Q&A with singer/songwriter Patty Tuite, Connecticut-based musician embraces the genre of blues, rock and beyond

"The Blues have saturated our culture and become very mainstream, being played in commercials and such. I wouldn’t go so far as to say contemporary blues is watered down from the blues of say the 50’s and 60’s during the civil rights movement. But I think it’s more in the background as far as representing the black voice in our society."

Patty Tuite: Consider This ...

Patty Tuite is a singer/songwriter who embraces the genre of blues, rock music and beyond. Strong influences in her style come from listening to notable artists such as Bonnie Raitt, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James and Susan Tedeschi. Already having three highly acclaimed releases to her credit, Patty released her latest recording "Consider This" (2021), which features a fantastic array of new material. Produced by Grammy award winner Paul Nelson, who also plays electric, slide and acoustic guitar on the album, to the excited expectations of her ever growing, world-wide fanbase. Patty started at a young age listening to her mom’s piano playing of hymns, musicals and Boogie Woogie and began playing piano before the age of 5. Patty began playing guitar at 17 years old focusing on fingerpicking and rhythm and learning Folk music and singing. In the 1980’s she began listening to blues musicians and emulating their styles. Patty began playing guitar out in public and singing at open mic sessions in Springfield, MA during the early the early 1990’s.  This led to her first well received live recording in 1996 “Live At The Tic Toc.” Her first blues-based band, The Patty Tuite Band, formed in 1999, playing throughout the Southern New England region, gaining fans at clubs, functions, and summer concert festivals.             (Patty Tuite / Photo by Peter Polomski)

This experience led to her second recording “Girls Night Out” in 2001 and then “Blond and Blue” in 2007. As well as playing blues from 2007-2017 with two more bands, the Boilermakers and the Percolators, Patty branched out into jazz and played with an eastern CT band, Blue Steam, in 2012. It was a creative and expansive collaboration together, not only playing standards, but reinterpreting popular songs with a jazz bent. In 2021 Patty and her husband Jim formed a new independent record label, Thread City Productions, which the release came out on. Since 2004 Patty has enjoyed playing in a children’s band called the Kidsville Kuckoo Revue, led by Bruce John, one of the founders of the famed Shaboo Inn. She thinks it is a fun and rewarding way to get children to appreciate and participate in music-making.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

In my life, Blues and Roots music has been a source of social messages and finding a larger perspective of life. They are meant to tell stories and share feelings, which make the songs both personal and universal. The Blues originally told the plight of the black man, and the form was used to express either hard times they experienced or the ways they could have a good time in spite of their troubles.  Roots music also expressed social injustices, talking about unfair labor laws, Jim Crow laws and other ways that society oppressed certain segments of the population. Booker T. Washington was once quoted saying, " A lie doesn't become truth, wrong doesn't become right, and evil doesn't become good, just because it's been accepted by a majority." For me, this embodies what Blues and Roots music is all about. This perspective has stuck with me throughout my life. It's kept me open-minded about the journeys and struggles of other people and to keep from passing judgement about others too quickly.  As for my own life journey, I was raised as a white middle class woman - raised to be well-rounded and educated. My interest in music was encouraged by my parents, but only as a 'hobby.’  So I got my education, worked my jobs, and led a middle class life. I wasn't poor, and I wasn't black, so I felt for a long time that the Blues were kind of out of my realm. I mostly played acoustic Roots and Folk music at home or with friends. One thing that changed my life forever was to attend a blues open mike at a club in Springfield, MA called the Tic Toc Lounge. I was shaking as I pulled out my acoustic guitar and sang “Love Me Like A Man", one of the few blues tunes I could perform. The acceptance of the players and the audience kept me going back, week after week, year after year. The other performers helped me improve my chops and voicings on the guitar. I fell in love with 9th chords and expanded my song list. I studied the blues- they became a passion for me, not just a hobby. We eventually made a recording there called “Patty Tuite and Friends-Live at the Tic Toc" in my thirties I seriously felt on top of the world! That whole experience gave me the confidence to be a blues singer and led me on a path to become a singer/songwriter.

"There are definitely difficulties to being a female artist, whether it be in music, acting, or visual arts. Sometimes the stereotypes of men and women's roles still exist, even in this day and age. The industry has been dominated by men for so long that many of the industry standards and opportunities still reflect the opinions of men." (Patty Tuite / Photo by Peter Polomski)

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

Hmm, my sound... Well, as I said before, I started out playing folk music which still has an influence on me. I am mostly a rhythm player although I love to play slide guitar as well. Through the years I've played with many others, and I’ve found that playing the same song with different people can really make the 'sound' come out differently as well. I think that what makes me have a 'sound' is my voice. Whatever the style, tempo or form of music, my voice is my own. I have always admired songs that have strong, emotional vocals. Think Etta James, Billie Holiday, Muddy Waters and B.B. King. Whatever they sing, you know how they are feeling, it's got real authenticity. So, when I write a song, I keep in mind the emotion behind the story. If I can't relate to what I'm singing, it just won't ring true. I have a deep appreciation for a well-written song. I've always analyzed different components of them, such as chord structure, harmonies and lyrics. For me it's a challenge to create something out of nothing; bring something into the world that wasn't there before. Of course, I have my influences, and I didn't create the musical wheel, but I do feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when I write a song, I can consider my own.

What would you say characterizes Connecticut blues scene in comparison to other local US scenes and circuits?

To me, the CT blues scene is underrated. When most people think of the blues, they think of the South, or Kansas City, or Chicago... California, Alaska and New England are not considered bastions of the Blues, lol. However, the Blues have become a mainstay of American culture and they can be found anywhere nowadays. There is a strong, almost rabid following of the Blues in CT and wonderful performers who have been playing here for decades. Young newcomers to the scene have been embraced, as well. Keep your eye out for the names Jake Kulak and Ryan Newman. They are making waves all over the state. There is an organization called the Connecticut Blues Society, and its mission is to promote blues from and around the state. They use e-mail, Facebook, their website and a monthly newsletter to keep people informed about national and local acts, club dates, open mikes and their yearly blues challenges (both for bands and singe/duo acts), where the winners get to go to Memphis for the International Blues Challenge. They are a good resource for finding out about festivals, associated blues organizations and almost anything you'd want to know about the blues scene here in CT. Back when I was growing up, there was little club called the Shaboo Inn. People came from all over New England to see their shows, because they were brilliant with their booking. They got many bands to play there because they were between New York and Boston, and could usually put up the band after they were finished playing, so we could see great acts such as B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy and Jr. Wells, Freddie King, John Lee Hooker, Big Mama Thorton, James Montgomery, Elvin Bishop - the list goes on and on... It was pretty wondrous to be able to some of these performers up close and personal. A documentary is in the works right now about the history of Shaboo. One of the owners, David Foster, created a band called the Shaboo All-Stars and they still play reunion concerts to this day.

"In my life, Blues and Roots music has been a source of social messages and finding a larger perspective of life. They are meant to tell stories and share feelings, which make the songs both personal and universal. The Blues originally told the plight of the black man, and the form was used to express either hard times they experienced or the ways they could have a good time in spite of their troubles."

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

Well, as you know, I talked about my experiences at the Tic Toc Lounge, where I cut my teeth learning how to perform in public. They were every Thursday from 9pm until 2am, when it closed. Oftentimes, the jamming got pretty hot by midnight. There were a few times, not many, when the owner would clear out the crowd, lock the doors, close the curtains and then we would continue to play on for another hour or two. Those were some pretty special times.  Another story worth telling is about being in the studio for the recording "Consider This.” Paul Nelson is a magnificent producer, and this highlights how he can think out of the box when he needs to. We were recording Dreams, which is all about not giving up on your dreams. Well, I was pushing the vocals to sound like an anthem for everybody who is struggling to achieve their dreams. After the first take, Paul said, "Sounds good. Now, would you mind trying it again in a softer voice? I want you to imagine you are singing a baby to sleep, encouraging this little baby with your voice that dreams are possible.  It's a different approach, but I'd like to see what it sounds like."  I was surprised because for the most part, Paul and I were in synch with each other about the way the recording was going, but I figured it wouldn't hurt to try it this way. I sang it really softly, which was a big change for me, and I started to see what he was talking about. The softness combined with the melody and words was kind of mesmerizing. Things were going great, then at the second chorus, Paul cut in and said " Wait, wait!  You're getting loud and you're waking up the baby! He's gonna start screaming pretty soon!!" All I could do was laugh because putting it that way really made his point without having to say I was wrong or forgetting his advice. I still get a chuckle out of the way he could make me relate to that song in this way. As an artist who had been used to making executive decisions as both bandleader and songwriter, Paul was sensitive in his approach. Instead of dictating what I had to do to make a song better, he used scenarios to get me on board. That was a learning experience that made me appreciate both Paul's abilities as a producer and how slight changes can make a big difference in the sound of a recording. By the time we were done editing the songs, I felt like we had created a symphony of sound, not just a band recording!

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?                                        (Photo: Patty Tuite)

One of the biggest things I miss in music today is the ability to go out and see or play music any day of the week due to restrictions and worries due to the pandemic. Things have been improving with vaccinations, but the free and easy whim of just grabbing some tickets to go see a show and/or booking shows is not the same as it once was. It's hard on both the performers and the audience members. I am really hoping that in the big scheme of things, this "pause" in live performances will be over soon and people will go back to seeing live performances in droves. As far as the music itself goes, it seems to me that many of the songs today have become formulaic, with a lot of sampling and artificial backing tracks. I prefer the authenticity of real instrumentation. The pendulum may be swinging back to that authenticity, however- I am hearing more guitar work, live drumming and actual horns in music these days. For a while it seemed like most of the tracks were being produced by a synthesizer. Don't get me wrong, I like the sound of synthesizers in a song, as long as the song doesn't sound like it was an entire electronic production. Musical software can make songwriting a lot easier, but in the end, it's the artistry of the players that make a song memorable to me.

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

There are definitely difficulties to being a female artist, whether it be in music, acting, or visual arts. Sometimes the stereotypes of men and women's roles still exist, even in this day and age. The industry has been dominated by men for so long that many of the industry standards and opportunities still reflect the opinions of men. Back in the '90s, the Lilith Fair created quite a stir because it was a festival with women musicians as all of the headliners. There were many predictions that it would fail because it wouldn't be able to attract a large enough audience. It was hard to get sponsorship. It turned out to be quite successful, against the odds, because people had underestimated the attraction of female artists. If the bar owner, festival promoter, or booking agent has a bias about women not having the same talent or draw as men's acts, that's cutting them off at the knees before they even have a chance to show their talent. It really helps if a woman has something in her act that stands out from being a good singer. Playing an instrument (the more unusual, the better), dancing, outrageous costuming, some kind of schtick really helps. Sadly, the packaging for a female artist to have success usually means having a pretty face and a good figure. Lord, help the woman who is overweight! Looks are not nearly as important for male artists. Even more extreme is the sexualization of women artists. I have a hard enough time seeing album covers that are released by men that have woman scantily clad, posing provocatively and appealing to mankind's baser instincts. It's even worse if it's being done by the artists themselves. Wearing hardly any clothing, licking objects, or crawling on the floor has nothing to do with the music in most cases. I know sex sells, but can't we evolve beyond that? I highly doubt it's the women requesting to do these sexually suggestive things, it's a man's perspective that this needs to be done. So, yeah, sexism is still an issue in the industry. It's getting better, but it's still there. There have been and always will be women who break the mold and become wildly successful in spite of the industry standards, but overall, it takes the backing of men to be a success in music, and that backing is still influenced by stereotypes and sexual appeal, which is really not the main reason we listen to music, is it?

"One of the biggest things I miss in music today is the ability to go out and see or play music any day of the week due to restrictions and worries due to the pandemic." (Patty Tuite / Photo by Peter Polomski)

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

One of the most important lessons I have learned on my music path is to keep my own ego in check. I get a lot of compliments and praise, but I always try not to let it go to my head.

Yeah, I write songs, I play instruments, I sing, but nobody gets anywhere without help and support from the people around them. From the band members to the managers, to the producers, to the fans, to the teachers and mentors, everybody makes a difference in our successes. I am so grateful to have made an abundance of friends through music. Fame and fortune may be fleeting, but making music is enjoyable in itself and I plan to be doing it for many years, wherever it takes me.

What is the impact of Blues on the racial and socio-cultural implications? How do you want to affect people?

That’s an interesting question. The Blues have saturated our culture and become very mainstream, being played in commercials and such. I wouldn’t go so far as to say contemporary blues is watered down from the blues of say the 50’s and 60’s during the civil rights movement. But I think it’s more in the background as far as representing the black voice in our society. I think rap has become the music of choice, while the focus of the blues has become more about the soloing and less focus on social messages. It could easily change, but that’s how I see it during these times.  As for myself, I try to write songs that are relatable.  I may write about an experience I have had, but the sentiment behind it is usually universal and relatable. Many women have come up to me and said they love my lyrics and that I totally captured what they were thinking. That is truly gratifying, after all, isn’t that what music is all about?  For me, music has always been the universal language.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?                                       (Patty Tuite / Photo by Peter Polomski)

Well, I am a big fan of Ella Fitzgerald, and if I could go back in time and see one of her shows, it would have to be her debut at the Mocambo in Los Angeles on March 15, 1955. Why this particular show? Well, there is a story about it. Up until this show, Ella had mostly played smaller jazz clubs, in spite of her immense talent. Due to her physical appearance, the Mocambo wouldnt book her. Marilyn Monroe, who was a fan and friend of Ella's, told them she would sit in the front row every night for a 2-week booking. They agreed to this and Marilyn kept her word. She even had Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland attend opening night. I would have loved to have been there witness the greatness and triumph of that night. Ella never had to play in small jazz clubs again, her status was instantly elevated by playing there. This particular story is profound to me on many levels. especially after talking about women in the industry. Here we have Marilyn Monroe, one of the most iconic sex symbols in history, using her status to help Ella Fitzgerald  become one the most iconic singers in jazz history. Later on, Marilyn further used her star power to help Ella overcome the racism at that time that made black performers use the back entrance at the venues they played at, even if they were the headliners. She demanded that Ella be allowed to walk in the front door, side by side with Marilyn. Just imagine, if these events hadn’t taken place, would Ella have ever reached the level of popularity she rose to? She popularized swinging blues, what path would the blues have taken if she wasn't a star? It's an interesting thing to ponder, and that's why I would love to go back in time and see that show at the Mocambo. It altered musical history. Who wouldn't want to be a witness to such an event? 

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