Friday, December 2, 2016

Ten Questions With.....Kat Riggins, Lex Grey, Holly Hyatt, Sari Schorr, Teresa James, & Gina Sicilia.

Over the past few months, your humble correspondent has seen a large number of releases by female blues artists.  All of them have been excellent and each release easily blends other styles with the blues, whether it's old school R&B, jazz, folk, rock, country, gospel, and even hip-hop, not to mention the various styles of blues that are touched on.  The end result with each release has been a fresh, new perspective on the blues itself.

This week, FBF sits down with six of the ladies who have just released brand new albums.  Some of them you  may be familiar with, others you  may not, but I'm pretty comfortable promising that you will soon be wanting to hear more from each of them.  I've been really impressed with each of these ladies and their different approaches to singing the blues.  Not only will we find out about their new releases (and hear a few tracks from each), but you'll get to know a bit more about them beyond their music.  Friday Blues Fix thanks all of these ladies for taking time to answer our Ten Questions.  So, without further ado......

Ten Questions With.......Kat Riggins, Lex Grey, Holly Hyatt, Sari Schorr, Teresa James, and Gina Sicilia

Friday Blues Fix:  For starters, would you ladies like to share with our readers a little bit about your latest projects?

Kat Riggins:  Sure! On August 4th I released my Blues Revival album. Of the 10 songs on the album, 2 are covers chosen for their sentiment and groove, while the other 8 I wrote. They blend traditional blues with some elements of gospel, southern rock and even hints of hip-hop.  “Blues Is the New Black”, for example, is an up-tempo tune about blues music making a comeback. The lyrics are set in a foot stompin’ celebration of gospel drums and bass with blues guitar holding it all together.  “Good Girl Blues” is about cutting loose from society’s expectations of what a proper young lady is and just enjoying life. In it you can pick up on hints of urban drums and funk bass. Then there are songs like “Queen Bee” and “Wail Away,” which are straight forward blues grooves all the way! 

Lex Grey:  In addition to the recent release of Heal My Soul and its great response, I am inspired to keep writing, recording and of course, performing live!

Holly Hyatt:  I am currently touring and promoting my third CD Shufflin the Blues, release with Jon Burden. The CD was recorded live at the Silverton Gallery in BC (a great old heritage building). It is a mix of Chicago blues, acoustic blues, some covers and original songs. It has been getting great reviews and airplay, and I have had a lot of fun promoting it.

Sari Schorr:  We’ve just released A Force of Nature worldwide in September on Manhaton Records. The album is produced by legendary blues pioneer Mike Vernon, whose credits include Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall & the Blues Breakers, David Bowie, Savoy Brown, Chicken Shack, Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Christine McVie and Ten Years After. This album is my life’s work and I’m immensely grateful to all the musicians who gave so generously of their time and talents. It’s an honor to have Walter Trout, Innes Sibun, Oli Brown and John Baggott featured on the album.
I never imagined A Force of Nature would hit #1 in the UK! I also never thought I’d be on magazine covers or nominated for two European Blues Awards. It’s an unexpected reward for all the years I’ve dedicated myself to the Blues.

Teresa James:  I am very excited about my new CD, Bonafide – my husband, Terry Wilson, has written some great songs for it and I have been blessed to have some amazing players on it… we have been working on it for a long time, so I am very happy with the way it came out…

Gina Sicilia:  I'm really proud of my latest project, which is my sixth studio release, and what I believe is my best music to date. It's a 5-song EP called Sunset Avenue. I recorded it on Philadelphia with my producer Glenn Barratt. It features some amazingly talented musicians from Philly and Detroit and definitely has a cool soul vibe. I'm very proud of the original songs, which are extremely personal, possibly my most personal songs up to this point. They're all true stories. That's the direction I definitely want to keep going in, because I have a lot more stories to tell. I'll be releasing the full-length follow up early next year on Blue Élan Records. 

FBF:  What is your favorite song on your latest album and why is it your favorite?

Kat Riggins:  All of the songs mean something special to me, but since I can only choose one I’d say “Murphy’s Law”. It’s meant to be sort of an inspirational anthem that encourages people to take ownership of their fate and not just chalk up everything that goes wrong in life to that old adage.  It’s about learning and growing from those things and doing better as a result.

Lex Grey:  Each time I think about that question I have a different favorite.  That has also been true with our audience.  One song does not stand out above the others, they are all a different scene in a very personal movie.  This week my favorite is “Heal My Soul” since we just released this video filmed throughout Brooklyn, including one of my favorite haunts, Coney Island.

Holly Hyatt:  My favorite song is “Black Crow”. It was co-written with Jon and was just one of those songs that came together effortlessly. I always enjoy performing that song because it allows me to dip into the genres of Jazz and Folk. I can really focus on the poetic lyrics and how I want to portray them with my voice.

Sari Schorr:  I don’t have a favorite song on the album. They are all extensions of myself. That being said, different songs at different times have a greater resonance. It’s my birthday today and I am feeling a deep sense of gratitude for everything I have and so blessed for all the wonderful people who have come into my life. The song I wrote in Germany, “Ordinary Life” is speaking to me now.

Teresa James:  Hmmm. There are a couple that I really love – the title cut, ‘Bonafide’ is probably my favorite – both to listen to and to sing. It has such a cool rhythmic thing going on and I love the attitude of the lyric. We were very fortunate to have Jay Bellarose play drums on it – he has such a unique style and it added a little different flavor that I just love. I also really like the 5 Royales tune that opens the record - 'I Like It Like That' - too much fun.

Gina Sicilia:  That would be a song I wrote called “Never Gonna End.”  It's a laid back, soulful tune with a definite pop sensibility. I'm proud not only of the melody because I think it's catchy, but also if the lyrics. They're simple but written about something important, which is the political and social divide that's happening in America. It's pretty ugly and getting worse every day, especially with our recent election. The specific things that inspired me to write these lyrics are The Black Lives Matters movement as well as the debate over the Confederate Flag that happened in the aftermath of the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting in 2015. I wrote this song about the racial divide in America, but because of the lyrics, a lot of people are under the impression that it's about a relationship. It's basically an observation of what's happening and how they are, as the lyrics say, never gonna end. 

FBF:  What is it about music, and the blues in particular, that led you to become a performer?

Kat Riggins

Kat Riggins:  Music has always been a constant in my life. It is one of the few things in life that is. Blues music has a voice that mine can relate to! It can be as in your face or as subtle as it wants to be.  There’s a power behind the rawness and honesty of the blues that can’t be denied. That’s why I’m in love with it. I know that my purpose is to spread that love in order to help keep the genre alive. God would have given me a much different voice than the one that I have if I was meant to sing anything else!

Lex Grey:  I have always loved seeing live music of all kinds but the pure earthiness of the Blues has always drawn me in. From the very first time I saw a concert, I knew that I wanted to be on stage expressing myself.

Holly Hyatt:  I have been singing and playing bass from a young age, so music has always felt really natural for me. I received a vocal scholarship while in high school, singing with the big band and went on to study voice privately for 3 years. Then after graduating high school I went on to study Jazz at college, majoring in voice and performance. The whole time I was also playing a lot of gigs and writing songs. So becoming a performer has been a very natural progression. I was exposed to a lot of blues music while I was growing up and it just spoke to something inside of my soul.  Even as a child I knew blues was real music, full of feeling, passion and life. The first song I wrote was a slow blues about my pet rooster, called “Freddie’s Blues.”

Sari Schorr:  I’ve always considered myself a storyteller. I’m drawn to the Blues because there’s a pureness in the music that allows an honest dialogue to happen between the performer and the audience.

Teresa James:  When I was a kid I studied classical piano and had aspirations of being a classical pianist and then when I was around 11 years old I heard Janis Joplin singing “Ball and Chain” and it was all over. That was the first time I had ever heard anyone singing with that kind of passion and I knew right then that I wanted to sing and play the blues.

Gina Sicilia:  Well I've been singing my whole life. I can't remember a time when I didn't want to be a singer and I've always been a huge music lover. It's just always moved me beyond description and there's nothing else I've ever wanted to do. When I was around 13 or 14 years old I discovered Blues and Soul. That music just felt instantly familiar to me. It's hard to describe the feeling, but it just spoke to me and even though it was new to me, it felt like I had been listening to it my entire life. 

FBF:  Do any of you come from musically-inclined family backgrounds?  What did your families do to help you achieve your goals along the way?

Kat Riggins:  Well, everyone on my father’s side possesses some musical talent. Almost all of them can sing their butts off! A few are blessed with the talent to play instruments also.  On my mom’s side everyone can dance! So my house was always jumpin’!!! Though no one in my family was “in the biz”, I have always gotten tremendous support from them. I was always encouraged to audition for this or that as a child. Their faces filled the audience! Even now that I’m singing for a living, the support continues.  I’m grateful for that!

Lex Grey

Lex Grey:  Not only are there no musicians in my family, I was constantly discouraged from pursuing a life in the arts.  Maybe that's why I have fought for my dream so hard!

Holly Hyatt:  I always say music is in my blood. I was a road baby, born and bred into the music business. My Dad is a professional musician and I grew up going to his gigs and listening to him play guitar at home. My maternal Grandfather was a musician, who could play multiple instruments and built violins. My Great Grandmother was also an amazing musician who played violin in the orchestra pits for the silent movies. So yes music is a huge part of my family!  My Dad got me up on stage around age 6, put me in vocal lessons and even borrowed a bass from his friend so I could play with the school band in Grade 5. I am blessed with a wonderful, supportive family. They have helped me to achieve my goals in more ways than I can mention.

Sari Schorr:  My family was always very supportive. My mom was a fashion model, my dad an Air Force pilot. They believed in me and that helped me believe in myself. There was always music playing in the house from my dad’s huge record collection. He loved jazz, rock and R&B. But, it was my grandmother, Bertha who really encouraged me to be a singer. It was her dream, sadly she was forbidden and forced to become a bookkeeper. I carry on in her name.

Teresa James:  There was always music playing at my house - my folks had an amazing collection of records and a wide variety of music that they listened to. My dad played a little guitar and they would have 'hootenannies' where they would have their friends over to play and sing. Both of my parents were very supportive of my music as I was growing up and even today, my 93 year old dad comes to almost every one of my gigs.

Gina Sicilia:  I come from a family of music lovers and my dad and brother are both musically talented. My brother is a great multi-instrumentalist, with his primary instrument being piano, and he's also a great singer. My dad loves music and also plays accordion. There was also music of all kinds being played in the house when I was growing up, and its influence in me was enormous. 

FBF:  Who do each of you list as musical influences……songwriters, singers, musicians?

Kat Riggins:  There are so many!!!  I gotta say, Tina Turner, Koko Taylor, Janis Joplin, Gladys Knight, Betty Wright, Sam Cooke, Donny Hathaway, Ray Charles… honestly there are too many to list!

Lex Grey:  I love the old school blues women, Billie, Bessie, Etta, Ella, Ma Rainey, when I first heard Nina Simone I nearly died.  I love lyricists and poets that give you a window on their world. Leonard Cohen, Suzanne Vega and Tim Buckley come to mind.

Holly Hyatt

Holly Hyatt:  For singers I would say Etta James, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Karrin Allyson and Eva Cassidy. I love Susan Tedeschi, Jewel, and Neil Young for songwriters. Bonnie Raitt is a huge influence for me because she sings, plays guitar and writes. I have recently started upright bass lessons and have really gotten into Ray Brown. For singing female bass players I say Esperanza Spalding takes the cake!

Sari Schorr:  As a writer, I’ve been most influenced by the poetry of Emily Dickenson and the lyrics of Bob Dylan. As a singer, I was influenced by the great classic female blues singers like Mamie Smith, Ma Rainey, and Bessie Smith. I must also acknowledge blues-rock singer Martha Velez who made some great records in the late 60’s and early 70’s. We have some shared experiences. Martha also trained as an opera singer and she also worked with Mike Vernon. It was a dream come true to meet her. We were playing a festival in Florida and she came to see us. Martha is my mentor and role model. She is an inspiration.

Teresa James:  That's a big question- there are so many! When I first decided to become a singer, I listen to every singer I ever heard of from Koko Taylor to Billie Holiday to really obscure stuff just to see how they sang and how they did that they did. I would have to say that Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Janis Joplin and even some of the old time country singers were huge influences on my singing. 

Gina Sicilia:  Great singers and artists....Aretha Franklin, Otis Rush, Sam Cooke, Stevie Wonder, The Soul Stirrers and all the great gospel groups, Etta James, Bobby Bland, James Carr, Ray Charles, Dolly Parton, the list goes on... 

FBF:  If you weren’t a musician, what do you think you would be doing?

Kat Riggins:  I’d be working towards BEING a musician!

Lex Grey:  I may have pursued my career in the film business as an art director.  I still do an occasional feature film when I have the time and I am the production designer for all 3 of the band's new videos.  In a Bizarro world, I might have been a trauma surgeon.

Holly Hyatt:  I am a Mother to a 2 and 5 year old, so I am a full time Mama. As for an alternate career I would probably become a vegetarian food blogger, because I love to cook and am passionate about healthy living.

Sari Schorr

Sari Schorr:  I can’t imagine my life without being a musician. It defines who I am. But, humanitarian work has always been my other passion. The work I’ve done in Haiti and India has changed my life. I’d do much more of that.

Teresa James:  I have no idea. I knew that I wanted to play music from the time I was five years old so I'm guessing it would have something to do with music. I've always thought it would be fun to have a little general store somewhere and have music on Friday and Saturday nights. I don't know - I would have to think about that long and hard; if I couldn't play music - I'm not sure what I would do.

Gina Sicilia:  In college I majored in journalism and interned at radio stations, newspapers and at NBC in Philadelphia. If I wasn't singing I probably would have followed that path and worked in television or film. 

FBF:  When you’re not making music, what are you usually doing?  Do you have a hobby or favorite activity, or a passion away from music?

Kat Riggins:  I love eating, travelling…travelling to eat! I love trying new things. I’m a bit of an adventurer when it comes to stuff like that. I enjoy learning about different cultures. I love learning about the languages, the customs, the art and the MUSIC. There’s a whole wide world out there to explore!

Lex Grey:  I am a Yoga instructor and practitioner.  I am an organic gardener and I raise heirloom chickens for eggs. I love to go to yard sales and flea markets in search of the ultimate weird thing, as depicted in our song “Junkman.”

Holly Hyatt:  I love to spend time in nature; gardening, rock climbing, hiking, cross country skiing. I love to bake, spend time with my husband, and play with my kids. I journal a lot, read books, do yoga, and write poetry.

Sari Schorr:  When I’m not making music, I love spending time with my husband and our lovable pit bull triplets. I miss them all terribly when I’m on the road. And, continuing with the humanitarian work I’ve started is really important to me. I also love running. I’m hoping to do my 3rd marathon next year.

Teresa James

Teresa James:  I like to read a lot and love to go to the movies (although that might be more about the popcorn...). Mostly when I'm not making music or working on things that go along with that, i'm usually doing laundry or cleaning my house which is a never ending battle.

Gina Sicilia:  When I'm home in Nashville and not on the road, I absolutely love cooking. It's a creative outlet for me. I love cooking for people and creating new recipes. I truly enjoy that. I also love watching movies, which are the ultimate escape and can be very inspiring. Anything that takes me away from this often stressful career and lets me be inspired and creative and feel gratified in ways that don't involve music.

FBF:  Where do you go to “escape” from the rat race?  Do you have a special place where you go to get away from it all, or a place where you would love to go?

Kat Riggins:  It may sound cliché, but a hot bath with all the fixins really does the trick! Hook me up with some candles, music and a glass of wine and I’m good to go. When I’m feeling like escaping into nature I go where there’s water… the beach, a lake, someplace pretty so that I can reflect on my blessings and give thanks.  When I’m grateful I remind myself that I really have nothing to complain about. The “rat race” becomes background noise.

Lex Grey:  I am an avid hiker, motorcyclist and kayaker.  When I'm not on stage or thundering through New York City dressed to kill, I am hiking through the mountains of upstate New York with my dog.

Holly Hyatt:  When I feel like I need to ground myself I try and connect with nature. If I am on the road I go for walks in the morning. If I am at home, my special place is the Slocan River. I also love alpine meadows, but only get up in the high country a few times a year. I dream of hiking Machu Picchu in Peru and rock climbing Mt. Gimli in the Valhalla range.

Sari Schorr:  I love the countryside and the mountains. It’s a big contrast to life in Brooklyn, NY. I really enjoy a quaint little bed & breakfast where I can unwind and write some music. I find inspiration in the tranquility there.

Teresa James:  I don't really get much chance to escape exactly, pretty much every vacation we ever take has a gig involved with it, but we do get to go to some pretty great places, and I always try to take advantage of being somewhere new. I have also been very fortunate the last few years that I've been able to go on the Delbert McClinton Sandy Beaches cruise and I have been able to bring my family along, and since I only do a few shows during the week it is a very special chance to spend time relaxing and being with family.

Gina Sicilia

Gina Sicilia:  I love to go walking in the woods in this beautiful park in Pennsylvania where my family lives. It's a great place to meditate, clear my mind and escape from all the noise. 

FBF:  Which artists and what kinds of music do you listen to when you’re not performing… home, on the go, etc…?

Kat Riggins:  Great question! I’m all over the place!!! Of course I get into my trusty blues favorites like John Primer, Buddy Guy, Bonnie Raitt, Shemekia, and Beth Hart and so on. Then there are days when I’m all about India Arie, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Janelle Monae and those. On other days I need some Common, Rakim, Nas, Jay Z, etc.  When I’m feelin’ my Gretchen Wilson, Toby Keith and Charlie Daniels the day is gonna be interesting.  The days to watch for are when I put it all on SHUFFLE!!!

Lex Grey:  Surprisingly, I listen to a lot of Indian and far-eastern music when I practice yoga. I also love jazz, both experimental and big band. I can listen to Louis Armstrong and Cannonball Adderley any time. I even have a chicken named Cannonball! I love classic rock and old soul. I even go through periods of chamber music exclusively. It drives the band crazy! Strangely, the whole band can sing along to almost any show tune!

Holly Hyatt:  A real mix: Susan Tedeschi, Bonnie Raitt, Karrin Allyson, Billie Holiday, Norah Jones, Alicia Keys, Amy Winehouse, Adele and the Neville Brothers.  I have recently been listening to T-Bone Walker, Anson Funderburgh, Charles Baty and a lot of Aretha Franklin.

Sari Schorr:  I listen to a lot of classic blues. There’s so much music of historical value to explore. I love digging deeper and deeper into blues history. It’s a never-ending treasure chest.

Teresa James: I like to mix it up, but most of the stuff I listen to tends to be fairly vintage stuff. My playlist runs from old time country like the Carter Family and Western Swing to Jimmy Reed, Big Mama. I have been on a 5 Royales kick lately and I love Cuban music... I like to listen to any music that moves me.

Gina Sicilia:  I love listening to 50's/60's music on satellite radio, as well as classic country tunes. As far as a contemporary performer goes, I love Brandi Carlile. 

FBF:  What message would each of you like to give to any people who would like to become a singer/songwriter/musician?

Kat Riggins:  Be encouraged! Music is one of the greatest gifts one can give and receive. If this is something you NEED to be doing, don’t let all the hard work discourage you. Be encouraged by the fact that your blessing will be a blessing to someone else! I can’t wait to hear what you create!

Lex Grey:  If you sing, write songs and/or play an instrument, you already are a musician. The degree you choose to pursue it is up to you. I can’t imagine not doing what I do; it's the driving force of my existence. You can choose to ignore the business end of it, but you don’t have to be in the music business to be a musician. Play, write, jam and always bring your whole heart, soul, experience and truth to your music. People will listen!

Holly Hyatt:  Enjoy performing as much as possible and pass that joy on to your audience. Also write your own songs. Songwriting is a skill that serves a musician well.

Sari Schorr:  Seek your own voice. Find your inspiration in the world around you. Take an interest in people and their lives. That will become a great resource for your writing.

Teresa James:  Be yourself! Don't let what is popular influence what you do. It's important to listen to all kinds of music so you can discover what resonates with you; allow yourself to explore the kind of music that really makes you feel good and build on that.

Gina Sicilia:  Work hard, work hard, work hard. Be persistent. Don't be afraid to put yourself out there and take matters into your own hands. Do whatever needs to be done to reach your goals. That might include booking your own shows. Don't wait for anyone to come along and do these things for you. Early on, no one will invest as much time in your career as you will. If someone does come along who wants to handle things for you, always maintain a certain amount of control over what's happening. Don't sit back and relax. Don't rest on your laurels.   Always strive to be better. Keep moving, even through the disappointments. Never give up.


Kat Riggins

Lily Rose  (2014)

Blues Revival (2016)

Lex Grey & the Urban Pioneers

Deal Me In (1996)

beg...borrow....STEAL!  (2000)

Body of Work (2005)

Va Va Voom (2007)

Heal My Soul (2016)

Holly Hyatt and Jon Burden

Big Wind On The Way (2005)

1929:  The Summit Sessions (2012)

Shufflin'' The Blues (2016)

Sari Schorr

A Force of Nature (2016)

Teresa James & the Rhythm Tramps

The Whole Enchilada (1998)

Live  (2000)

The Rhythm Method (2005)

The Bottom Line (2007)

Country By Request (2008)

Oh Yeah  (2008)

You Know You Love It (2010)

Come On Home (2012)

Bonafide (2016)

Gina Silicia

Allow Me To Confess (2007)

Hey Sugar (2008)

Can't Control Myself (2011)

It Wasn't Real (2013)

Sunset Avenue (2016)

A big THANK YOU to Frank Roszak for making this Ten Questions possible!! 

No comments: