Is there a significance to the title for your new CD, “Lucky Dogs”?
You’ve assembled an interesting group of musicians for your back up band on this CD, could you let us know what particular specialty, ability or reason you picked these musicians?
They are all masters of their craft. I like to run my band partly like a jamband. The songs have structure and it’s not like everyone is wailing all at the same time because the most important thing is to get the song across clearly, but as a jazz lover I need improvisation in my music. I am the type of singer who will change phrasing depending on my mood. I try to sing the lyrics and get the feeling across and sometimes that involves diversion of time and melody from where I may have sang it the last time. I make sure each band member has time to solo. This makes the experience fun for everyone and gives all the players a chance to express themselves and their interpretation of the song–to add their true authentic voice into the chorus of this music. The most important thing I tell anyone who plays with me is that dynamics are key. We should be able to take any song from a whisper to a wail and back again just by listening to each other and honoring the space for the song itself.
I’ll start with Jeff Pevar, a world class guitarist who has played with some of my favorite all time musicians: Ray Charles, Rickie Lee Jones, and David Crosby among many many others. The guy can rip unlike any other yet he is so subtle when the song calls for that. He is as comfortable playing a one chord swell as he is playing a crazy rock guitar solo and everything in between. It is rare to find that kind of skill and sensitivity in a guitarist!
Damian Erskine is a profoundly talented bassist. The nephew of Jazz drummer Peter Erskine, he was exposed to musical greats at a young age. Damian is making a name for himself as a monster player. What I love about Damian is his ability to keep the groove so tight and simple and then when I give him “the nod” to solo he plays with intelligence, passion, and emotion. I love his tone and he really gets my sense of timing so our groove which makes me want to “saaanggg” not just sing.
Mikey Stevens is a musicians musician. He plays trumpet and flugelhorn like nobodies business and is sensitive and respectful to the tunes. Mikey is a powerful magician who emotes with every note. I met Mikey playing music around a campfire some 15 years ago. He has been playing, touring, and recording for over 40 years and his experience and expertise were invaluable in the studio. Having toured with the likes of Maynard Furgeson, locals may know him best for his work with Gypsy Soul. Duke Davis comes from the music loving family who created the Applegate River Lodge and he has shared his gorgeous saxophone tone with hundreds of artists over the years at the lodge.
On Lucky Dogs, did you have an idea for the CD as a whole or did it materialize one song at a time?
The album is a combination of songs from over the years. Brand new songs and songs that I have held back from recording for one reason or another. Every record is different but they all have this organic way of birthing. The songs are diverse, but I think there is a theme of gratitude, celebration of life and appreciation throughout. Songs need to steep for me. Like brewing tea or making wine. Sometimes you have to let them steep for a few months, sometime for many years. “It’s a Miracle” was written in 1988 and recorded on my second album in 1989 of the same name. It was time to re-record it because the song has grown, my voice has grown, and my sense of groove has grown.
Is there a particular musical artist or group you would say not only influenced but inspired you too?
First and foremost is Stevie Wonder. I got “Songs in the Key of Life” for my 11th birthday and it changed my life. I learned every note on that album. I sang the vocal parts, the instrumental parts, the drum rhythms. I studied it and loved it and it inspired me beyond words. Since then I have had many inspirations musically and vocally including Abbey Lincoln, Ernestine Anderson, Nancy King, Kate Wolf, Yma Sumac, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Betty Carter. Gosh there are so many! I really love jazz. Locally, Bil Leonhart has been a big inspiration. His musicality and intelligence immediately caught my attention. I took a few guitar lessons from him many years ago and he introduced me to my most profound teacher, P. Peter Sacco, who has since passed away. Peter made me sing things that I would never have thought to work on and helped me develop my palate of vocal colors. He was a brilliant light and one of the biggest inspirations for me as a singer.