Sunday, January 31, 2010

Shelley Nicole's blaKbushe

Sorry for the delay of my latest post. Life throws you curve balls, but you just keep swinging back until you're back on track.

Shelley Nicole's blaKbushe is the living, breathing embodiment of progressive rock music. Imagine Nona Hendryx meets Black Sabbath or Janis Joplin meets Grace Jones ant there you will find the blaKbushe experience. It is a blend best described by Shelley Nicole as SolaRoc; combining elements of rock, funk, soul, and beyond. blaKbushe has been called reminiscent of the Soul/Pop recording group Labelle. Even Labelle member Sarah Dash agrees stating, "blaKbushe is not to be overlooked."

I had the pleasure to interview Shelley a week ago, and my apologies to her for not getting this up earlier. She is gracious, informative, and passionate about her music. Her album "She Who Bleeds" will take you on a journey that will make you think and move all in the same breathe. Here's a small portion of that interview.

DC: As a little girl did you dream of being a rock star?

SN: LOL! No as a little girl I had the dream that I wanted to be a broadway star. I wanted to be an actress on broadway and do that whole thing because acting was my first love. I did children's theater, all kind of plays in school, plays off broadway, it was really my thing. I wanted to go to school at NYU's Tisch, but like most families we didn't have the money for me to go to Tisch. It's really hard to ask your parents to fork out $150,000.00 to go to school. At 17 we all have these life plans mapped out where you say that you're going to do this, and that, and my life will be like this. But when the plan doesn't fall into place, at 17 you think that your life is over, LOL, which we know it isn't.

DC: So where did you end up going to school?

SN: I ended up going to Ohio State where I still pursued acting and performing in plays along with singing in the school Jazz Choir. It was just a different journey, a different road that wasn't in the original plan of things. But when I went back to New York, I performed with an off broadway theatre company for many years and was still able to pursue some of that dream. I knew that I was going to be some kind of star, but I just didn't know it was going to be as a Rock Star LOL!

DC: So when did you make a shift to singing and singing Rock of all things?

SN: So I graduated with a degree in journalism from Ohio State and received an internship at Vibe magazine. I met a woman at Vibe who was in a band and she invited me to sing backup. I was fortunate to sing backup with some wonderful women and that allowed me to see how women were really doing it in New York. Then I was asked to write an article by the Philadelphia Inquirer on Greg Tate and the BRC (Black Rock Coalition), and through that article Greg invited me to showcases that the BRC put on. It was great to see people who looked like me just doing it. That introduction opened up the doors and the thought of what my music could be and where I could go with it. Along the way, I started my own thing and defined and redefined it to what it is today. My band blaKbushe is comprised of some amazingly talented musicians. I love all kinds of music but rock just has a whole lot of passion to it.

DC: How long did it take before you got your stuff together and developed your own band?

SN: Let's see. The three women that I sang with were Robin Dixon, Tamar Kali, and Remileku.

DC: You had wonderful mentors.

SN: Yes, amazing women who are just brilliant in what they do. Unbelievable mentors who helped me get to what I wanted to do with my music. It wasn't until 1998 that I decided to start writing my own songs. And honestly I'm not sure what sparked that, but I just know that I needed to start writing my own songs. It was also around that time when I got fired from Vibe, which was the best thing that could have happened, because it made me really jump into starting my own band and teaching myself how to play the bass.

DC: How did you learn the bass?

SN: I taught myself and had some lessons. I wasn't the greatest player at the time, but everyone kept telling me to play as I write my songs, that way you know them and get used to playing.

DC: Why did you decide on the bass?

SN: I really love the bottom of the bass and the drums. I'm a huge Stanley Clark fan and Marcus Miller fan. They're both pretty amazing in what they do. I remember meeting Marcus Miller at the Blue Note after a set, and in our conversation him saying that he still learns something new with his instrument. So for Marcus Miller to say that he was still learning, that was pretty eye opening. So I keep playing and learning my craft.

SN: I just Love the Bass. The bass is the ground you know, it holds everything together. The bass is really where it's at. I love guitar, don't get me wrong, but when I listen to music I search for the bass and the drums, because that's what holds a song together. It's the foundation.

DC: So how do you define your music?

SN: That's always tough. I just named it SolaRoc. I mean LOL it just came together, because it has soul, you know people of the sun brown skinned, and rock. That's it. But when people need to know and I have to break it down, I just say it's Rock, Funk, and Soul. It has Blues, Jazz, Gospel, all of these elements that I grew up with are a part of my music. It's tough to break it down. If you come to a show you will hear a lot of different sounds. For some people, it will be like Huh?!?! and for others it will be like hell yeah!!! It's not a one track type of show.

SN: It's a challenge, because being Black and choosing this path musically, most often people at times don't know what to do. For instance, I was trying to get my music into this store in Atlanta, and I found out later that the reason they didn't place it in the store was because it wasn't soulful enough. I understand that it's your store, but I find that you are boxing your audience in and deciding for them what is soulful enough and what isn't for them, when it should be their choice. Then it becomes strange because they don't know how they can market you. So you get boxed in right from the gate before anyone can even listen to your music.

DC: Does having a label to music matter?

SN: You could do away with labeling but people have made a fortune by labeling. I mean what would Billboard be without labeling? So it's a tough call when there's money to be made by those who created the system. For me when I listen to music, I either like it or I don't, it's that simple. It's a tough call, because if your not a lover of music who goes out in search of the new, or the obscure artist to follow and appreciate, then you're the person just turning on the radio and listening to what's presented to you by the radio stations.

DC: Tell me a little bit about maneuvering in the Rock world as a Black woman.

SN: That's a tough question. You know early in my career I made a conscious decision not to deal with certain types of people. Maybe if I would have pushed for a label I might have seen something different. It's kind of strange cause I'm not a superstar, but I've been really fortunate to work with awesome musicians, and amazing men who have supported me through out this journey. Also, being in New York, or wherever you live, you begin to network with a group of people and promoters that help to get you out there. I've been really blessed to play at some amazing venues based on those relationships. I think the struggle is less than being a woman and more about the financials that are not in place to market myself in the way that every artist would like. That's probably my biggest hurdle, cause not everyone has the money to bring a 7 piece band to the next city. blaKbushe is a band, but it's also just me when it comes to the financials. The real deal is that the band is also the other people that make your vision come to life. They love what you do, and help your sound come to life, and for that I would love to have the financials in place for my band to be able to taken care of and travel everywhere I go.

DC: Was it a struggle trying to get a record deal, and do you have a deal?

SN: To tell you the truth I just never really looked. I don't know if that's because I worked on both sides of the industry or not. I mean being a journalist and interviewing artist whose experiences were just awful. At the time I had a great manager and both of us were pretty clear that we were not trying to pursue the route of securing a deal thru an industry label. That was even before the industry is where it is now. I've never looked back. I've sent music to labels for specific reasons or suggestions from a contact that I met, but nothing that I really pursued or pushed for. I saw friends who would do the showcases for the labels, and cut demo's and end up with nothing, I mean nothing. I mean we are talking about phenomenal women who were at the top of their game. That's what made me just do it myself. That's what made me create my own label Red Butterfly Music.

DC: What do you think it is that keeps the labels from being invested long enough to really market an artist to help generate an audience?

SN: I mean it's racism and it's the boxing in of black people. I think it's in the model they created. It's where someone sits and says that Black people do R&B, Soul, Gospel and Rap and this is where we make money off of them and they are successful. There's a wonderful documentary out called "Still Bill" about Bill Withers and he talks about the fact that he was boxed into something that he was not. Bill Withers was Folk and American Roots music. That's who he is but the label wanted him to become an R&B artist, and add horns and back up singers to his music. That's when he decided to just walk away, since he couldn't stay true to what he was.

SN: Also, you have to understand that a lot of Black women who are out here doing rock, are coming with a message in their music. Their talking about women's issues about things that are really poignant and pertinent to what's going on. I mean it's not all love and happiness, and dropping your drawers, and that kind of nonsense. The women that I know that are out here doing their thing, Rock, Funk, Soul whatever are really powerful women secure enough to do their music in the right way.

DC: Tell me about the song Blak Girls?

SN: The song Blak Girls I wrote that song because of what we are talking about. About how many fabulous Black women I know who are out there doing their thing and can't get it break. Not just in music, but across the board.

DC: I think it could be a national anthem for Black women

SN: That would be great if it could be. I mean mediocre women getting deals when the greats are struggling to be heard in a mainstream way. Writing the song took me a while, because I had so much emotion to share behind what I was feeling. I wanted to be able to tell the story but have power behind the lyrics I was writing.

DC: What's your process for writing?

SN: Sometimes I'll hear bass lines in my head and work with that. Some times just the lyrics come. It comes as it comes and then I put it together as it hits me. It's not so much for me to just write all of the time. I write when the spirit moves me. I wish I was more of a writer who wrote more often, but it's definitely more of when the spirit moves me for sure.

SN: Like the song Go Head and Rise came from me and a friend being in a store and me seeing this thing that said if you're going through hell keep going." That really hit me because the real deal about life and the struggles that we all have when things hit us hard, is that sometimes we don't want to go through it. We want to block it out, we want to numb ourselves, so we eat, we drink, we shop, we take drugs, whatever it takes to keep us away from the pain. Then we wonder why we can't seem to get past our addiction, when all it took was us to feel it, go through the experience, and get to the other side of it. That way when the universe brings that back to you again, you can recognize it and deal with it in the proper way without the pain from the past. So when I saw that saying it really moved me and from that I wrote Go Head and Rise.

SN: The song Crazy came out of a time in my life. A friend of mine said that you shouldn't fuck with singers cause you might end up in a song LOL!!! And taht's basically what happened with that song LOL!!!

DC: What about Box?

SN: Box came out of exactly what we are talking about. I did not want to be boxed in with my music, and it also came from that need not to be boxed in in any capacity that is not your own truth.

DC: Your sound is raw, and gritty and very similar to that of Labelle. Did they have any influence on you?

SN: It's funny that you would say that, because Sarah Dash came to see me perform like years ago. She came to that show and I had no idea that she came. After that performance, Sarah Dash got in touch with Bob Davis, who runs the site Soul Patrol. She told him that i reminded her of Labelle back in the day.

DC: That is an amazing compliment coming from Sarah Dash.

SN: Yeah I was honored, and we've become friends and keep in touch. Now Nona Hendryx is a staple in the New York scene. Nona is like everywhere. But my experience with Nona, came from doing an interview with her and wanting to know the lyrics to a song that my old band an i wanted to play but couldn't figure out the lyrics. So I called Nona up and she gave me the lyrics, and now fast forward I will be doing a show on February 25th with Nona. She started this thing called Hope Stock but changed the name to Unfiltered, and basically just started this showcase to help unknown artist have a platform to perform their music. It's on February 25th at SOB's and I'm so excited! I call Labelle the Holy Trinity LOL!, and I have two of the three from the Holy Trinity LOL! So I'm just missing Ms. Patty Labelle. She's just one degree of separation now.

DC: Who are some of your other influences.

SN: Sarah Vaughn, Phyllis Hyman, Janis Joplin, Chaka Khan, Bernard Edwards, Marcus Miller. So many have helped to form me.

DC: What do you think is missing in music today?

SN: I really believe that what was happening back in the 70's was just a magical time and some where along the way we lost it. I mean music was just so amazing and different back then. All those black people were different in so many ways and levels giving their all, and that's what's missing from today's music. You knew a Gamble and Huff tune, just as well as you could tell a Motown tune. Each had a very distinct sound, but it didn't matter because it was all just great music. Because I'm underground I see and hear those differences, from the artist who are giving their all, and their bringing it. Their just not being heard in the mainstream. That's what's missing. Uniqueness.

Shelly has agreed to participate in the documentary and I'm hoping to shoot her at the Unfiltered concert on February 25th.

Here is a video of Shelley singing Blak Girls.

To a musical journey worth sharing,


Monday, January 18, 2010

Teneia Sanders

Teneia Sanders was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, and music has always played a vital role in her life. She began singing at the age of 10 and quickly realized that music was her passion. In high school, she sang with several choral ensembles and became a member of the R&B group 601. In 2002 Teneia received a scholarship to Holmes Community College from her high school director and mentor Doug Browning, where she sang in the school's choral ensemble and show choir. After two years of performing, she decided to pursue her dreams of becoming a professional musician. She is a self taught singer, writer, guitarist whose angelic voice, unique guitar rhythms and moving lyrics have helped to garner praise as a truly gifted musician, whose skills are compelling.

Her debut album "Soul Catcher", is acoustic-based music with beautiful melodies and evocative imagery, drawn from folk and soul roots. Teneia is currently in the studio writing and producing her next album, tentatively entitled "The Commander", which she hopes will be released some time this spring. I had the pleasure of interviewing Teneia over the weekend and here's a small portion from the interview.

DC: First I would love to thank you for agreeing to be a part of this documentary, and I am truly humbled that you said yes. You are the first person that I've interviewed for the blog and I'm really excited about that.

TS: I'm pleased to be on the phone with you and to be in conversation with someone who is doing something so awesome to help promote black female rockers. It's truly a pleasure for me.

DC: My first question is why did you decide to say yes to this project?

TS: Well it's hard for me sometimes when I show up to a bar or venue, and people see me with a guitar. You can tell by their expression "oh here's a black girl with a guitar but what is she going to do", so they're taken a back at first. Then the second thing they think is that I'm going to cover Tracy Chapman songs LOL. So it's really important for me to have people look at black female rockers who play guitar as musicians as well as singers. It's also important that they understand that we as Black female artist sing some of everything including Rock.

DC: In doing research for the documentary, I've reached out to a lot of women,recommended by friends and other musicians that have referred to these women as Black female rockers. But to my surprise some of those same artists did not consider themselves to be rockers at all. They had all of these other creative listings of what they considered their music to be. Afro Punk Fusion, Soul Funk, Acid Rock Soul, etc. Because of that I don't want to place a label on your style of music, but I'm curious as to what you consider your music to be?

TS: I figured out recently in the last year or two what my music would be called, and I came up with Folk Soul. I came up with that because you get imagery and storytelling with most of my songs like you would from a Folk song, but then there's some Soul Rock there also. So you get a little bit of grit and edge, and that's what rounds out my sound.

DC: Do you feel that putting a label on your music, pigeon holes you into grabbing the widest audience possible?

TS: At the very beginning, I was very leary about placing a label on my music. But then you realize that you don't sing everything and in order for people to find your music, they have to have a place to start. So for me, Folk Soul is what I've labeled it to be. And also, when I say Folk Soul, people become immediately interested and they want to know what that combination is going to be like.

DC: It's funny because you call it Folk Soul, but if you look for your music on Itunes or CD Baby, you are categorized as Blues. On the site you're indie folk.

TS: Yeah, that's what's wrong with the labeling system. I can understand labeling the music, but it doesn't make sense to label the artist, especially if the artist is more than capable of crossing over into other genres.

DC: Do you ever wish that music labels did a way with the labeling of artist?

TS: Yes, that's the thing. When that happens and you're labeled as one thing , you lose lead way creatively. So if my last album is sent out as R&B, but now I want to do Alternative Country, the labels are quick to tell you that the box they created for you is R&B and you need to stick within that box. It becomes a struggle creatively at that point when an artist wants to spread their wings and unleash that music in a different way. Everything flows for me. One day I could write a wonderful Gospel song and the next it could be this funky Rock song. It's just what you're feeling at the time.

DC: Do you have a label deal at this time?

TS: Currently I'm doing everything myself. I have some things in the works, but currently it's all me along with family and friends. I actually enjoy it because I'm hands on and that way I know every job.

DC: How did you find your sound?

TS: Well a lot comes from being in the Church like so many artist from the south. My dad is a Pastor of a church in Mound Bayou, MS, so the church had a huge influence on me. That's where I started singing. While I was growing up I listened to a lot of R&B and Soul. Then in high school I was performing with my schools Chorale Group, where we sang all kinds of music, including classical and some foreign language songs. Then I was in the R&B group 601 when we really started listening to everything. We knew that if we absorbed as much music as possible, and as many styles as possible, that nothing but good could come out of it.

DC: What's your process for writing songs?

TS: Typically I pick up my guitar and start playing around with different chord progressions and rhythms. To me there's a spiritual thing in writing songs, because you don't think about the situation that you're going to write about, but there's something that sparks it for you. So I just layer and layer, and play until it all comes together. Sometimes it comes together in pieces and I have to put it down and then go back to it. Then I write the lyrics. I figure out the storyline and the direction that the story will go in. Then blend it all together for the final product. It all comes together in the end.

DC: Tell me about producing and recording the album "Soul Catcher"?

TS: For me "Soul Catcher" was a really big process of my life. That whole album when I think back on it was my life for an entire year. So the songs on the album all have a place in my heart. In regards to recording the album, I met a wonderful man by the name of William Bartley, from Slackshop, who I met at an open mic. I mentioned I needed to record something and he offered to record me. We had a few songs that were ready to be laid down, and as other songs came about we added them to the album. I had a wonderful time working through the process. it was a lot of fun.

DC: Who are some of your musical influences?

TS: I have several musical influences, but one of my favorites is Ani Difranco. To me she is one of my guitar heroes. I just love what she does and I also love Aretha Franklin. But, I'm inspired by so many that it's difficult to pick and choose.

DC: So what's next for you?

TS: Currently, I'm working on my next album tentatively named "The Commander". I'm really excited about this album. It's myself and my band, The Highjackers, who are based out of Louisville, KY. I'm really pumped about it, it's kind of this jazzy, soulful funky record that will make you smile, and bop your head. We hope to release it in the spring.

DC: Teneia it's been a pleasure talking with you and I am excited that you are on board for the documentary.

TS: I had a great time talking with you and can't wait to get the word out about what you're doing. I'm truly honored that you thought to even include me.

Please check out her website and her music. She is definitely an artist with an amazing voice who deserves to be heard by others. Even if you don't sign up for this blog, please share with your friends the name Teneia Sanders.

Here's Teneia and her friend Mark Hamilton performing the song "Servant":

Friday, January 8, 2010

Betty Mabry Davis

This post is for a woman that I'm currently listening to. She is, along with Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a woman that is mentioned by many. While researching for my doc, I've asked several artists I wish to profile, who are some of their musical influences? Betty Davis comes up each and every time, with passion and wonderment in each and every voice that I speak too. She is the epitome of magic, beauty and strength that these current day female rockers admire and respect. I'm currently listening to her first album, Betty Davis (along with other artist of course), and really feeling "Anti Love Song" and "Game is My Middle Name". But the song that I have on replay is "F.U.N.K". Her voice is powerful, raw, and confident behind the delivery of her lyrics. I wish I could have witnessed her music live in concert.

Davis emerged as a singer in the era of Jimi Hendrix, Tina Turner, Sly & the Family Stone, James Brown, Al Green, Labelle, The Pointer Sisters, and Parliament Funkadelic. She was always head strong and had her own way of thinking, walking and talking. When people told her she couldn't do something, she relished in the challenge of proving them wrong. At a young age she moved to New York and worked as a model, appearing in such magazines as Seventeen, Ebony, and Glamour. While living in New York she hung out with friends Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, hanging out at clubs that promoted all kinds of different styles of music.

In, 1966, Davis met Miles Davis and married him in September 1968. She was a huge influence on Miles Davis in terms of fashion, and music. During her short marriage to Miles Davis she introduced him to Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone, who introduced Miles to psychedelic rock, and a new way of playing and using instruments to manipulate the sound of music. Because of that introduction, Davis is credited for helping Miles Davis shift from traditional jazz, to fusion jazz. This is evident on Miles first two albums, In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew. Despite Betty's influence on Davis, the marriage only lasted a year.

After her divorce, Davis moved to London where she continued to model and work on writing music with the hopes of working with the group Santana. Upon her return to the US, she changed her focus and enlisted a bunch of friends to help with her first album entitled Betty Davis, released in 1973. Her friends on the album consisted of the Pointer Sisters as background vocals, Neal Schon on guitar from the groups Santana/Journey, Gregg Errico on drums from Sly & The Family Stone, Larry Graham on bass from Graham Central Station, Greg Adams and Mic Gillette on horns from Tower Of Power, Merle Saunders on electric piano, and Pete Sears on acoustic piano. She had the best of the best.

Although her peers praised Davis, she didn't achieve commercial success, partially due to her open sexual attitude, which was controversial for the time. Some of her shows were boycotted or shut down. Her songs were not played on the radio due to pressure by religious groups and the NAACP, along with the titles to the songs themselves like "He Was a Big Freak", "Nasty Girl" and "If I'm In Luck I Just Might Get Picked Up". Davis's other problem was that she was ahead of her time in demanding artist copyright ownership. This kept her at odds with the record labels. At the end of the day, her records did not sell and Davis returned to Pennsylvania.

With the passage of time her records have become highly regarded by collectors of soul and funk music. Both albums Betty Davis and They Say I'm Different were re-released by Seattle's Light in the Attic Records on May 1, 2007. In September 2009 Light in the Attic Records reissued "Nasty Girl" and her unreleased 4th studio album recorded in 1976, re-titled as "Is It Love or Desire?" (the original title was "Crashin' From Passion"). Both reissues contained extensive liner notes and shed some light on the mystery of why her 4th album, considered possibly to be her best work by many members of her band, was shelved by the record label and remained unreleased for 33 years.

For those of you that would like to learn more about Betty, there is a wonderful article located at this site
You can buy the back issue of Wax Poetics magazine, issue 22 for $9.99 on their site

You can also listen to an interview with Davis on NPR:

Here is the song F.U.N.K:

Last but not least, check out Light In The Attic. You can buy Davis's music as well as find out about some of the other artist that they rep. If your really feeling Davis you can buy one of the t-shirts that they're selling.

Hope you enjoy!

To a musical journey worth sharing!


Saturday, January 2, 2010

What Is The Definition Of Black Rock + Sister Rosetta Thorpe

What is the definition of Black Rock?

That one question made me stop, and really think about how I would define Black Rock for my readers. Then I realized that I can't define black rock music, nor do I want to, because it encompasses every genre. Black rock is a blending of Gospel, R&B, Jazz, hard hitting instruments and voices that all present a unique blend not easily categorized. I realized that music labels have deceptively categorized certain artist in to the cookie cutter genre's that they invented in order to market an artist, and for the label to feel more comfortable. It's so much easier to state that a black artist with a new sound is R&B, than it is to put the artist out with a so called rock title, when the label has defined rock as white music. When you look at that one statement, and realize that it opens Pandora's box, it is easy to see how Black musicians become pigeon holed into mainstream boxes. For that reason, I will not put a definition on what I consider to be Black Rock. I will just share my ideas and thoughts on who and what I think it is through the sharing in this blog. You can define it for yourself. After all it's your own playlist that you listen to at the end of the day. Music crosses over in every aspect of our lives. We as individuals make the true decision of what we want to hear and purchase. Everyone that I know acquires music of all types, regardless of ethnicity or genre. It's all in what you're exposed to and what you yourself seek out in music that feeds your soul. That leads me to my first profile.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe:

Sister Rosetta Tharpe, an amazing sanctified gospel singer during the 1930's and 40's. But beyond being just a singer she was one of the first bad ass female guitar players that you could ever imagine. She broke boundaries on how music could be sung and played within the church. She blurred color lines with her hard hitting gospel voice and intense unique guitar playing. There are stories of the church filling up with people of all ethnicities and faiths, just to hear her sing and play. She was a self taught musician who strutted on stage doing her thing way before Chuck Berry or Pete Townsend. She is considered, by some, to be the first person to record the first Rock N Roll song entitled "Strange Things Happening Everyday". Tharpe's crossover hit "Strange Things Happening Everyday", was later covered by Jerry Lee Lewis. She was a black artist that everyone listened to regardless of her race, in a time when it wasn't the thing to do.

Her following and admirers were vast. She was held in high esteem within the gospel community and respected by white and black musicians afar including Bob Dylan, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Aretha Franklin, Little Richard, and Issac Hayes. So here we begin! A woman of gospel roots who helps define the new sound of Rock-N-Roll with a voice and a guitar. Don't get me wrong, she's not the only one, but she is the first woman documented with pushing the sound of what we consider to be Rock-N-Roll. For those of you interested in learning more about her story, there's a wonderful book out by Gayle Wald, entitled Shout Sister Shout. You can learn more at the site

Here's a video to Sister Roseta Tharpe performing "Up Above My Head". It's gospel, but you can hear the influences of where Rock-N-Roll's early beginnings came from:

There is no live video footage that I can find, for "Strange Things Happening Everyday", but I found a video montage with the track:

Too a musical journey worth sharing,


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