feel my songwriting is very honest. It think this is what makes me really enjoy songwriting; being able to express my honest emotions about the world.

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
I’m not sure what the best moment of my career was. There have been so many fantastic moments. My new album is probably my greatest achievement so far. It really captured all my influences making a sound that is all my own and I am very pleased with it. The worst moment of my career was when my drummer got hit by a car at 2am in a red light district in Germany. I sat up with him at the hospital all night while he had his face operated on. Luckily he was okay but could not play drums and so he had to fly home. I flew in a new drummer (who had no real time to learn my songs but did a great job), but then I caught tonsillitis and spent the rest of the tour feeling very ill and struggling to sing. That was a nightmare.

Which of historical blues personalities would you like to meet?
I’d love to meet Little Walter, because he sounds like he was such a great personality. Albert Collins is a big hero of mine. I would have loved to have met him and seen him play. I use a capo often when I solo and play with my thumb and forefinger like Mr. Collins does. I love his tone, his phrasing; it’s such a shame he died too young. Also, I would have loved to have met John Lee Hooker. I had tickets to see John Lee play but he was too ill to make the show and died not long afterwards. Most of all though, if I could just pick one artist, I would have loved to have met Ray Charles. That would have been incredible.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about blues music? Of all the BLUES people you’ve meeting, who do you admire the most?
That’s a tough question. There are so many artists who I admire. I had the honour of being on the same festival bill as Koko Taylor a few years back in Belgium. She was spectacular. No one could sing like Koko Taylor!

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
It’s all been a great journey so far. I turn 27 this year. The past 6 years, since I signed to Ruf Records have been a huge adventure.

What are some of the most memorable tales from opening act for Jools Holland at The Royal Albert Hall.
Well, that was before I signed to Ruf Records. I used to play a club in Brighton a lot called The Joogleberry Playhouse. One time when I was there, Jools’ Brother Christopher Holland was playing and I had the honor of sitting in with him. Chris, like his brother is a fantastic pianist. We jammed quite a few songs. I was only 20 years old and somehow I managed to impress Chris who promised me he’d keep in touch and said maybe we could do some shows together. A few weeks later, I was at work (working a part time office job around playing gigs) and Chris called me up. He said “Dani, are you free this evening?” I said “Yes, why?” He said “I’m playing a gig in London and it’d be great if you could come down and I’ll get you up and we can play some of your songs with my band.” I said “That sounds great, but I don’t know if I’ll finish work in time. Where’s the gig?” and he said “The Royal Albert Hall!!!” I couldn’t believe it. I rushed straight out of work, not caring if I got fired and caught the first train to London with my brother Will (who plays harmonica). We ran the songs with Chris and his band in sound check and opened for Jools that evening. I still can’t believe it happened. It’s just crazy. What a fantastic person Chris was to do that for me.

...with Pee Wee Ellis?

Both working with Pee Wee and opening for Jools were huge dreams come true and also huge learning experiences that helped me to develop as an artist.

What's been their experience from “studies” with Mike Vernon? What advice has given & which memory from him makes you smile?
I loved chatting to Mike about Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac. Mike Vernon was a household name in my home when I was growing up because my family are all huge Peter Green fans. It’s so sad that Peter got so ill and lost his way for such a long time with the blues. Those records he made with Mike are some of my most favourite blues records in the world. I’ll never forget having Mike Vernon in my little flat in Brighton a few weeks before we went into the studio to cut the record. I was playing him demo’s on my acoustic guitar with my brother on harmonica and my Dad was there listening and I just thought “OH MY GOD… I CAN NOT BELIEVE THIS IS REAL”… I mean, what a huge impossible dream to come true. I was worried I’d wake up and it would all be a dream!

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES
Well, the blues is where popular music began. It’s so raw and is all about playing live and expressing emotion. It’s about the troubles and hardships we all face throughout our lives; often working so hard and still having no money to show for it, or about sex, good or bad. People will always be able to relate to the blues. I hope the blues will have a mainstream comeback. Artists like Joss Stone, Amy Winehouse, Nora Jones and Jamie Cullam brought un-commercial genres of music back to the mainstream audience and I hope young blues musicians will have the opportunity to do the same with the blues.

From the musical point of view is there any difference and similarities between bluesman & blueswoman?
 Is there a difference between blues men and blues women? I don’t think so. We’re all just passionate singers, guitarists and songwriters carrying on the blues tradition. Women have always played an important role in blues, from Bessie Smith, to Lucille Bogan, Memphis Minnie, Bonnie Raitt, Deborah Coleman, Shemekia Copeland, Susan Tedeschi, and artists like Joanne Shaw Taylor and myself. Women have always been there playing the blues alongside the men and boys.

What is your “secret” music DREAM? What turns you on? Happiness is……
My secret music dream would be to sing with one of my biggest soul hero’s Al Green or William Smokey Robinson. Or, to organise something like ‘Live Aid’ and to be a part of a huge musical event to benefit children in Africa. Happiness is when I’m in Kenya with my kids, using the money I’ve raised on my tours to build classrooms. Happiness is when I see a girl who lives in awful poverty in the slums smiling as she shows me what she’s been learning in her guitar lessons. Huge Happiness is when the fantastic children in the ‘slum school’ music group that I’ve funded with the help of my fans and supporters reaches the finals of the International Kenyan music competition, showing the rich private school kids how it’s really done! I was so proud of them; proud and incredibly happy!

Are there any memories from studio and gigs with all GREAT MUSICIANS, which you’d like to share with us?
In Winter 2010, when I was with Samantha Fish (USA) and bassist Cassie Taylor (USA) on a promotional radio tour of Germany, the head of our record label Thomas Ruf took us over to Louisiana Red’s home. Red was not expecting us. His wife Dora answered the door in her dressing gown and said that they were already in bed but she kindly invited us in anyway and woke up her husband to come and meet us. So there we were in Louisiana Red’s living room, and he got out of bed in his pajamas, got out all his guitars (He had quite a collection) and sang and played guitar with us until late. He told us stories and showed us photos of him when he was in his 20’s. It was a truly magical evening. I was sad to hear he passed away last week and my heart goes out to his wife Dora. I feel really blessed that I got to spend that evening with him in his home. I’ll always treasure that memory.

You had pretty interesting project Moving Mountains. Where did you get that idea? What is the “think” you miss from your travel to Embu in Kenya.
I grew up being amazed by artists like Michael Jackson and Bob Geldof who used music to do such amazing things for children in Africa. I studied music at degree level and my university project that I decided upon was to use music as a fundraising tool to give education to street children in Kenya. That was 6 or 7 years ago and over the years the projects have grown and we’ve been able to help more and more children. Initially, I approached a charity called Moving Mountains, who run a rescue centre for street children in Embu, Kenya, to ask if they could suggest a school that would benefit from music education. I now work closely with Moving Mountains on all of my projects which help thousands of primary school children in Embu, giving them running water, classrooms, music and art equipment, reading and writing materials, sports equipment, working toilets, etc.  I love the children I work with and can’t help but have a few favourites. My album ‘Juice me up’ is dedicated to three beautiful children Nora, Pamera and Ahadi who have endured so much suffering in their lives and yet remain so brave and loving and hardworking. These children are an inspiration and I miss them so much and wish I could bring them home with me.

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician?
As a musician, I feel I develop all of the time. Getting to work alongside my hero’s has really helped me to raise my own standard.

Dani Wilde's website

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