It would make for an interesting case-by-case study of blues musicians: run ‘em down one by one and ask them to delineate, wherever possible, the root causes of the particular blues they’ve got. What’s giving you the blues, BB King? In your own words, John Lee Hooker, could you elaborate on the short-term, intermediate and long-term factors that aggravate your blues condition?
The right kind of blues is something you want to hang on to if you’re in the business, so I asked guitarist Debbie Davies if the music ever feels rootbound or stagnant for her, and, if so, what does she do about it?
“Musically, no, I never feel like it’s stagnant. Blues is a feeling kind of playing,” she responded. “I grew up listening to rock and big band music; everyone is brought up with a certain set of influences. All these things become a part of you, but the way I personally want to express myself is through electric blues guitar.
“I still feel like I’m growing,” she continues. “There’s more to it than chops. It’s about connecting and putting the depth of your feelings into the music.
Yes, all right, but the underlying similarities in chords and lyrics and subject matter from one song and artist to the next? It’s still a very personal process, Davies assured me.
“I write in a personal way—from my heart, from my experiences,” she said. “I call it the craft of songwriting. Some people just seem to do it innately—I’m kind of half that person. I’ve also tried to learn it. What I do is an art and a craft, and you have to work at it.”
And she’s been working at it for a long time. She was exposed to the southern California music scene early on through her musician parents. Davies played around the Bay Area and Los Angeles for years, finally landing a plummy slot in the late Albert Collins’ backup band, the Icebreakers, in 1988. Playing guitar in a genre that traditionally keeps women in singing roles, Davies admits, has had its advantages and disadvantages.
“It was really bad in the beginning,” she laughs. “If I were a guy, I would have had a support group of guys who were all players. Once I became a player, the coin turned. When I got to where I could compete with the males, I got noticed because I was a female. If I’d been a male in Albert Collins’ band, I wouldn’t have stood out at all.
“For me, the challenge is there in the writing,” Davies goes on. “You have to feel on some level that you’re still reaching for something. I’m still excited about learning to play bits of an album I really love. That keeps the excitement and the enjoyment in it for me. And if I put on something that initially got me excited about music, it’ll take me right back to that feeling I had when I first heard it. And then there’s a lot of work that has to be done.”
Debbie Davies and her band play at the Blue Heron this Wednesday at 9 p.m. Tickets $8 advance, $10 day of show. Call 543-2525.