Trudy Lynn’s PR guy John in Houston speaks the whole truth when he states that Trudy Lynn is friendly and personable. The Saturday morning Blues Blast call finds Trudy Lynn getting her Blueswoman on tour in Europe wardrobe together. She is at home in Houston, preparing to depart for the Lucerne Blues Festival the following week. It is Europe’s largest, held annually in Lucerne, Switzerland.
“The weather is cool in Houston but Switzerland just called and said it’s colder than a witch titty over there,” she exclaims.
A Blues Festival favorite, she has easily played more than a bakers dozen of different festivals over the course of her career, not including callbacks and repeat performances.
“I’ve done this one before, ” she continues. It goes on for almost two weeks.
Trudy Lynn is on a hot streak that shows no sign of waning. In October, nominated for for the best female Blues vocalist, she set the Blues Blast Music Awards on fire in a performance with her harmonica playing collaborator, Steve Krase. Her latest release, Royal Oaks Blues Cafe, spent two weeks at number one on the Billboard Blues chart in September and through November 8th was still holding firm at number four. As November closes out, Billboard rates Steve Krase’s album Buckle Up at number three. Trudy Lynn wrote the title track.
“Steve and I have been knowing each other a long while. We became close musically ten or eleven years ago. When he first came here from New York, he was with Jerry Lightfoot, who is a well known here in Houston. Frequently back then we would share the same stage. He did all the harmonica work on Royal Oaks Blues Cafe which is on his label, Conner Ray Music. We have been working it with a band based here in Houston. Our association will probably continue for awhile after we return from Switzerland. I would like to get back in the studio by February or March 2015. We are still booking festivals and picked up three dates from the Blues Blast Music Awards performance in Champaign.”
The genesis of Royal Blues Cafe is both simple and complex. The title is derived from the name of the street she lives on. The concept is derived from obscure yet powerful Blues women who were popular in the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s.
“My neighbors couldn’t believe I named it after our street. I told ’em, that’s right baby, it’s a lotta cafe goin’ on up in here.”
While Trudy is of course familiar with famous Blues Queens Bessie Smith and Memphis Minnie, a spark was ignited when a girlfriend gave her a box of 78 rpm Blues records by obscure Blues women like Eloise Bennett, Clara Smith, Viviane Green, Wee Bea Booze and Margie Day. For six years Trudy studied these women and others in her own private Blues cafe on Royal Oaks in Houston.
“What I found was a lot of material associated with artists that came later actually originated with these women in the twenties, thirties and forties. As far as recording their songs, I’m just starting up. We’re going to do another cd. I want to record these women’s songs in volumes. They were doin’ the Blues. Let me say it again. They were doin’ the Blues. I really studied and listened to them.”
“Some of the qualities of the recordings are terrible. Oh my Lord! The tones and pitches. You really have to listen hard to understand what they are saying. They were playing and recording with what they had. Sometimes the upright bass sounds like a rubber band on a stick. They were playing the same Blues changes popular today but didn’t have the technology we have.”
“Another interesting part of Blues history is that for a time, women ruled the Blues. Musicians like Louis Armstrong worked for strong Blues women like Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Alberta Hunter and Lil Hardin Armstrong.”
Trudy Lynn’s personal history places her luminously within the genealogy of the Blues. She was raised in the infamous 5th Ward of Houston from whence legends like Juke Boy Bonner, Gatemouth Brown, Ivory Joe Hunter and Lightnin’ Hopkins all came through. Don Robey founded Peacock Records in the 5th Ward of Houston and it became notorius too.
“I remember Don Robey, ” recalls Trudy. “I met him once, when I first got married, right before he shut his studio down. I remember stories about how he would try to discipline his artists. People were saying that he used to whip Bobby Bland with a belt as if he were his child. I also heard that when he went to do that to Big Mama Thornton she came out with that switchblade and told him she would cut him every which way but loose. Big Mama was another strong woman in the history of the Blues. She feared no one.”
“I know a lady in Georgia who owned a club that booked Big Mama back in the day. Big Mama was distressed and was talking about not making the gig because she didn’t have appropriate stage attire. The club owner told Big Mama not to worry and when she arrived, the woman took her drapes off the club’s windows and made her a dress to perform in.”
Trudy was born Lee Audrey Nelms. She was raised in the 5th Ward. She went to school with the siblings of another famous 5th Wardian, George Foreman. Her mother was a beautician and had a shop near the Club Matinee where many Blues and R&B artists performed. The first time she performed though, at about age thirteen, she was chaperoned by her mother at Walter’s Lounge.
“Albert Collins was a regular at the Sunday matinees. He was playing guitar in a well-known band, Big Tiny & The Thunderbirds. I remember when his first hits were released on record; The Freeze and Defrost. That’s what kicked the door open for Albert. He was a little bitty thing back when he was young wearing that process with the big pompadour. “
“They called me up with Albert at Walter’s lounge and I did two songs. I was still in school using my birth name Audrey at the time. I remember also Albert’s stormy relationship with his wife at the time. One time they got into it on the highway in Houston. Albert got so mad he was going to throw her off the bridge. They had to go get him. She was a little hell-raiser and they finally divorced.”
“After I graduated, I ended up spending the summer with my Aunt in Lufkin, Texas. While there I went to a club called Cinderella’s with my cousin. The girl that was performing there had a drinking problem or something. My cousin wanted me to go, cuz, you know in the country, everybody goes to the same place if there is only one band in town. My cousin asked if I could sing a song and they let me sing a song or two. They liked me and asked me to come to rehearsal as the other girl was not reliable. I went to rehearsal and sang Stormy Weather or something and they offered me the job. “
“Somebody said, ‘what you gonna call your self?’ I looked on the wall where there was a cartoon character named Trudy. I quickly thought about the success of Barbara Lynn and Gloria Lynn at the time and decided to call myself Trudy Lynn. Speaking of Barbara Lynn, I just did an engagement with her this summer at Discovery Green. She’s still doing good.”
The singing/songwriting die had been cast when, as a young girl she began composing poems and lyrics. By the time she had reached high school she was consistently singing in various choruses and groups. She relates that she actually predated Archie Bell in the group he took over, the Drells.
“I went to school with the group, Archie Bell & The Drells. Before Archie Bell took over in the Drells, it was myself, another girl and two guys that were the original Drells.”
At some point early on, her songwriting prowess caught the attention of Houston based guitarist and vocalist Johnny “Clyde” Copeland, who gave her valuable advice.
“I remember showing him some of my lyrics, even the ones I wasn’t satisfied with, that I had written X’s or void on.”
He asked,”Why’d you put void on this?”
“Cuz it’s not put together right.”
“That’s probably your hit right there, what you’re trying to void.”
Her tutelage under Copeland and other greats taught her the value of returning to a rough idea or hook and reworking it until the kinks smoothed out.
When asked about her material being compared to that of Millie Jackson, Trudy explains her perspective.
“I think that really started with a song I used to do called ‘Trudy Sings The Blues.’ There’s a part in the song about the dog not barking when a certain female comes around. I say I can tell the bitch has been in my house by the way the dog wags his tail. I think that’s basically the racy lyric that gets that comparison.”
As Blues Blast goes to press Trudy is back from the Lucerne Blues Festival, making preparations for her next album release and booking engagements with no end in sight. To keep abreast of her career please visit www.trudylynnblues.com
As she confidently states, “I’ve been out here a long time. You can’t lose me in the Blues.
Editor’s Note: Trudy Lynn was nominated for Female Blues Artist Of the Year in the 2014 Blues Blast Awards. To see a video of her amazing performance at the awards show this year, CLICK HERE
Visit Trudy’s website at http://www.trudylynnblues.com/
Photos by Gary Eckhart © 2014
Interviewer Tee Watts is music director at KPFZ 88.1 fm in Lakeport, CA and road manager for Sugar Pie DeSanto.