Interview with Blues & Soul entertainer Kaye Bohler - sophisticated vocal nuances to powerhouse rawness

"The ironic thing about The Blues is that through all that pain, power and depth…total joy and good rocking fun is what emerges."

Kaye Bohler: Power House Blues Woman 

Big and brassy, bold and sassy, Kaye Bohler is poised to set the blues world on its collective ear with her dynamic voice and penchant for classic blues-flavored soul and R & B. “Rhythm and Blues Singing Baby of Soul,” “The white Tina Turner,” a “Power House Blues Woman and Entertainer,” these are a few of the titles given to singer/songwriter Kaye Bohler. She stole the show at the 2009 Redwood Coast, Blues by the Bay Festival and gave a stellar performance in her 5th return to the Monterey Bay Blues Festival. Her recent sold out concert venues, have set the stage for her steady rise to the top of the Blues & R&B World.

Sheer charm, personality and magnetism dominate this curvaceous curly-haired diva’s every performance. For over thirty years, Kaye has been captivating her audiences with a dynamic 3-octave-plus range of both sophisticated vocal nuances to powerhouse rawness. Kaye’s down-to-earth rapport with her fans, genuine charisma, sexy wit and energetic moves have delivered riveting performances locally, nationally as well as internationally. She poses a formidable triple threat as a singer, songwriter and bandleader with five CD’s now under her belt. Kaye’s release “Like a Flower,” features Robben Ford on her title track, and spotlights Kaye’s amazing songwriting ability (having written every last cut on the album). It also features a host of notable soloist’s including Tommy Castro, Danny Caron, Garth Webber, Sammy Varela, and Nancy Wright.

Kaye Bohler’s songwriting on new album “Handle the Curves” (2014) lyrically takes you on a journey from introspection to fun loving, blatant sexual "double entendre." Musically Kaye has written straight down the heart of Soul and Blues, and spared nothing in bringing out the very best in these 10 original compositions. Kaye Bohler currently performs all over Northern California and stands poised to break into the national and international Blues scene with her truly authentic and truly original sound.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

I’ll try and make this short…Life is what teaches me how to sing the blues. Death, divorce and traversing through the hard knocks of being an artist are where I pull the truth out in my Blues. Learning to sing the Blues has been a life time study. Singing a slow blues has been the hardest song I’ve ever had to learn to sing authentically. I’ve studied everything from Opera to Country, World-Beat to Soul, Jazz, R&B and Blues and beyond on my journey to develop my craft as a vocalist. It is very easy to be technically proficient as a singer, but the truth in interpretation of profoundly powerful lyrics, requires digging really deep. You can’t fake it. The Audience and listener can feel the authenticity and that intangible depth in a voice that has lived it. I don’t write only blues tunes, but The Blues is the basis of everything I write. I’ve was quoted years ago saying, “when I found The Blues, I came home,” that still holds true today. The Blues and 25 plus year study of the form is everything to me. It is everything that I am as a singer, because I want to touch people. I want to give them courage to be real and have depth and authenticity and know they are not alone in their own pain and struggle. We commiserate in this world of music and life and that is the message I want to always convey. I had to decide to tell the truth on this album about my life and lay it all out there. I’d like to believe that, that is where the power is in this album. The ironic thing about The Blues is that through all that pain, power and depth…total joy and good rocking fun is what emerges. The Blues provide a true release, not much unlike where the roots of blues came from in the field hollers. I just wish more pop stars would study the blues first, because in my opinion, it is truly the seed of all popular music.

"My personal philosophy is that there should be a heartbeat behind every instrument on stage. There is no substitute for the connection between musicians and vocalists on stage and the audience. That power can’t be duplicated with backing tracks."

How do you describe Kaye Bohler sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I get called the “white Tina Turner” a lot. People hear Aretha in my singing too. Which always floors me because Aretha’s vocal range is completely different than mine. I sound nothing like her actually. But both of these women have been the most athletic and authentic artists of their time. I have studied them and “the greats” in Blues, Soul and R&B relentlessly for 40 years. I jokingly say on stage, “that I can’t seem to move past 1975 in music.” I just love the raw clean acoustic approach to music before electronica. When Pete Anderson, my producer on Handle the Curves and I sat down with just me, my songs and his guitar, he told me later that he heard a straight ahead Stax/Volt style of recording in my singing and songs. His vision for my album was vividly apparent in that raw environment. As an original singer/songwriter I write and perform music from those genres.  In my stage show I harken back to my top ten greatest influences…Aretha Franklin being number one, Etta James and Tina Turner, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight, Bobby Womack, Sam and Dave, Robert Plant, Janis Joplin to name a few. I infuse an Albert King tune or Aretha tune into my show along with my originals to both show respect to my influences and solidify my sound.  Ella Fitsgerald has been a tremendous influence on me singing also, for the sheer musicality and brilliance that she is as a musician with her voice. However, you have to pick your battles as they say. I’m not going to go into a full jazz scat in the middle of my show or on an Album when I’m going for that raw Sam and Dave vibe 99% of the time.

I have never ever tried to sound like a singer. I have studied their vocal licks, vocal timing, phrasing and essence and out of that created my sound. Every singer, including myself should vocalize, do endless scales and keep their voice as tempered and exercised as possible. It is a complete misnomer that a blues singer can’t study classical voice. It is the smartest thing to study. That way you have every tool in your arsenal available to you to captivate and pull the listener in. Authenticity of sound comes from the heart and the voice is just the vehicle, so you better get your vocal chops together.

Why did you think that the Rhythm and Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?

It is the root of all music we hear today. All contemporary music really does, in my opinion, is seek to recreate that root sound, with new bells and whistles to make it sound fresh. Underneath it all is old school R&B. What’s old is new. But, nothing new, sounds as good as the old “one-take” studio recordings to me. There were no overdubs and studio effects in Old School Rhythm and Blues, that since, only serve to take the heart out of a song in my opinion. The Chess records sound came out of every heartbeat, behind every instrument and vocalist, delivering in perfect focused synergy, with brilliant musical proficiency. These musicians came out of true suppression and poverty to have to perform better than their white counterparts. You can’t recreate the heart and pressure that the black culture was under to rise out of all of it. And, and you can’t separate that fact either. It is a powerful symbiotic experience that basically happened live in those early studio recordings that will always be revered at least by me.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

The best advice I ever got was years ago by a drummer I dated. I was 21 and fully in love with Marvin Gaye and Aretha. He told me to study the blues. He said, “If I wanted to be a real singer, than I had to study the blues.”  This was a good 5 years before I fell in love with The Blues too, which is quite ironic.  I have performed non-stop for almost 30 years now, so the greatest advice has always come from my colleagues and fellow musicians.

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

I am truly best performing live. I have always been so involved in my audience, and perfecting my talents as an entertainer as well as a singer. Since I have performed for so long they all meld together really, but my favorite moments are when I am surrounded by “in the moment” brilliant artists on stage. It’s like playing tennis with a better tennis player…the better the musicianship, the better the audience the better the performance.

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

I miss the uncomplicated style of recording and level of prowess by the blues greats of the past. I know with this new cd of mine I chose to produce it in a way that really showcased the musicians like and old Stax album. So I’d like to think there is hope for The Blues with Artists like myself that keep the essence of the original greats alive, because those Chess recordings are everything that I’m about and have studied my whole career.

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

I’d get rid of auto tune and backing tracks. My personal philosophy is that there should be a heartbeat behind every instrument on stage. There is no substitute for the connection between musicians and vocalists on stage and the audience. That power can’t be duplicated with backing tracks.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Funk, R&B, Jazz and San Francisco's psychedelic sound?

The easy answer would be “Bill Graham presents” and all the legends in blues he brought to his stage at the Fillmore in San Francisco. He brought together contemporary artists and legends on the same bill which helped to propel Blues forward. The Bay area is a unique environment where acceptance of all kinds of people and self expression is paramount. Tower of Power brought attention to the East Bay Funk sound and the Big Band Era thrived in San Francisco during the war that morphed into the thriving jazz scene.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the local music circuits?

When I moved to the Bay area in 1998 my dear friend and mentor Sister Monica rented a room to me and helped me get a leg up in a new musical community.  She was just diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and managed to get on stage and perform with those unmistakable Monica Parker vocal tones just days after her diagnosis and with an oxygen bag over her shoulder. As always she inspired me to reach higher with that performance.

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

It’s all about talent and professionalism now. I’ve been the band leader for my own endeavors my whole career and the only thing that has ever stood in my way is myself.

"Life is what teaches me how to sing the blues. Death, divorce and traversing through the hard knocks of being an artist are where I pull the truth out in my Blues."

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 transport myself to the early to mid-1950’s. Blues really found its home then as well as Jazz. The Artists and recording style was epic in that era.

Kaye Bohler - official website


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