"I think music has really helped me to just learn a lot more about myself. The whole process of writing for me is a very inward journey and it’s one of the ways in which I process my emotions and experiences and make sense of them. It’s helped me learn to believe in myself and have confidence in myself, which is something I never had before."
Gayle Harrod: Epic Blues & Soul Odyssey
There are bands out there that weave a musical story so vivid that you wind up in the middle of it. Hailing from Baltimore, MD, The Gayle Harrod Band not only understands that but leans into it. The rare, honest, and spell-binding performance that Blues-lovers crave is born of empathy, total commitment, and complete freedom from self-consciousness. Band leader, vocalist, and songwriter Gayle Harrod achieves that ultimately satisfying level of performance on The Gayle Harrod Band’s debut release, Temptation, due out February 2023. Temptation, from The Gayle Harrod Band, is produced by Buddy Speir and recorded at 38 North Studio in Falls Church, VA. It’s a beautiful showcase of Gayle’s range of musical influences: a melting pot of Blues styles from Chicago to New Orleans, Memphis to the Mississippi Delta and Muscle Shoals; as well as influences of Motown, R&B, and Soul. Listening through the tracks, it’s clear that Gayle Harrod, at 56 years young, is going all in on her musical vision.
(Gayle Harrod / Photo by Anna Haas Creative)
When Gayle began dabbling in the music scene in her mid-thirties, it quickly became a passion and outlet for creative expression, carrying her through some of the most challenging times of her life. She joined her first band in 2011 with a former high school classmate and never looked back. After singing with several cover bands, The Gayle Harrod Band was formed in 2017 to focus more on original music. Gayle and her band quickly began creating a buzz. At the 2018 Baltimore Band Block Party (hosted by WTMD Radio), they landed among the “Top 3 bands in Baltimore”. The band was also featured on the weekly “Baltimore Hit Parade” radio show with Sam Sessa. Gayle has shared the stage as guest vocalist with legendary Boogie Woogie pianist and mentor Daryl Davis. The Gayle Harrod Band gives you Blues the way it was intended – with gritty honesty, raw emotion, and a story rooted in experience.
How has the Blues, Soul, and R&B music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
The stories and experiences talked about in Blues, Soul and R&B are just so powerful and personal and they really tell the stories of the human condition, in particular, the stories of those who originated this music: people of color. These stories have always moved me deeply and given me such great admiration and respect for African Americans and the struggles they’ve endured, and it’s given me a deep love for the black community, its richness of culture and its resiliency. I think that listening to these stories, has helped shape my worldview and perspective on issues of race in particular. It’s made me want to always strive for deeper understanding and to do whatever I can to be part of the solution when it comes to racial inequality and injustice. Even though my own experiences as a white woman may be very different from that of a black man in America, as human beings we all have some experiences which we share. We all love, hope, dream, and we all suffer, experience loss, grief and pain and we all find ways to persevere, to keep pushing forward and overcome the things that are meant to break us, and I think it’s those common threads of experience that can really connect us. I know that in some way this music has influenced so many elements of my life, including my relationships, my actions and where I’ve chosen to live, and I think you can hear it in some of my songs as well.
How do you describe band's sound and songbook? What characterize Gayle Harrod Band's music philosophy?
I’ve actually struggled a bit to describe it because you can hear so many different influences in our music. It’s a bit difficult to put a pin in it and say, “oh, it’s just this one thing”. In general I think we’re best described as a “Contemporary Blues” band, but you will definitely hear the influences of Memphis Soul, Motown, Muscle Shoals R&B, Chicago and Delta Blues and bit of New Orleans. It’s really a bit of a melting pot of styles.
"Baltimore is a city that definitely has some stories of its own. It’s a city with a lot of grit and a lot of heart. I truly love it here. I really hate that people only ever hear about the bad stuff. For every bad thing that goes on in this city I can tell you about 10 good things. So many good people and most are just trying to get by, keep a roof over their heads and food on their table. People here relate to the Blues because they live it." (Gayle Harrod / Photo by Anna Haas Creative)
How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
This is actually our first CD ("Temptation") and I honestly didn’t have a clue what I was doing, or how to even start, so the first thing I did was ask some people who DO know what they are doing. I am very fortunate to be here in the Baltimore and DC area where we have a really wonderful Blues community and a particularly strong sisterhood among the women in Blues here. We have quite a few who are really knocking it out of the park lately and having great success in Blues… Jenny Langer, Carly Harvey and Robbin Kapsallis have all been wonderfully supportive and generous with good advice. Even though I’m a bit older than most of these women, I got a pretty late start in music and I watched and learned from them and they’ve been really supportive of my efforts. I asked a lot of questions: “Where would you record? Do you know any great producers? Who do you like for PR? And a lot of other stuff. I was honestly in no way prepared for the whole process of recording a CD, but I was committed to doing it right and I found the right people to help me do that. I have to admit it turned into a much bigger project than I ever dreamed. Sooo many people ended up involved in it and I think I blew my initial budget by more than double. There were a few times that I was truly just so exhausted and overwhelmed, but I kept going. It took me almost a full year from pre-production to release, and I’m still working on things like release parties and events, but I’m so proud of the finished product.
Performances have definitely become more challenging the older I get. I really feel those aches and pains and I’ve just given up trying to wear heels on stage. As a band, we want to be playing our own original music, but we’re still at kind of an awkward in-between stage. Up to this point we’ve been predominantly a cover band, that plays some originals, because that’s where most of the regular work is in our area. Those gigs are 3- 4 hours long on average, 3 sets, plus I own the gear so even though the guys help with set up and tear down, it’s just me packing and unloading the car. Physically it’s a lot and I am realizing that if I am going to keep doing this, I am going to have to start taking better care if myself. Singing, and the way it allows me to express myself and connect with people, is a spiritual experience for me and it’s what gives me the physical stamina to get through the night, but it takes a whole lot longer to recover these days than it used to.
Why do you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following in Baltimore?
Baltimore is a city that definitely has some stories of its own. It’s a city with a lot of grit and a lot of heart. I truly love it here. I really hate that people only ever hear about the bad stuff. For every bad thing that goes on in this city I can tell you about 10 good things. So many good people and most are just trying to get by, keep a roof over their heads and food on their table. People here relate to the Blues because they live it.
"I’ve actually struggled a bit to describe it because you can hear so many different influences in our music. It’s a bit difficult to put a pin in it and say, “oh, it’s just this one thing”. In general I think we’re best described as a “Contemporary Blues” band, but you will definitely hear the influences of Memphis Soul, Motown, Muscle Shoals R&B, Chicago and Delta Blues and bit of New Orleans. It’s really a bit of a melting pot of styles." (Gayle Harrod / Photo by Anna Haas Creative)
Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
Well, recording this first CD "Temptation" was pretty special. There were a couple of songs that I wanted a bit of a Gospel sound for and so I asked a friend, Shelley Ensor, who directs a Gospel Choir, if she could bring a couple people from her group to do some back-ups for those songs. Well she shows up with the whole dang 8-person choir! I was only expecting 2 or 3 people at most, but that was just so wonderful! I just remember us all standing in the control booth running it through and just being so emotionally overwhelmed that this song, this thing that once existed only in my head, was being breathed into life, and it was so much more than I could have imagined. It just felt so powerful with the whole choir… I just couldn’t hold back the happy tears.
What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
I’m a huge fan of the old school Soul, Blues and R&B, when what you heard on a record was real people singing and playing real instruments, having to actually possess control of a voice and practice precision on an instrument instead of everything being autotuned and using samples. I’m not averse to utilizing technology, especially in the initial songwriting process. These things are great tools, but I just don’t like that they seem to be replacing actual talent, and for me the sound becomes something definitely less warm, less human and a bit cold and mechanical.
I don’t really have too many fears about the future. I try to live in the moment, but I just hope to be able to continue making music for a long time.
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?
I think music has really helped me to just learn a lot more about myself. The whole process of writing for me is a very inward journey and it’s one of the ways in which I process my emotions and experiences and make sense of them. It’s helped me learn to believe in myself and have confidence in myself, which is something I never had before.
"The stories and experiences talked about in Blues, Soul and R&B are just so powerful and personal and they really tell the stories of the human condition, in particular, the stories of those who originated this music: people of color." (Gayle Harrod / Photo by Anna Haas Creative)
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’ve been the woman in the boy’s club all my life. As a kid I was a bit of a tom boy and I would be right out there with them riding dirt bikes, wading in the creek and doing all the stuff the boys were doing. Prior to getting into music, my career was in Engineering, another traditionally dominated profession. As a woman you have to work twice as hard, and usually for 75% of the pay and even then, you still don’t get the respect you deserve. All you have to do is look at the line up of any festival to see the disparity in numbers between the male and female acts. We keep being told “there are no women in Blues”, but we know that’s not true. We are here and we are more than worthy of being recognized.
As a female band leader, I’ve struggled to earn the respect of some of my male bandmates in the past. You have to be able to stand your ground when the men try to bully you or belittle your contributions, knowledge or musical instincts. Sometimes it’s a challenge but you really just have to persist and know what you want and make a way for yourself to get it, because nobody else is going to give it to you.
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