“Fifty years have passed in a flash,” says Texas-born, Louisiana-raised pianist, songwriter and vocalist Marcia Ball of her long and storied career. Ball, the 2018 Texas State Musician Of The Year, has won worldwide fame and countless fans for her ability to ignite a full-scale roadhouse rhythm and blues party every time she takes the stage. Her rollicking Texas boogies, swampy New Orleans ballads and groove-laden Gulf Coast blues have made her a one-of-a-kind favorite with music lovers all over the world. With each new release, her reputation as a profoundly soulful singer, a boundlessly talented pianist and a courageous, inventive songwriter continues to grow. Her love of the road has led to years of soul-satisfying performances at festivals, concert halls and clubs. The New York Times says, “Marcia Ball plays two-fisted New Orleans barrelhouse piano and sings in a husky, knowing voice about all the trouble men and women can get into on the way to a good time.” The Houston Chronicle says simply, “She’s as perfect as an artist can be.”
With her new album, Shine Bright, Ball set out to, in her words, “Make the best Marcia Ball record I could make.” In doing so, she has put together the most musically substantial, hopeful and uplifting set of songs of her five-decade career. Produced by Steve Berlin (Los Lobos) and recorded in Texas and Louisiana, Shine Bright contains twelve songs (including nine originals), ranging from the title track’s rousing appeal for public and private acts of courage to the upbeat call to action of Pots And Pans, a song inspired by renowned Texas political writer and humorist Molly Ivins. From the humorous advice of Life Of The Party to the poignantly optimistic World Full Of Love, the intensity of Ball’s conviction never wavers while, simultaneously, the fun never stops. Shine Bright is exactly the album Ball set out to make. “It is a ridiculously hopeful, cheerful record,” she says, in light of some of the album’s more serious subject matter. The secret, according to Ball “is to set the political songs to a good dance beat.”
Born in Orange, Texas in 1949 to a family whose female members all played piano, Ball grew up in the small town of Vinton, Louisiana, right across the border from Texas. She began taking piano lessons at age five, playing old Tin Pan Alley and popular music tunes from her grandmother’s collection. But it wasn’t until she was 13 that Marcia discovered the power of soul music. One day in New Orleans in 1962, she sat amazed as Irma Thomas delivered the most spirited and moving performance the young teenager had ever seen. A few years later she attended Louisiana State University, where she played some of her very first gigs with a blues-based rock band called Gum. In
1970, Ball set out for San Francisco. Her car broke down in Austin, and while waiting for repairs she fell in love with the city and decided to stay. It wasn’t long before she was performing in local clubs with a progressive country band called Freda And The Firedogs, while beginning to sharpen her songwriting skills. It was around this time that she delved deeply into the music of the great New Orleans piano players, especially Professor Longhair. “Once I found out about Professor Longhair,” recalls Ball, “I knew I had found my direction.”
When Freda And The Firedogs broke up in 1974, Ball launched her solo career, playing clubs around Austin, Houston and Louisiana. She signed with Capitol Records in 1978, debuting with the country-rock album Circuit Queen. Creating and honing her own sound, she released six critically acclaimed titles on the Rounder label during the 1980s and 1990s. In 1990, Ball— collaborating with Angela Strehli and Lou Ann Barton—recorded the hugely successful Dreams Come True on the Antone’s label. At the end of 1997, Marcia finished work on a similar “three divas of the blues” project for Rounder, this time in the distinguished company of Tracy Nelson and her longtime inspiration, Irma Thomas. The CD, Sing It!, was released in 1998 and was nominated for a Grammy Award.
Marcia Ball has appeared many times on national television over the years, including the PBS special In Performance At The White House along with B.B. King and Della Reese, Austin City Limits and HBO’s Treme. She performed in Piano Blues, the film directed by Clint Eastwood included in Martin Scorsese’s The Blues series which aired on PBS television nationwide in 2003. Marcia also appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman with The New Orleans Social Club, where she not only reached millions of people, but also helped to benefit victims of Hurricane Katrina. In 2012, she had a role in the independent film Angels Sing starring Harry Connick, Jr., Lyle Lovett and Willie Nelson. In 2017 she performed on NPR’s A Jazz Piano Christmas, live from The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.
Ball joined Alligator in 2001 with the release of the critically acclaimed Presumed Innocent. The CD won the 2002 Blues Music Award for Blues Album Of The Year. Her follow-up, So Many Rivers, was nominated for a Grammy Award, and won the 2004 Blues Music Award for Contemporary Blues Album Of The Year as well as the coveted Contemporary Blues Female Artist Of The Year award. Her next release, Live! Down The Road, released in 2005, also garnered a Grammy nomination, as did 2008’s Peace, Love & BBQ (the album debuted at #1 on the Billboard Blues Chart). 2010’s Grammy-nominated Roadside Attractions and 2014’s The Tattooed Lady And The Alligator Man successfully grew her fan base even further. Altogether she holds ten Blues Music Awards, ten Living Blues Awards, and five Grammy Award nominations. She has been inducted into both the Gulf Coast Music Hall Of Fame and the Louisiana Music Hall Of Fame. The Texas State legislature named her the official 2018 Texas State Musician. As her hometown Austin Chronicle says, “What’s not to like about Marcia Ball?”
Since joining Alligator, Ball has blossomed as a songwriter. Each album has been filled with fresh, original songs, never more so than on Shine Bright. Ball easily draws her listeners deep into her music with instantly memorable melodies and imaginative imagery. Her songs paint vibrant musical pictures richly detailed with recognizable characters, regional flavors, universal themes and colorful scenes, both real and imagined. Living Blues declares, “Her originals sound like timeless classics and southern soul masterpieces that no one else can imitate.”
Now, with Shine Bright, Ball’s new, aggressively hopeful songs are energized by Steve Berlin’s inventive and exciting production, creating electrifying music that is daring, inspired, poignant and timely. The Boston Globe calls Ball “a compelling storyteller” who plays “an irresistible, celebratory blend of rollicking, two-fisted New Orleans piano, Louisiana swamp rock and smoldering Texas blues.”
Of course, Ball will bring the party on the road, playing her new songs and old favorites for fans around the globe. “I still love the feel of the wheels rolling,” she says, “and the energy in a room full of people ready to go wherever it is we take them.” With both her new album and her legendary live performances, Marcia Ball will shine a light into the darkness, making the world a brighter place one song at a time.
“Mighty and joyous rock-injected blues…luxurious vocals and fine guitar work. Her voice is as muscular as her name is evocative.” – Austin Chronicle
“Carolyn Wonderland is the real deal. She’s an amazing guitar player. And damn, can she sing.” – Los Angeles Times
“With incendiary guitar chops and raw, powerful vocals, fiery Texas blues rocker Carolyn Wonderland draws instant comparisons to fellow Texans Stevie Ray Vaughan and Janis Joplin.” –NPR Music
“Hey, have you heard Carolyn Wonderland? She’s something else. She should be nationwide.” – Bob Dylan, talking to Asleep At The Wheel’s Ray Benson
The depths of the Texas blues tradition with the wit of a poet. She hits the stage with an unmatched presence, a true legend in her time.
She’d grown up the child of a singer in a band and began playing her mother’s vintage Martin guitar when other girls were dressing dolls. She’d gone from being the teenage toast of her hometown Houston to sleeping in her van in Austin amid heaps of critical acclaim for excellent recordings.
Along with the guitar and the multitude of other instruments she learned to play – trumpet, accordion, piano, mandolin, lap steel – Wonderland’s ability to whistle remains most unusual. Whistling is a uniquely vocal art seldom invoked in modern music, yet it’s among the most spectacular talents the human voice possesses.
That vocal proficiency was well-established in the singer’s midteens, landing her gigs at Fitzgerald’s by age 15. She absorbed Houston influences like Little Screamin’ Kenny, Albert Collins, Lavelle White, Jerry Lightfoot, Joe “Guitar” Hughes, Little Joe Washington, “borrowed” a car to sneak out and jam ended up swapping songs with Townes Van Zandt at Houston’s Local’s on White Oak, got involved in the underground theater scene becoming the first “Photochick” in Jason Nodler’s “In the Under Thunderloo” and soaked up touring bands like the Paladins, Los Lobos, and the Mad Hatter of Texas music, Doug Sahm. Her music played in television series such as “Time of Your Life” and NBC’s “Homicide.” The Lone Star State was as credible a proving ground for blues in the 1980s and 90s as existed, especially in Austin with Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Angela Strehli, Omar & the Howlers, and Lou Ann Barton all in their prime. By the following decade, Austin’s blues luster thinned, but Houston, always a bastion of soul and R&B, boasted the Imperial Monkeys with the effervescent Carolyn Wonderland as ruler of the jungle.
In the early 1990s, Wonderland & the Imperial Monkeys were invited to the Guadalupe Street Antone’s in Austin. There, they were treated like royalty with the singer as the queen of hearts in the club’s post-Stevie Ray Vaughan stable, which included Toni Price, Johnny and Jay Moeller, Sue Foley, Mike and Corey Keller, and the Ugly Americans. It was a good bar for the Monkeys to hang, and Austin felt so comfortable that when the band called it quits a few years later, after a run-in with black ice and a semi that wound young Miss Wonderland in the hospital, she set her sights on Austin at the start of the millennium. Besides, Doug Sahm had told Carolyn while they were signing autographs together at the High Sierra Music Festival, she ought to move to Austin, as it was the land of free guitar lessons. She was there in months.
Living in Austin renewed Carolyn Wonderland’s focus on her multiple talents, underlining rich vocals with excellent guitar work, trumpet, and piano, as well as that remarkable ability to whistle on key. Despite spending two years homeless (or as she puts it, “van-full,”) Austin has been fertile ground for Carolyn. A series of each-better-than-the-next discs began with Alcohol & Salvation in 2001 (“songs about booze and God; records are a time capsule of what happened that year”) 2003’s “Bloodless Revolution,” The Bismeaux Releases: 2008’s “Miss Understood,” 2011’s “Peace Meal” (recorded at Bismeaux and Levon Helm Studios in Woodstock,) 2015’s “Live Texas Trio”; and here we are with 2017’s “Moon Goes Missing.”
Carolyn also got to stretch out with other bands and notably appears in Jerry Lightfoot’s Band of Wonder’s 2002 release, “Texistentialism” featuring Jerry Lightfoot, Vince Welnick (Grateful Dead, The Tubes, Todd Rundgren,) Carolyn, Barry “Frosty” Smith (Lee Michaels, Sly & the Family Stone, Rare Earth, Soulhat) and Larry Fulcher (Taj Mahal, Phantom Blues Band). She has released many songs for charity, 2016’s “Room at the Inn” (iTunes) benefits Doctors Without Borders, 2013’s “Money in the Game” (featuring Marcia Ball and Shelley King) benefits Planned Parenthood, “the Farmer Song” from “Miss Understood” benefits Farm AID, “Annie’s Scarlet Letter” from “Bloodless Revolution” benefits NORML, 1997 Justice Records released Carolyn’s version of Little Screamin’ Kenny’s holiday lament, “Blue Lights” (featuring Ian McLagan) benefitting MD Anderson Children’s Art Project.
Carolyn’s first appearance on vinyl? She’s with James Williamson (Stooges) on the April 2014 Record Store Day single, “Open Up & Bleed” AND on the full LP inspired by that fun session, “Re-Licked” featuring Raw Power Era songs with cool and risky guests.
Her circle of musician friends and admirers broadened to include not only Ray [Benson, who produced Miss Understood] but also the late Eddy Shaver, Shelley King, and yes, Bob Dylan, who likened her composition “Bloodless Revolution” to “a mystery movie theme.” She appeared on the same taping with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings when she made her debut on PBS’ “Austin City Limits” (Season 35.) and had the thrill of her life when Bonnie Raitt joined her onstage for “The Road to Austin” concert film featuring Stephen Bruton and all his friends, got to play with James Cotton, Pinetop Perkins, and so many others at Antone’s, she and Erin Jaimes put together a benefit for Uncle John Turner and Johnny Winter insisted on bringing his band by to play, Carolyn’s wedding to A. Whitney Brown was officiated by Mike Nesmith (Monkees,) who serendipitously introduced them on set at VideoRanch in 2010. (there is a video of the two of them on stage together that day!) She began co-writing with locals Sarah Brown, Shelley King, Marcia Ball, Ruthie Foster, Cindy Cashdollar, and Guy Forsyth; sat in with Los Lobos, Levon Helm, Vintage Trouble, Robert Earl Keen, and Ray Wylie Hubbard; and toured relentlessly for the past two decades, sometimes with luminaries like Dave Alvin, Buddy Guy and Johnny Winter, so far spreading her music in US, Europe, South America and Japan. She also claims membership in the all-girl Sis Deville, the gospel-infused Imperial Crown Golden Harmonizers, the Texas Guitar Women, and the Woodstock Lonestars.
Carolyn recently joined John Mayall’s Band as his guitarist and is balancing life on the road with writing time at home and on the way. She’s been touring for over 25 years and ain’t done yet. Come and see it at a show! (seriously, she’s perpetually on tour.)
Superlative, powerhouse, smart and savvy are only a few of the adjectives used to describe Shelley King, who is debuting her 9th album, Kick Up Your Heels, in the late summer of 2019.
The blues, roots-rock, gospel singer stands out in the crowd as an award-winning songwriter, steeped in Americana music. Born in Arkansas, and raised back and forth between Arkansas and Texas, Shelley has surrounded herself with A-list mentors from Marcia Ball to John Magnie and Delbert McClinton.
Kick Up Your Heels is her best effort yet, with guest artists Delbert McClinton, The Subdudes, Marcia Ball, Carolyn Wonderland, Tony Redman, Byron Isaacs (Lumineers) and Cindy Cashdollar. Her band includes Sarah Brown on bass, Marvin Dykhuis on guitars, vocals and mandolin, and Chip Dolan on keys and accordion, and longtime drummer, Perry Drake.
Shelley says, “It feels like a party album. In a time when we have so many challenges as a people and as a country, we need this music. We can let it all go. We all have a weight to carry, but we need to have some fun. I feel that in some of these songs, there are trials and tribulations, but with good music and good friends, it always feels like we are going to come out on top.”
Kick Up Your Heels runs the gamut of emotions, beginning with an introspective memory of one of her musical heroes, Levon Helm. The album’s opening track, “Levon’s New Drumset” had its beginning as she was sitting on a porch in Woodstock, New York, collecting words and images for this song but not completing it. Over several more trips to Woodstock she reworked the lyrics, each time adding a little more to the story. Inspiration struck again when she was playing a Midnight Ramble with the Woodstock Lone Stars: a super-group including Carolyn Wonderland, Marcia Ball, Cindy Cashdollar, Amy Helm, and a Woodstock based rhythm section. “It completely fell together – magically.” she recalls. “I wrote another verse right there, and it came together seamlessly, without a wrong word.”
“Storming in the South” takes the listeners through the hurricanes that rip through the South and the high winds in a relationship between two people who have chosen to take it on, go through it together, and come out on the other side. It is a song of resilience, and of sticking together, and making it through the storm.
The album brings on the party full-force with “Hurricane Party.” Shelley said she was walking on a trail near her Texas hill country home, when her friend and mentor, Marcia Ball called to say her Florida tour was canceled because of a hurricane, “so, let’s play dominoes.” Shelley said,
“It’s a hurricane party!” and immediately started working on this song. She sang lines into her phone, texting song verses back and forth, co-writing with Marcia, it all came together before she got off the trail – in time for a game of dominoes! Delbert McClinton and Marcia bring guest vocals to this highlight of the album. It’s definitely a party. Levon Helm and Henry Glover wrote a song called “Blues So Bad,” that Shelley discovered on a 1977 Helm album. That song stuck with her. “Anytime I heard it, I sang along. It makes me feel cool. In the studio, Delbert (McClinton) played harmonica and sang backup on it.” Yeah, that’ll make anyone feel cool.
“One Shot At A Time” is a song Shelley wrote years ago about a bar in San Angelo, Texas. “People were having a good time and were so drunk.” she recalls. “They were sending shots to the band and eventually shots were lined up all the way across the stage. Everyone in the band gets to have some fun with this one: from Marvin Dykhuis’ and Tony Redmans’ duelling lead guitars to Sarah Brown’s low-end bass solo.
The title song, “Kick Up Your Heels,” is a co-write with another of Shelley’s heroes, John Magnie of the Subdudes. “John came up with the melody and turned it over to me to write the lyrics,” she says. “We were thinking about writing a song for Marcia (Ball), right after she recorded Tattoo Lady and the Alligator Man, feeling that Louisiana rhythm and how she kicks her heels when she plays piano. When I recorded it with my band, it was good, but it was missing something, so we got the Subdudes to add a little crazy.” Steve Amedée lays down a fun second line snare rhythm and the dudes add their rich harmonies and fun extras. Marcia Ball plays piano and John Magnie backs her on accordion, a first time musical collaboration for them.
One of Shelley’s inspirations has always been Aretha Franklin, and “Soulville” showcases that influence. “I first discovered Aretha Franklin’s version of this song and then later Dinah Washington’s version. Dinah was one of the songwriters, along with Henry Glover. I started doing a little research, and found that Henry was tight with Levon (Helm), and is even in one of the early photos of Levon building his barn in Woodstock.” Henry soon became another of Shelley’s songwriter favorites, (see “Blues So Bad,” a Helm/Glover co-write) and completes yet another circle of influence in her musical odyssey. Ask Shelley to tell you about rehearsing in Levon’s barn on the anniversary of his death with her good friends, a good bottle of whiskey, and a ghost for good measure.
“Heart of a Girl” showcases Shelley’s songwriter and vocal talent, and a backstory of romantic magic. “I still believe magic can happen. The idea came to me as I watched my mom fall in love again. Here was a no-nonsense businesswoman who reunited with my real father at one of my shows. They had not seen one another for more than 30 years,” Shelley says. “And suddenly, she had that soft heart of a girl, that innocence that believes in hopefulness. To see her like that was beautiful.”
Keeping the party going strong, Shelley brings “Crush” to the mix. “It’s a fun, groupie song. I won’t call any names out on this one. Someone close to me had a groupie crush on a bad boy musician, and I wrote that song for her just for fun.” With lines like “If you got somebody, I’ll make you forget her,” and “Would you rock my world like you rock that mic?,” it’s definitely a celebration song that makes everyone want to grab a mic and sing along.”
A pivotal moment in her career was in 2008, when Shelley was named Texas State Musician by the Texas Legislature, and found her voice resonating with fans across the state – and the nation. “‘How Eagles Fly’ is about hope and positivity: an anthem for America. There’s a whole lot of division out there,” Shelley continues, “but ultimately, we are all in this together. We have a lot more in common than that which separates us. Music brings us together, and everyone can agree with lyrics that speak to the common American dream.”
Kick Up Your Heels is a high-water mark for Shelley King. Through multiple incarnations of bands with friends and collaborators, and performing at hundreds of house concerts, honkytonks, theatres, festivals and solo shows, she has explored different avenues and attitudes, but she has hit her stride with this new project. She proves with this album, created with her musical friends and family, that music is much more than a career for her. “It’s all about connections,” she says. And Kick Up Your Heels brings Shelley King’s band family together for a reunion that is one hell of a party.