Mind-numbing hours spent behind the steering wheel of a moving vehicle are certainly nothing to get excited about.
For musicians in a working blues band, it’s all par for the course.
But those that can somehow manage to break free from the fatigue and mild hallucinations caused by day after day of gazing out the windshield onto the never-changing blacktop, may actually stumble across something new … maybe even have a stroke of genius or an epiphany. Or at the very least, have inspiration for the name of a band.
California-based blues diva Adrianna Marie sheds a bit of light on just how one enlightened moment on the open road ended up becoming the name for her group.
“It’s kind of a funny story. We were out on the road, touring the southwest and were coming through Las Vegas on our way back to do our last show and were talking about a cool name for the band. We drove past one of those big, giant (road) machines that was cutting the grooves in the road for the little reflective road markers, and the drummer that we were playing with at that particular time goes, ‘Whoa, look here! How about the Groovecutters?’ And I said, ‘MY Groovecutters.’ Because I’m constantly having to correct people, but it’s Adrianna Marie and HER Groovecutters. But that’s how it happened and it just stuck. It’s got the double-entendre … most people don’t think of cutting grooves in the road, but that’s where it came from,” she said.
Those that have not yet had the chance to hear Adrianna Marie sing should be forewarned; a couple of notes from the sultry, sexy and downright intoxicating lady is all it takes to immediately fall under the spell of this remarkable chanteuse. And from there, you’re hooked.
The group spent a large part of 2014 in support of their debut album, Double Crossing Blues.
“Last year was a great year for us; I couldn’t be happier. We put our first record out and it got nominated for a Blues Blast award and for a Blues Music Award (Best New Artist Debut, in both cases), along with a couple of other awards, internationally,” she said. “It just couldn’t have been any more exciting for us. It was just a wave that was almost too good to be true. Last year will sure go down in the record books, for me.”
Adrianna and her band (LA Jones, David Kida, Honey Piazza, Dave DeForest, Larry David, Lee Thornburg, Ron Dziuba) felt that they had cooked up a pretty tasty treat upon exiting the studio after sessions for the album had wrapped up. What they weren’t sure of, however, was how everybody else would feel about it.
“I really believed in the project, right from the beginning when it started to take shape. We were so excited about it, because it was so different. We put it out as a real labor of love,” she said. “There was such a big collaboration on the record from everyone that played on it, but we really weren’t sure how it would be received. We knew that we loved it and were passionate about it, but we just weren’t sure how it would go over. We knew it (the kind of music on Double Crossing Blues) was such a big part of musical history, but we just weren’t sure how it would be received in the 21st century. Was there still a place for this kind of music? Would people still dig it?”
The resounding answers to those last two questions would be – ‘yes’ and ‘yes.’ Make no mistake about it, Double Crossing Blues is an album filled to the brim with the real-deal blues. However, the kind of blues contained within may bring to mind an evening at a turn-of-the-century ballroom – where a big band occupies the stage in the late 1940s – as opposed to a lonesome shack nestled in the middle of nowhere in the late 1950s or 60s – with a solitary figure hunched over a well-worn acoustic guitar. Call it blues with sheen and sophistication instead of sawdust and sweat.
“I keep bringing it back to all the guys in the band and all the people that were involved in the writing and arranging. All the guys that I play with and who were involved in the record, these are guys that have a background in the Chicago-styled, traditional blues and that’s what they’ve done for decades over the course of their careers. But they all cut their teeth, in large part, not just in the early country blues that really influenced the Chicago scene, but they also studied guys like Charlie Parker and Charlie Christian and Lester Young and Duke Ellington. They all grew up learning early jazz and R&B, as well as the early blues.”
Since that music has long been inside her Groovecutters, it didn’t take much to coax it out of them in the studio.
“It was very natural for them to play in the style that’s on the record. It was interesting to watch them grab onto this music that they’d had all this experience in, but couldn’t help but hide in the decades of playing in the styles they normally play in,” she said. “It was just infused inside them and I can’t help but think that might have been the magic ingredient that made people able to hear and relate to this music. That’s just a guess on my part, but I think that’s a big part of it.”
Another big part of the charm that has made Double Crossing Blues so successful has to be the overwhelming sense of honesty contained within the tracks. This is not part of an act, this is just who Adrianna Marie & Her Groovecutters are, and this is just the kind of music they play.
“There are a lot of bands that do swing-era music and dress in zoot suits and they try to mimic the music. I said to the guys, ‘OK, this (music) is a point of reference and this is what we’re doing, but I want you to make it yours and ours. I don’t want to this to be a Vaudeville act.”
‘Vaudeville’ it’s certainly not, but in another tip of the hat to the golden days of yore, a great deal of the modern recording technology that’s readily available at the twist of a button these days was bypassed in favor of a method that once ruled studios from coast to coast – analog recording.
“That was an interesting decision. LA Jones, who played guitar on the record, played all vintage gear and in talking it over with everybody, we thought let’s do this. The guy that produced the record – Bobby Owsinski (noted producer and surround-sound guru) – and I talked about it at length and he was against it (recording in analog). But we got to the point where we felt pretty adamantly that we wanted to try and do this on tape,” she said. “We felt that it would give us a tonal quality that we thought maybe couldn’t be accurately re-produced doing it digitally. We had many a debate about it and in the final analysis, we chose tape. It did make the project go from something that could have been in about a week-and-a-half long session to something that lasted weeks. We were running out of tracks for the horns. But we have no regrets and it was a wonderful experience; it’s just a lot more complex (than recording digitally).”
Adrianna’s parents were in The Carolee Singers, a group that was an important part of the vibrant folk scene back in the 1960s. That’s where young Adrianna’s first exposure to roots-based music occurred and although it tends to be forgotten about to some extent these days, there was a strong unifying bond between folk music and the blues back in those heady days.
“My parents didn’t just listen to their own kind of music; they were listening to the really early country blues and stride piano players and even some jazz,” she said. “They were deeply influenced by that. I think traditional folk music and the stuff they grew up listening to really was influenced by the blues.”
The folk scene that was such an intrinsic part of Adrianna’s childhood was so big in the United States back in the ‘50s, ‘60s and even into the early ‘70s, that it was almost a mainstream movement. That hasn’t been the case for quite awhile, however.
“The only thing I can think of (why folk music isn’t as big as it was) is that everything is amplified with electric guitar and electric bass and going to a show where everything is miked,” she said. “I think it may be part of the social fervor for technology. There’s still folk clubs – especially throughout New England – so they’re still playing it. I do see a connection with folk music and the Americana roots scene … sort of the indie Americana scene. I think the folk influence is infused in that. So it’s there, but it’s certainly not mainstream. When I was a toddler, I was going to folk clubs and festivals with my parents. I couldn’t believe the amount of people that would be there. It was astonishing just how popular folk music was.”
When she was just 17, Adrianna packed up her guitar and left her east coast home for California. Traipsing from one side of the country to the next – leaving your comfort zone in the rear-view mirror – has got to be an uneasy experience for anybody; especially when they’re still a teenager and are making the trip alone. But for Adrianna, it was all part of a growing-up process that she had been engaged in for several years at that point.
“I didn’t do the things that most kids do at that age. I got involved in musical theatre and dance and singing and acting at such a young age (she was a veteran performer by the time she was 10), that I had a very untraditional childhood. It made me grow up fast. I became an adult very young and I had to get going,” she laughed. “My folks had divorced and my dad had moved to California. Even though I knew I didn’t want to live with him, I knew I had some roots … a bit of a lifeline, there. And when you grow up in New England, everybody wants to go to California. I was no different.”
In addition to singing and performing off-Broadway in New York from a young age, Adrianna also took to the catwalk for a period of time in the world of high-fashion. The way she views it, there are common threads running through all of the above.
“That’s all just part of who I am. If you don’t have all that experience, you might have a different stage presence (singing the blues), but because I have those influences, I interpret the musical dynamics of what’s happening with the band differently than some might,” she said. “The guys are always saying, ‘Quit coming over here and messing with me (on the bandstand).’ I’m always interacting with them, almost like a conductor, in a way. And I can’t help that because of my past experience. I’ve had that conversation with Sugaray Rayford, who has also done a lot of musical theatre, and he’s the same way. I think all that experience makes you more interactive on stage with the band and with the audience, as well.”
Though she may not singularly bear all the weight of influencing Adrianna to become a blues singer, ‘The Empress of the Blues’ was a major guiding light in her formualtive years.
“I was deeply influenced by Bessie Smith – she was a favorite of my mom’s. I listened to her music and there were a lot of modern artists re-interpreting her songs that I could listen to, artists like Janis Joplin. So I was able to hear some of her songs in a more modern interpretation. I don’t know that she made me sing the blues, but she had the influence of that early, New Orleans stride piano-kind of sound that I liked,” she said. “It was not only her, but other music from that particular era really captured me, because it was in theatre productions and my folks were listening to it, as well.”
It just wasn’t the early jazz and blues songstresses that piqued Adrianna’s ears.
“Most people don’t know this about me, but I’m a big Carole King fan. I grew up listening to her – my mother was a huge fan of hers – and I saw her many, many, many times. Even though she didn’t sing blues on all her albums, she did in her live shows. In her live shows, she sang a lot of country blues. And she wrote songs that were blues-oriented and told a story, much like folk music, a song like “Smackwater Jack” for instance. So I was very influenced by her, as well. She was like a crossover – a folkie who was deeply influenced by the early blues.”
In 2012, Adrianna lent her immense talents to the Mannish Boys’ Double Dynamite (Delta Groove Music) album, singing backup on a couple of tracks for the southern California all-star collective.
“Randy Chortkoff has big visions … he goes big on all his projects. It was such an amazing experience to be in the session with all those heavy-hitters. It was just incredible. Working with guys like David Z, a guy that’s produced and engineered many a Grammy-winning record, I mean, he’s tough,” she said. “In the studio, you have to have big ears and even though you may be your own artist outside of there, in the studio with those cats you’re just following directions. I was an outsider doing background vocals, because they had a couple of other girls that have been on all their records and it was their territory, but it was really fun and I think it turned out really well … just a terrific album.”
As if trying to usher in a new era of richly-elegant and lushly-arranged big band styled blues – the kind that Big Maybelle and Dinah Washington once prevailed over – wasn’t enough to keep Adrianna busy, there’s always her ‘day-job,’ something she’s been doing ever since she was a little kid.
“I train horses and I train people to ride them. It’s something I’ve been doing ever since I was little and when I came to California and started going to college and making music – just because I was already nearly a professional from doing it all my life – that’s how I made money on the side, riding and training show horses. And I’m still doing it today.”
That may take up some of her daylight hours, but at night, it’s all about Adrianna Marie and Her Groovecutters.
“We’re working on a project that we’re going to put out this year and I’m very excited about that. We’re just now starting to get some European dates together and some festivals, which is very cool,” she said. “I think it’s the dividends that last year created for us. I’m hoping that will continue. I really want to reach more people with this music. I hope in the next few years that people will see us in a much bigger way. We’re going to build on what we started to do and make it even grander.”
To see Adrianna’s performance at the 2014 Blues Blast Awards, CLICK HERE.
Visit Adrianna’s website at www.adriannamarieandhergroovecutters.com/
Photos by Gary Eckhart and Joseph A. Rosen as marked © 2015 Blues Blast Magazine
Blues Blast Magazine Senior Writer Terry Mullins is a journalist, author 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.