Saturday 10 December 2016
Wolfgang's Vault

Posted May, 2013

 

Beth Hart.  Haven’t heard of her?  Okay, well, she’s not quite yet a household name but just wait, she will be.  What makes me so sure?  I’m glad you asked. There are several reasons. 

First, for some people, it just seems to be a blinding glimpse of the obvious.  The story is told that, when she was four years old, she saw a commercial advertising pianos that had as a musical backdrop Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata.  In the middle of the night, she got up and played a segment of the song on the family piano, which drew out all of the family in amazement.  She says of that moment, “ . . . the ham in me knew right away that this was what I wanted to do. I just knew . . .”

Second, she’s been in the music business for over twenty years, getting a big, early boost by winning the national title to Ed McMahon’s Star Search – long before there was an American Idol or The Voice.  As her reputation grew, she garnered the attention of such guitar greats as Jeff Beck and Slash, working collaboratively with them on various projects. 

What has apparently set Beth’s musical career on a whole new trajectory was the result of a serendipitous meeting with guitar great, Joe Bonamassa, in a hotel lobby.  Beth was asked to join Bonamassa in 2011 on the Kevin Shirley produced CD, Don’t Explain – a great album of soul-rock covers. It was this CD that brought the classically trained Hart to the attention of Boomerocity and legions of other new fans-for-life.

Adding to the growing fan basecame Jeff Beck’s invitation for Beth to join him on the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors to pay tribute to blues legend Buddy Guy, performing the Etta James classic (and one of Boomerocity’s all-time-favorites) I’d Rather Go Blind. While viewers may have tuned in to see Led Zeppelin or David Letterman being honored, as the Baltimore Sun wrote, “Everyone was on their feet when {Beck and Hart’s} soul-searing performance ended.”

I can second that “emotion” by saying that every time I post the video of that performance on my Facebook

What a reintroduction to America!

In March of this year, Ms. Hart followed up Don’t Explain with the critically acclaimed Bang Bang Boom Boom. It was in support of this album that I was fortunate and privileged to speak with her about the album after her return from touring in Europe.  Despite the extensive globetrotting, she sounded relaxed and well-rested.  Obviously, she’s quite the seasoned tour veteran.

As we started our conversation I asked Beth what the reaction to Bang Bang Boom Boom has been so far both here and abroad.

“Well, you know, I just love the CD so much. I’m so excited about it. But, you know, I know better – I’ve been around long enough to know not everyone is going to like it, right? So, when I started doing the press work, I can’t believe how amazingly supportive everyone has been and it just thrills me to pieces! 

If I’ve counted correctly, in your twenty year career, Bang Bang Boom Boom is your ninth solo album (counting the ones with your bands), not counting your two duets with Joe Bonamassa, correct?

“It counts the Don’t Explain record but not the See Saw record.  The Seesaw record will be the tenth.  Also included in that is the Live at Paradiso DVD that we also made as a record. So, it would actually be the tenth if you include Seewaw.

With that impressive body of work solidly under her belt, I asked Beth what was different in making this album compared with her other work.

“Well, by far, the first record I ever made was a record called Ocean of Souls. I was twenty years old. I didn’t like it because I don’t think I was really confident in myself and the people I was working with. It was kind of all over the place. I was scared. But, then, once it was finished, I thought it was nice. But the actual process of it – you know, I’m kind of a neurotic, OCD type of personality and I’m used to being in the studio for years because my producer was also my manager for years – since I was fifteen.  So, we spent a lot of time in the studio together but now we were actually making a real record. 

“Then, when I signed over at Atlantic, I made a record called Immortal which was my first major record company album and I didn’t really enjoy that, either. Again, I loved the music. I loved my band.  But it was the process. I was going, ‘I guess making records is just not for me. I’m really not enjoying the process.’

“It wasn’t until I produced my third record, Screamin for My Supper, with a good buddy of mine, Tal Herzberg, who was my bass player. Then I started really enjoying making records! Maybe it was because I was more in control. Maybe that gave me more security. I could kind of do things the way I wanted. But, still, it never became my favorite thing to do until I did a record called 37 Days where we started recording everything live together as a band to tape with vocals. That’s when I found, “Okay! This is the way I’m supposed to make records! This is how I love it!” So, yeah, that’s the only way I like to do it now.”

As for her latest record, “It was real fluid, easy and exciting. Ever since we started with Joe Bonamassa on the Don’t Explain record with Kevin Shirley producing – who’s an absolute genius! He’s my favorite person to work with! I hope to God I get to work with him on every record for the rest of my life! And, then, the second record I worked with Kevin Shirley was Bang Bang Boom Boom – this record that we’re talking about tonight. And, then the third record is the Seesaw record, which has not come out yet. But all three records – the first one, Don’t Explain, four days to make the record. On Bang Bang Boom Boom, six days to make the record and Seesaw was six days.  So Kevin works fast and we do everything simultaneous to tape and it’s just heaven that way! It’s really great!”

As I’ve stated in other interviews, I know that artists refuse to pick a favorite song on their albums because it’s like picking your favorite child. However, I asked Beth if she were to pick only one song from the CD as THE song to play for someone to hopefully entice them to pick it up, which song would it be?  Before I could even finish the question, she blurted out unequivocally, “Baddest Blues. That’s by far my fave. Yeah, I love that song so much and I think it embodies the colors of the whole record within that one.”

Ms. Hart then shared the story behind that song.

“Well, one of my favorite songs is the Billie Holiday song, Don’t Explain, and a song called Strange Fruit. Nina Simone does a phenomenal version of Strange Fruit. I grew up as a kid just being a huge Billie fan because my mother was and my mother always had just the best taste in music. Anyway, I was thinking about those two songs. I started working on the music first, which is what I always do when I’m writing. I kind of got some music down for it and started working on arrangements for it. I had a bit of a melody that I was messing with, as well. And, then, when it came time for the lyrics - which is another thing I do, I let the music dictate to me what the lyric is going to be, what it makes me think of, whether it’s a memory or projection of some dream I may have of the future.

“So, what it started speaking to me about was my mother and father’s divorce. My mother is such a strong, strong survivor of a woman but it broke her for a period and she ended up in bed for a few months. She just couldn’t get out. And to see such a powerful, strong woman broken like that was devastating to a little girl to see that happen to your mother. Also, Billie Holiday, the pain she suffered in her life. Billie and my mother remind me so much of each other. So, that was my muse for the song. I just love it even though it’s a painful topic, the truth is she did survive. She made it through it and better for it on the other side. She’s just an honorable, beautiful woman. She’s seventy-seven and she’s still strong and has more energy than I’ll ever have.”

My research showed – as does Beth’s performances – that she’s a very intense person. I wondered if writing a song as personal and emotionally impactful to her, personally, does that drain her.

“No!  God no!  Not at all! It’s just the opposite.  You know what does drain me that I make sure I stay away from at all costs? Is trying to write something for radio or trying to write something that you think will be a hit. That is exhausting. Forget it. You can never do it. You never know what they’re going to play. It’s a waste of time. But what gives me energy is getting to the truth. The funny thing is for me to tell the truth. Even when I’m ready and I want to and I want to be able to divulge whatever things I’m dealing with or struggling with – or even excited about – to be about to articulate it in the most honest way possible is very, very hard. Not because I’m scared of anybody hearing it but I don’t know if I can get me to do it. Because I could be in denial or be in a protective place where I don’t want to admit to myself that’s how I feel.  So that’s really what the struggle is. It’s not the music, it’s the lyric. Really, I work on it and I work on it and I try to get myself to feel as safe and secure as I can to just be able to be a real human being; to not have it together; to not try and convince myself that I’m okay. And when I finally let myself divulge that, yeah, I’m not okay. I’m still screwed up with stuff, there’s something so freeing about that, getting that load off and go, ‘Ah!’, you know?  That’s my favorite part about writing. I love to get to that place.”

I hate asking artists questions that I know have been asked them a million times. However, since I know that Ms. Hart is a new name to some Boomerocity readers, I had to ask (for your benefit, of course) who her musical influences were as she was growing up. 

“I have so many, oh my god!  Beethoven, Bach, Rachmoninoff, Billie Holiday, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Soundgarden, Alice In Chains, Bob Marley, Peter Tosh, The Ramones, Carol King, James Taylor, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline. I could just go on and on and on. Every genre of music I’ve ever been turned on to – any Latin music, African music, Chinese music, any kind that I’ve ever heard in my life, I’ve just been dumbfounded by the miracle of it, the beauty of it. Human beings have so much to say in all forms of art and it’s all over the world. It’s so beautiful. So gorgeous. It really shows you how people really feel about what’s going on in the world. It’s just fantastic. There’s some good stuff out there.”

Some in the industry have compared Beth to the late, great Janis Joplin. I asked her how she felt about that comparison.

“Oh, I just absolutely adore her! You know, I never grew up listening to her. It wasn’t until I got into my early twenties that I kept hearing people say, ‘Hey, you remind me of Janis.’ So I said, ‘I’ve gotta go out and I gotta get this Janis person and see who this is.’ Well! When I got some of her records and when I got some video tapes back when they had video stores and I watched some of her stuff live, I just realized that I was really looking a real legend; someone who was a pioneer; someone who had unbelievable courage; such talent and huge range!  I think she would’ve gone on to do so much more great and fabulous art. It’s an absolute tragedy to die so young but what she left behind was wonderful, I think, for men and absolutely for women. No matter who you are, if you get enough fight in you and gumption in you, you can do anything! She showed that a white woman could do heavy rock and roll and make it fabulous. She really delivered that. Every time someone mentions Janis to me, I’m so honored and happy to hear that! Of course!”

In a gee-whiz moment, I mentioned that I thought it would be great if she did a gig or two with Janis’ old band, Big Brother and the Holding Company.  Ms. Hart said, “You know, I got to work quite a bit with Sam Andrew (original and surviving member of BBHC), who was there original guitar player. He’s fantastic! He worked with us when we did the off-Broadway Love Janis. He’s a lovely man. Such a warm and kind man.  Highly intelligent. Oh yeah! I feel like an idiot when I’m talking to him but I love him anyway!  Ha! Ha!”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

With such great names having influenced her musical tastes as she was growing up, I asked her who was capturing her attention these days.

“Oh god! So many people are grabbing my attention!  I’m crazy in love with Vintage Trouble and, thankfully, I can say that I know the guys very, very well. They’re great guys! What AMAZING performers! Great music and so soulful! Ty Taylor is one of the best front men I’ve seen on stage. I’m a big fan! Aloe Blacc is so fantastic, the music he’s doing. Unbelievable talent!  I was the hugest fan in the world of Amy Winehouse. I know we just lost her a few years back now but I just loved what she was doing. I thought she was right up there with Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday. Her writing, her singing, her phrasing – just an extraordinary talent. I’m a big fan of Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine. She’s a great songwriter!  Great, great music they’re coming up with over there. I’m into Gary Clark, Jr. right now.  So, yeah, there’s some stuff out there that I really enjoy!”

Beth Hart has had to deal with a few personal matters in her life.  Those challenges have been thoroughly covered in other excellent interviews and I saw no need whatsoever to have her rehash them in this interview.  However, I know that she’s learned a lot from her challenges and I asked her what encouraging advice would she like to give to women – and even men – who deal with the same matters as she has and does.

“One in four people with mental illness will die of suicide. That’s a fact – a statistic. There’s no getting around that. If you have a bipolar disorder, it’s so dangerous. You absolutely, ABSOLUTELY have to find a doctor you trust and will get you on proper medication and then you have to take that medication. Just like you have to eat to live, you have to take the medication to not kill yourself or go so manic, so crazy that you end up in a hospital several times a year or you may hurt someone else.

“It’s a dangerous, dangerous disease. It’s not your fault. There’s no guilt or shame. That’s a big part of the illness – you feel very ashamed, very guilty. You don’t understand why you keep behaving this way. But it’s not because you’re bad at all – in any way. You’re sick. There really is help that can really make a difference in your life! Please! Get a good doctor and medicine and do whatever you can to learn how to take care of that brain! There’s a lot of wonderful, natural ways, also that help the brain but not without medication.”

With our time winding up, I asked Beth the same final question I have asked many other artists: When she’s performed her last gig and she’s gone to that great stage in the sky, how does she want to be remembered?

“I hope that I’ll be remembered that I really put it out there and loved being alive. How beautiful it is to be alive! And the gift – the gift of life, making music and having people you love; your family, your friends. Food!  How wonderful food is and nature and God. And, if you don’t believe in God, that’s cool, too, you know. Being an atheist, maybe is into the forest or something. It doesn’t matter. Just enjoy life and, hopefully, that came through the music – the joy of making music and of being alive, more than anything!”

Beth will undoubtedly be around for many years to come and will be delighting fans with her albums and performances.  Check out her website (here) to stay in the loop about her latest tour schedule and upcoming CD releases.

Featured Photo

freddymercurymontreux

Our Featured Photo by Boomerocity friend and famed rock photographer, Rob Shanahan (robshanahan.com), is of the statue of Freddie Mercury in Montreux, Switzerland!