Beth Hart’s bold move away from the Blues

As usual, when speaking to an international musician, I get on the phone and try and find out what they’re up to at that particular moment. Beth tells me she thinks it’s around 5.00pm. I laugh. I tell her I love the fact that she doesn’t quite know what the time is.

“Oh man, that’s why I got into the music business,” she said. “I don’t have to know what day it is or what year it is. You just keep going. The only time scheduled out is when you’re on the road of course, because you have to get to a plane or a gig.”

Beth Hart is a bigger deal in Europe than she is in her home country of the USA. Based in LA, she admits that she doesn’t gig much around the town she calls home. But she is about to embark on a national tour, first stop The Elray.

“My girlfriend was over her the other day and she was saying ‘dude, when are you going to play to LA?’” Beth said. “I don’t know how many dates we’re going through the states, maybe three weeks. But then it connects on to Canada, Europe, Eastern Europe and I think Australia is part of that too.”

Hart has had an interesting career. From being ‘discovered’ on a talent search program (which she stresses in other interviews used to screen at midnight, so was a far cry from what we see today), as she released her first album Screaming for my Supper she was singing the lead role in an off-Broadway musical based on Janis Joplin’s letters to her mother.

She’s also collaborated with a bunch of interesting musicians. Slash, Jeff Beck and Joe Bonamassa.

“Joe and I did two albums together,” Beth said. “It was the first time in my life I got nominated for a Grammy, for an album called Seesaw. Working with him has been incredibl and has made a big difference to the way I work on my career. He’s such a hard worker and gives everything on the road. I love working with him.”

But there’s someone in particular that Beth is hoping to perform with and that’s Buddy Guy.

“I did a tribute to Buddy Guy at a show we have here once a year. The President and everyone comes to the Kennedy Centre and they choose four or five people who’ve contributed to the arts in their careers and one of the people honoured was Buddy Guy.”

“After I played that night I was invited to do a song with him on his record. But his producer had made all the music and just sent the files and I laid down the vocals in LA. I was so happy to be on a Buddy Guy record, but didn’t see his face.”

“Then when I did Bluesfest in Australia, my husband said ‘Buddy Guy wants you to come backstage’ so I go into his dressing room and I sit next to him in the 20 minutes before he goes on stage,” Beth said. “ And he tells me stories about Muddy Waters and Etta James and how the went down the street, broke, buying hotdogs. All this killer personal stuff, and I’m like no wonder I’m liking Bluesfest so much.”

“Then, during his show I had to pee. When I was gone peeing, Buddy asked me to come on stage to sing with him but by the time I got back the song was over.”

While Buddy Guy hasn’t been included in the lineup announcements for Bluesfest 2015 yet, he is a festival regular, so there’s always the possibility he’ll crop up between now and April next year.

“I can’t believe I get to come back next year. It makes me feel so happy and so good,” Beth said. “The whole setup backstage where everyone gets to hang out, see eachother, everyone’s dressing rooms. I had a ball there. I had such a good time.”

“I went to Australia and I did a couple of different parts of Australia in my late 20s but I don’t really remember it – that’s when I was really screwed up – I didn’t do any shows, I just did promotion. So when I came to Bluesfest, I got to do a handful of dates, a few clubs, big shows with Jeff Beck. That whole trip was my first time getting to play in Australia.”

Beth is in the middle of mixing a new album right now, which is due early 2015. She tells Blank it’s likely to be called Better than Home – a reflection of life and that time when you leave home as a kid and those things you go through.

“It’s so sweet,” she said, speaking of the new album, “and it’s got a lot of heart. But it’s not based in the blues. It’s more of a singer songwriter thing with a bit of jazz and rock influence in it. It’s real stories, not a giant production … a very intimate record.”

I’m surprised to hear about Beth’s move away from the blues, particularly given her recent award nominations. Firstly a Grammy nomination for Seesaw in 2013 and then this year a nomination for Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year for the Blues Music Award held in Memphis, Tennessee every year.

“I didn’t really want to (move away from the blues), not only because of the two records with Joe but I was on a roll and had a tonne of songs for a new record. But two new producers I met at the Kennedy Centre gig said they challenged me to do more of that songwriting and telling stories. I didn’t want to do that and they said I should think about why I didn’t want to.”

“And I though when I do the writing of those stories I have to face my shit, face myself, face my past. When I’m doing blues or rock and roll I don’t have to, I can shake my shimmy, feel like a tough broad. When I write those stories I have to drop all that armour and it’s just a different thing. So I decided that because I didn’t want to do it, I should do it,” Beth said.

A bold move for someone who said only two years ago “I’m not perfect in my sobriety.” Although also stating that she hasn’t touched a drug in ten years. So what comes next, then?

“Now I’m itching to make another blues cover record with Joe and write another jazz record myself. And I want to do a hard rock record. The perks of not being a star mean you can do whatever you sant to do and no-one gives a shit.”

“So let’s just see what happens after this one.”

Cool. We love surprises.

_ _ _ _
Beth Hart joins the usual stellar lineup of blues-and-beyond talent at the 2015 Bluesfest to be held over the Easter long weekend. Also on the bill are The Black Keys, Zac Brown Band, Alabama Shakes, Michael Franti & Spearhead, George Clinton & Parliament, Funkadelic, Paul Kelly and the Merri Soul Sessions with Dan Sultan, Kira Puru and Vika and Linda Bull, Xavier Rudd and the United Nations, Trombone Shorty and a bucketload more. Get all the details at bluesfest.com.au.

 

 

Samantha Morris

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