Posted December, 2011
Photo by V. Michelle Oprisi - Visit www.oprisi.com
Beverly McClellan. Have you heard of her? If you watched the new hit TV show, The Voice, on NBC this season, you are more than just vaguely familiar with this vocal dynamo. I must admit that I didn’t watch The Voice and I honestly don’t know why since I am a big fan of both Christina Aguilera and Blake Shelton.
What was I thinking?
I can assure you that, after having the distinct privilege of chatting with Ms. McClellan, that particular mistake won’t happen again. I recently reached Beverly at her Fort Lauderdale, Florida, home to chat about life since coming in at a very respectable 3rd place on The Voice as well as discuss her latest CD, Fear Nothing.
Beverly McClellan is one of those kinds of people who, from the first “hello” makes a total stranger feel like a lifelong friend. Oozing her laid-back, what-you-see-is-what-you-get charm, I felt that one of us should be pouring the other some coffee while we chatted.
As we made a little bit of small talk before we started the interview, I asked Beverly is she was tired of the interview gauntlet that she no doubt has had to endure. Her reply reflects the almost “aw shucks” tone that permeated our chat.
“Aw, no, man! It’s just talkin’ to people. I don’t stress out about that. I don’t stress out about much, really. You gotta make it interesting for yourself, dude! The less I know, the more interesting it is. I don’t know if that makes sense. “
McClellan is all about chillin’, relaxin’ and not putting on pretenses. She’s all about being real. A story about a recent appearance in San Diego illustrates the point.
“I just got back from San Diego. Loved it – playing theAnthology Club. Reallyawesome. A really nice room there. It’s great! Three levels. Very elegant, quaint. They told everybody to keep their cell phones off and be quiet. Well, I walked out and lifted that ban immediately! I said, ‘If you want to take a picture or you want to call your friend that wasn’t able to be here and let them hear, by all means do and make as much noise as you want to! I’m not like whoever’s played here before but this is like my living room tonight so we’re going to have us a party! The end.’ It was great!”
With the incredible exposure to the world that Beverly enjoyed during her incredible run on TheVoice, I asked her what all has happened, career-wise, since she blasted her way into America’s consciousness . Things like record deals, tours and special appearances. Her response reveals a woman who is both excited and truly appreciative of the blessings that have been bestowed on her.
“All the above, man! I have management. I have international distribution. I have my own label. ‘Beverly’ is a whole train runnin’! That’s pretty much what I needed because I’m really just an artist. I keep it on that level for myself where I don’t lose myself in the business sense. Not that I don’t want to know, I just don’t want it to dull who I am. Honestly, it’s about the party that I make – not anything else for me. I like going into a place – no matter how big or how small it is, if I’m plugged in, we’re having a party! Simple as that. Just do it!”
Even though Ms. McClellan is new to the international stage, I asked her what she thinks is the biggest misconception about her so far.
“Well, I think from TV to now, people see me as a rocker and, no doubt, I can rock. No doubt. But my heart is with the blues. Both of those things collide – rock ‘n roll and blues. I hope that it’s appealing to everybody. I listen to everything from rap to country so I can only imagine that it will appeal. I kept it ‘PG’ but there are some real adult feelings in there. It’s music for everybody.”
Since Beverly mentioned the blues, I broke from my list of questions to ask her who her favorite blues artist is.
“Etta James. Etta James. Etta James! Hands down!”
Speaking of, I read somewhere that she calls herself a “Janis Joplin-Melissa Etheridge-Etta James hybrid”. I couldn’t agree with her more – except maybe to add that you probably have a little bit of Bonnie Bramlett mixed in there, too.
“I’d say that there’s a little Bonnie Raitt in there, too. Hey, man! Whatever it sounds like to anybody, I hope to capture all the people I love and admire in my voice. Those are the people who’s been appealing to me coming up along with Journey, John Lennon, c’mon! There are so many! But I’m definitely a classic rock/blues kind of – that’s where my heart lies.”
I’m a real sucker for finding out the stories behind songs and it’s no different regarding some of the tunes on Beverly’s new CD, FearNothing. The first song I asked her about, for my own person reasons, was Never Will Forget. She has a line in the song where she comments about “them Tennessee hills”. I asked her about the inspiration behind that song, telling her that I was born in east Tennessee.
“Me, too! Kingsport. Kingsport, Tennessee! It’s only because they didn’t have a hospital in Gate City (Virginia). Right on the state line. Five churches but no hospital in my town. I just went over the state line and was born in Kingsport, Tennessee. It’s the Smoky’s either way. Them hills knew how to raise me for sure! You know exactly what I speak of.
“I just think you gotta know where you come from in order to know where you’re goin’. That’s what I think. I’m writin’ about my roots and thinks that I remember and how I grew up. It does not even compare to today. We didn’t have technology. We had a water hose outside and a bunch of fruit trees, berry bushes, gardens, cows and tobacco fields; population 3,500 and the best thing we all did together was go to church and sing. That’s what I come from.”
Since Beverly brought it up, I asked her what her church background was.
“Southern Baptist! Alive and well in them hills, boy! God loves everybody. It don’t matter what religion you come from. I took away a lot of the good but I left the bad. I think some of the things are people’s own opinion and they’re not the ones who ultimately make the decision for all of us at the end of our lives. I believe that I’m following a pretty good path and I started in a good, general direction with God in my life.
“It’s where I started - in church singing. There wasn’t anybody up there saying, ‘Boo! Shut up!’ You know? Not in church. ‘Sing for Jesus, honey!’ That was my grandma. ‘Sing louder, baby!’ So, yeah, it was real easy to start out and have good confidence. Whenever the doors of the church were open, my family was always there. My mamma was the piano player for the church so we had to be there. And singin’ was required – always! Gotta sing to Jesus. Praise the Lord!”
How about the song Come to Me?
“Come To Me – that’s very heartfelt right there. I wrote that one during the end of The Voice. You watch 77 to 100 people that you make friends with go through the same audition process as yourself but they’re leavin’ and you’re not. They come to you and they cry and they express all of their feelings. It was a tough position to be in but I was their friend. I was the oldest one there. I’m 41 and you get a 16 year old coming to you, crying and going, ‘I was cut’ and I’m goin’, ‘Baby, don’t give up! Look at me. I’m 41. I’m still in the runnin’. Geez! You can do this again. Who knows in 20 years what competition there will be? You’re already in the game. You’re already bein’ seen at 16 years old.’ It was wild, man.
“Come to Me was about all my friends there – my family. It’s a powerful feeling. All those people are my ‘Voice’ family.”
I couldn’t let the call go without asking Beverly her reasons for covering the Nina Simone classic, Nobody’s Fault But Mine.
“Well, it wasn’t covered, number 1. Number 2, I love Nina Simone. Did you ever watch that movie, Point of No Return where the actress in there – Jane Fonda’s daughter, Bridget Fonda – she was a assassin and they brought her back to life to be an assassin? She said, ‘I want Nina Simone records’. That prompted me to look up Nina Simone since she covered Here Comes The Sunby the Beatles. That was beautiful! I fell in love with that song (Nobody’s Fault But Mine) because I related to it in my life. If I die and my soul’s lost, it’s nobody’s fault but mine. It really speaks volumes to me coming from a very Christian background, etcetera. But, being the wild child that I am . . . honey, I dance with the devil in the moonlight, I’m drawn to the ones who ain’t afraid, especially. I think I am one of those ones. I don’t fear anything at this point. They broke me of that. Put ya in front of 19 million viewers a week and tell ya, ‘3-2-1, you’re live on television’, that right there will stop anybody or make ‘em.
“I did what I set out to do. I gave my music wings and I just keep watching my wings unfold longer than I ever thought they were. So, God bless this whole situation. It changed my life, man! It’s great! Either way, however this all unfolds, I’m glad to have been part of a show that was hand-in-hand with artists that have current careers themselves. I mean, Cee Lo’s at the top of his game right now. So is Adam Levine and Blake Shelton. I’m gonna be honest: I didn’t even know who he was until this competition. But, man! He’s awesome! He’s the best guy ever and his music is really cool! He opened me up to his stuff just by being his self. So, it’s easy for me to say that I’m going to reach people because I know that I’m impressionable and I can talk to anybody. Seventy years old or seven years old, it don’t matter. We’re all human and there’s basic communication and love and understanding that shines through all of it. That’s definitelywhat I have in my heart for every human being in this world.”
One final song I asked her about was I Can’t Hide Me.
“Yeah! That one was when I figured out that I was going to be on national TV.” Beverly then startsed citing the lyrics from the song. “‘I can’t hide me. I don’t want to anyway . . . Can’t go turning myself around, I need more backbone for this town’ L.A.? Yeah. It makes sense now that you’re hearin’ what I’m sayin’. Two and two make four, man.
“Listen, you’re never gonna really know until you come into Beverly’s living room and have a concert. What I mean by ‘my livin’ room’ is wherever I play, that’s my livin’ room. Doesn’t matter. If it’s 500 or 5 people, I’m gonna give you a good understandin’ what I’ve been through and where I’ve come from and who I am today . . . and I might do it all in one song! I’m just that way.”
Our tight schedules making our chat feel like it was ending far too soon, I asked Beverly what her 2012 plans are and, when she’s left this life, what does she hope her legacy will be.
“Ah! I’m taking over the world, man! Everybody’s gonna sing the blues before it’s all over, man!”
“I don’t ever want to figure that my life is over. Life is never over. I’m just going to something else after this. But as far as what people here would remember, I want them to smile and remember me as the character I truly was. Personality – I didn’t get short-changed on that. God gave me a slew of talent and I’ve just got to share it with the world. What else is there? Sit at home and play for my dogs? What’s that, you know? I got it in my heart so I hope the world takes that with them just as Nina Simone captured me long after she was gone. But I didn’t know that. I thought, ‘Wow! Who’s this? Oh, she’s not here? Really. Well, let me go back on her life’s work.’ It’s incredible! Who knows years from now who’ll find me, you know what I mean? That is my legacy so I really need to be careful with the messages that I put out. Like I said, I’m proud to stand behind this album. It’s heart-felt. I had one person tell me, ‘I’ve never had so much heartache by listening to your show. But, yet, felt okay about it. Thank you.’ That was cool.”
As the old saying goes, “When words fail, music speaks” and nothing symbolizes that more than that story.
No doubt, we will hear a lot about, and from, Beverly McClellan for years to come. You can board the “Beverly Train”, by visitingwww.beverlymcclellan.com. You can also catch the Boomerocity review of her new CD, Fear Nothing,here. I’ll just tell you now, though, that I love it and encourage you to pick up a copy or two. You’re going to love it.