QMH October 2008 Script
Gaye Adegbalola & Scott Free Interviews
Gaye Adegbalola - Queer Blues (2008)
Above, at the 2005 Outmusic Awards, in Chicago
Now, if there ever was a perfect song to open this show, well, that was it. I'm JD Doyle and this is Queer Voices on KPFT, and this segment is called Queer Music Heritage. The artist telling us that she's here, and she's queer, and you better get over it, is Gaye Adegbalola. I'll say that name again, as it's a mouthful, Gaye Adegbalola. And she's one of two very out and proud artists I'm featuring on this month's show. The other is Scott Free, a Chicago artist who's excelled in a number of genres, from punk, to rock, a bit of hip hop, and currently on a bold journey into pop rock. But we'll get to his remarkable new album in the second part of the show.
Gaye Adegbalola is hardly a newcomer to the music scene. She's well-known of course as a founding member of the trio called Saffire - The Uppity Blues Women Over the last 25 years they've recorded seven group albums, and this is her third solo release. And what a release it is. I very much respect this album, as it packs quite a punch with her social activism, wrapped up in her tremendous talent as a blues artist. And I love the title of the CD. Her first name is spelled g-a-y-e, so the album is called "Gaye Without Shame," and I opened the show with "Queer Blues." Of course I asked her to tell me about the song.
Well that's purely audio biographical. That's my story. That's my story right there, so that's straight from my heart. That chant, I heard it we're here, we're queer, get over it, get over it I heard it at a pride march in New York City many many years ago, and I haven't heard it since, and it's so good. I just thought I'd resurrect it and put it in a song.
I think I wrote you that when you sent me the CD and I put that track on that I got a huge smile on my face.
I'm so glad, and I hope lots of people do.
I gave Gaye the challenge of seeing if she could sum up the album in just a few seconds.
I'm a blues woman, and I've been a professional blues woman for about thirty years. I want the blues community to honestly see me, to honestly see me and to gain understanding about my struggle for acceptance. And at the same time I want my gay, lesbian, bi, transgender, questioning community to experience the magic, universal healing power of the blues.
Okay, that wasn't that hard.
Well, you know what? This is my first, this is my first interview with regard to this CD, and I'm just really thrilled that it's with you.
Well, thank you.
Yeah, I really am. I'm just so delighted it's with you.
Well, that's really cool to hear.
Yeah. I've been out for a long, long time, but I haven't really put it in my music. I mean, in 1999 I did "Bittersweet Blues," and it was out, but it wasn't out, out. I wanted this CD to be more topical, more political, and I wanted people to grasp an understanding of some of the struggles that we go through, so that this will be hitting the blues community, and I don't think they understand how similar GLBT oppression is to black oppression. One song deals with that. I don't think they understand the struggle that the transgender community has. I don't think they understand what gay/lesbian stepparents go through. So, I thought I would try to present those real issues, concrete day-to-day living issues to the world, if you would, to anybody who'd be within the sound of my voice.
And at the same time, every time I've been at GLBT events, I really haven't heard the blues that much. So in this CD you get a real sampling of different blues flavors, everything from New Orleans blues, to Piedmont blues, to Delta blues, classic blues, R&B, there's even a doo wop on here. So, it's a full spectrum of blues stylings on this CD. And I'm hoping that gays and lesbians might support it because of the message, and then I'm hoping that gays and lesbians might love the blues, that I might see them at a Blues Fest. There's also at the tail end of the CD, there's a speech that I gave at a Fredericksburg pride rally, and in it I do compare the similarities and differences of gay oppression and black oppression, what I had to go through the civil rights period. You know, I was born so to speak in apartheid so I grew up being inferior on many fronts. I didn't really come out until I was damn near 50, so that's a long time living a lie. I'm 64 now, just in case you're interested. [That's on your website] Yeah, you don't get old by being a fool, you know. And part of what I want this new CD to do is to you know, blues just doesn't get a whole lot of airplay, and if you can't hear it, you can't like it. A lot of people still think that blues is a sad music, and it's not. You get the pain out. So just giving what gays and lesbians go through to exist with the discrimination in this world, I think that the blues could bring a lot of healing to our community.
I've got a lot more to ask about Gaye's new album and career, but I don't want to go too long without some music, so from the new release, I asked her to tell me about one of the handful of covers on the album, her recording of the song "Let It Be Me."
Well, that's been one of my favorite songs for a long, long time. I just think it's a beautiful song. The version is based on a Nina Simone version. Nina Simone is probably my number one shero, my number one influence, in terms of politics and also just in terms of her music stylings. Last year I was working at a blues workshop, and a young woman who had been one of my former students, we were sitting around in someone's kitchen one night and we started singing it and our voices went together like hand and glove. So the young woman's name is Cleome and she lives and plays in the Bay Area in California. When I did this it's like, what's the best love song that I could put on here with two women singing to each other.
Gaye Adegbalola & Cleome - Let It Be Me (2008)
Tell me a little about your history with Saffire.
Okay, Ann Rabson, who is the piano player in Saffire, and I started playing as a duo back in '78, so we've been playing together for 30 years. And at that time it was two guitars. Later on I ran into Ann and she said, "I'm playing some piano now," so at the age of 35 or so Ann had taken up piano, and we started sneaking in the college here to practice. We found out that another person, Earline Lewis, who was our original bass player had a piano in her house, so we pulled her on into the band. So in 1984 Saffire was born. In 1988, when I was 44 years old we quit our day jobs and went on the road. And it wasn't easy, but we did it. We started making a living doing what we love.
Is there a song that you've written of which you're the most proud?
No, it usually, it usually tends to be my most recent. You know, that's the one that I'm closest to, but I guess if someone asked me, you know, I really don't know, that's a hard thing like "Middle Age Blues" made enough money for me to put my son through college, so I'm really proud of that, really and truly that song's royalties put my son through schools, so I'd have to say that, however I don't sing that song anymore because it talks about finding a young, young man, and that's a lie.
Saffire - Middle Age Blues (1990)
That was a bit of "Middle Age Blues" from the 1990 album "Saffire - The Uppity Blues Women. And I couldn't resist asking her about another vintage Saffire song. It's from their 1996 album "Cleaning House." The song is called "I Lost My Baby to Another Man."
Now this is a song that I didn't even want to record. I wanted some girlie girl to record it, like Andra, in the band, but I had already cut the tracks in my key so we used my vocals. And I know several women who have lost their husbands to other men. And so in this song it says "the cards were dealt, I was trumped by fate, two of a kind, beat my straight." That's one of my favorite lines, my son actually gave me that line. There's also "the tree will grow as it's inclined, I didn't know better." But it deals with the fact that I'm in pain, and would I have been in more pain if it had been a woman that took the man instead of a man, because this is really out of my control, we were star-crossed lovers. JD, I'm surprised that you know all these songs. [I pay attention] I am absolutely amazed because that's one of my that's one of the favorite songs that I've written in terms of the lyrics and the music. Songwriting is really hard because you have to tell a whole story in three or four minutes, and you have to shape the whole story not just visually but also emotionally in a few minutes, and I think that I did it well in that song, and I've had several women say that I captured what they went through with that particular song.
Saffire - I Lost My Baby to Another Man (1996)
This is probably an impossible question to answer, but what song, from either your solo or group work, is the most fun to perform?
"Big Ovaries, Baby." [laughs] On my website there's a YouTube performance of "Big Ovaries," and if anybody has time to check it out, oh man, it's a groove, I really I really you wouldn't believe that someone my age could shake it like that.
So, is that the biggest crowd-pleaser?
Oh, it's one of them, I would say, with Saffire crowds. I cannot get through a night without doing "Silver Beaver," which is one that I wrote, or either "Bitch With A Bad Attitude," those are my big hits "Schoolteacher Blues," "Big Ovaries," "Middle Age Blues." But in terms of just straight-up performance, I would have to say "Big Ovaries."
Gaye Adegbalola - Big Ovaries Baby (1999)
Yup, that was a bit of "Big Ovaries, Baby" from Gaye's 1999 CD "Bitter Sweet Blues." I also want to get to a couple of the songs from her 2004 album, "Neo-Classic Blues." But first I wanted to ask her how the new album is different from her previous solo work.
Okay, I have done three previous solo recordings. And the first solo recording, it's on Alligator, and I'm kind of out, but not out. I do "Prove It On Me." I have a couple of songs, one song deals with incest, another song deals with domestic violence, so it is topical but it isn't geared specifically to GLBT issues. My next CD is called "Neoclassic Blues," and my next solo CD is "Neoclassic Blues," and I did that in response to Martin Scorsese's "The Blues Series" that was on PBS. You know, this man put 14 hours of music on public television, and he didn't have 14 minutes of women on this series. And women were the foremothers of the blues. And either I could just sit there and be mad, or I could do something about it. So what I did was go back and get some of the classic blues singers and some of my favorite songs, and of course that would automatically include Ma Rainey doing "Prove It On Me," but it would also include Bessie Jackson, if you will, doing "B.D. Women's Blues." It would also include Memphis Minnie doing "Nothing In Rambling." And so the CD is open and out, but it's a historical CD, and I'm fairly authentic to the history, so that's where I was going with that CD.
And my third solo CD is called "Blue Mama, Black Son," and my son, who was into industrial goth music at the time, took my traditional blues songs, programmed them to his style, and then I sang to them. And that was truly a you to make music with my child. So, all three of those I'm honest in them, but this CD really has a mission to it.
From your album "Neoclassic Blues," tell me about "Prove It On Me Blues."
Well, that's a Ma Rainey tune and it's absolutely delightful. I think it's from the mid-twenties. And I've kind of tweaked the lyrics some, because she says "I went out last night with a crowd of my friends, they must have been women cause I don't like no men." Well, I love men, I don't have that problem, so I just tweaked it to say "I went out last night with a crowd of my friends, they must have been women, cause there sure weren't no men." And it goes on "I wear my clothes just like a fan" which is a dandy person "I like my collar, I like my tie" "they said I did it, but you sure can't prove it on me." So it was still about being closeted, but it was also about flaunting one's you know, dressing like a man, walking like a man, talking like a man, and I just love it.
Adegbalola - Prove It On Me Blues (2004)
Ma Rainey and Lucille Bogan
That's Bessie Jackson, who is actually Lucille Bogan, and Lucille Bogan is one of my just...oh, I love her I mean, she has some of the nastiest songs that I have ever heard, I mean absolutely filthy. And I'm sure you don't play those on your show, or do you? [no] Okay, "Shave 'Em Dry,"? [no, can't play that] Can't play that, okay. Well, I didn't want to put "Shave 'Em Dry" on my CD either. "BD Women, coming a time when B.D women won't need no men, they way they treats them is a lowdown dirty sin. B.D women, they work and they make their dough." You know, in the black community, and I don't know why this is, but the BD always stood for bulldagger, and somewhere along the line it changed to bulldyke, and I kind of like bulldagger better, you know, I don't know why, but it's probably just my generation, but that BD stands for bulldagger. Oh, oh, I know, I was just going to say that a song I had thought about writing is "Bulldagger in a China Shop," [laughs, yeah, you should] Yeah, "I'm a pitbulldyke, ready to growl." [yeah, work on that] Okay, will do.
I want to switch tone, and get back to the new album, and tell me about "bareback"
Well, we kind of struggled with that one. It was no struggle writing it. Once I get the hook, which is "you can't ride bareback" and that being about safe sex, in this day and age, so once I got that it was like all I had to do was milk the metaphor. You know, "you're in control, keep pulling on the reins," "all I need is a stallion," so on and so forth, "you have to be tall enough to ride this ride," you know, like at the amusement parks, so that I could go in and milk the metaphor with riding, which was easy.
Gaye Adegbalola - Bareback (2008)
Why do you think there are not more gay & lesbian blues singers out of the closet?
It's so hard to make a living playing music, and it's so hard to make a living in the blues world because cause it doesn't get commercial airplay, for the most part, it doesn't get you won't see blues folks on Lettermen or Leno, you know, so it's hard to make a living and you might be scared of losing what audience you do have if you come out. Now I don't know, are you familiar with Jason Ricci? [no] Okay, he's a young, harmonica player, red mohawk hair, flaming gay, and he is the new kid on the scene in the blues world.
Great, I was going to ask you what openly gay and lesbian blues artists are out there right now?
I would say Jason, and Candye Kane is very BI [oh, I love her] and very open in her love of women, and that's about all that I know that are just, you know, here I am, take me as I am.
Three of you?
That's all I know, oh, I know others, but I'm not about to out them.
No, no, I meant openly?
That's what I'm saying, openly, that's what I know.
It sounds a little bit like the jazz world, where everyone's in the closet.
Yeah, I know, so I'm kicking the damn door down.
Gaye Adegbalola - I Ain't Ashamed (2008)
And "I Ain't Ashamed" is the closing track to Gaye Adegbalola's new album "Gaye Without Shame." You can find her online at www.adegbalola.com, and of course I'll spell that for you, www. A-d-e-g-b-a-l-o-l-a.com.
QMH ID - Gaye
And this is a good time to invite you to check out my website. If you visit it while you're listening you can see the playlist and follow along, while looking at photos of the artists and recordings. I've always considered our music history as a visual as well as an audio experience. Again, that's at www.queermusicheritage.com, Also, for more very queer programming, please listen to After Hours with Jimmy Carper, every Saturday night/Sunday morning from 1 to 4 am, on KPFT, it's Queer Radio, with attitude.
Okay, get ready for a quick medley of, let's say, very different music.
Scott Free early medley: Higher (1987) / Beat the Rap (1984) / Garbage Man (1997)
Each of those three very different songs were produced or sung by Scott Free, ranging from a dance track called "Higher" that charted in Europe, "Beat the Rap," a hip hop song from 1984 whose video was featured on the BET network, and a punkish song called "Garbage Man."
Scott Free is a queer singer/songwriter whose music has a punk rock foundation, but that can vary quite a bit, as he tailors the type of song to the message of its lyrics, whether that leads him to rock, pop, punk or even hip hop. His first full length album, from 1997 was kind of heavy rock oriented, and was called "Getting Off." "Getting Off" Scott Free, get it? His next release, in 1999, was called "The Living Dead." This one kept the rock, but blended in other elements, like pop and a little dance. In 2004 he added to his catalog an outstanding CD, named "They Call Me Mr. Free," with more politics, this time covering wider subject areas, but always in the forefront were songs packing a punch in their addressing of gay issues. Scott's never worried about sticking to mainstream politically correct gay areas, and I love him for that.
In a way I think all of these albums prepared him for his latest CD, called "The Pink Album, a Pop Opera." The new album I think is a great contribution not only as gay music but as a chronicle of what it was like to be gay, over the last several decades, a musical travelog, if you will, though our history, at times touching, at times brutal, baring souls, speaking out, and celebrating our lives.
Scott, tell us about the new album.
The album is actually a concept album about growing up gay, through the gay community formation, the AIDS era and modern issue like gay parenting. I took stories of friends, ex-lovers, and acquaintances,some of my own stories, and put them, and put them in chronilogical order to create a window into the world of gay men in the second half of the 20th century.
I don't want to get too far without letting you hear some of the new album, and I was delighted the album included a song I fell in love with instantly, that I first heard Scott perform in June of 2002 at a small club in New York City. In fact I was recording that show on my mini-disc recorder, and Scott will probably cringe when he finds out I'm doing this, but I want you to hear a few seconds of the song the way I first heard it. Bear in mind this was a very amateur recording of an acoustic performance. You'll hear what the song became after Scott tells us about it. It's called "Like a Girl."
Scott Free - Like a Girl (2002, part)
That is the story of a friend of mine, who I've known for 20 years, 25 years, and one day, I don't know how we got on the subject, but he started talking about his public school experience of growing up and how he was beaten up every single day, and it went on for years and it just became a part of his life and as he was telling me this I just knew that I had to do a song and when I hung up the phone I immediately wrote the song. I think it's the fastest song I've ever written.
Scott Free - Like a Girl (2008)
And it was really what started this CD also, because I just realized that so much of issues that gay men in their 30s, 40s, 50s or 60s have, goes back to our childhood and really the extreme, extreme lives that we had to kind of survive to get through to adulthood, which is just so radically different than what it is like to grow up gay today. And so I just knew that it was really important to delve into that and that became the start of the CD. Like I said, I extended it, I decided to make it kind of a history from the 60s, 70s all the way through to today. Hence I dealt with AIDS and gay rights and I also touched on gay parenting toward the end of the CD, cause I wanted to pick some modern topics.
Do you think that "The Pink Album" is your masterwork?
In the process I really felt like it was, I felt like that I think I touched on these subjects in all of my CDs but to really completely delve into it I just felt as I was doing it, that this is the one, this is and I really had that feeling, I didn't know if other people would think so, but I absolutely felt that way.
It's divided into four parts, describe those parts
The first part is really childhood and adolescence and true coming out to parents. And then the second part is really just kind of coming of age, kind of recognizing your gayness and being part of a community, and fighting for rights. The third part is entirely devoted to the AIDS era. I was 21 when I first heard about AIDS and was living in New York so I was completely a part of that entire era. And the last part touches on just self-acceptance and also issues like gay parenting. [I really respect this album] Thank you, very much, thank you. And I'm really proud of some of these songs. "Mom Dad I" I think is I think that's the song I'm most proud of. I just think that that and like Brady Earnhart, I did a tour with him last year and he said that every time I played that song he lost it. Because that's exactly what I was trying to do. I was trying to get into the head of a 15-year old boy who has to tell his parents that he's gay. I mean, that's the I mean for me that's the hardest thing I ever did. Again, back in that era it was extremely difficult and it took a lot of bravery, and so that's what I was trying to get across in that song, was just you know was just how difficult it was for a kid to do that.
Scott Free & Brady Earnhart
Scott Free - Mom Dad I (2008)
Tell us about "Meet Mr. Right"
"Meet Mar Right" is actually my imagination. I think it was mostly built on the phrase, so it isn't actually anyone in particular, but it's just a really, really strong kind of defiance to a man's parents, or a young man's parents about bringing a boyfriend home, and forcing them to get through it.
Scott Free - Meet Mar Right (2008)
You'll have to check out the album to see what else happens when the folks meet Mar Right.
It's about time someone wrote a song called "Act Up Fight Back"
You know, I really felt like I had to devote a number of songs to AIDS. I couldn't skip over it. I couldn't do it lightly. AIDS has been, for 15 years it was just this black cloud that existed over our lives, and I didn't want to belittle it, and I knew, in my opinion, ACT UP saved hundreds of thousands of people's lives, because they were out there just causing riots to get the drug companies to get those drugs out to people faster than was the normal slow system. And I really struggled with how am I going to write a song about that, and then I was just websearching, and I found a website that had just documented all of their protests, and I thought, oh, this is perfect. I just grabbed all their protest slogans and made a song out of it, and as I started to record it I was like, oh, wow, I'm onto something here, because I just can't, I cant ever think of a song that is an actual instead of a quote unquote protest song from the 60s, this is an actual protest song.
Scott Free - Act Up Fight Back (2008)
When you look at your whole career, which song gets the most audience reaction?
Actually, it is a song that is very much about this subject matter, but it wasn't on this CD. It's called "Not Good Enough," and it was about again, it was about growing up gay, of feeling isolated, letting the words that the kids would say internalize those things, and really having to deal with your own self-esteem issues because of what you were called when you were young, so that's the one that people have really reacted to the most.
Scott Free - Not Good Enough (1999)
I love that song, "Not Good Enough," from the 1999 CD "The Living Dead."
So do some people in your audience think, this is a really heavy show ?
Yeah, I do get I definitely get complaints, the worst reaction I've ever had is to the new CD on a website called Bilerico, and I sent out to this guy for review and he just, he ripped it to shreds, and the thing is, I'm actually all for music criticism and I think that one of the things that I think that maybe gay music has suffered from is not enough criticism, so I'm actually fine with the bad review, but I just thought it interesting that the things that he decided to pick on cause I can be very self-critical, and I can think, oh, I didn't do a good job playing that instrument and my voice sounds and blah blah blah, but the things that he picked on, I thought, wait a second, those are my strongest things. But that really also got me thinking about the generation gap, cause he kind of had some off, candid comment about, well gee, what about the story about picking up a guy while playing video games. And I thought well, video games didn't exist back then. It was kind of a side comment, but again it's like maybe these aren't your experiences if you're in your early 20s, but and I think he was saying they were kind of clichéd experiences, and I was like, well, you can call them clichéd and I hate to say it but these were our experiences, and they were all very common because we all were going through the same thing. I mean, there was no gay community, or barely. I mean when I was growing up I knew that there was a whole bunch of gays in San Francisco and New York. You know, that's all I knew. I mean, there was not even a concept of gay community, so these experiences, you know, clichéd as they might be, they were absolutely most of our experiences, and
That was an interesting comment about our press maybe not being critical enough, cause there's this feeling like we're the gay community, we need to be supportive, so even if you don't like the CD, don't knock it.
Yeah, I think that any healthy genre needs to have criticism. That's absolutely a part of it. And I haven't seen that too much, and unfortunately it was my CD, but that's okay. And I feel a lot about that kind of perspective with my latest CD, and I don't want to be age-ist, but the members of my band are all in their 20s and they all love the CD. They only played on one or two songs. They really didn't know many of the songs, cause we haven't played these out. And they, and they're in their early 20s and they really appreciated it, but I do think that there is a pretty large contingent of the younger generation that just doesn't appreciate it or doesn't want to learn about our history, and we have a history now.
Remember early on that Scott said the title of the CD, "The Pink Album, A Pop Opera" was partly a tip of the hat to the band The Who, so it wasn't lost on me that he closed the album with a song that shares the same title with a classic Who song. Tell me about "My Generation"
"My Generation" was me trying to sum up sum up the album, really and again I kind of I was really thinking musical theatre as the concept. I call it a pop opera but it's really musical theatre so I kind of wanted to have a reprise or something that would sum up where our experiences were, so for me, the thing that I really just remembered was that whole and I moved to New York when I was 21, and I just remembered that whole thing of when you're living in New York, and you talk to other young gay men and they would be saying, oh, I'm from Oklahoma, oh, I'm from Seattle, oh, I'm from Iowa. And that's really what happened. People grew up all alone, and when they could finally get out they escaped. I think that again that was so much of our experience. These days people don't necessarily have to escape, I mean, you've got the internet. It doesn't matter if you're in the smallest town in America, you're connected. But that wasn't the case when we were growing up, so that's why that kind of became the theme of that song.
Scott Free - My Generation (2008)
I think I've run out of questions
Okay, well, I'm so glad that you got it. You know, it's funny cause as I was creating this CD I was like, oh, god I hope JD likes this. [no, you didn't] I did, I'm serious, I had you you were probably the one probably the one person I had most in mind when I was creating this CD [really, why?] Absolutely, just because, I mean, because you're queer music heritage, and I thought this is queer music heritage, that's what this CD is, you know. So no, absolutely, I'm not making that up or anything, cause I think what you do is so important, especially again because our lives have changes so much that history is really, really important. That's a really important aspect of our community.
I'm down to the last song, and I want to remind folks that the album we've been talking about is called "The Pink Album, A Pop Opera," and you can find out much more at the website www.scottfree.net. Also before I get to the last song I want to thank you all for listening, and I want to especially thank Gaye Adegbalola and Scott Free for the wonderful interviews. I wish I would have had time to go into more of the rich history of Scott's music, but this is not the first time I've interviewed him, and you can hear an interview on my site from 2005 that digs deep into his previous album, "They Call Me Mr. Free." You can find that at www.queermusicheritage.com. And, as always if you have questions or comments about any of the music I've featured, please write me. This is JD Doyle for Queer Voices on KPFT in Houston.
I'm closing the show with a song by Scott that became a break out hit from the album, and the video was in the top ten on Logo's click list for a number of weeks. The song is called "Free"
"Free" was my attempt to really write a Bob Dylan song for the gay community, that was kind of the concept. It started on a harmonica, and an acoustic guitar, and I just wanted to have something that just kind of explained our perspective in the most simple terms I could so that it could really reach a wide audience. And so the phrase "they hate me because I love you" that was really the start of the entire song, that entire concept of they hate us because we love, I thought that was really, really important.
You've been performing the songs from the album for a while now?
A number of them, yeah, I have certainly as you know "Like A Girl" I've been performing that one for years.
Is it too early to ask which track from the new one gets the most audience reaction?
far it actually has been "Free" and again it kind of surprised
me, because I just thought, oh, maybe it's too simple, cause it is
I am all about song structure and making it complex and everything.
And yet I was thinking, well, okay, I'm supposed to do Dylan here,
it's supposed to be 60s, like no bridge, just keep it simple, yeah,
that has been the one.
Below, press release
song "Act Up Fight Back" also appears on the Woobie
Above and below, two of Scott's very worthwhile projects