The best gifts are not found on the shelf of an upscale department store or in the front window of some trendy boutique.
Jackie Scott is fully aware of this.
Still, that knowledge didn’t keep her from racking her brain over how to show gratitude to Eddie Shaw for traveling to Virginia to work on a recording project she was heading up.
Then it hit her.
“I was sitting in the studio and they had just finished the last song and I was trying to think what I could get him (Shaw) as a gift for coming down and playing? And as I was watching him listen to the playback, he was rockin’ and laughin’ and smilin’ and I started crying … I just broke like a cheap piece of glass,” she said. “I realized I was trying to figure out some THING to give him, but the greatest gift a musician of his caliber – someone that has dedicated their whole life to the blues – can get, is to know that their music will live on forever. That’s priceless.”
With the worthy intention of trying to raise awareness of not only the blues, but also of the local musicians that play the blues around her hometown of Hampton Roads, Virginia, Scott approached the legendary Shaw about taking part in a ‘757’ project – named for the area-code for the southeast corner of the state.
“I had met Eddie in California and over time we became friends. So I asked him if he would come and record with some of our local musicians. You know, the local musicians are the ones that keep the ground fertile for the great ones (musicians) when they come through town,” Scott said. “And there were about 14 or so of us (on the CD) that all played in different bands. But that was my way in trying to give back to the musicians around my home town; a lot of the musicians that played on the record where playing blues long before I came onto the scene. I wanted to show them how appreciative I was of them, because they have all – in their own way – invested in me.”
That album, Still Riding High – credited to Eddie Shaw & The 757 Allstars – with Scott as executive producer, did just what she hoped it would do. It also found its way to the top of most critics’ ‘best of’ lists, to boot.
“Eddie is rightly known as one of the greatest horn players, but he’s also a prolific songwriter, too. He’s wrote some really great songs and I love listening to the stories he tells through his music and his writing,” said Scott. “He’s just such a humble person. You’d never know all the greats that he’s played with and all the places he’s been, because he doesn’t boast about all that. When he came down to record the CD, the day before he had been in New York playing at the Hubert Sumlin tribute with guys like Keith Richards and Eric Clapton. The whole thing (CD) was really a labor of love.”
‘A labor of love’ would also be an appropriate way to describe the deeply soulful and moving vocal stylings that Scott has become known for. Although her home-base is nearly 900 miles away from the Windy City, Scott is most definitely a Chicago blueswoman, through and through. “Yeah, I’m not from Chicago, but on the inside I am a Chicago blues girl,” she said.
Scott and her band the Housewreckers play from the heart and invoke a lot of the same spirit that made 1950s and ‘60s era Chicago blues such an iconic form of music.
While the way she commands a bandstand is more than enough to make a person sit up and take notice, an equally impressive thing about Scott is the sense of community that she has and her willingness to give back some of what she has been blessed with seems to be the number one thing that motivates her on a daily basis.
“I’ve been heavily involved with the Blues Kids Camp here in my area. I started off working with Fernando (Jones, the camp’s founder) in Chicago and we usually had 100 to 120 kids from all across the country. I did that with him for a couple of years and then went to the (foundation’s) board and asked them if we could have a blues camp here for kids. So last year was our first year and it was very successful. Some of the kids come with everything they need, except for confidence – and that’s what I get to give them. As I’m feeding them, I’m also being fed by their enthusiasm for it, so it’s like a two-way street. Introducing young people to the blues is something that’s very satisfying to me. I just know that in 20 years I’m going to see some of these kids that I had the opportunity – through the camp – to introduce to the blues and they’ll have a good foundation for their music, whatever kind of music it is that they decide they want to play. We want to give them a good foundation and the foundation for all music is the blues.”
Although she’s been devoting the lion’s share of her time to the Blues Kids Camp, Scott has managed to get started on material for the follow-up to 2011’s Going to the Westside.
“Well, I haven’t been able to focus (on a new CD) like I’ve really wanted to, but now that I’ve got a camp here under my belt, I’ve started writing a new CD,” she said. “I do have a title, so far. The title is going to be Hell on Heels.”
Might that title be autobiographical?
“I hope not,” laughed Scott. “But really, blues is a predominately male-oriented genre. But I think the women blues singers that are coming up have something to say, too. So Hell on Heels will hopefully make people think about blues women and what they have to say.”
2010’s How Much Woman Can You Stand earned Scott and the Housewreckers a Blues Blast Award for Best New Artist Debut.
The band also made a deep run in the 2010 International Blues Challenge (IBC), finishing as finalists in the band category that year while representing the Baltimore Blues Society. While Scott would have no doubt have jumped for joy should she have taken the top honor, it was more about proving herself to herself, than bringing home anything for the trophy case.
“My whole idea was, I wanted to see if I could hang. I mean, everyone can sing in the shower. My aunt used to say, ‘Every dog barks loudest in his own backyard.’ So I think you can become stagnant staying in your little corner of the world or in your little comfort zone,” she said. “So it was more about seeing how I fit in, rather than the competition. When you walk away from the table – win, lose or draw – if you’ve given it your best, that’s good enough. Be it was wonderful to participate in the IBC and to actually make it to the finals. We haven’t been back since then, but maybe we’ll go back in the next couple of years.”
In addition to rolling up her sleeves and working on crafting a batch of new tunes for her latest album, Scott will also be preparing for a very special opportunity right in her very own backyard this spring.
“I’m going to open up the Hampton Jazz Festival this year (June 27-29 at the Hampton Coliseum). What’s really cool about that is, the festival started in 1968 and Muddy Waters was the first blues act to play that festival. It’s called the Hampton Jazz Festival, but they always had other kinds of music there, too,” Scott said. “But over the years, they’ve kind of abandoned blues acts – at least for the past six or seven years – and prior to that, it was maybe B.B. King every other year or so. But this year, they asked me to kick off the festival and I’m excited about that.”
Mixing in a healthy dose of the blues at the Hampton Jazz Festival could be considered something akin to the way that legendary promoter Bill Graham used to sprinkle in jazz and blues artists with the rock bands of the late ‘60s and ‘70s, opening up a whole new realm of music to an eager generation of listeners.
“It will be a chance for me to introduce – and re-introduce – blues to people that over the years may have stepped away from listening to the blues, for whatever reason,” said Scott. “I’m excited about that … it’s just a great honor.”
Introducing blues music to the good folks in and around Virginia is something that Scott is not only more than happy to do, it’s a duty that she seems bound to and is a task she approaches with all the requisite determination needed of an ambassador.
“Blues music is on the up-swing around here. One of the reasons is that six or seven years ago, I kind of made up my mind that I wanted to lift blues up and see that it gets the respect that it deserves,” she said. “Blues, to me, is not about black and it’s not about white. It’s just about the music, period. I’ve got a real passion for the blues; it’s not something that I do just to pass the time of day. I love it.”
Blues music is certainly colorblind, but there are pockets around this country – and the globe – where the music still seems a bit segregated.
“It’s funny, but when I first started singing blues, I was surprised that the majority of the audiences I played for were white. So I kind of got on a quest to find out what happened … where the disconnect between black people and the blues was,” she said. “I mean, it’s not just our music, it’s the music of the country. So this quest led me in a lot of different directions.”
Scott found out that it wasn’t simply a case of people in Virginia being allergic to the blues, it was more a case of them needing to be pointed in the proper direction.
“A lot of people just didn’t know where to find the blues in this area. Or when they did find a blues venue to go and see some blues, when they got there, they realized that the people there really weren’t playing the blues. That’s helped to lead to the disconnect. My thing is, if you’re going to play the blues – play the blues. Don’t play at it, play it. And certainly don’t act like if you can’t play anything else, you can play the blues. A lot of people think they can play the blues because they think it is a simple music. But as we all know, sometimes the simplest things are the hardest things to do. But I’m working on trying to raise the level of the blues around here, slowly but surely. You know you can’t cut down an oak tree with one swing, though. Some of the greatest accolades I get are from people that say they didn’t like the blues until they heard us play. Out of all the accolades you can get, that one has to be the best.”
It was through the music of the church that Scott first became enamored with the wondrous world of the blues.
“Well, gospel and the blues are like first cousins, you know? And no other genre of music – other than the blues – gives me the feeling that gospel music gives me,” she said. “I grew up listening to gospel, musically being raised in the church. That music really moves me, just like the blues. Music is just really addictive … sometimes to a fault. But I can’t think of a better drug to be on than music – especially blues music.”
It’s true that a lot of blues music is filled with a minor-key, downtrodden kind of material, but that doesn’t mean that the blues also can’t be an upbeat, toe-tappin’ affair, as well.
“Blues is up-front, personal, come-on-in-and-let’s-have-a party kind of music. That’s what I want to try and get across. If you’re up there on stage, playing the blues and enjoying yourself, I guarantee you the people out in the audience will be, too,” she said. “There’s really no magic formula for it; it just happens. You fall into that groove and in that pocket and then you’re gone … you’ve reached another plateau. That’s the wonderful thing about the blues.”
While Scott is one exceptional bundle of energy and is not content to just hang around and wait for opportunity to present itself to her, she nevertheless realizes the importance of taking a deep breath every now and then, stopping for a second to catch a glimpse of what’s transpiring outside of her normal circle.
“Every time I go out to sing, I represent all the people that invested their time in me and all the people that during my travels back-and-forth from here to Chicago, that I have had the opportunity to watch, listen and learn from,” she said. “I think that a lot of time as performers, we can give ourselves a great advantage by sitting back and looking around and observing. It pays to take a couple of steps back and watch some of the legends that have been around and see just what it is that makes them such classics .. the things that have enabled them to endure playing the blues. They must be doing something special and it’s important that we watch and learn from them while we can. It really behooves a performer to take little tidbits from the masters and incorporate that into what it is they’re already doing. Every time I talk to Eddie (Shaw), I’m able to glean something from our conversation, whether it is about how to be a good bandleader or a songwriter or a performer. That’s invaluable knowledge to be able to obtain. Eddie is a legend and I never forget that. Even though we’re great friends, I don’t want him to ever think I take that for granted, because I don’t. Every time I step out there and represent my genre, I’m representing Eddie and I don’t take that lightly.”
After playing music for years when her situation allowed – working the blues into and around her regular daily vocation and her duties as a mom – Scott can now start to see the light at the end of the tunnel. And that light looks mighty nice, thank you.
“All my kids are grown now. I have grandkids and a great-grandson. And I’m at the point now where I can see retirement (from a regular job). I was at the point for a long time where I couldn’t see it,” laughed Scott. “So now, I’ll be able to devote more time to the blues and to my career and to try and guide it in the direction that I would like for it to go.”.
Visit Jackie’s website at: http://jackiescottandthehousewreckers.com/
Photos by Bob Kieser & Marilyn Stringer © 2014 Blues Blast Magazine
Interviewer Terry Mullins is a journalist and former record store owner whose personal taste in music is the sonic equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder. Works by the Bee Gees, Captain Beefheart, Black Sabbath, Earth, Wind & Fire and Willie Nelson share equal space with Muddy Waters, The Staples Singers and R.L. Burnside in his compact disc collection. He’s also been known to spend time hanging out on the street corners of Clarksdale, Miss., eating copious amounts of barbecued delicacies while listening to the wonderful sounds of the blues.