Featured Interview – Tia Carroll

imageEvery so often a recording appears by an unfamiliar artist, one of those albums that grabs hold of you right from the jump, and never lets go. Finding one of these “diamonds in the rough” is one of the joys of being a serious music listener.

You can add the latest from vocalist Tia Carroll to the list of “must hear” recordings. A fixture on the Bay Area music scene for decades, Carroll is finally getting some long-awaited recognition that includes a bevy of praise from the critics, and a 2021 Blues Blast Music Award nomination in the Soul Blues Album category. She credits Executive Producer Noel Hayes for getting things started.

“Noel and I have known each other for quite a few years. We were also DJ’s on the radio station that I am on right now, KPOO FM in San Francisco. I have the slot that he turned over. Noel approached me last year to ask if I would be interested in doing a project with him. Of course I said yes, and this is what happened, You Gotta Have It! Noel approached Jim Pugh at the Little Village Foundation about putting the album out. And Noel is pretty much affiliated with Kid Andersen at Greaseland Studios. It was probably a no-brainer that we would record at Greaseland, knowing the quality of the players and music you will get there.”

Carroll worked with Hayes on the song selection. Each compiled a list of possibilities, then they both listened to the songs that other had picked out, finally narrowing things down to 15-18 selections.

“Over the course of several weeks, we settled on fourteen songs, which eventually got whittled down to 11 songs. One of the ones that didn’t get in was one of my originals. It just wasn’t the right fit for this particular project. It was divine intervention that these 11 songs ended up on the CD the way they did. The album really resonates with me. I feel that every song is about something I have already gone through, am going through right now, or something that I am going to be dealing with. And not just me but a whole bunch of other people as well.”

You Gotta Have It showcases Carroll’s powerful singing style in addition to the full scope of her musical palette, ranging from her original, “Leaving Again,” a slow blues heartbreaker, the horn-driven cover of Rick Estrin’s “Don’t Put Your Hands On Me,” and finishing with a stirring cover of the Staple Singers classic, “Why Am I Treated So Bad.”

“There is an interesting story to the song “Move On.” I was at an anniversary party for a venue in San Francisco, a party/jam where they would invite as many of the artists as possible that had played the venue throughout the last year to come perform, and to have them bring their friends. It is a big old fun time. I was invited this particular year, as was Kid Andersen. I didn’t really know a lot about the blues, but it was a blues jam because that was a blues venue.

“I did a standard cover song when I got up on stage, one that I can’t recall. They wanted me to do another one, and I’m thinking, oh lord, what am I going to do now because I don’t know anything else. So I did what I often do. I picked a key and a tempo, then turned to the bass player and said, make it funky. So the band got started. I let it marinate for for about 16 bars, then I looked out in the audience and just started coming up with stuff.

image“I saw a real pretty woman out there. I thought she could probably take my man! So I started singing, I didn’t like the way she walked, I didn’t like the way she talked, but I had to move on. So that song sprang out of a blues jam. It took ten years for it to finally make it onto an album, played by musicians who knew what to do with it. That is the most unique story.

“Even When I’m Not Alone” came out of my experiences from the days when I was touring quite a bit. Some of that story is embellished, about being away from home so much. I have always been a one-man woman, but I could see how something like that could happen. “Leaving Again” is another one of the not-embellished songs. That one is real life. Love will make you do some crazy things.”

The singer more than holds her own with the stellar group of musical talent that back her on the album, including Pugh on keyboards, Andersen on guitar, Derrick D’Mar Martin on drums, and guest appearances by the Sons of the Soul Revivers on backing vocals, Gordon “Sax” Beadle on saxophone, and Igor Prado on guitar on “Move On”.

There was another very special guest, a musician known for his work as a jazz artist.

“I had never met guitarist Charlie Hunter. That is another funny story. The connection to him comes from Jim Pugh, and probably Kid as well. Jim was adamant about having the song that opens the album, “Ain’t Nobody Worryin’,” on the CD. I had never even heard the song before, but as I listened to it, it felt like something I could do. Jim got the music together and had Charlie playing the bass and guitar lines. I had never heard of anybody who could play both at the same time on a string instrument.

“So the music was finished when I went in to record the vocal. It was just Kid and me. I wasn’t in the sound booth, just standing in the studio with the sheet music. I went ahead and sang the whole song. Kid came out of the booth, saying I thought you were just going to practice. I said, did you hit record? And he answered, I always hit record!

“Kid wanted to work on a couple of things before we tackled another song, so I sat on the couch and I was wondering who this Charlie Hunter guy is, so I looked him up on Facebook. I thought, hey, he’s kind of cute! Ya’ll should have led with that! I will be performing at the San Jose Jazz festival pretty soon. They have multiple stages. Charlie and his group will be performing on the same day, so I am hoping that I’ll get to meet him and thank him for such an awesome recording. And perhaps tell him the story. The Sons of the Soul Revivers will also be at the festival, and I haven’t met them either. I’m excited about meeting all of these people. They did an awesome job on the backing vocals.

image“Not to toot my own horn here, but I have listened to the CD a lot, and I haven’t gotten tired of it yet. There are some recordings out there……how do I want to say this. I don’t feel they are my best work, let’s put it that way. I’m not going to throw myself under the bus because I’m driving the bus.

“Some of those recordings I just don’t want to hear again. But this one has me listening to this song, oh wait, let me hear that again, now I’ll let it play through, now I’m going to sing along. The album is making me so happy, just as God makes me happy, and waking up every morning and being alive makes me happy.”

Her discography includes a Christmas album along with titles recorded in Italy and Brazil with two noted guitarists.

“The one from from Italy, I Want To Tell You, came from a tour I did with Dany Franchi, who has toured in the US in recent years. The other one, Brazil Sessions, was done over a period of time with Igor Prado and his band. Igor, that is my little brother right there! We did several tracks on my first or second tour there, then there are some more from a live show we did together, and other tracks were originals we did in a home recording studio. The keyboard player, Flavio Naves, came up with some screaming Hammond B-3 organ parts. He asked me to put lyrics to a couple songs, which were the originals on the record.

“I also have a live album. Part of it came from the Expression Center here in California. It is school for learning the technical aspects of the music business – how to set up a stage, the lights, and how to record in a studio using state-of-the-art equipment. When you go in there as an artist, you are at the mercy of the students. But they did an amazing job for me. That record was all covers.”

Carroll was born in Richmond, California. From an early age, she remembers humming and singing along with whatever was playing on the radio or television. The two popular radio stations at her house were KDIA, a soul, blues, and R&B station, and KFRC, which mixed rock, pop, and a bit of country music. Adding to the mix were jazz albums by singers like Lena Horne and others that were played in the house.

“I just loved to sing. You never think that anyone would enjoy hearing you sing. But whenever I got the chance, if the doorbell rang, I knew it was my parents’ company, but as far as I was concerned, it was an audience! I would be the first one to the door, ready to sing my little heart out. Fast forward more than a few years until the third decade of my life, when my ex-husband had been listening to me singing around the house. One day he told that I should find a band, because I had a really good voice. You would think that somebody would have told me that a long time ago. Or maybe they did and I just wasn’t listening, probably drowning them out with my singing!

“Where I was working at that time, there was a guy who had a band, so I asked if I could audition for him. The name of the group was Yakety Yak, an old time rock-n-roll band. The audition turned into a rehearsal, and I ended up staying with them for almost five years. Things just evolved from there, different groups, different genres of music. Fast-forward a few more years, and I meet Jimmy McCracklin’s daughter on the same job, probably around the water cooler. We ended up talking about music. She mentioned that her dad was looking for another vocalist to add to the backing vocals.

“I had never sung background before, didn’t know anything about harmony or blending. Still, they let me in and I figured it out quickly. I’m not hard to work with. I ended up going on tour with Jimmy right away, so it was one of those right place, right time situations. It was an amazing time, giving me a springboard that lead to further opportunities.”

McCracklin was a West coast blues legend. He was a singer and piano player, with hit songs like “The Walk,” “Georgia Slop,” and “Just Got To Know,” which highlight his skill as a songwriter, who by his own count composed over a thousand songs, earning four gold records. Another song he wrote, “Tramp,” was a huge hit for guitarist Lowell Fulson.

imageCarroll has fond memories of the her time with a member of the Blues Hall of Fame. “Jimmy reminded me a lot of my Dad. One thing that always cracked me up is that he would never call me by my name. He would call me Tora, Trina, or Trudy, never Tia. I know he knew my name. That was just his way of getting all of us to laugh. He would say, Trudy blah blah blah, and I would look over at the other women singing back-up and we would all crack up.

“I also got to work with Sugar Pie DeSanto at the same time, as they were touring simultaneously. I learned a lot from her. I’ll tell you, that woman knows how to get an audience right in the palm of her hand, and then close her hand, not to squeeze the audience but to keep them close until she’s done. Then she opens her palm to release them. If you had to follow her, you had better be ready because she already took your audience.”

Like a lot of working musicians, the singer kept busy in a variety of ways. She did a duo with a guitarist, then spent time paired with a piano player before forming her own rock band for a brief spell. Her first recording was a four song EP.

“I would say that was my first professionally done at home project. My husband worked on the graphics. We ordered a thousand cassettes! There are probably 500 of them still sitting in my garage. I was singing rock for 4-5 years. Then I moved on to contemporary R&B, doing things like Anita Baker and Regina Belle.

“Next, I saw an advertisement on Craigslist for audition/rehearsal for the Dave Matthews Blues Band. I remember thinking that I didn’t realize Dave Matthews had a blues band. Something didn’t seem right. But I decided to find out. So I went to the audition to find out that it was a different Dave Matthews, from here near my home, who played harmonica. He was very into blues. I honed my skills as a blues singer with that band for about four years. After I left that band, another guitar player I knew brought me some Koko Taylor music, probably because he heard some of her in my voice. Once I listened to that music, I went, whoa, ok, so THAT is how you deliver a blues song. And I have been at it ever since.”

Despite decades spent performing professionally, appearing on many stages at a variety of venues and clubs, Carroll has never garnered the level of attention that someone with her vocal prowess and songwriting ability deserves. Her latest release is a coming-out party of sorts, letting the wider blues community in on her secret.

“I am apparently on the right stage now. Everything wasn’t given to me all at one time. The path that was laid out for me has been gathering these little pieces and parts as time went on. It has definitely kept me humble, which is an attribute that I am proud to have. It feels like I have been riding along on this train with my seat belt fastened, being well-behaved, and enjoying the ride. Now I have this nice euphoric feeling that I don’t know how to explain. But I am a late bloomer.

“I believe that singing is a gift given to me, not to hold onto, but to share with those who need it. For me, music is medicine. So if I can touch, shake, or make someone feel something, that is what I am supposed to be doing. You Gotta Have It is getting plenty of exposure, so now people who haven’t heard of Tia Carroll before are finally hearing this music I have to share, and they are enjoying it. They are opening the door to their hearts and letting me in. I thank God for that! Never forget that it is never too late to do something that you love.”

Check out Tia’s website atwww.tiacarroll.net.

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