I often write about the difficulty women musicians, face being shut out of opportunities in favor of guys or how women are unfairly judged based on looks and other factors that have nothing to do with the caliber of their playing. A female bassist who I’ve played a number of shows with recently made a Facebook post about sexism in music and after a few hours there had been hundreds of comments. I shared my story of an experience going to a jam session in a community where I didn’t know the host or the players. I told them I play professionally as a lead guitarist and that I don’t need any additional guitar support. Unless I’m playing with other professional caliber players who listen, I find the music sounds better when I stick with my trio format, guitar, bass and drums. So, the host ignored my request and said I think I’ll just put my guitar player up with you “for support”. I can’t imagine a male player receiving the same response, but I got up anyways and played as hard as I could. In fairness, the “support guitarist” was a real pro and a decent guy and once he saw that I know what I’m doing, he completely backed off and let me do my thing. I got the usual surprised and enthusiastic reaction from the audience and clearly showed that I didn’t need any support from another guitarist. The jam host eagerly invited me to drop by any time and I suspect that if I do, I won’t be given a backup guitarist.
I posted this story on FB and I got a very encouraging reaction from some of the best Washington based female players – “you go girl” and other types of comments were common. Some of the guys really do get this issue and also liked my comments. But one comment from a touring musician/acquaintance really bothered me. He said, perhaps it was the way I introduced myself and asked to play that needs to change. Perhaps if I didn’t use the term “lead guitarist”, that might suggest I just play a few lead notes, the host would have allowed me onstage without additional guitar support. After pondering this response and calming myself down to write something thoughtful – I let this guy know that the issue of sexism in music isn’t about how women ask to be included, it’s about guys changing their mindset and recognizing the disparities that women face. It’s about guys and women who have the privilege of booking acts, running jams and festivals recognizing that women instrumentalists don’t get as much opportunity to perform especially at festivals and other big events. In a world filled with conflict and chaos, this may not seem like an important issue. But it is important, for future generations who love playing music that we create more opportunities for women to shine!
Being invited to perform at a guitar extravaganza with two of Washington’s most popular and award winning guitarists is a great way to start the New Year. I’ll be featured as one of three electric guitarists at the Unbound Blues, Hot Blues Saturday night show with CD Woodbury and Cory Vincent. It’s encouraging to have promoters like Unbound (Paul and Willow) recognize that women musicians don’t always get included and to take steps to change that.
Here’s hoping that 2019 brings more opportunities for women in music. The Hot Blues show is Saturday February 2nd at the Madison Avenue Pub in Everett, downbeat is 7:30pm!
I’m reminded of what a beautiful part of the world we live in after my most recent show at the Eaglemont Golf Course. The restaurant and patio are set high on top of a hillside in a lush, woodsy area of Mount Vernon. We arrived for our Saturday early evening blues show with our usual carloads of PA equipment and gear. I travel with three guitars; my Danelectro which I use exclusively for slide, my Gibson which is my main axe because the fret board makes string bending easier than on most Fenders and my reclaimed redwood telecaster for those times that only a Telecaster will do.
As I began busily tuning my guitars, I turned away briefly to take in the view – and was in awe. From our tiny stage area set high above the valley, I saw a golf course surrounded by thick groves of evergreen trees that enveloped the steep rolling hills and in the distance was Puget Sound framed by the Olympic Mountains. We had a great show, with a lively and responsive crowd who were all too happy to listen to my eclectic, original songs while taking in a truly stunning view. At the end of the show as the sun began to set, we loaded our gear back into our cars – and I returned to the empty stage, to catch one more glimpse of the sun setting over the valley below. There’s nothing better than the Saturday night blues with a view.
There’s something about sharing a performance with other women artists who I admire that inspires me to keep playing, singing and writing my own music.
with KellyVanCamp, drums, harmonica & Melanie Owen, bass, vocals and featuring our special guest, Bellingham based keyboardist, RnB singer Margaret Wilder. Show starts at 8pm.
On Saturday June 16th , I’ll be playing in the Ladies Lead the Band show at the Madison Avenue Pub in Everett. Performances by Michele D’Amour and Margaret Wilder. These women know how to sing, write great songs and rock the house. Show starts at 7:30pm. More details coming soon!
I am looking forward to my upcoming blues performance at the historic Marysville Opera House on Feb. 15, 2018. It was a blast playing there last September with band mates Kelly VanCamp drums, harmonica, vocals and Melanie Owen, bass, vocals.
As a blues guitarist, I’ve spent my career playing a lot of bars and not always performing in places where patrons are there to listen to the music. In one particularly rough bar several years ago, the manager told me that he hires bands to keep the patrons from fighting – not exactly what I had in mind when I set out to write and perform my own songs. While I prefer to play shows in which the audience wants to hear good music, it’s a reality in this business that sometimes musicians, no matter the talent level, are simply there as background noise. That is why it’s such a pleasure to perform at events where folks are there for the music. But as I told our audience at our last opera house performance, there’s another reason why playing at the OH is so meaningful for me. As a parent of a young opera/classical singer who has performed on many big concert stages, I can finally say that I too have played music at an opera house – something not typical for most electric blues musicians. It feels like some kind of full circle and it makes it that much more special a performance.
It was a routine trip to my local music store – one I have made many times before to buy strings, rent PA equipment or simply to look longingly at the vintage Telecasters hanging far above the reach of customers. Most of the staff at this music store know me on sight and for the most part they treat me the same as the guys.
On this trip, I was simply looking to add a boost pedal to my pedal rack to enable me to play solos on my electric guitar without adding additional distortion or muddying my sound. I walked up to the counter and there was a new guy on staff who had recently arrived from London. I was dressed in my part time day job clothing with nice dress pants and blouse, most likely looking more like a parent seeking music lessons for my child than a professional guitarist. The new guy was friendly enough as I asked him about boost pedals, but I recognized that familiar response – the one that I’m sure many woman experience when they negotiate buying a car. It’s that unspoken assumption that we really don’t understand and shouldn’t really trouble ourselves with the details. It’s a talking down to rather than a conversation with and coming from nice guys it’s often quite subtle. After years of going into music stores and being ignored while the guy accompanying me gets asked what he needs, I recognize this feeling.
The best part of my story is what happened next. At my music store, I have a great connection with one of the staff. He’s a very tall bearded hipster who is soft-spoken, introspective and shares almost the exact taste in music and guitars as I do. We’ve spent quite a few lunch hours simply talking – about our mutual preferences for telecasters and older Gibson’s over anything Strat-like, about weird guitar modifications and the players we most admire. He listens well, has heard me play and really gets me. So as I talked to the young British clerk, my buddy on staff walked over to the counter and said listen to Jill – she’s a seriously good blues guitarist – “she’s ridiculous”.
Now, not being a hipster, I’m not entirely sure what he meant by “ridiculous”, but I think it was a huge compliment. He was telling this well-meaning clerk to take me seriously as much as he would any other player – he was demanding respect for me. I returned to my part time day job beaming – not because of the compliment about my playing, but because after all these years of struggling to be respected as a player, a fellow guitarist stepped up and softly affirmed my credibility and requested that I be given respect. In that moment, I felt proud and had the thought that maybe things are shifting – maybe women players are starting to be taken more seriously and I just hadn’t noticed.
Whether or not things are getting better, we need guys like my buddy in the music store who realize that women players deserve the same respect as the guys. Not only does it make a difference, but it just might just show upcoming female players that they too can be seen as “ridiculous”.
One of the things I love the most about playing shows in the summer is the opportunity to play outdoor shows on big stages to enthusiastic Pacific Northwest crowds. This summer season has not disappointed with our kick off on what might have been the hottest day of the year at the Eagle Haven Winery. It’s a gorgeous location set in the hills outside of Mt. Vernon with spectacular views of Mt. Baker. We were greeted with a basket of ice cold drinks including some of the finest local wine I’ve sampled in quite some time. Tina and Jim were accommodating and lovely hosts with a great spread of food, big outdoor stage and an enthusiastic blues crowd. Despite the sweltering heat, we had a great experience at the Winery and have been invited back to play next year. We’re looking forward to returning.
Every Thursday in July I’ve been playing shows with Bellingham keyboardist & vocalist, Margaret Wilder (MWB Band) at the Beach at Birch Bay. It’s been a blast to share shows with Margaret and to enjoy playing at this hidden gem on a great outdoor stage with views of the ocean.
Upcoming shows include a featured performance at the Madison Avenue Pub at Unbound Blues in Everett in August and a performance at the summer event of the year with an all women blues band at the Ebby Island Freedom Festival later this summer.
Stay tuned for more details and enjoy the summer!
I often get asked if it is any different playing in an all women’s blues band and then with a bunch of men. And my answer is yes…..and no. My trio work has mostly been with guys while I’ve played in a variety of all women bands from original blues to an all women Led Zeppelin tribute band.
My recent women’s blues show at Everett’s Madison Avenue Pub was a great example of a group of exceptional women singers, players and songwriters all taking turns in the spotlight and supporting each other to shine on stage. Are guys supportive of women players on stage? – That depends on the guys.
I’ve recently been playing in a blues trio with guys who really listen and are supportive of me and it makes all the difference, but it’s not always been that way in other bands. As a guitarist in rock bands, I’ve had to stomp on every pedal in my arsenal just to be heard, or to have a turn to solo. And while working as lead guitarist for hire in bands, I’d still be placed center stage as the “girl singer”. When guys find out that I can really play, some have gotten really competitive with me or have been unwelcoming. Others have become my mentors and friends.
The women’s bands I’ve been in have involved lots of collaborative decision making, indecisiveness, hurt feelings at times and seemingly endless discussions about clothing. I do think it’s easier for men to just throw on a relatively clean shirt, jeans and boots and there’s more pressure on women not only to play well, but to look good too. With guys, discussions tend to be around sports or whatever new gear (toys) they’ve acquired. I’ve found there’s less discussion and chatting and more just getting down to business – a plug in and play attitude. As for feelings, I think guys are just quieter when their feelings get hurt.
There’s no doubt that playing in all women bands is different than playing with guys, but it’s not necessarily better or even about gender. It’s about making music with other players who know their stuff, and also have the right attitude.
After all these years playing music, I’ve come to the conclusion that the finest players regardless of their gender, tend to have the least ego and are the most welcoming to other musicians. The best players have nothing to prove by aggressively competing with others or overplaying to gain attention. They’re simply working as hard as they can to make the music sound as good as possible and to connect deeply with an audience.
Sunday November 6th
Concert Performances at 3pm and 5pm
At Roundhouse Community Centre, Exhibition Hall
181 Roundhouse Mews, Vancouver, BC
I didn’t know what to expect for my first time playing at Ebey Island Freedom Fest as part of the all women blues show. I thought it was a backyard party with a small stage and a few folks gathered round a campfire or barbecue grill. To my surprise it turned out to be a huge regional four-day music festival, with 40 of the finest bands in the Everett and Seattle area all converging at Jim McLaughlin and Donna Marie McMillin’s property out at Ebey Island. This event feels like a modern-day Woodstock of the Pacific Northwest with a huge stage, professional lighting and sound, and an enthusiastic and peaceful crowd decked out in everything from biker leathers to tie dye t-shirts.
During our set, I played lead guitar and sang along with several top local female vocalists, Mary McPage, Mary Ellen Lykins, Sherri Roberts Greimes, Marilyn Beebe. Lissa Ramaglia was there on bass and vocals while Darlene Jones held down the back beat on drums. It was a rockin’ set with a screaming crowd who were clearly enjoying seeing the women kick ass on some blues tunes. The highlight for me, was when we slowed things down during a rendition of Angel From Montgomery. We invited other female vocalists from the audience to join us – Michelle Taylor and Polly O’Keary stepped up.
The Ebey Island Freedom Fest runs over the Labor Day weekend and although it’s been the area’s best-kept secret for the past seven years, I think word has finally gotten out.