Thursday, April 21, 2011

Musician Marcia Ball will bring her rollicking piano to Chicago next month


At 62 years young, Texas-born, Louisiana-raised songwriter Marcia Ball still has some stories to spin about life on the road.

Ball does so in rollicking fashion on "Roadside Attractions," released on March 29 on Chicago-based Alligator Records.

"Roadside Attractions" is Ball's 15th solo record, and her fifth on Alligator Records. The four-time Grammy nominated artist will perform May 13 at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.

She will perform two shows at 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. The Sanctified Grumblers also is on the bill.

Tickets are $22, available at

The critically acclaimed musician was inducted in the Gulf Coast Music Hall of Fame last year, joining such legends as Janis Joplin, ZZ Top and Edgar and Johnny Winter.

She has a deep love for the Gulf Coast, and last year joined other musicians in performing at a benefit for the Gulf Coast in the wake of the BP oil spill.

I had the chance to talk to Ball about the album and how she continues to be inspired.

Q - Your new album debuted at #5 on the Billboard's blues charts and was the #1 most added record on Americana radio. Are you surprised the album is doing so well?

Well, I'm thrilled. You never know. But I'll tell you what I do have on my side. I have Alligator Records on my side, and I know they are doing a great job.

Q - I believe this is your fifth album for Alligator Records, and your 15th solo record. One thing that separates "Roadside Attractions" from your other efforts is that you wrote or co-wrote every song on the CD, the first time you had ever done that. Was that one of your goals for the album?

Yeah it was, actually. I just started writing. The album's producer, Gary Nicholson, is a relentless writer. He just loves to write.

We had written some songs together, and he had listened to the songs that I had. And before you know it, we had a record full of material and then some.

Q - How did the collaboration happen?

Well, I've known Gary for a long time. We go on the Delbert (McClinton) Cruise together every year. I love him as a songwriter. He is inspiring and interesting, and we just started talking about it.

We've written together before, too. It just seemed right that we should do this.

Q - What other goals did you have for the album?

The bottom line is that I'm glad to get out there with a record full of material that we enjoyed playing and that people are apparently enjoying hearing. That is gratifying.

Q - I understand that you view "Roadside Attractions" as a series of stories.

It's pretty autobiographical. The songs might not be totally true, but it could have happened like that.

That's what writing is. It's just somebody's version of the truth. So I guess the album is my version of the truth.

Q - Would you say that it is your most personal album to date?

Well, yes. What concerns me is when you start talking about doing a biographical/autobiographical personal sort of album, how much and how long can you mine this same load of material?

I've been talking about growing up in a small town in Louisiana for a long time. The first record I wrote a lot of my songs on was "Gatorhythms," and it has some people's favorite songs, like "La Ti Da" and "The Power of Love."

You have to really come up with another way of saying some of this stuff, I guess. Or you have to write about a universal truth, something that is larger than your neighborhood, something about your neighborhood that is more universal.

And the great writers can do that. You don't want to write the same story over and over again. You want to draw people into your world.

And then there are the issues that we all deal with. A song on the album called "This Used To Be Paradise," has its relation to the BP oil spill and beyond.

Q - But "Roadside Attractions" ends on a hopeful note. Do you think the album's last song, "The Party's Still Going On," kind of summarizes where you are at these days with your career?

I guess so. That's kind of true too. You can look at me and say, "Lord, how long has she been doing this?" But you know what, the party's still going on.

Q - Over the years, you've collaborated with a lot of great people. Do you have any dream collaborations?

Well, I've had some dreams come true, like working with Irma Thomas and Dr. John. I've been fortunate with that. I'd love to work with Eric Clapton.

I'd like to bring a few people back to life.

Q - Yeah, the great ones are dying off. We just lost of course Pinetop Perkins. Did people like that inspire you?

Absolutely. You know, he was living here. He came to a lot of my gigs. We'd bring him up in the middle of the set. Everybody loved it. He could still draw a crowd. I have some wonderful memories of him.

Q - What keeps you going?

I love doing this. I love going out on the road, I love playing music. I have lots of friends out there. I love this.

Q - Of course, the music business has changed a lot since you first started. Do you think it's harder or easier to make a living at it these days?

I think it's harder. There's lots more competition. Kids who are starting out are going to have a harder time than maybe I did, although it was never super easy.

Q- What advice would you give to a musician that is just starting out?

If you love it, do it. You don't have to be Sara Lee to be a good baker. You can play music and have a career and support yourself and support other people, and not necessarily be the biggest household name in the world.

You can just be good and do what you do. But you have to love it. If you don't love it, don't even do it.
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