CONGRATS TO KAREN & HER RELEASE ‘STILL THE RAIN’ 3 BLUES MUSIC AWARD NOMINATIONS !
In just over a year, Karen Lovely has shot onto the blues scene like Stack O’ Lee’s pistol, capturing the 2nd Place Band Prize at the 2010 International Blues Challenge and picking up (2) Muddy Awards in 2009 for BEST NEW ACT & PERFORMANCE OF THE YEAR. Backed by her stellar band, this singer delivers a blistering mix of contemporary & old school blues.
I originally met Karen thru my work on FaceBook, and then in Memphis for the 2009 Blues Music Awards. She is a sweet. talented and honest woman. Just recently we spoke at legnth and I am thrilled to share it with all of you.
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To me it seems that the Pacific Northwest is becoming a breeding ground for some of the finest Blues music around. With you, Becki Sue & Her Big Rockin’ Daddies, Too Slim & Taildraggers and many more that fail to come to mind right now. Now that, the Pacific Northwest, is different to me, from West Coast Blues scene, and East Coast scene – does that jibe with your thinking?
KL:Well, I think the Pacific Northwest has a different vibe from the rest of the West Coast – hip & urban but sweet. In fact, I live in a mythical place called the State of Jefferson – an area of Northern California & Southern Oregon that has tried several times to secede from both states to become a 51st state. I grew up in Boston and lived in L.A for almost ten years, and the Pacific Northwest is just a unique place, maybe it’s a weather thing. There’s a really strong blues scene in the PNW, lot of great musicians, clubs and big events like Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival that people really support. I think the Cascade Blues Society has one of the biggest memberships in the country. But I think we’re all happy to be part of the Left Coast Blues family.
Yes, I have friends that have re-located to Portland area, and are so loving it. Where/when did you first start singing ? Tell us a little bit about your background.
KL: Well I sang really early on in the church choir – but it was funny how I got chosen to sing. I went to Catholic School, and there were 5 open spots for the choir. Two nuns walked up and down the aisles listening to everyone sing. If they liked you, they would tap you on the shoulder, and you were in. The first four got picked right away, then it was down to the last position and they kept stopping by me to listen, then they’d move on again…about 5 times. It was just torture. Finally, I heard a big sigh, a nun tapped me hard & said “Well it’s not that you are very good but you are loud and we could use some volume.” Hey, I had 8 younger brothers & sisters, if I could yell loud enough to call them to dinner, I didn’t have to go chase them down to do it. If you’ve seen a Prince Spaghetti commercial from the 60s, you’ll know what I mean.
That was basically it until I moved to London in 1987 and I would sing at parties while my boyfriend played guitar. One night a club owner heard me singing and asked if I could perform at one of his clubs the following week. My boyfriend said “Sure she can!” Then he told me that we had a gig the next week and that all we’d have to do is get another guitar player and learn 30 songs in 6 days. So we formed a trio with acoustic guitars and 3 part harmonies. We played a crazy mix of music – traditional folk tunes, classic blues, some Bobbie Gentry & The Beatles. That was my first real public performance. 6 months and 1 recording later, I broke up with my boyfriend, headed back to LA, and didn’t perform again professionally until September 29, 2007.
What made you come back ?
KL: I had just gone through probably the worst time of my life…kicked out the sociopath I was married to and was raising two kids with no child support. My daughter had severe asthma; my son was diagnosed with Still’s Disease and started having seizures. A family of raccoons moved in under my bathroom which was sweet until their fleas took up residence too. Then a storm knocked over the fence in my yard and the house became infested with mice which my kids & I thought were too cute to poison (hey, in Boston we had rats, so at first mice didn’t look so bad). Every day my son & I would catch & release about 8 mice. That lasted until the day I opened a jar of peanut butter & found a dead mouse inside. The nurse practitioner at my son’s rheumatologists said it was her professional opinion I needed to get out. She belonged to a choir, and invited me to join. I started out crying to half the songs, but I got a lot of strength from that group of women. I was offered the solo slot at the year-end concert. The night of the concert my knees were knocking, my palms were sweating; I was practically hyper-ventilating from fear. But I did it. And it was a great night. After that, I started doing singer showcases once a month. But what really got me back into music was that I started going to a blues jam once a week. The Blues became my home and my salvation. I fell in love with the music and decided to follow my heart.
The rest is history ! And we are glad you did. How is your son doing these days?
KL: He’s doing fine, in Middle School getting played by all the girls in spite of all the training his sister and I gave him. Ha!
Let’s fast forward to now . . .Still The Rain is a wonderful release, and has been very successful too. These don’t always go hand in hand, to what do you attribute the success?
KL: There are so many things that go into something like this. It’s always a team effort. I’ve been blessed to work with some amazing people: Dennis Walker & Alan Mirikitani, Jim Pugh, Richard Cousins, Lee Spath, Michael Vannice, and of course Lori Haynes, who has worked so hard to make this successful. “Still the Rain” has had great reviews in BluesWax, Blues Revue, Blues Matters and from Frank John Hadley at DownBeat. And of course, this record has had the support of a lot of DJs and fans – it’s done well in both national blues charts, and is now in its 20thconsecutive week on the national Roots Music Report Top 50 Blues chart. It has been a #1 Pick to Click on XM Radio Bluesville, a Top 10 Pick at Blues City Radio and featured on several podcasts. I owe a huge debt of thanks to Bill Wax, Tony Colter, Pat St. John at B.B. King’s Bluesville for playing this record & to all the Bluesville fans who have requested it – I’ve heard from XM fans all over the country. But I’m especially grateful to Bill Wax, who not only played my first record, Lucky Girl but told everybody he ran into on Beale Street at the 2010 IBC that they should come out & hear my band at the New Daisy. One of the things I am most proud of is having had two #1 Pick to Clicks on XM.
One of the nicest things that happened recently was when we did our Vibrato gig in LA and Janiva Magness came to our show – I thought it was so cool that she took the time from one of her rare nights off to come out & see and support us. One of my heroes, Bill Withers was there also, along with Babyface, comedian Chris Tucker and a lot of other famous people I might know if I got out more. Best of all, Dennis Walker and Al Mirikitani were both there. Dennis was sitting front row center. It was the first time he’d seen me perform live. He has taught me so much – he’s an amazing producer and songwriter. He and Al did such a great job on “Still The Rain” – every time I hear it, I’m just blown away.
That is something to be very proud of indeed, Karen. Could you give us the one thing that stands out from working with Dennis?
KL:Maybe the one most important thing was to keep it simple, strip it down, just because you CAN do something doesn’t mean you SHOULD. That’s the way he writes, produces and approaches things. I am working on that with my own song writing now.
Speaking of your first release “Lucky Girl’, it seemed, in comparison, almost innocent while Still the Rain is more self assured, much more like you.
KL: Lori Haynes and I produced the first record ourselves, as total newbies, but we were very unhappy with the way it was mixed and mastered. We went to Dennis to ‘fix’ it. Dennis and Al completely remixed everything, Al redid some of the musical arrangements, and he played guitar, bass & sax on different tracks. But for Still the Rain, Dennis had a particular vision for the way he wanted to present me as a vocalist. He & Al wrote songs specifically for me and we went back & forth for almost a year picking just the right tunes, although from the first time I ever heard them, I wanted to do Still the Rain and Never Felt No Blues. Dennis and Al wrote all the songs on “Still the Rain” except for Knock-Knock, (which I wrote). Dennis is probably best known for his work with Robert Cray, but he’s also worked with Betty LaVette, B.B. King, and so many other blues greats. So for me, knowing his abilities and all his talents and knowing that he believed in me was huge. Plus working with Jim Pugh, Richard Cousins and everyone else – wow, how can you not feel the music with players like that?
They are a fabulous group of players, I just saw Robert and the band recently – amazing. Tony Braunagel came over and said hi (actually gave me his sticks) that was so sweet of him.
KL: Tony is a sweetheart! We like it when our blues artists come down and spend time with us. As a performer, that is one of the things I like the most. I love meeting people after a show – I feel that I owe them that. They have given me their attention and respect, it’s important to me to come out and say ‘Hey, thank you for being here.’ That’s one of the coolest things for me – to hear what they have to say, and what they got out of my show. It tells me I’ve connected with the people.
That might be the one of the thing that blew me away about the Blues Family/Community is the availability of artists to their fans. It seems y’all are fans as well as we are, as you stated earlier, Janiva comes to see your show, I have seen artists show up just to watch peers perform. You guys are always willing to talk, hug, take pictures with all of us fans. It’s incredible and I believe, unique to the Blues..
KL: I totally love it! I am a fan, too, so it does go both ways. I live by a very simple philosophy: honor yourself, honor your gift, honor the music, honor the people you play with and honor the audience. Be present. Those things are really important to me. That is what success is to me. I feel that as a performer I want to know that I am reaching people. After the show I want to literally reach them and I want to know that they had a good time. When I go to a show I love it when performers come out and talk. Janiva comes out, Curtis Salgado, so many do, and that’s a huge thing. I like hearing from people, I love to know that when I sing – when I interpret a story – that it connects with the listener.
Well that’s what the Blues is – it is oral history – it all started as story telling and got put to music. Or as Victoria Spivey said, “The Blues is life and life is the Blues. It covers from the first cry of a newborn to the last gasp of a dying man. It’s the very existence”.
KL: The Blues came from people who had lives so hard we cannot even comprehend it. What amazes me is that they sang to transcend that life, to go to a place of joy – they took the pain and made it into music – made it into joy. Michael Vannice shared some field recordings/chants that are unbelievable, just voices and clapping, but it will blow your socks off, you can feel the power. You feel the heritage there, and especially for me as a woman, when I think of Bessie Smith, Alberta Hunter, Ma Rainey – how these women were responsible for making the blues so popular and accessible. Bessie Smith helped save Columbia Records twice from bankruptcy.
The blues is so honest, so real, no apologies, no griping…it’s life. The Blues is our musical heritage, the Blues birthed everything. I’m very proud to be a blues artist.
So Karen, with the past behind us, and a strong position now, what do you see for the near future? What do you want to do?
KL: We signed a distribution deal with Burnside Records this past August. We’re starting to tour outside the west coast. We’ll be playing at Canal Bank Shuffle in Ontario, Canada October 23, January 22nd we’ll be in Arizona and January 29thwe’re doing a show in Redding, CA with Earl Thomas. And this February we’ll be performing in Florida. We’re working on national & international booking. The response to my band and the music has been so gratifying, I’m looking forward to bringing it people outside the Pacific Northwest who have become fans. Festivals, workshops, cruises, get me out there with the fans so we can connect more. I would love to get all over the country and world, so come on folks call us up!
Well, I am sure that will happen very soon,and i see a BMA nomination for you. You heard it here first.
Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
Photos courtesy of: Tony Gieske (International Review of Music), Julie Nelson, Leslie K. Joseph