Female singer and guitarist silhouette on violet background.

EQUAL TIME FOR EQUAL INFLUENCERS

Among the myriad of extraordinary voices from stages past and present, there are in my mind three voices from popular music history that must be recognized as ‘game changers’ for generations of female vocalists. Time is due these icons, to recount their stories of struggle with gender inequality and personal demons to define their musical generation, not just as women, but as forces of nature. At a time in our musical journey when female artists dominate our airwaves with stamina and grace, paying homage to these three in particular is long overdue.

Beginning with present day, who can argue the power and impact that Stevie Nicks has had on several generations of music lovers? During the mid-seventies when the rock genre was saturated with post psychedelic era male voices, Stevie quickly became more than just a breath of fresh air. Her distinctive tone and carefully crafted persona would make Nicks one of the most notable collaborators for decades, including today. More importantly, Stevie Nicks is widely considered to be one the greatest songwriters of all time. Deeply rooted in symbolism, songs like ‘Landslide’ and ‘Rhiannon’ carry the distinctively ‘Stevie Nicks’ stamp that has made her a rock icon; male or female. Her personal relationship conflicts and struggles with substance abuse are well documented. Through all that though, she is today still one of the most sought out singer-songwriters by other musicians from varying genres. Along with her successes with Fleetwood Mac and Lindsey Buckingham before and after, Nicks has worked with star performers Don Henley, Tom Petty, and Dave Stewart to name a few.

Incredibly though with all her body of work post and prior to Fleetwood Mac days, Stevie has never been honoured with a personal Grammy award. When you consider the lyrical genius and artistry of her voice, and songs with her own lyrics like, ‘Edge of Seventeen’, ‘Stand Back’, and ‘Talk to Me’ just to name a very few, one can only wonder at this omission. Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Rumours’ album is generally regarded as one of Nicks’ crowning achievements, but Stevie has gone on to record multiple successful solo albums and duets with pop’s most famous names. Dubbed the ‘Queen of Rock and Roll’, Stevie Nicks remains to be a major influence on musicians both male and female who follow in her footsteps. Along with Grace Slick from ‘Jefferson Airplane’ fame, Stevie Nicks has often cited our next icon as a huge influence on her own career.

Janis Lyn Joplin emerged out of Port Arthur, Texas as an awkward and troubled teenager, to become one of the tumultuous and frenzied ‘sixties’ most defining voices. Who can deny the impact Joplin’s bluesy rasp has had on Rock music history? From her breakthrough appearance on stage at the Monterey Festival in the summer of 1967, Janis gave clear notice there would only be one true Queen of the psychedelic era. Had she been able to successfully fight the demons of drug and alcohol abuse, there’s no telling what heights she would have scaled as a vocal phenomenon. When Joplin took to the mic, she commanded an audience’s attention through the sheer force of her instrument.

Without her renditions on songs like ‘Ball & Chain’, ‘Summertime’, ‘Piece of My Heart’, and ‘Cry Baby’, in my opinion Big Brother and the Holding Company would have been just another ‘sixties’ rock band. Stevie Nicks in fact summed up Joplin perfectly stating, “Janis put herself out there completely, and her voice was not only strong and soulful, it was painfully and beautifully real”, adding also that, “she brought her own dangerous, sexy rock & roll edge to every single song.” I believe Janis Joplin’s beauty transcended the physical the moment she began to sing. How we’ve been robbed of a richer legacy from this marvel of vocal talent.

Joplin’s own influences are found in the jazz and blues singers from earlier eras, so much so that she was possessed to erect a stone tablet on the unmarked grave of the great Bessy Smith. Admittedly, my knowledge of Smith’s influence as an artist is limited, but her impact as a pioneer for female vocalists, is undeniable. However, there is one other woman from the same era who I believe deserves accolades beyond any other. As a black female working with some of the greatest names in jazz, both black and white, this magnificent talent needs to be revered and remembered.

When she arrived on the American jazz music scene in the late nineteen twenties, Billie Holiday offered a sultriness and bluesy improvisation skill never before heard. ‘Lady Day’, as she became known, trail blazed a path for female singers in America, no matter their race, for generations. Born Eleanora Fagan in 1915, she later adopted the surname of her estranged father, who was a travelling jazz banjo player. It would be Billie Holiday’s vocal styling that would pioneer a new jazz age in the thirties and forties. It was almost as if she deliberately lagged behind the beat of the music when she sang. In a 1958 interview the legendary crooner Frank Sinatra noted, “With few exceptions, every major pop singer in the US during her generation has been touched in some way by her genius. It is Billie Holiday who was, and still remains, the greatest single musical influence on me. Lady Day is unquestionably the most important influence on American popular singing in the last twenty years.”

Strangely though, this supremely talented woman, when travelling with an all-white orchestra wasn’t even allowed to ride in the same elevator with them, much less stay in the same hotel. Ironically, Holiday’s biggest break came when she reluctantly agreed to sing a stirring poem detailing lynching of blacks in America. ‘Strange Fruit’ remains one of the most haunting numbers ever recorded. Fearing retaliation of some kind when she first sang it, Billie’s soulful tones blister with an empathy that can only be described as naked honesty and emotion. When the song later became part of her performance repertoire, many have told of the stirring silence that befell a room whenever she began to sing those disturbing lyrics. ‘Strange Fruit’ was of the biggest risk taking efforts in an era of social unrest, so it took a special person like Billie to command an audience’s attention.

If you haven’t availed yourself the opportunity to learn about Holiday’s career, consider her song writing prowess as proof of her genius. ‘Lady Sings the Blues’, and ‘God Bless the Child’, which was inspired by an argument over money with her mother, are testaments to her greatness. When she sang her own ‘Fine and Mellow’ during a rare TV appearance, it was as if she were bearing her soul right on camera. The interchange between herself and lifelong friend and soulmate, saxophone player Lester ‘The Prez’ Young, is nothing short of electric, especially when you consider their mutual history. I urge you to spend some valuable time with ‘Lady Day’, and learn the story of a remarkable human being. She was certainly no shrinking violet, but for better or worse, Billie Holiday mostly lived her life on her own terms. The same is also true for Joplin and Nicks. May the memory of ‘Lady Day’s’ inspiration, and that of Janis and Stevie who followed, live on forever.

 

blues in the air

WHISPERS ON THE WIND LIKE MUSIC TO MY EARS

Growing up, I listened to one musician with a continual sense of awe and wonderment more than any other. He picked up a guitar for the first time at the age of 13, and learned to play a few chords on his own sitting alone in his room. He never learned to read music or take playing lessons, but instead developed fingering skills through constant practice and perseverance. By the age of nineteen, his proficiency with the instrument grew to extraordinary heights. His sound was reminiscent of the late, great Terry Kath, or at times homage to Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, and Alvin Lee. His influences were deeply entrenched in blues roots, but his artistry knew no bounds.

One day he sat down at his grandmother’s piano for some simple lessons, and after about an hour of instruction and some simple duets, he began to play solo rock classics by Little Richard, John Lennon and Elton John. It was as if he were a conduit for music to flow through. Progressions came as easily to him as drawing breath. Eventually, he began writing his own material, making up melodies as he strummed chords in solitude. His rich tones and melodic blues and folk numbers grew more sophisticated with every new piece. Few however, would ever enjoy the opportunity to hear his original work.

There are people who pass through this world possessing gifts that can only be described as unworldly. This man that I speak of was one such individual. If you’re trying to guess who I’m talking about, you needn’t bother. You’ve never heard of him, or even heard him play. His name was Gerry and he was my brother. It’s been almost thirty years since his passing, but even now, in the still quiet of the evening I can still hear him play. The sweet sounds of twelve bar blues guitar, gradually morphing into impromptu riffs rise from my mind’s recesses and wrap me like a warm blanket. Even so, they remain but a whisper, and a constant reminder of what might have been.

Despite my obvious bias, Gerry was considered to possess an uncanny talent by many who knew him. Friends and family marveled at the seeming effortlessness of his prowess. He never actually recognized this in himself. Unfortunately, mental illness never allowed him to realize his full potential, and to ultimately be enjoyed by a waiting world of music lovers. I can’t help thinking how glorious that would have been. Confidence and ambition were traits stolen from his being during what should have been his most productive years. His loss is indeed the loss of many, but what matters is he didn’t exit this world without leaving a lasting impression on a precious few, like yours truly.

If the internet had existed then, I don’t know if he would have had a better chance to propel his artistry forward, and be heard by more appreciative listeners, but it would have been fun finding out. Stepping out from anonymity through a portal such as the web may have been one solution to allay his fears. Many like him may also have benefited from an outlet such as exists in ‘the cloud’.  The true beauty of this media is the ability to bring creative voices out into the open.

If you have someone in your life that exhibits a talent for the arts, but lacks the fortitude to just put it out there, perhaps a web based platform is a viable alternative. As confidence grows with new followers, some may attempt live interaction as a logical next step. Artistic talent is a gift that desperately needs sharing with others. Opportunities appear, no matter how miniscule, where those with initiative and courage can enlighten those of us who hunger for their creative efforts. If you are one of those underappreciated artists I speak of, please don’t be shy. Shout out to the world you are here, and that you have something that is uniquely your own to say.

No matter what your own perceived talent level is, if you believe enough in the idea, eventually others will too. The courage of your convictions will bring allies you never knew you had, and the confidence to move forward. All it takes is one first step through the doors that are open before you. Waiting throngs of willing admirers are on the other side cheering you on. Listen for them on the wind and follow your dream.

lizard_rockstar

RISING FROM THE DEPTHS

We can find anything ever produced of an artistic nature with a few key strokes on our laptops. Mammoth databases like YouTube, SoundCloud, Art.com and a vast array of other socialized platforms promoting creative endeavours in every form can be found with a little effort. Individual artists have created their own websites and social pages dedicated to maximizing exposure to the public. So, why create a website that specifically promotes musicians, comedians, illusionists and buskers on a ‘grass roots’ level? It’s already being done, right? Or is it?

There’s certainly no shortage of download sites for artists to sell their wares. Agencies that propose the promotion of worthy talent exist in multiple formats.  DYI web building programs allow anyone to promote themselves online. Infinite changes and innovations are happening to help us define our searches more categorically every day. Even now though, there still exists a relative infancy of evolution in how we’re experiencing cultural shifts that are redefining our daily lives, and how we share them. Consumption of information is occurring at an alarming rate, yet the truth of it becomes more suspect with every additional entry. So, how do we sift out what’s essential to our needs without getting bogged down in the mud?

If we think of Google and Wikipedia in particular as the sort of primordial soup of information technology, where whatever we desire is accessible from keywords or phrases, then the likes of YouTube, Etsy and Amazon are surely to be considered an initial grand first step from the morass. These are the gatherers of every bite of our knowledge and production, be it useful or frivolous, disseminated in bulk packages for our daily use. Information is accessible on these sites with only general interest categorization.

What naturally follows then if we carry the evolutionary theme further is the separation of the species, if you will. Our collective virtual experience must evolve by defining individual space, allowing those with specific needs to acquire instant access. As with Darwin’s original theories of natural selection, those with the strongest DNA and the ability to adapt to constant change, will be the ones who ultimately survive, of course. Places that promote a singular, definitive idea with clarity and conviction will be identifiable more quickly. As Etsy has become to the world of art and craft, so too have countless sites that devote themselves to more focused themes. Airbnb and Kijiji for example, give us a very clear view of what they’re all about very quickly. Each has carved out a niche on the web, some larger than others, extricating themselves from the depths of the primordial.

It only stands to reason then that ultimately every conceivable facet of human interest will be covered intensely by individuals who wish to accept a particular role. It only takes the will to choose a focus and stay on point. Sooner or later though even for tech innovators like Uber, whose mandate as a simple alternative to the conventional taxi industry is no longer enough. Now, Uber has designs on owning every niche in the vast transportation industry that passes under their radar, thereby as I see it, dragging us back into the swamp we’ve tried so desperately to escape.

The struggle for survival perpetuates this cycle for control and ultimate power. But, who has the final voice in disrupting that cycle? Rather than sinking or swimming with the shark, we can always choose to walk on terra firma upright and fully evolved as something completely new and unique. Every speck of an idea that emerges online has an equal chance to thrive if the message is clear enough, and the value in the offer is evident. Speed of convenience and efficiency is what browsers seek today. Single concepts that don’t try to over-reach their mandate seem to be

the future of useful applications.  Isn’t life made easier when every app on your smartphone has a defined purpose?

A platform developed for local, live entertainment in all its forms, StageWages is committed to the belief that people all over this country want to find and support local venues wherever they travel to or live. Artists, venues and fans alike will find value in a concept that grows with this notion, and thrives on voluntary input from all concerned. Rising from the depths of the soup of generality, we will evolve to become a definitive application that answers specific needs. In the near future we will utilize more technologies that possess the tools to promote our vast pool of rich talent and the venues that exhibit those artists. I invite you to join us on StageWages and promote the renaissance of live entertainment. Venue operators and artists are welcome to post scheduled gigs on our events calendar for everyone who craves a fun night out with friends, and new friends to be had.

StageWages suggests a solution from a fan’s perspective, and unless I’ve missed the mark, more fans are what every artist and venue operator wants. The more the conversation continues with a singular purpose, the stronger it will become. Hopefully, you feel the same way. More inclusive features for StageWages are on the way.

Let’s evolve together…for the Love Of Live!