I've been on a trip down musical memory lane over the last few weeks, while rehearsing for an upcoming gig at B.B. King Blues Club in New York City -- which if you can believe, after almost 50 years in music, will be my first live NYC concert. I am all about going back to my roots, singing the songs that I love most and paying tribute to some of my favourite artists. And in every song that I sing, there's a little piece of the influencers and inspirations that I encountered on my musical journey.
I grew up in a home filled with music. My father was always singing at the top of his lungs, and from the time I was a baby, he'd sing to me. His singing resonated so deeply in me, that practically before I could talk I was singing in tune. He had such a good voice but where I come from, everybody could sing! We were working-class and music was at our core. We'd gather with family and friends and neighbors and everyone would share a drink and a song. I can remember at three-years-old popping my head out, when I should have been asleep, asking my father "can I sing?"
While my father inspired me to sing, my mother helped shape a love, respect and admiration for music. She was very pro-American when it came to culture, so my earliest influences were all American artists. She loved the Andy Williams Show, the Rosemary Clooney Show and singers like Theresa Brewer, Connie Francis and Brenda Lee. I inherited my mother's inclination toward American tastes. When I entered my teen years, I was inherently drawn to music from the other side of the pond -- anything British was simply "to stiff upper lip for me."
Like all teenagers, I experienced that joyous rite of passage of discovering my own music... Ray Charles, Mahalia Jackson, Muddy Waters, Sister Rosetta Tharpe. These artists and Black music were some of my earliest influences. Finding the blues and gospel was like finding my religion. I call it a "Church thing." I was raised a Scottish Presbyterian, and from a completely different world from these artists, but listening to Ray Charles sing "I Got A Woman" felt like home. It's only fitting that I will be on stage at B.B. King's during Black History Month to honor these voices that have meant so much to me throughout my life.
When I was 13, I was performing with my own band -- all older boys -- and I wanted to desperately to be "hip." All the boys were checking out late-night gigs at clubs -- something I wasn't "allowed" to do. One night I manipulated my mother into letting me go see a singer by the name of Alex Harvey and it changed my life. He took the stage in a black leather suit, black boots, black hair and he opened his mouth and let out a sound that knocked me out. He was singing "Shout." It was a revelation and it led me to discover the Isley Brothers and the gifted writer/producer Bert Burns, who I was lucky to work with just a few years later.
Like most teenage girls, I was obsessed with The Beatles. I was drawn to them because they were adorable, of course, but what really got me was that they were influenced and moved by the same sound that had captured me. And that was happening all over the UK with young musicians like Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Van Morrison and more, who were all wrapped up in the blues sound that American culture had cast aside. For me it didn't get much better than Solomon Burke, to whom I always felt a kindred connection. And to this day, the songs of Otis Redding, Smokey Robinson and Etta James are some of my favourite songs to sing.
It's been a long journey from Glasgow to New York City, and it's taken me awhile to get here. But I am excited about having the opportunity to share my love for this music and these artists on stage in one of the greatest cities in the world.
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