The Rocky Road of Women in Blues – Part II

Cathy Lemons
The Rocky Road of Women in Blues – Part I
August 1, 2020
Cathy Lemons
 

Guest article by Cathy Lemons.

 

“Keep Steppin”

The following is the second half of this guest blog. Click here to read part I!

When I met a new male musician and I told him I sang blues, they practically laughed at me. My dream was met with insults, private jeers, and taunts. The men looked at my ass more than they did my desire to become something—someone—a singer.

My best compliment back in those days came from Robert Ealey of The Bluebird Club, who heard me sing “Served me Right to Suffer” and took me outside to tell me that I was a “son of a bitch.”

When I look back, I now realize that I really was alone in what was and really still is a man’s world. You should have heard the way the male musicians talked about Lou Ann Barton when Jerry Wexler of Atlantic records gave her that big chance with her album “Old Enough: They hated her for getting that shot. They hated her for the fact that she could stand up there in her little short skirt and mesmerize an audience. They hated her for having a huge personality. They hated her for being free like a man.

I loved Lou Ann. I thought she was great! Tough and real and not at all phony.

Well, my time was running out in Dallas, Texas by 1986. So, I ran like my mother taught me. All the way to San Francisco.

I somehow wandered into The Saloon in North Beach one night, and met, shall we say, a more liberal set of musicians—men like Johnny Nitro who just loved my singing and did all he could to help me get started in San Francisco with a band. I played music with Mark Hummel, Paris Slim, Dave Workman, and so many others. In 1987 I also was hired as John Lee Hooker’s send-off singer and did some tours with him. I did a damned good job, but I had, by then, a serious drug problem and it took me all the way down to the bottom.

Crawling up is ok. Crawling up from the bottom is just where you should be in blues. And I remind myself of that every time I get to sing. I have been straight for years, but I have seen some things. MMM MM.

And I have also, by now, toured most of the United States. My Band, The Lucky Losers, won in 2019 “Best Independent Blue Soul Band”, which I am most proud of. My song “The River” (from the album “Blind Spot”) made it as a finalist in the 2018 International Songwriters competition (blues category) –becoming a finalist against 19k entrants is not a small potato.

Over the years I have written and published 30 songs and collaborated with some amazing blues talent like Laura Chavez, Kid Andersen, Tommy Castro, Steve Freund, Chris Burns, and more. And the music critics have been wonderful to me—from the very beginning.

But most of my career has not been one of fame or fortune. I have stayed the course because I love the music. I always tell musicians that I don’t play music for money, and that if I wanted to make money, I would have been a bank robber.

I have never been a singer who caters to what is popular. I figure since I am not making much money that I have earned the right to please myself. And I don’t stray from that. I sing songs I write for me and my partner, Phil Berkowitz, or I dig up songs I can relate to.

And I work. I work regularly. And that is all I have ever wanted to do. Work. I have had a residency gig at The Saloon in San Francisco since 1987. Now that is an accomplishment—longevity.

Looking back if I met myself at the age of 23, I would have seen a bright, beautiful, shining star with a 3-octave range and an ear from God. If I had been treated as an equal, I could have been a star. Instead I had to crawl into the gutter and back up. Now isn’t that a crying shame? I endured beatings, 2 rapes, a kidnapping, and finally jail. I had to pull myself out of a ditch.

The thing is you have to believe. There are people out there that will crush you if you let them. There are people out there that will tell you “You’re nothin’” and shine you on.

But you must believe in yourself. BELIEVE, ladies, in the magic of your great, gorgeous, sexy self, which comes in all sizes, colors, ages, and shapes! Believe that what comes from your heart is a serious matter. A worthy matter. Something worth saving. Something worth mentoring.

Believe.

And know that without heart, no matter how powerful or perfect your voice is, guess what, no one cares. It IS your heart that defines you in blues. And that is all. Protect your heart. And demand something from this world.

Self-made woman, you bet. I like the sound of that!. Rocky road? You better believe it. But I always keep steppin’.

Cathy Lemons

Believe that what comes from your heart is a serious matter. A worthy matter. Something worth saving. Something worth mentoring.