Interview with Bluesicana artists Dr. Izzy & Robert Morrison - autobiographical, heartfelt, and soulful music

"The Blues is always an opportunity…to try to make things better, or to try to make other people happier, or to appreciate things that we all often take for granted."

Dr. Izzy Band: Bluesrocana Vision 

Dr. Izzy was born with full vision in Texas, she began to go blind at age nine. She grew up in Texas and rural New Mexico. Singing is also something they do a lot of in Texas. From an early age her parents encouraged her to sing. Singing and memorizing lyrics at an early age would later prove to serve her well. Izzy was born with a beautiful voice, and she began to sing for a living in cover bands at the age of 18; singing a variety of musical styles. After singing in clubs and festivals for several years, one of her bands landed a coveted gig as the “house band” at a popular resort in the mountains of New Mexico, and even got some airplay on some local radio stations. People started to take notice. But music was not meeting her financial needs and Izzy needed to find a way to better provide for her only child she was raising by herself. She decided to put music and singing on the back burner, and enrolled into college. While working on a degree in human biology she decided that she wanted to be a chiropractor.

But she was heartbroken when one professor told her “women should not be in the chiropractic field”. He added “no blind person could ever hope to become a chiropractor” because it was just too difficult to learn without sight. At first she was devastated. It was a cold slap in the face for the otherwise enthusiastic Izzy. She finished her test, found her way out of that biololgy lab, and then graduated with her first degree. Telling Izzy she can’t do something is like throwing gasoline on a fire. She was later admitted into Chiropractic College, graduated, and opened her own practice. Starting a new career and continuing to care for her son was paramount, but music was still steadfastly cursing through her veins. Fortunately, her family was a tremendous source of strength and support, especially regarding music! After her brother encouraged her to start singing again, Izzy continued to pursue her love of music. She met Robert Morrison in 2002 when she decided to make a two song demo. Robert was called in to play guitar parts. Two years later they were married, and soon started writing songs together. Izzy’s amazing story is woven into songs that demand attention, both musically and lyrically. When well-known bass player and producer Kenny Passarelli and Grammy winning engineer Clark Hagan heard demos of the songs, it was clear that a CD had to be made. Legendary blues harp player and Alligator recording artist James Cotton heard some of the songs, and immediately said he would like to contribute. Izzy is also joined by Telarc recording artist and trance blues originator Otis Taylor playing banjo. “Blind and Blues Bound” (2015) is the debut CD from Dr. Izzy. There have been many trials and tribulations along the way of Izzy's life, and that is where the blues comes from in her music. This album is autobiographical; the good times and the bad times. The music is heartfelt, soulful, empowering, and wrenching all at the same time.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

Dr. Izzy: As you know, this album is autobiographical, it’s about my life. Many of the stories within the songs tell about me learning how to survive in the face of hardship. I’ve learned just how strong I can be, and I’ve learned that I’m a survivor. There have even been times when I have given IN, but I have never given UP on what I have wanted for myself. I’ve learned that I can make it through adversity and come out stronger than ever. To me the Blues is always an opportunity…to try to make things better, or to try to make other people happier, or to appreciate things that we all often take for granted.

Robert: I think we all share similar experiences, so the Blues makes that connection to others stronger in our shared misery, so to speak. But the Blues is more than just misery, its about escaping from is as well. The Blues tells stories about overcoming hardship, as well as simply experiencing hardship, and we can relate to each other in how we overcome the bad times too. Simply put, the Blues brings people closer together.

How do you describe Dr. Izzy Band sound and songbook?

Dr. Izzy: I usually describe the sound as Blues with an edge, mixed with some acoustic Roots Blues. It is Modern Blues, Roots Blues, Rock, and Americana all mixed together sometimes, so we often refer to our music as “Bluesicana” or “Bluesrocana”. The songs are very textured musically, some with many layers and some more simplistic. And our songs contain topics and lyrics that many people can relate to.

Robert: I call our sound “Bluesrocana”, because it mixes traditional roots Blues with modern Blues, Rock, and American, and sometimes a bit of Funk too. I bring most of the Rock influence into the band's sound because I learned to play blues initially from the old Rock guys, like Ritchie Blackmore, Jimmy Page, Leslie West, and Eric Clapton. And later, Michael Schenker was a big influence on my playing as well. A lot of what these guys were playing was really just blues licks cranked up through a Marshall amp, and then experimenting with the song arrangements a bit. I like and retain that same “edge” in my guitar sound a lot of the time. But it is tempered by what Izzy wants to hear, which is more roots oriented. So we find what works for each song, but there is a common thread musically throughout all of our songs that is recognizable as the “Dr. Izzy sound”, even if I am playing acoustic guitar. 

What characterize your music philosophy?

Dr. Izzy: My music has to be honest and approachable for people. It has to be soulful too, not manufactured to sound clichéd or formulized to fit some commercial need. Robert writes music that he hears in his head, and our lyrics relate real stories or real life situations and emotions that are experienced everyday by people.

Robert: I like to write music that creates a mood, and that moves people in a certain direction emotionally, with a particular feel even without the lyrics added. Of course, the music and the lyrics have to fit each other or the song will not work. For Izzy and I, it is all about the songs, they must each stand on their own as recognizable and memorable entities individually. Lyrically, I enjoy writing so that there can be more than one meaning to a particular phrase; it can mean something different to each listener. Sometimes we might want the listener to try to figure out what the lyrics mean, but sometimes it is just more straightforward without ambiguity. There are different ways to tell each story.

What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had?

Dr. Izzy: About a year ago we played a show with our producer, Kenny Passarelli, playing keyboards with us. Of course, Kenny is best known as a bass player with Joe Walsh, Elton John, Hall & Oates, Stephen Stills, and Dan Fogelberg, but he also plays keyboards. He played all of the keyboards on our album. Because we don’t usually play with a keyboard player it was a different live sound for us, but sounded a bit closer to what the CD actually sounds like. Our co-producer Clark Hagan also joined us on stage that night to play mandolin on a few acoustic songs. It was fun and very memorable. Kenny did play bass on one of his signature songs at that gig, Rocky Mountain Way, which he co-wrote with Joe Walsh.

Robert: Well, its always memorable when I have to play through someone else's amp. Ha! I've had to do that a few times, when there are several bands playing one bill, or in a competition, where there is not enough time between acts for each band to have their own backline. That is not my favorite situation to be sure.  I enjoy it when a special guest joins us on stage for a particular song or two, whether its a harp player we really like, or a mandolin player, like our Co-Producer Clark Hagan. Adding some different musical flavor makes it more interesting for the audience too, I think. We are still hoping that one day soon our schedules will match up so that we can play on stage with our friend James Cotton.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? Which memory makes you smile?

Dr. Izzy: Meeting James Cotton (photo) was a very important experience for Robert and me, naturally.

I always smile remembering when we first met harp legend James Cotton.

Robert: Meeting some of the musicians that I admired the most at a young age was very important to me. It was very enlightening and inspiring to spend some time with people like Ken Hensley of Uriah Heep, Glenn Hughes of Deep Purple, Tommy Bolin, Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler and Bill Ward of Black Sabbath, the guys in Nazareth, and Rory Gallagher. 

I always smile when I remember being in the studio with Cotton when he was recording his harp part on our song “Matches Don't Burn Memories” for our CD “Blind & Blues Bound”. It was just after we first met, and he wanted me to be in the recording room sitting next to him and playing guitar. He said that he wanted to be able to watch my hands while he played. I was so nervous sitting next to him playing because he is a living legend! My hands were shaking while I was playing! We all went out for some good Texas Bar-B-Q after the session and really got to know him better. It was a great time.

Are there any memories from James Cotton and Otis Taylor which you’d like to share with us?

Dr. Izzy: Cotton is one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever known. His energy is so positive and his heart is so big. His wife tells me that I make him smile, and he makes me smile too. I’m really glad that he liked our music and my voice enough to record a song with us for the CD. As for Otis Taylor, we see him often. It took both Robert and me a while to get used to his dry sense of humor. At first we never knew when he was being serious and when he was joking with us. He and our producer Kenny have known each other most of their lives, and that’s how we met him.

Robert: I mentioned the story about Cotton already. Otis is a very funny man, with a dry sense of humor. When we first met him he came into the recording studio and the studio owner said hello to him. They apparently had known each other for quite some time. The owner immediately attempted to tell Otis a joke he had just heard. He said “Hey Otis, do you know why there are no banjos in the movie Star Wars?” “No” said Otis. The owner said “It's because it's about the future!” Without even a slight grin, Otis quickly declared “Banjo jokes are racist”, and then turned and walked down the hall.

What is the best advice ever given you?

Dr. Izzy: My mother and my father always told me I could do anything I wanted. That is very good advice for a child, especially a blind child. And Cotton tells me “Never stop singing!”

Robert: Rory Gallagher once told me to “close your eyes” when you play and practice the guitar. I have never forgotten that.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past?

Dr. Izzy: I miss the way that musicians used to be paid for playing! It is so different now than it was even twenty or twenty five years ago. Bands were paid a lot more to play clubs and venues back then. Most bands are forced to play for so little nowadays, and experienced, seasoned musicians are better than they ever were at their craft. It really is a shame.

Robert: Simply put; the music itself. I miss the good songwriting, the good guitar tones, and quality vocals. I dislike a lot of music that is being made now, especially Rap and Hip Hop, and a lot of the trash that  young American girls listen to. I have very little respect for a lot of the stuff I hear people listening to currently. I have a much more narrow scope of what I like than Dr. Izzy does. She jokes about that a lot. I think the last good band that formed was Black Country Communion, with Glenn Hughes, Joe Bonamassa, Jason Bonham, and Derek Sherinian. They made three albums and then disbanded. They were amazing in my opinion, and they all came from music of the past except Joe Bonamassa. But Joe sounds a lot older than he actually is. We went to see Robert Plant recently, and he was fantastic. Very polished. Of course, his best material was the Led Zeppelin music that he performed. But there does not seem to be much music of that quality being made these days.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Dr. Izzy: We hope to be able to travel to Europe sometime soon, and play for as many people as we can! We want more people to hear and experience what we do, because we know they will like it. I have survived so much that I don't really have any fears.

Robert: I hope that the good Blues and Rock music of days gone by will not parish and be forgotten.

What does to be a blueswoman in a “Man World” as James Brown says?

Dr. Izzy: For some reason, I think there is a higher standard expected to be met for women singers than for men. You have to be a better singer than just average to get noticed if you are a woman. Maybe it is because in the history of Blues music, men are mostly known as instrumentalists, and women mostly known as singers. There have been so many great female Blues singers in the past. But like most challenges, that just makes me work harder at what I do.

What is the relation music and woman? 

Dr. Izzy: People, men and women, have been expressing themselves through music since we first could tap out a rhythm with sticks and then hollow a stick out to make a flute. We all need outlets to express feelings, and music is a major one. Humans have always made music.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Americana and Rock music?

Robert: Well, all of those genres started in America, in the United States. Even with Rock, when the Beatles and the Stones came to America, there was already Elvis, Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry, etc. And all of those genres started with the Blues, which started with the American Black experience. Some will say that African-Americans brought the “Blues” with them from Africa, but African rhythms alone did not make “the Blues”. It was the early experiences in America that started the lyric of Blues music. Obviously, the feeling of the Blues, or the feeling of being downtrodden or mistreated is universal and as old as human existence. But it all did not come together in some form of what we refer to as “Blues Music” until the mid to late 19th century in America. Then it started to gel into what we recognize as the Blues in the early 20th century. Everything else, as far as American music, branched out from there. Certainly, one can point to the Celtic influence from northern Europe on the music we now call Americana too.

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

Dr. Izzy: Robert makes me laugh, and sometimes writing songs with Robert makes me laugh, even when it is about something serious, we sometimes think of funny things. We were touched emotionally a couple of weeks ago when we were invited to participate in the John-Alex Mason Scholarship Fundraiser along with many other local Blues musicians. Everyone came together, freely volunteering their time and musical efforts to raise money for this great charity.

Robert: Watching animals, especially dogs, makes me laugh. I love dogs, particularly snow dogs like Siberian Huskys, Chow Chows, and Samoyeds. I am touched emotionally by the closeness of the local Blues scene in the Denver area. Musicians here have a very close bond to each other, without a lot of the competitiveness of some other cities, I think.

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

Dr. Izzy: I would like to go back and spend the day playing with my mother when she was a little girl.

Robert: I would like to go back and hang out with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, drink wine with him, here his stories, and discuss how he composed music.

Dr. Izzy Band - official website

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