Trolling the underground

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As I’ve mentioned before, the 2001 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival was a real eye-opener for me musically. That was where I got turned on to many new acts that I’d never heard of, and became a rock solid fan of a few that I’d heard of, but never listened to.  This weeks TtU addresses one of the former.

My traveling companion had been told by a friend in NYC to make SURE she didn’t miss Marcia Ball while she was in NO. I’d never heard the name before, and was already knocked out by the plethora of names I was familiar with. I mean, in one weekend, I was being offered B.B. King, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Clarence “Frogman” Henry, Koko Taylor, The Funky Meters, Dr. John, Buckwheat Zydeco, Max Roach, Harry Connick Sr., The Radiators, and Van Morrison (although I’m not a fan so I skipped him. I later heard that he’d done an awful and uninspired set.) I was there to learn, though, so unlike other times that weekend, I tagged along.

I’m glad I did. It was one of the musical highlights of the weekend. Since then, I’ve been a solid fan.

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Hailing from Louisiana, Marcia Ball has been a musician her entire adult life. When she started out, she left her home state for parts west. She made it as far as Austin, Tx., where the blues scene thrives, and settled right into it. Since then she’s made her mark as the “Piano Queen of the Bayou”, and rightly so. Many women have made their mark in music by singing as well as she does, but it’s her stunning piano work that really makes her the band leader. She takes her inspiration from influences such as Fats Dominoe, Clifton Chenier, Irma Thomas, and especially her hero Professor Longhair. She does them all proud.

Hers is the type of style that MAKES you get to your feet. Her rockin’ piano will force the toes to tap, the knees to spring, the boot to scoot. Her soulful voice locks you in to the slow tunes . She is “must see” music in my opinion.

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Here she is hanging with another legend I’ve met – Bo Diddly

I saw her again in Albuquerque, along with blues legends Duke Robillard and Charlie Musselwhite, and created a new fan by badgering a friend to go along. While the whole show was great, she was the high point. After the show, I learned of a habit she has. After each gig, she comes out with her Sharpie marker and meets with the fans, selling CDs and autographing until everyone’s gone. That is when my friend told her that he was blown away, and that he’s glad I talked him into going because he hadn’t wanted to. She looked at him and said “Well, you need to start listening to Joe!” It was at least a year before he stopped hearing about THAT.

When I returned to New Orleans in 2003, about a month after the Albuquerque show, I had already scoured the internet to see if she’d be playing. Not a hint of it, but no worries, this is New Orleans, right? Great musicians spawn from there, so I’ll see something good. When we got there, I picked up a copy of the free weekly paper that all cities seem to have, and there she was, playing at the famous Tipitina’s nightclub the next evening. I was right up front that night, as close to that piano as you could get. After she shook the roof loose, we met again and she autographed a concert poster for me. She even claimed to remember us from the month before, and seemed sincere. Even if she didn’t she faked it well! She is a very gracious lady with her fans, and it is always a treat to see her.

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She doesn’t seem to be well known outside of blues circles, but she is quickly becoming a big name within those circles. She was even included in Clint Eastwood’s Piano Blues documentary along with legends Ray Charles, Pinetop Perkins, and Dave Brubeck. As a pianist, it’s hard to be in better company than that!

For this installment, I have selected one of her most rockin’ party tunes. This song, called That’s Enough of That Stuff showcases her up front vocal style and her magic fingers, and shows why hers is the first name I think of when I’m in the mood for some hot piano blues. It was recorded at Zilker Park in Austin, Tx. on June 22, 2005.

You can listen to it here.

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Next time: When he died, far more attention was paid to his television career than his musical dabblings.

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2 Comments

  1. Interesting. Never heard of her either and my hubby and father are both blues nuts. I’ll have to bring her up. I have another little known gem for ya. She’s a native blues artist named Pura Fe. Check her out at http://www.purafe.com/

  2. I love her! She really knows how to rock! Everyone should hear “Presumed Innocent,” y’hear? (And not just ‘cuz Sonny Landreth is heard playing slide, either. ) Also listen to “Let Me Play With Your Poodle.”


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