A while back my sister in law sent my wife an email asking for some help. Some guy on a chat board she belonged to wanted to know how many guitar heroines people could name. Not just folkies like Joni Mitchell who strummed as they sang, but the real Stevie Ray Vaughn, kick out the jams type, rock guitar heroine. In all honesty at the time I was only able to come up with a few at most: Bonnie Raitt, Melissa Etheridge(who was questionable because I don’t know what her guitar work is like) and the Wilson sisters from Heart.
Well I can now add about twenty-five more names to that list. The people at Ruf Records in Germany have released a two disc compilation CD simply called Blues Guitar Women. Compiled by blues player Sue Foley the set is divided along the lines of contemporary and traditional discs so that you can choose which style best suits your mood at the time.
Hard driving rock blues players like Joanna Cooper and Ms. Foley herself on disc one or the sounds of the delta from Precious Bryant or Memphis Minnie on disc two are a just a small sample of the talent represented on these discs. So many blues players exist on the fringe of the mainstream audience’s awareness, that for the women player the challenge of overcoming obscurity must be double that of men.
Occasionally they might be recognized, but too often their contributions are relegated to the realm of a novelty act: Oh look a chick with a guitar. The conception that the guitar is the province of men only has been an obstacle that women players have dealt with since the thirties. Too many people equate testosterone not estragon with a sizzling guitar solo.
…the fact that there is enough material to fill two CDs is quite alarming, for even I didn’t realize how many there were and are out there. But it seems the scene for women guitar players is vibrant and growing stronger all the time…it would seem that no place is safe from the power of the guitar heroine. Sue Foley, liner notes Blues Guitar Women Ruf Records 2005
In other words none of us should feel bad that we may not have heard of less then a handful of the women on this disc. Which of us are going to think of looking to Yugoslavia or Finland for blues players whether male or female but that’s where Ana Popovic and Erja Lyytinen hail from respectively. Hearing them you’d never know they weren’t born and bred in Texas or the Mississippi delta.
Like their male counterparts the women sing about their broken hearts and the ones who’ve done them wrong. But unlike the male blues artists the women also spread out into issues of social heartbreak as well as the personal type. Perhaps because of their tenuous status within society and their more recent struggles for independence the women seem to have a broader worldview than the men.
Beverly “Guitar” Watkins makes political noise with her “Baghdad Blues” which naturally enough talks about the current war situation and the circumstances leading up to it. “Nothings Changed” sung by Gaye Adegbalola and backed by Rory Block’s slide guitar continue the work Gaye started during the period of racial segregation in Virginia. Still encouraging people to stand up for themselves and fight for social justice.
The traditional disc contains some very special tracks that have been preserved through the dedication of archivists and blues enthusiasts in North America. Women like Geeshie Wiley, Elvie Thomas, Battie Delaney, Algie Mae Hinton and Etta Baker of the first generation of blues women; some of who hardly recorded at all, are all represented. These women still continue to play their guitars, although some are in their nineties, and represent a vital link in the chain of American music.
It is their music and their efforts that broke the ground for people like Eve Monsees from Austin Texas who in her early twenties is just beginning her blues career. It’s sad to think of all the other women who have played and sang the blues whose music was allowed to pass out of existence with them, but Blues Guitar Women pulls some of these names from the ashes of obscurity.
Sue Foley, who helped compile this collection along with Thomas Ruf, also put together the liner notes and bios for as many of the artists represented on these discs as possible. The notes are informative and informal, written by a blues lady with an obvious passion for and knowledge of her subject. The information presented here is just the forerunner to a book and documentary movie she is preparing called Guitar Women
I don’t know how intentional this was, but in almost every one of the artist’s pictures included, the woman is shown with her truest companion, her guitar. Propped in the background, cradled in her arms, or hung from around her neck, none of them look like they want to be parted from their friends for very long.
I don’t buy albums or anything because it’s the correct thing to do; you can’t do that with the arts or you kill them. The same goes for recommending something. Don’t buy Blues Guitar Women for its title, buy it because it has amazing music on it. Show these woman some respect, appreciate and dislike their music in the same manner you would their male contemporaries. With your eyes closed a slide guitar run sounds the same whoever’s plugged into the amplifier and tapped into the world’s soul.
Editor’s note: This work of yours now has another venue for success – and more eyes – at the Advance.net Web sites, a place affiliated with about 12 newspapers.
One such site is here.