Q&A with Leslie Bixler (aka Miss Bix), inspired by the home of the blues, the Crossroads in Clarksdale, MS

"Children are just trying to figure out how the world works, they are like little alien beings, completely innocent and excited and they are looking at everything through their eyes. This is kind of magical…"

Miss Bix: The Tales of Blues Mama

LESLIE BIXLER aka MISS BIX aka LESLIE LETVEN has been writing, recording and performing since her early twenties. Her first international record “Make It Right” was released on Syndrome Records under her maiden name Leslie Letven and did very well in the smooth jazz category, reaching #12 on the charts, and still receiving radio play today. At that time, she was collaborating with her talented husband Bill Bixler of the Wild Blue Band and nightclub. Moving back to LA, Leslie and Bill produced and self-released “Porcupine”. After the birth of her son, Leslie turned her attention to children’s music, spending several days a week doing music circles with preschool age children. It was there that she wrote and test-ran several children’s songs which attracted the attention of Dick Van Dyke and Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), whose child was in her class. She produced two albums “Moon Food” with Dick Van Dyke and “Rhythm Train” with Van Dyke and Chad Smith. She toured with Dick and Chad promoting those albums and received notable press from many celebrities and publications and won a parent’s choice award.                                  (Photo: Leslie Letven Bixter aka Miss Bix)

Once her son grew up, Leslie’s yearning for a new musical start led her to Clarksdale Mississippi where she fell seriously in love with the blues, something she had always gravitated towards. Working with co producer collaborator Ralph Carter (former Musical Director with Eddie Money and co-writer of his hit tune ‘Shakin’’) Leslie began writing “We Don’t Own The Blues,” a group of blues-based songs that reflect a new and exciting musical direction: passionate, intense, and sultry. Her ‘We Don’t Own The Blues’ (2019) was inspired by the home of the blues, the Crossroads in Clarksdale, Mississippi. It is often considered the work of artists to reflect upon the world around them and use as fuel for their creative process. Miss Bix drew upon the resources at hand successfully delving into writing and performing children’s music while raising her son. Now two decades later the accomplished recording artist was thrust into a global pandemic, racial and social unrest and climate change catastrophes including the California wildfires, where the Bixler family lost their home. The result was not despair or retreat, but rather a poignant and resolute collection of 14 new songs on the album, “Bring It” (2022) released on Blue Heart Records.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

It makes me feel at home wherever I go. Blues for me, is a quality, not just a type of music. MY favorite music always seems to have a bluesy thread going through it, even in jazz, classical, rock, and pop. It has to do with a relaxed, laid-back feeling, an authenticity, and a kind of bending of notes to squeeze out all the different emotions that that note can evoke. It has to do with not rushing, staying on the back end of every beat, which makes me feel good, "in the pocket" so to speak. And on a certain level, most blues people tend to be MY people. There's suffering everywhere, but the blues is a healer.

How do you describe your songbook and sound? Where does your creative drive come from?

I think I'm a story teller. Most of my songs have kind of a narrative arc, like a story. I try to inject myself into every word, every syllable. I strive for dynamics, only singing hard if there is a good reason to, not just because I'm a 'blues mama'. I love to belt but only sometimes. A whisper can be equally powerful. My creative drive comes from the desire to connect with others on a meaningful level, to be understood, to get to the heart of things. I hope to express things that people may not have the words for, and to elevate the experience of life with the power beyond words, when the words and the rhythm and the melody come together.

"Believe it or not, it is still a man's world in music, with some notable exceptions. I find it very hard to be taken seriously as the writer and producer of my own music." (Photo: Leslie Letven Bixler aka Miss Bix)

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music?

I'm less nervous for sure. I had pretty bad stage fright and that held me back til I was in my twenties, though I was singing and writing in my room since I was a child. I feel freer onstage now, and more playful. I think more about the audience and less about me.

My writing has definitely grown as I have experienced more and been exposed to more. I've learned to trust myself and my impulses, and not censor it so much. I've learned to hold out for better in my own crafting, because it's easy to be lazy. I've gotten braver about going after what I want, and not being mansplained too. I know how to talk to my band much more clearly now, usually men. That used to intimidate me but now I know that they are no more informed than I am about what I want. I'm a little more conscious of what message I am sending to others with my writing, maybe not as self-indulgent!

What has remained the same about your music-making process?

I'd say a love of good melodies and unexpected turns of phrase, and a desire to communicate sincerely.

What do you think is key to a music life well lived? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?

Well, everybody always reminds me to 'remember to have fun', because in the business, it's pretty hard to dream of a big rock star experience anymore. It's about doing what you love because you have to. I guess I want my songs to touch people, to amuse and stimulate them, hopefully to inspire them, and make them want to move!

Who are some of your very favorite artists or rather, what musicians have continued to inspire you and your music?

Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, John Mayer, earlier, that is, James Taylor, Keb Mo, Peter Gabriel, Sting, this is making me sound old...

"My fears are that we are slipping into a jaded, posturing place in music, and I think the saving grace is these very raw sessions that people are posting on the internet where we see them being real and imperfect." (Miss Bix / Photo by Eric Myer)

Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album "Bring It"?

My bio covers a lot of that, how the cover picture is of my previous home after it burned in the Malibu Hills. While we have moved several places and rebuilt, I worked through facetime, and various other formats to get these songs recorded.  Then the pandemic hit and the whole thing got even crazier.  We made it through nonetheless. Now I feel like, well, what else you got?  Bring it!

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Working with Chad Smith from the RHCP on my CD "Rhythm Train"…he told me there's no "FUN" button that you can add after the song has been recorded. The fun has to be IN the track from the start. We made sure never to overthink anything and to rely on our spontaneous instincts and that was very freeing. That was when the best music happened.

Another guitarist, Franck Goldwasser, told me that whatever I was doing that was uniquely mine, whether it be different tunings, or my own way of playing, I should celebrate it and deepen into it rather than try to be more 'normal'. That also was very freeing, because I have my own way of being in the world and it works better when I don't fight it.

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

I've done a few fun gigs with Dick Van Dyke, one where it was only me and another guitarist, and I was singing with him at a bookstore. I sort of had to lead the show and it was quite fun to be onstage trading jokes etc. with Dick Van Dyke and having him promote my CD and sing the song I wrote "I'm A Pirate"… I realized that I have to kind of own my own power as a writer and performer and not be intimidated.

"Well, everybody always reminds me to 'remember to have fun', because in the business, it's pretty hard to dream of a big rockstar experience anymore. It's about doing what you love because you have to. I guess I want my songs to touch people, to amuse and stimulate them, hopefully to inspire them, and make them want to move!" (Miss Bix / Photo by Suzy Demeter)

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

Music of my early childhood, which I first heard through my older sisters in the sixties and seventies, was exploding with vibrancy and meaning. People really strived to say something in their songs, and their melodies, and they were coming from a more authentic place, and making a real difference in the state of the world. Rock music was coming straight out of blues at that point but it was turning toward issues of war and corruption and it really spoke to people. I miss when buying a record was an event, and listening was a social experience. I honestly don't care for a whole lot of new music, but there are a few that come up here and there. I am a lifelong fan of Bonnie Raitt. She is always quality, right up my alley. My fears are that we are slipping into a jaded, posturing place in music, and I think the saving grace is these very raw sessions that people are posting on the internet where we see them being real and imperfect.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Without sounding arrogant, I think musicians are some of the coolest people around. They have to be a cut above in their willingness to be flexible, and also disciplined, and work with others. Every once in a while you run into someone with no desire to play well with others and it's best to steer clear of them.  Treasure the players who really care about how it sounds and who are not in it for the wrong reasons. Same with the business people. Hold out for good folks. You don't have to work with jerks. Treat people well, and show respect for others and what they bring to the table. Acknowledge the gifts that are given to you through this musical journey.

"My creative drive comes from the desire to connect with others on a meaningful level, to be understood, to get to the heart of things. I hope to express things that people may not have the words for, and to elevate the experience of life with the power beyond words, when the words and the rhythm and the melody come together." (Leslie Bixler aka Miss Bix / Photo by Suzy Demeter)

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

I would like to see real artists treated with the respect they deserve, both in live venues and in recording situations. I would like to see more money allocated both federally and personally to music and musicians.

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

Believe it or not, it is still a man's world in music, with some notable exceptions. I find it very hard to be taken seriously as the writer and producer of my own music. Players still look to the men around me to find out how the music should be played. It disappoints me to see women either selling themselves out physically, when they are plenty talented enough without it, or being categorized as big belting blues mamas. I also notice that women are still pitted against one another.

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political, spiritual and socio-cultural implications?

That's a wide-ranging question, so I won't even try to answer all of it. LOL I will say that any kind of music that is born out of suffering, to ease suffering, really expresses the bravery and depth of the slaves who were brought here and abused. They sang to save their lives and that is how I feel when I sing. The blues gave life to rock and roll and R and B and especially jazz. The African influences along with many others woven together have enriched our culture in ways that are impossible to quantify. When I spent time in Clarksdale MI at the Crossroads, I felt the oppression of the South mixed with the incredible richness of the culture, the music that grew out of that and it was powerful enough to make me realize that the Blues was kind of my real home, so to speak. If you are a person who understands the blues, you are probably going to have more empathy than the average person. 

"I'd say a love of good melodies and unexpected turns of phrase, and a desire to communicate sincerely." (Photo: Leslie Bixler aka Miss Bix & Dick Van Dyke)

What touched (emotionally) you from children's songs? What is the hardest part of writing this music?

Children are just trying to figure out how the world works, they are like little alien beings, completely innocent and excited and they are looking at everything through their eyes. This is kind of magical… Things that we take for granted become small miracles. They need someone to tell them the truth, to capture their sense of humor and playfulness, and not to talk 'down' to them, to involve them mentally and physically with the experience so they really take it in.

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 have liked to have been a famous musician who lived in one of the canyons in LA that was quite the music scene back in the seventies, like Laurel Canyon, where all the artists went to each other’s' house to make music together, and to hang out, sharing their talents and their writing together and living in a world of constant creativity.

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