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Bet h Hart The American

The former Star Search winner and Joe Bonamassa collaborator now stars at the Albert Hall

B

eth, you’re playing at BluesFest * at the Royal Albert Hall. Have you played there before? I haven’t, but I’m so looking forward to it, I hear it’s an amazing place. Robert Cray will be there, I remember hearing his records for the first time and thinking he was so cool. It would be so good to sing with him. How did you start in music? Originally I wanted to play the stand up bass, but at school they didn’t have any of those left, so I said, give me the biggest one you got - and out came this cello. At one point I was playing with four orchestras at once. But I never had ‘it’ - you know, that special thing. Recently I got another cello, and I sat down to play it and the sound that came out was a car crash crossed with somebody killing a cat, you know? [laughs] I must have forgotten the bowing! I’ve always played the piano, since I was four, and the guitar too. When I’m writing songs the music always comes first, so I play an instrument. Later I start getting a feeling of what the song should be about - something I’m feeling inside, something important. The words come last. I love poetry, and I like to try to make the verses poetic but the choruses short and memorable. Talent show winners these days all seem to be generic, versatile, adaptable ...and forgettable. You won Star Search in 1993, but you have a unique voice, with that raw, bluesy, rocky edge - where did it

28 October 2014

come from? I didn’t want to do Star Search. A friend of mine would record backing tapes, take them to the bars and clubs around Hollywood and sing a couple of songs to the tapes, but we didn’t make any money. Then I started going down to South Central LA where they don’t give you a second chance. It’s like The Apollo in New York, they give you one song! If they like you, they love you and they put dollar bills on the stage while you’re singing - if they don’t like you, they boo you off and throw you out of the club. I learned how to grab an audience and give them what they want. My friend said I should go on Star Search but I thought it was lame - back in ‘93 it wasn’t big like American Idol. And it was on cable - cable’s cool now, but not then. But you got $50 for going on the show, and I never thought I’d get anywhere but I won it. I got a lot of money, and a record contract with Atlantic. I blew the money and lost the contract after two albums, which was the best thing that could have happened. I ended up singing on the streets with just my guitar, and really enjoying myself. You’ve always been intense on stage, but early on it manifested as stomping the stage, smoking cigarettes, swearing, drinking... I won’t say you’ve mellowed, but now the intensity seems to simmer and burn inside the songs. When I did Don’t Explain, the first album with Joe Bonamassa, I

didn’t think that singing songs by my heroes like Billie Holiday, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, would work with me dressed as a man, drinking and cussing, so I got some heels, put myself in a dress - for the first time ever - and I liked it. I thought it was growing up, and I thought my psychiatrist, Dr Robert Davidson, would think it was really good. Instead he told me I was hiding, that I wasn’t being my own self, and why wasn’t I writing and singing my own songs, I shouldn’t be doing covers. I was so angry I didn’t see him for a year. I went to another psychiatrist, but after a while he told me I should go back to Dr Davidson. I begged him to take me back and I’m so glad he did. If it wasn’t for him I wouldn’t be around now. He changed my medicine, and I could work and enjoy life. I loved songwriting and performing but - and it sounds strange as it’s what I’ve always done - I was never comfortable with the sound of my own voice. It’s only really since I started singing the blues and soul with Joe that I’ve started to enjoy listening to it. But I don’t want to limit myself to the blues and soul. I’ll keep doing it, and write my own songs and sing and play them in a more personal way as well. Would you say you’ve matured? I suppose ...well, my live shows are still pretty intense. I like to give it all on stage. Your back story sounds like it’s from a novel - jail, drugs and alcohol addiction, suicide attempts,

The American October 2014 Issue 737  

The American has been published for Americans in Britain since 1976. It's also for Brits who like American culture.

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