North Carolina singer Shelia Grady Carlisle talks about the Blues, Arhooly, B.B. King and the hippie era

"I learned that I could express myself more effectively through singing blues...the passion and intensity allows me to forget about people or an 'audience' and rare back and let the music Gods speak through me."

Shelia Grady Carlisle: Over the Rainbow

Shelia Grady Carlisle was born in North Carolina, is an American singer known for her distinctive vocals in blues music as singer to popular east coast band of Arhooly. Α charismatic performer that impresses with her presence and interpretation. Raised in the hippie era had the chance to live the golden years of music and social searching. The Arhooly band toured the east coast from 1973 to 1989 and played with many of the Blues legends and so many of the infamous Blues Venues. The band members are scattered now and still active in various Blues Music bands and still tight in their music family bond.

"I like to sing stuff that moves me…that I relate too…that I can feel. I love singing anything that makes women feel empowered and rebellious." (Photo: Wired Dog Photography/ Kathy Anderson)

They worked with such Blues Greats as B.B. King, Lightnin' Hopkins, Robert Cray, James Cotton, Carrey Bell, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Vaughan, Mick Taylor, Gatemouth Brown, Delbert McClinton, Nappy Brown, Jimmy Thackery, Chuck Berry, Bob Margolin,  Warren Haynes, Johnny Neel and  the list goes on. Over the years Arhooly R & B Deluxe Band members were: Shelia Carlisle, Max Drake, Aristotle Georgio, Chris Grant, Bob Dunlap, Kirk Vernon, Conrad Bender, Steve Barker, Lorrie Barker, John Housner, Rocky Oliverio, Bill Ward and many more. Shelia talks about the blues fields, Arhooly, B.B. King, Hippy days and the Rainbow Bridge.

 

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

I learned that I could express myself more effectively through singing blues….the passion and intensity allows me to forget about people or an “audience” and rare back and let the music Gods speak through me.  It’s when I am controlled by another energy force that is bigger than myself….and when that happens, people listen.

How do you describe Shelia Grady Carlisle sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

My sound is gritty…thanks to past years of smoking and booze. Now that I live a healthier life style, I have found my voice to be stronger…and I have to concentrate more to reach that altered state that let’s the music take charge of me. I like to sing stuff that moves me…that I relate too…that I can feel. I love singing anything that makes women feel empowered and rebellious.

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

Because has voodoo if it’s done right.  Wink

"Blues is the root of all of them…guess that’s why they call it roots music. It’s the rooster than came before the hatched eggs of music." (Photo: Shelia at Dairy Farm, near Love Valley, NC 1973)

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

Most interesting period of my life would be in the very beginning of my blues career, at first I lived on a farm and bluegrass musicians would gather there…we’d build a big fire and jam all night long. I played spoons and tub bass (1973). One wee hour morning, an old friend, Max Drake shows up with an old Dobro resonator guitar. We sat together and played blues and sang until sun up…it was my first experience with blues…and it changed my life. It reached for and touched my soul.

Best Moment of my career (there were many): Meeting B.B. King and becoming very good friends. We talked to each other often and he was a great father figure and mentor to me.

Worst Moment (there were quite a few): Jumping up on a stacked bunch of crates that were used as stairs to the stage at Sloppy Joes in Key West, Fla. The crates scattered and I fell backwards hitting my head and my skirt flew over my head. All I could do is lay there and laugh through the embarrassment.

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

SO many incredible jams with so many incredible and seasoned musicians…hard to say which one was the best. I will say that jamming with Robert Cray band in Miami was stellar.

Getting to play and hang around so many wonderful and accomplished musicians has always been such a blessing. One of the more memorable gigs was in Calgary, Alberta, Canada at The King Eddy Hotel. Because I was from N.C. they expected me to sound like Loretta Lynn.  Giggle

"Best Moment of my career (there were many): Meeting B.B. King and becoming very good friends. We talked to each other often and he was a great father figure and mentor to me."

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

B.B. King…he is just such a wise and wonderful human being.  His advice to me was to slow down.

Are there any memories from the road with Arhooly which you’d like to share with us?

When Arhooly was on the road for 15 years, we traveled in a big diesel bus (it was totally living equipped with its own septic tank, bedroom, shower, kitchen, bunk beds…needless to say, it was a very heavy bus. We pulled into a newly paved parking lot for the night…once in PA. and the next morning we had suck down through the pavement to the bare ground…that ended up being a very expensive overnight parking. There are so many hilarious and wonderful stories from that lifestyle…but for some reason…that one popped up front in my mind?  What the____?

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

I miss the true brotherhood I had with 5 men for all of those years on the road. We were as close as family can possibly get…bonded together forever in the intimate experiences we had living together all of those years with no privacy from each other. We (Arhooly) are scattered now…but still very close.

I hope that all of the “traditional” blues musicians and DJ’s do not try to keep the blues from progress as young people become interested and take it up to pass the torch. I think it is important to have both kinds of blues…the traditional AND the contemporary.

"I like to sing stuff that moves me…that I relate too…that I can feel. I love singing anything that makes women feel empowered and rebellious." (Photo: Shelia with Max Drake and B.B. King)

Which memory from KoKo Taylor, B.B. King, Bo Diddley, Bob Margolin and Chuck Berry makes you smile?

Some of these experiences…I cannot tell. I guess I have a slightly warped and edgy mind on the things that make me smile. One of the nicest smiley memories was B.B King’s compliments to me about my performance and soul. He loved the whole band…and said it was one of the best rhythm sections he had heard in years.

What's been your experience from the “Hippy Rebel Days”? What was the relation between music and activism?

Great question!  Thank you for asking.  The biggest life changing memory I have of “the hippy days” was when I lived on the dairy farm (we rented it…did not own it) and I use to offer my fingers for the calves to suckle on because they were crying for their mamas.  I did not realize until later on, that all of the milk was for humans for profit…and none of the babies got to drink any of their mothers’ milk. As a matter of fact, the calves were held in tiny stalls where they could not move around so that their muscles would not develop.  They became so weak that they could no longer stand…and that is when they were slaughtered for veal. It messed my mind up and broke my heart. I researched factory farming after that and learned of the horrors, suffering, loneliness and depression that animals go through for our appetites and fashion. It broke my heart. 

I became a vegetarian because I love animals so much. I now sing sometimes use my singing in music concerts to raise money for animal welfare funds and for helping homeless, abused and abandoned animals. And also to help out sick folks who have no insurance for hospital bills.  We can be successful activists when we use music to help the underdog and raise awareness.

"I miss the true brotherhood I had with 5 men for all of those years on the road. We were as close as family can possibly get…bonded together forever in the intimate experiences we had living together all of those years with no privacy from each other." (Photo: Shelia and Arhooly at 80s)

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Rock, R&B and Psychedelic music?

Blues is the root of all of them…guess that’s why they call it roots music. It’s the rooster than came before the hatched eggs of music.

When we talk about Blues usually refer past moments. Do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?

YES!  It is alive and well!

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

I had to earn respect here. I also did the bookings in the beginning…I always made sure that my head was physically higher by sitting in the tallest position when negotiating with men in business. That meant they had to look up to me. Grin

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

Hmmmm. Interesting. Over the Rainbow Bridge where all of my fur babies are who have passed away.

"The biggest life changing memory I have of 'the hippy days' was when I lived on the dairy farm (we rented it…did not own it) and I use to offer my fingers for the calves to suckle on because they were crying for their mamas."

 

 

 

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