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.
It’s always entertaining playing with WA International Blues Challenge winner, Kevin Sutton, and our August show at the Highway 99 Blues Club in Seattle didn’t disappoint. We opened the show for national touring act, Danielle Nicole in front of a full house. Farko Dosumov played some really impressive percussive/bass solos and owner Steve Sarkowsky held down the backbeat on drums. The highlight of our show was kicking off Kevin’s song Washington Blues with a ripping slide solo on my Danelectro as Kevin reminded me to “play too loud.” It was a memorable night and great to share a show with another female instrumentalist, singer and songwriter.
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.
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.
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.