Q&A with Memphis-based singer Barbara Blue - Blues, Soul, R&B, & Americana, truly at the top of her game

"My choice is to make it happy & kind with a one day atta time attitude. There is no guarantee of tomorrow ... I don't believe we are in charge here ... LOVE is the key to life now and later. LOVE Is the only thing that lasts beyond death, LOVE is the only thing you can take with you from this world to the next."

Barbara Blue: From The Shoals With Love

The Reigning Queen of Beale Street BARBARA BLUE will be released her 13th album “FROM THE SHOALS”, on January 27, 2023 by Big Blue Records. On FROM THE SHOALS, Barbara Blue intertwines Blues, Soul, R&B, & Americana. Recorded at the legendary NuttHouse Recording Studio in Muscle Shoals, AL and produced by Jim Gaines, the album's 13 tracks features 11 originals. Joining Ms. Blue in the studio were musical icons Bernard “Pretty” Purdie (drums), David Hood (bass), Clayton Ivey (keyboards), Will McFarlane (guitar) and her Croatian songwriting partner Davor “Hutch” Hačić. On From The Shoals, Barbara Blue is truly at the top of her game. Pittsburgh, PA native Barbara Blue doesn't remember life without music. From 1980 -1987 Barbara lived in Detroit, MI and was a bartender/college student by day and a vocalist by night playing gigs all over the city with the “City Limits Blues Band”. She opened shows for locals and road acts -- Delbert McClinton, Jeff Healey, Marcia Ball,  Billy Price, on and on and on … In 1994 Barbara recorded her debut CD Out Of The Blue at The Control Room in Pittsburgh, PA. Ms. Blue also traveled with her band playing gigs in Memphis, Clarksdale & NOLA (Hogs Breath) to compete in the very early conception of the IBC.

(Barbara Blue, 2022 / Photo © by Marilyn Stringer)

Barbara began taking the Ultimate Rhythm and Blues Cruises (13 in total) meeting and jamming with elite blues artists. Meeting Taj Mahal and The Phantom Blues Band was an amazing journey which led to Barbara recording 3 albums with the Phantom Blues Band. In 1997, Barbara took a trip to Memphis and landed a gig at Silky O’Sullivan’s at Beale Street, where she performed 5 nights a week for nearly 25 years and is known as “The Reigning Queen of Beale Street”. Performing on Beale Street lead to many performance opportunities - including performing with James Cotton, Bobby Rush, Sam Myers, Anson Funderburgh, Sean Costello, Ronnie Baker, Wayne Baker & Lonnie Brooks, Preston Shannon, Tas Cru, Henry Butler, Roy Carrier, Carla Thomas, The Cate Brothers, Candye Kane, Leo “Bud” Welch, Ronnie Earl, and Bernard “Pretty” Purdie.

Interview by Michael Limnios                 Barbara Blue, 2018 interview @ blues.gr

Special Thanks: Karen Leipziger/ KL Productions

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started and what has remained the same?

Hummmm ... I will quote Miles Davis here ....  "Sometimes you have to play a long time to play like yourself." I've been playing a VERY LONG time.... Some of my longest & closest friends who have heard my new recording say " You have finally found YOUR sound".... I was at first surprised by this ... then the more I listened the more my soul knew they were right.  This is my 12 Independent release on my label (I have one other on a Euro label) ... I have grown so much with each recording ... I've worked with some of the best in the business ... I think, listening, using my ears and being more relaxed and confident in myself has helped and taught me how to let myself flow. It's a wonderful feeling. What remains the same since the beginning of my career is my passion to create and perform at my best and to emotionally touch and move people with my music.

You've one new release with producer Jim Gaines. How did that relationship come about?

My new recording FROM THE SHOALS is my second project with producer Jim Gaines. I met Jim early on when I first moved to Memphis in 1997. His wife Sandy Carol and I became friendly. Sandy was one of the gals that played on and off Beale Street in Memphis. She is a highly accredited song writer and we have written a few songs together, hung out at some of the cool Memphis events, have tons of common friends and I did spend some time in Ardent Studios (L.NIX Mastering suite was located there and they have mastered all of my recordings but one... I think) in Memphis where Jim had done a lot of work. I have 2 close friends (Barry "Bubba Dawg" Shaw & Steve Graham of Graham Audio and Sound) who when I was brainstorming my next recording said "YOU SHOULD ASK Jim Gaines!!). A since neither of them know each other ... one was from Memphis and one from Pittsburgh ... my brain told me to call Jim. And so, we became fast friends, like family... I love him & Sand and they love me.

"It's taken awhile but I try daily not to criticize others... it's just negative juice I don't need... in the end I believe we all get what we will get. When asked, I say I'm not a critic by I am very critical. Now I just try to put that mostly on myself and not on others." (Photo: Barbara Blue & Davor "Hutch" Hacic)

Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album FROM THE SHOALS?

I have a book!! Ha!!  It was a GREAT experience ...One I will share firstly; I brought my guitarist and songwriting partner from Croatia Davor "Hutch" Hacic (whom I met in Memphis at the 2019 International Blues Competition) with me to Muscle Shoals ... totally like Christmas for him or maybe I felt like Santa Clause... I guess I just took it for granted for a minute that Bernard Purdie, David Hood, Clayton Ivey & Jim Gaines were a dream come true for this talented guitarist from the very small city of Novigrad Cittanova!! 

Why do you think that Muscle Shoals sound continues to generate such a devoted following?

Well... for the most part ... it's the REAL DEAL ...  there is so much soul and history and PURE LOVE & RESPECT for music there... I think many go there trying to just "use" as they do in Memphis... There is a "Powerful magic" there "that shapes the music of the Shoals" ... to quote myself some more " that grabs you by your soul" ... If you got it you get it ... if you don't then I guess you just get what you pay for ... the legends run deep there. From music to the Indians. Watching the Muscle Shoals Documentary was life changing for me & Hutch.

What moment changed your music life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

Also pages in my book... but one of the most prominent moments I will say is when Taj Mahal and I met on the Ultimate Blues Cruise Jan 1993? (Now The Legendary Blues Cruise) ... we just hit is off ...He's a Taurus and I'm a Libra ... He introduced me to Bonnie Raitt in St Croix that year. He allowed me to jump on stage with him the SummervilleTheater in MA...This also led me to have 3 recording with The Phantom Blues Band ... and have the honor of working, hanging out and learning from John Porter, Johnny Lee Schell, Mike Finnigan, Larry Fulcher, Tony Braunagel, Darrel Leonard & Joe Sublett (Texicali Horns)...                                                (Photo: Barbara Blue)

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

It's taken awhile but I try daily not to criticize others... it's just negative juice I don't need... in the end I believe we all get what we will get. When asked, I say I'm not a critic by I am very critical. Now I just try to put that mostly on myself and not on others. I have been very very blessed with talent and a kind heart. That is my focus these days. I wake up every day, thank the Good Lord for another day and to guide me to be kind and understanding of others. Plain and simple Amen! To quote my late great dear mother "It's not that difficult".

John Coltrane said "My music is the spiritual expression of what I am...". How do you understand the spirit, music, and the meaning of life?

Well, firstly ... I will agree wholeheartedly with the "Train" ... then go on to say music is a universal language no matter what country I'm in I can sing a song, or hum a tune and communicate. As far as life... it is what you make it. My choice is to make it happy & kind with a one day atta time attitude. There is no guarantee of tomorrow ... I don't believe we are in charge here ... LOVE is the key to life now and later. LOVE Is the only thing that lasts beyond death, LOVE is the only thing you can take with you from this world to the next.

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