I first met Valerie on Bleecker Street some time ago, a friend of a friend, a drummer that I love and respect named LaFrae had introduced her to me, suggesting that I try to get her a gig somewhere. Up walks this stunning young lady whom, after a nice little hello, proceeded to join the electric blues band onstage, open her mouth and tame the whole room. This was no siren, but a lullaby girl, someone peaceful and dreamy, someone who could captivate. The band and her went on to improvised through a couple of simple blues tunes with lyrics that she had brought from way far back, far beyond hers and my lifetimes, from the front porches of her hilly home in western Tennessee through the troubled history of America's music.
She was something special. Valerie and I have since caught a number of shows together, helped each other out a little and we've even performed together some. But over the next two months, this "gypsy nightingale" will bustling around, making the scene at a number of different festivals/conferences. Next week, she represents her hometown in Memphis, TN at the International Blues Challenge (www.blues.org), a gigantic gathering of blues talent from worldwide that essentially is coming together for a great big "battle of the bands," only this is for real. I've had the privilege to represent the Jersey Shore twice in the past, and it is no joke.
Just a few weeks later, it'll be time for the Folk Alliance (www.folkalliance.org), also in Memphis and, then, when March comes, it's down to SXSW (www.sxsw.com) where, with any luck, I'll run into her while I am showcasing with one of my little NYC things, the "Hands Off My Sister" Band. That is a wild couple of months for a young lady whoes demeanor is so chill and relaxed.
Since this little blog of mine has been so self-centered lately, the time is ripe for me to start doing some of these interviews with the people that have grabbed my attention. I've got more of them in the works, but here is a quick one with my friend Valerie. I hope to update you all over these coming weeks as to how it's going at these big music events, because all three of them are pretty serious for a musician that is on her way up.
JD) Valerie, you'd qualify as a "country girl". What brought you up to NYC? Has it been cool up here? I mean, I know you grew up close to Memphis and I've been down there a bunch. Do you think it's different?
VJ) I am for certain a COUNTRY GIRL! I love Tennessee! I would definitely not say I am "IN" New York. I'd say I have been enjoying myself by keeping a bit of time there, but Tennessee is home for me! I keep more time in Tennessee. I do think the north is vastly different from the south. In New York, people depend on public transportation, are used to waiting in long lines, have the freedom to be fashionably creative, and have the potential to gain support for anything the public deems interesting with haste. New York is my great escape! The South is a bit slower to accept change and differences, and that is what I love about it. The South has been patient with me as I have honed and developed my craft. Maybe that is why so many AWESOME acts come from the south!
JD) You've been holding a residency in NYC at a venue called Terra Blues on Bleecker Street smack in the middle of the Village. The place gets a mix of New Yorkers and lots of foreigners going in there. Have they been receptive? It's the only "blues" club in the city nowadays. Is it anything like what's down on Beale Street?
VJ) My residency at Terra Blues has been a huge highlight of my career in the Blues World! People from all over the world are adore Terra Blues as much as they do Beale Street. Depending on what time you arrive at Terra Blues, you might be reminded of what Beale Street used to be when Robert Johnson or Furry Lewis were beating their boxes out there. The evenings generally begin with an acoustic blues set that holds ground against any of the old blues artists, like Lightin' Hopkins. The audiences have been loving my music! I think they enjoy being able to stumble upon a young woman from Memphis playing a few tunes as she passes through town.
JD) Who have you been listening to lately? Anyone interesting?
VJ) I am getting ready to represent Memphis at the International Blues Challenge, so I've been listening to the fabulous ladies of the blues like Memphis Minnie, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Lucille Bowman, and Big Mama Thornton. Those girls can make the "No Draws Blues" sound like a children's song!
JD) I've been lucky enough to play with you onstage, and I really enjoyed it. Tell me, if you could pick the act, or just the artist, whether they be a sideman or a singer, or a band, who'd you love to share the stage with once or twice?
VJ) WOW! There are so many acts and artists I'd like to share the stage with that I almost dare not answer this question!
Taj Mahal, The Black Keys, Old Crow Medicine Show, Corey Harris, John Forte, Rhiannon Giddens, Cedric Burnside and Lightin' Malcolm, Robert Belfour, and YOU again, too!
JD) Ok, lastly, since I try to focus on a lot of travel when I am writing for Chorus and Verse here, I am going to ask you a few things that some of my more adventurous readers just may utilize. I know you've gotten around a bit, so this is a "whole world" inclusive thing. Where's your favorite place to sit around with a cup of tea?
VJ) I LOVE BERLIN!
JD) Best place to take a walk?
VJ) I enjoy walking anywhere I can find a country road with a clear sky!
JD) City with the best vibe?
VJ) That's too hard to answer! I love so many things about every place I've roamed, but no place has ever had it all. I guess that's why I'm a rambler.
JD) And, mostly for me, where can I find the best BBQ in Tennessee?
VJ) That's tough... Central BBQ In Memphis, Pie Wagon in Nashville, Sam and See's in Humboldt! I'll get around to the other cities and let you know those too. We should go on a BBQ and Music Tour!
Indeed we should. :)
Once again, look for her at the International Blues Challenge and the Folk Alliance, both happening this February in Memphis, as well as SXSW in Austin, Texas in March. You can also check out her music at www.valeriejune.com.
If you've got any questions, or if you'd like to suggest someone or something for this little blog/column thing, just send me an email at [email protected].