International Blues Challenge Semi Finals 2016

What better way to spend a blazing hot June Sunday than to perform at H20 in Anacortes among some of Washington’s best blues bands in the 2016 IBC Semifinals. The competition started with the duo and solo categories followed by the bands with my group consisting of Don Wilhelm, bass and Chris Leighton, drums and me on lead & slide guitar and vocals leading off the band performances. Standing before an enthusiastic audience, some of the best musicians in the area, and in front of a panel of six judges was thrilling and nerve-wracking. We gave it our best shot and got a great response from the audience and the judges. Audience members asked me when and where they can see us again. I was approached after our performance by judges who told me they had never heard of me, and where had I come from, and where had I learned to play the blues like that. That afternoon, the CD Woodbury band was the well -deserved winner – decked out in matching red and white suits with hats and shiny shoes to match. It was a competition among some of Washington’s best, but there was a spirit of camaraderie in the room with musicians who are often too busy playing to check out each other’s shows, together in one room hooting and cheering for each other. We didn’t win, but I walked feeling that I’d won – new fans, new friends and a warm welcome into the Washington blues family. We’ll definitely be back and who knows maybe next year we’ll try some matching outfits.

Ladies First 5! Success

A few Saturdays ago down at the Madison Pub in Everett, I joined in with a group of some of the finest Washington female vocalists for a showcase performance at Ladies First 5! The performances with Terry Parker, Heather Jones (and Donny), Marilyn Beebe and Leah Tussing were great and backing band with Mark Riley on guitar, Dave McCabe, drums, Paul Quilty, bass and Ken Caldwell, keys did the women proud. I was the only instrumentalist among the women performers that night as is often the case. And Mark Riley (who is a dynamite guitarist) didn’t seem to mind when I asked him to sit out for a set. I ripped through a set of Joe Bonamassa songs, some slide standards and even some of my originals to a cheering, enthusiastic packed house. Paul Quilty, bassist and organizer along with his lovely partner, Willow really know how to put on a show. It’s one of my favorite venues North of Seattle and I’ll be returning there as a featured guest on July 27th.

Shreddin’ the blues at Guilt & Co. live radio broadcast

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It was a lot of fun doing a live broadcast as part of our Sunday night show at Guilt & Company in Vancouver, BC.  I love the buzz in the room with a full house of folks who really want to hear live music.  It was awesome to have the host and manager of the club, Tonye Aganaba, describe me as a woman who shreds the blues. And we did shred that night with lots of slide guitar and rocking original blues.

Prior to the show, Tonye asked me some questions about how I feel about being categorized as a “female guitarist” rather than just being known as a guitarist . As someone who plays in a lot of events that showcase women who play the blues, I’ve given that a lot of thought. I don’t think women should be segregated into to a separate category. I think that a guitarist should be judged on the merits of their playing.

It’s great to shine a spotlight on women who play the blues. Women should be given more opportunity to participate in festivals and other bigger shows and not limited to women’s events, or the token female player. When I taught at girl’s rock camp I was blown away by some of the young women that seriously want to play and are getting really good. It’s been a slow process, but I think things are evolving in a positive way.

What’s so cool about cover songs?

I played a show recently as part of Chicks With Picks, a benefit for the Vancouver based Positive Women’s Network, in which a variety of solo acts and bands played songs festival style.  There was some really great talent at this event and equally good original material, but I noticed very clearly how much stronger the audience response was to the cover material – songs they recognized or could sing along with from Fleetwood Mac’s Songbird and Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah to a rousing rendition of High School Confidential.

As a songwriter, there’s nothing like hearing my songs on the radio or performing them for a live audience and seeing folks enjoying the music. But I can understand from the perspective of club owners and some booking folks their general lack of enthusiasm for original material. I know the cringe-worthy feelings that arise when a performer announces they’re going to play an original song and it truly sucks or simply doesn’t resonate with the audience. It seems that whether original songs are strong or not at some point audiences want to hear something they know. I’ve been struggling with the realization that after two albums of original material, it’s time to add more cover material into the mix. It’s been a good run playing primarily originals and while I will continue to write, my focus for now will be on bringing in more covers. The Rolling Stones had a lot of their early success with covers like Howlin’ Wolf’s Little Red Rooster. John Hammond Jr. features several songs by Tom Waits (one of my favorite songwriters) on his release, Wicked Grin. And even Joe Bonamassa’s recent CD of cover songs (2014) Different Shades of Blues features a Jimi Hendrix song. I know in the blues world songs like Sweet Home Chicago, Stormy Monday and Born Under a Bad Sign are always going to be popular with folks, but there’s room for other versions of some great songs. Sharing the stage with a woman named Avi and hearing her scaled down acoustic version of Michael Jackson’s Beat It was very cool. If the Stones, John Hammond and even Joe Bonamassa can do it, I guess I can too.

Moving into fall

After a summer on the west coast that was possibly the driest and hottest in a century, we are finally heading back to our familiar rain showers, misty mornings and fields of green. With that, our shows and concerts move from outdoor venues and festivals to the warmth of an indoor circuit.

I’ll be spending the fall and winter seasons playing shows from Vancouver’s Guilt & Company with my trio to a solo performance at Chicks with Picks at Vancouver’s Fairview. Then I’ll be heading back to Washington with a trio performance at the iconic, Conway Muse where diverse acts like Eric Bibb, Duffy Bishop, and the Fabulous Roofshakers have recently performed. I’ll also be participating in upcoming Blues to Do women’s shows in Seattle.

Happy fall everyone and stay tuned for more postings.

Women who play the blues

While playing at a recent festival, I asked the audience members to come up with the name of five female lead guitarists (without cheating by looking on phones and other devices). I offered my newest CD free to the first person who came to the merch table after the set with the names. It’s not surprising that many people can’t name more than a few players in any genre – Bonnie Raitt tops the list as well as a few well- known rhythm players like Joan Jett. I had a man approach me sheepishly and ask if Elizabeth Cotton counted and I said “of course, she was a trailblazer.” He beamed as he walked away without providing any other names. As a lead guitarist I have been inspired by many of my favorite players like Debbie Davies, Joanna Connor, slide guitarists Ellen McIllwaine, & Bonnie Raitt, rocker Carrie Brownstein and jazz great Emily Remler. I’m also encouraged by some of the newer batch of players like Orianthi and Samantha Fish.

So what’s my motivation for asking audiences about women who play the lead guitar? Well it’s a great way to meet people who come to see me play, but more importantly it’s a way for me to encourage folks to notice that there are a lot of women guitar players who deserve to be heard and known. I hope I can inspire and challenge people to think about the blues as more than female vocalists supported by the boys in the band. Here’s to the women who can really play the blues!