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Blues Diva Marcia Ball


Piano Queen of The Bayou

Every genre performer seems to have a title, so it's no wonder Marcia Ball has been named the "Piano Queen of The Bayou." Her different styles of songwriting, singing and piano playing has always keep fans coming back for more, mixing her music with past and personal experiences, along with true feelings. Ball music range from a rock' n roll get -down- and -party style song to a song about love, hurt, pain and hope. During Ball's thirty plus years and eleven albums, she has manage to acquire a wide fan base starting form the very young to the very mature and old all over the globe. Ball has been featured throughout the United States in every major event, appearing on radio and Austin City Limits. Her album "Sing It" was nominated for both a Grammy. She has received the WC Handy Award for Contemporary Female Vocalist of the Year in 1998 and The Best Blues Instrumentalist-Keyboards in 1999. Most recently Ball was honored again at the 2002 WC Handy Awards, where she received five nominations and walked away with the Blues Album of the Year "Presumed Innocent." Ball has had the chance sing and perform with some of the best, appearing in a Performance at The White House, a televised Public Television special, along with B. B. King and Della Reese.

 

Marcia Ball was born in Orange, Texas in 1949 to a family, where the female members all played piano, Ball grew up in a small town called Vinton, Louisiana right across the Texas border. As a child, she learned to play the piano at a very young age, while listening to and playing her grandmother's Tin Pan Alley tunes collection and later more pop and modern music. By age thirteen she had discovered The Blues, and was taken back by blues singer Irma Thomas soulful and spirited performance. Ball later started her own band, performing Irma Thomas' songs, later performing shows during college with a band called Gum. After graduating from college in 1970, she headed for San Francisco, but her car broke down in Austin, Texas. Ball soon fell in love with the city and started performing with a blues-country band called Freda and The Firedogs. She soon started writing her own songs and getting deeply involved with the great New Orleans piano players, especially Professor Longhair, which Ball later, said upon learning about him, she had found her direction.

 

This interview with Austin singer/songwriter Marcia Ball spans from the dates of Apr. 17, 2002 prior to the WC Handy Awards in Memphis TN, to Nov. 12, 2002 . The first part is Apr. 17th, and then it will go directly to the present Apr. 17, 2002 This section is before the WC Handy awards in Memphis TN.

Q. First of all, I would like to say congratulations on your nominations for five WC Handy awards. Now, you have been a part of the Austin music scene for a little over 30 years, in your opinion when was the best time to be an Austinite involved in the music scene whether it be a fan or a musician?
A. Well, I would say that at the risk of sounding like one of those people, "it was so much better in the…" it would probably be around the middle of the 70s or early 80s for a lot of reasons: There were a lot of clubs, Shoal Creek was still going, Armadillo was still going Antone's opening, and many others; the country music scene had already peaked, and was still very active with Willie & The Wheels, Jerry Jeff Walker and all of us were still playing around town. Also, the blues thing was taking off big time with Jimmie Vaughan, Stevie & The Cobras, Lewis & The Legends. Austin still had its small town personality, rent was still cheap. With all of that combined, I think it made it a great five years.

Who are some of your favorite artists and influences, and why?

You know, it changes from day to day, week to week; it depends on who I see or hear. As far as long term, everybody knows Professor Longhair, Dr. John have been big influences on me, and even more lately would be James Booker; all of them are New Orleans piano players. As for songwriters, like I said, it is a matter of who I hear; like last night, I went to see JJ Cale, and I had forgotten how cool he was back in the 70s and how much he had affected me back then, and still does. Dan Penn, Randy Newman, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon.

 

Who are some of the best new acts you have come across recently?
One of the best newer acts I have seen in a while is a young woman named Ruthie Foster.

Out of all the albums you have recorded, which is your favorite?

You know, I do not ever have an answer to that; like the question about who influences me, it changes from day to day. I kind of go back, and judge them on specific and particular songs that I have written. There is a lot of good work on "Blue House" also, I have a tendency to forget what was on which album. "Gator Rhythms" is really the first album that I wrote a lot of the songs on, and am very proud of that record. I really like the way the newest one "Presumed Innocent" sounds; I think the songs are okay that I wrote, but I think we achieved something with the way that it sounds. I was pretty pleased with the production.

Well, since you do not have a favorite, which was the most interesting to record?

I would have to say that the last three records "Let Me Play With Your Poodle" "Blue House" and "Presumed Innocent" all of which I made here, all of which involved favorite people of mine. When I bring my band in, that is good, but I bring in people like Derek O'Brien, Roscoe Beck and Frosty is often involved on percussion, John Trainer on almost all of my previous albums. So, they just seem to get easier and easier to go through; it is always a pleasure working with those guys.

Now, as you said, your last album was called "Presumed Innocent" and it is up for two awards, Best Contemporary album of the year, and Best Blues album of the year; for fans who have not heard it yet, what can they expect to be some of the differences and similarities from previous albums?

Well, for one thing, I like the sound of the record; it has a full rich sound. I like how I sound on this one, that may be different. In terms of the way we chose the songs, we went for kind of a serious feel for the whole record, but I have to say that we got to a certain point. I just can't help it, I say, "We gotta party now!" What happens with my records is that they essentially sound like a set of my music; if you came to a gig there will be some serious heart-wrenching songs, and some get-down-and-party songs. It has all that on it; it is fairly typical of my work, just a cross section of what we do.

What can fans expect in the near future from you as far as a new album, tour or what have you?

Well, we have a busy summer, like last year. We have a good year coming up, some touring and working on new material for the next record. They will be hearing new material as we go. We are going to Jazz Fest in New Orleans, which we will have some new material for as well. We are moving right along as always.

How did your early band "Freda & The Firedogs" get its name?

We were talking about this the other day actually; nobody really knows except I guess all of us were denying accountability.

You have played in so many places all around, and so many artist who have done the same, all seem to have a favorite place where they truly enjoy playing, where else besides Austin would you say could be considered some favorite spots for you to play?

I like to play New Orleans, especially around the time of the Jazz Fest. We have a few places that we have been playing for years and years, one in Chicago called Fitzgerald's, and we have played the Grand Emporium in Kansas City for a long time. We love the Washington D.C. area.

So, you will be present at the WC Handy event?

Yes, most definitely. In fact, we will be performing at the event. Nov. 12, 2002 This section is prior to The Sandy Beaches Cruise headlined by Austin's own Delbert McClinton, featuring Marcia Ball,

Good to talk to you again. Now, what has happened since we last spoke at the WC Handy awards?

Well, we had a very busy, but good summer. We traveled all over the country, Europe, Italy, England, Belgium, we are back in the studio starting to record our new album. We hope to have this one out in the spring, but do not have a title for it just yet.

Tell me about the Sandy Beaches Cruise going on.

It is just a cruise with Delbert McClinton and Friends. Some of his friends include The Derailers, Tommy Castro, The Del McCoury Band, Jimmy Hall, Nick Connolly and many others. It is a week in the Caribbean Jan 11-18, 2003, anyone can call 1-800-Delbert to find out how to be a part of the cruise.

Now when you were younger, one of your influences was Irma Thomas. How did you get into her, and how did she help you out along the way?
Part of it was that her songs were on the radio in Louisiana where I grew up. So, whether I knew who it was or not, I had heard her music. When I was about 13, my cousin who lived in New Orleans and I went to a show, and Irma was on that show. She just blew my mind, and I just became a complete fan of her's, and I was young with no idea that I was going to end up playing music. When I finally did start playing, it seemed to be the sound I liked; so, I went and found all her old and new records, and later got to meet her. I got to record with her on a record called "Sing It" which was nominated for a Grammy.

Last time, I had asked you about some of your influences, and who you thought was pretty cool on the current music scene. Who out there now that is doing music is pretty interesting to you these days?
Well, I think that Susan Tedeschi is pretty interesting these days. She is the next standard barrier of at least some part of the blues. She is so much more versatile and varied than that, but she has a strong blues influence in her music. I also like Joan Osbourne a lot, and also still a lot of old blues like Etta James, Ann Peebles, a Memphis artist. I like a broad spectrum of stuff.


Brand new CD April 2003

So, will there be a tour after the cruise?
Well, we are making this album in the slight hole of the touring schedule. After that, we are going to go to California and back to Europe in March. Be expecting the record out in the spring.

 

By Jake Roussel / Jefferson #135

 


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