Writings, Essays, Lyrics, Musings, Commentary . . .

Article #28: Who Influenced My Music?

Those of you who know me personally or through my writings are probably surprised that I am not writing about Katrina and New Orleans. No dry words on a page in cyber space can capture the pain I feel of this country┬╣s betrayal. So many musicians are writing songs in response, but I can only cry. I cry tears of fire.

So it is that I've been in a dilemma as to this writing -- my entire being has been numb for sometime. Finally, I decided to move in an entirely different direction. I've decided to share a cultural part of my being instead of a political part.

Often in interviews, I am asked either who are my musical influences, or who shaped your style, or who do you like? All are valid questions, but usually, due to the short time to answer, I just give one or two individuals. For example, Nina Simone lead me to Bessie Smith, or James Brown taught me to scream, or I really like Etta James. Clear and succinct.

However, with all of us, our current taste/style has been molded over the years. This article will allow me the opportunity to share my musical journey. In a sense, it is my musical resume.


YOUTH -- Dad played in jazz combo--played organ combo records a lot (Jimmy Smith, Wild Bill Davis, Shirley Scott, etc), big bands (Basie, Ellington, etc.), and jazz vocalists (Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, etc).

Mom worked at a Youth Canteen and brought home old records off the juke box -- including The Platters, Johnny Ace, Ray Charles, The Drifters.

Parents took me to many concerts in Washington, DC, but the best was when I heard Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. They were opening for Harry Belafonte. They were my first exposure to the blues and I knew this was my music, but. . . it was a long time before I found it again.

TEEN YEARS -- in band in High School played flute and piccolo; made All State Band 3 years; sang in Youth Choir at Baptist Church (but not foot stomping gospel music); attended "public dances" and actually danced to Ray Charles, Lloyd Price, Jr. Walker, etc.

Became quite the dancer--would dance all night long to Chuck Berry, James Brown, Etta James, Ray Charles, The Shirelles, Ruth Brown, Ike and Tina Turner, etc.-- many of these artists shaped my musical taste.

COLLEGE YEARS -- the dance craze from high school continued and I could do all the dances -- the Bop, the Boogaloo, the Dog, the Philly Dog, the Slop, the Birdland, the Thunderbird, the Popeye, the Madison, the Peter Gunn, the Horse, the Pony, not to mention the Jitterbug. I could tear it up!!

Exposed to folk music, joined in sing-a-longs, bought (and still use) Martin 00018 guitar from college roommate for $150. I still think Bob Dylan is one of the greatest songwriters ever.

I remember the very first time I heard Aretha. She was/is the best!

YOUNG ADULT YEARS-- grew from Motown into Stax sound and into different genres.

Attended many gospel concerts and became a major fan of Evangelist Shirley Caesar, the Swan Silvertones, and the Staple Singers. Mavis Staples is a major influence.

Also grew into jazz: loved sax players--Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, James Moody, Roland Kirk, Archie Shepp. (My son is named after Coltrane's drummer on KuluSe Mama.) Attended many Betty Carter club dates and Nina Simone concerts. Nina led me to Bessie and I've never turned back. The blues roots of jazz became very clear to me.

Started playing guitar more and leading songs at Black Power demonstrations and Union rallies in New York City. Also took guitar lessons. Protest songs are a major part of my repertoire.

ADULT YEARS-- With return to Fredericksburg, helped to direct theater group and incorporated all kinds of music into presentations--gospel, blues, soul, jazz, African, reggae.

Continued guitar lessons (some with Ann Rabson). Had solo gig 3 nights per week in local bar, then teamed with Franklin Golding for two years. Early 80's became "song stylist" in a "fern bar" (umph!), wore dresses and pumps, mainly sang jazz standards . . . yep, I love them too.

Started Saffire with Ann Rabson. Became a dedicated blues lover and start to grow into my own style with guidance from the Rosetta Reitz series of Indpendent Blues Women recordings. Began songwriting in earnest. (Saffire info included in main Resume/Profile on bio page.)

Attended blues workshops at Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins, West Virginia. Gave me faith that I could be a professional musician. Also started harmonica and furthered guitar studies.

SENIOR YEARS-- blues, blues and more blues. I love all styles of blues -- Piedmont, Delta, Chicago, jump blues, Texas blues, West Coast blues -- all styles, but my favorite perhaps is the classic blues of the 20s and 30s -- kinda the junction of blues and jazz. I've started playing slide guitar and Rory Block is a major influence in that department.

I listen to all kinds of music, but especially like music that makes me move my body. My main musical joy, coming full circle so to speak, is not playing, but, to this day remains, dancing. Can't move as long or as intricately as I used to, but I still like to move my body at every groove... regardless of the genre. Music is the backdrop for my physical being.

We all have soundtracks to our lives. We all have songs whose first notes can immediately throw us back into a moment of the past -- songs that will conjure up people, places, styles, even smells. Such a magnificent gift of the Creator. Perhaps my musical journey here will trigger yours and make you smile.

I leave you with my mantra (from the writings of Barrelhouse Bonni):

Pray for Peace
Work for Justice
Boogie for Survival!!

And I add:
Aww, shake it, baby, shake it!