Interview with singer Toots Lorraine -- delivers a blend of classic vibe with vintage sounds of West Coast

"The blues is story. It’s raw emotion, a perfect feel and the power to move others."

Toots Lorraine: Make It Easy

Every blues fan knows you have listen to the “old” to find something “new”. It is a precious rarity when the opposite is true and such is the case with Toots Lorraine & The Traffic. The band delivers a focused blend of classic vibe that will drench your soul with the vintage sounds of West Coast Jump Blues and Swing as you board the train for destination “way back” where everything is, well… easy. Toots Lorraine's brand new album, Make It Easy, recorded in the blues hub of California at the infamous Greaseland Studios, this record is a phenomenal follow-up to their first and pays tribute to the ancestry of American Roots music.

From Chicago style blues to that west coast jump, you’ll hear a combination of classic blues covers and gripping new originals. This husband and wife team share the purest of love for the preservation of the blues. Toots Lorraine expertly layers her powerful yet velvety voice amongst the band’s vintage instrumentation and gut bucket grooves. Along with blues covers of Big Mama Thornton, Howlin’ Wolf and Big Joe Turner, you’ll also find new originals with a huge story to tell. Toots will take your ticket, let you on board and, as you roll down the tracks, the band will keep your glass filled with just the right measures of hollow body guitars, reverb tanks, upright basses, harmonicas, pianos and organs. And, you will swear to yourself, “I ain’t getting off this train”. Toots brings with her a background of dance, theater and jazz to the rich yet simplistic purity of the blues, creating a vocal presence of powerful elegance. Her singing style is influenced by artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Eva Cassidy, Big Mama Thornton and others. Whether singing original material or drawing from a large repertoire of blues and jazz standards, the charming and vivacious Toots tells her story with every note, satisfying listeners, dancers and good times.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

To me, the blues is story. It’s raw emotion, a perfect feel and the power to move others. In the past, if I cover a song that I just can’t relate to or don’t truly understand the meaning of the lyrics I have to get rid of it. If I can’t embody the character of the tune and relay the story, I don’t and can’t do the song.

How do you describe Toots Lorraine sound and songbook?

It’s a blend of classic Chicago, West Coast Blues, a little Gospel and a little Jazz.

"I’d like to think I feel the spirits of blues players from the past. The vibes are so intense!"

Toots Lorraine / Photo by Frank Allen Sr.

What characterize your music philosophy?

Don’t cheat the song. Respect the genre.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?

Meeting a lot of the current West Coast guys (Rick Estrin, Charlie Baty, Kid Andersen) has been amazing. They are so incredibly good and their heart & soul are warm. They put the integrity and purity of the music before everything else and it’s a present day example of preservation of American Roots music.

What is the best advice ever given you?

Rick Estrin: “Do what ‘you’ do and don’t stop. People dig ‘your’ thing.” It sounds almost too simple but it is a very deep concept of self-awareness.

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

2 stick out. #1- Our first performance at the Bradfordville Blues Club in Tallahassee, FL. A few tunes in we dove into a slow blues and the place went dead silent. Those people were there for the blues and immediately respected it. It was, together, incredibly humbling and a very proud moment. #2 – recording our album “Make It Easy”. It was one of the easiest and most awesome experiences. It was pure blues conversation with other great players. Sort of a… “Gimme a T-Bone Walker feel in Bb. 1-2-3-Go!”… and it was right on. It was the environment and players that cultivated great blues.

"I’d probably like to hang out at Chess records with Howlin’ Wolf. I dig that man. And perhaps a visit to the Checkerboard Lounge!" (Toots & Chad Mo / Photo by Frank Allen Sr.)

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

The quality and integrity of being a musician and performer. In the past, hard work created talent and that talent was real. Now, there is an oversaturated music market full of auto-tune and processing.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Hope is for Blues/Roots to become popular again. Fear is that it won’t!

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul, Jazz and continue to West Coast Jump and Swing?

Foundation and songform. Artists can use these as a starting point for their expression.

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

The pay. Musicians who tour or are full time musicians need better pay. Perhaps even health insurance!

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

I’m a female artist, but I’ve got an all guy band backing me up. I don’t ever consider my gender when it comes to the music. I only know I get to wear cuter clothes than the guys. As far as the status of women in music goes, as long as the girls out there getting the work and the recognition are good players and singers and not just pretty faces in short skirts, everything is alright with me.

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

There’s an old juke joint we play that is actually documented as an official chitlin circuit landmark. I’d like to think I feel the spirits of blues players from the past. The vibes are so intense!

Why did you think that the American Roots music continues to generate such a devoted following?

It’s a direct link to our Maker. Roots music is from the soul for the soul and can help to fill the void in a lot of broken hearts.

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

I’d probably like to hang out at Chess records with Howlin’ Wolf. I dig that man. And perhaps a visit to the Checkerboard Lounge!

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