" Interview "
Vocalist Toni Price first became infected by the Blues via contemporary Blueswomen like Bonnie Raitt, Maria Muldaur, and Marcia Ball. Upon listening to many of her influences, Price dug down and researched first-generation Blues singers like Victoria Spivey and Sippie Wallace and many others of that generation who were popular in the early 1960s.
Price was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, but soon moved to Nashville where she began singing in Country bands, and was also influenced by the music played on local radio stations. Near the end of the 1980s Price moved to Austin, Texas, and immediately began to seek out the high quality musicians on the scene there. Clifford Antone took Price under his wing, eventually started to record Price on his Antone's Record label, and booked her at his world-famous club, Antone's. Price also started a long-time association with Austin-area guitarist Derek O'Biren, who produced several of her excellent Antone's Records label recordings. Some of Price's other diverse influences include Aretha Franklin, Emmylou Harris, Ray Charles, Patsy Cline, and Linda Ronstadt.
Price has been a long-time favorite of critics, both for her recorded output as well as her live performances, but she mostly relies upon her favorite songwriters as she does not write any of her own material. But no matter, Price's interpretations and arrangements are what truly make this Austin gem particularly appealing.
Price has seven recordings: Swim Away (1993); Hey (1995); Sol Power Live (1997); Lowdown and Up (1999); Midnight Pumkin (2001); Born to be Blue (2003); and the recently released Talk Memphis.
I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Price just as her new Talk Memphis CD was about to be released, which was at the same time she relocated from Austin to the West Coast.
Bob Putignano for BluesWax: Hi Toni how are things out there on the West Coast?
Toni Price: Great Bob, it's a beautiful day here, how you doing?
BW: It's gorgeous here in the New York area. You know that track we were just listening to from your new album, "What I'm Puttin' Down," is just monstrous!
TP: Let me tell you something about that track, first of all, my friend Gwil Owen wrote it and we wanted some old school Rock 'n' Roll, so we started to record it, we all sat around and talked about Chuck Berry and decided to use a Chuck Berry intro and a Chuck Berry outro. So David Grissom starts chopping down a tree with his playing and just buzz-sawed through it! And the story goes that Grissom had just gotten back from the road touring with the Dixie Chicks and had been kind of quarantined and regimented in a very scheduled show and he was happy to be back home in Austin, so he just rocked out! He was definitely set free on this track for sure - Rock 'n' Roll!
"...it does not say 'Keith'
on my arm for nothing!"
BW: To me it even has a Rolling Stones feel to it, who, needless to say, were very influenced by Chuck Berry. Was that what you were going for?
TP: Well, thank you! You know it does not say "Keith" on my arm for nothing!
BW: You have a Keith tattoo on your arm?
TP: Damn straight!
BW: Where are you living on the West Coast?
TP: Oceanside, California. I'm forty-five minutes north up the coast from San Diego, not quite up to Los Angeles. In fact I am sitting here looking at thirty surfer boys floating out there...cute! This is new to me these surfer men, they are nice and they are working it.
BW: Please tell me more about this new recording, Talk Memphis, which is your seventh recording, right?
TP: That's right. This is my seventh record for Antone's.
BW: That's a long relationship with one record company, which is not easy to do in this day and age.
TP: That's true. And I have the "Happy Woman Blues" today, Bob. Clifford Antone, bless his soul, I loved him so much. It is because of him that I stuck with my career. And you know we just lost him last year. So Clifford was that part of Austin that happened for me. Cliffy saw something in me when I came to Austin in 1989, when I was not doing straight-up Blues at all. But Clifford took me under his wing. And more importantly he let me play in his club and he hooked me up with Derek O'Brien. Who is my man right there, my co-pro-bro! So it really was all about Cliffy and this record, I just wished he could have heard it. As I wanted to make him proud, as purist Blues people would get upset with some of the records I made and songs I did, which I understand, but I have to be me. I am what I am!
BW: I have liked a lot of your work over the years, but there is no doubt that you have covered a lot of ground genre-wise.
TP: Well, you know, I grew up in Tennessee, so I got the Country influence. I was also a Rock 'n' Roller back in the Seventies. I have that, plus I discovered Bluegrass before I left Tennessee, which I adore and it really moves my heart in some way; and then Folk, where I don't like the Folk strictness, but I do like the tell-a-story lyrics, which is lyrically a lot like Blues music that way. I always feel like I am singing the Blues anyway and I feel that Hank Williams was always singing the Blues, so I don't care what you call it, it's from your heart that counts.
BW: I agree, Toni, it all comes from the feeling and emotion. Tell me more about how this record was put together.
TP: In my mind I always make one record ahead, so as I'm doing a current project I'm planning the next one. So I put aside songs that don't fit the one I'm working on for the next album. So Talk Memphis is a culmination of that concept, which for once makes a record of mine cohesive, as my others are really random. But you have to understand that I'm a Pisces, so I am dreamer. But for this record I felt that I could make myself happy by focusing on sort of one thing, so I wanted to give the people this groove that reminded me of my growing up. Plus, all my musician friends in Austin laid it down and just did it so well.
BW: I visited Austin for the first time this spring and just was knocked out by the scene and the awesome talent down there.
TP: So many musicians there are just playing their hearts out and then there's Derek O'Brien who is holding it down every Tuesday night at Antone's for the Blues, in fact they now call it "Blue Tuesday."
BW: Yeah Marcia Ball was telling me about the great jams they have at Antone's.
TP: They do, so it's Derek O'Brien and the Blue Tuesday Band, with a special guest or two every week. And it's really real and you never know who might stop by, like Jimmie Vaughan, Marcia Ball, you know, the real folks, which is the real deal.
BW: And some of these fine musicians just happen to be on Talk Memphis.
TP: I'm very honored to have players like Marcia Ball on "Poor Little Fool," which is an Ike & Tina tune, that I countrified a bit in my own little way.
BW: The title track that kicks off the record is a great tune, too, that was written by Jesse Winchester.
TP: I love Jesse, I just discovered him myself a couple of years ago, I'm so overwhelmed with him, and he's cute, too!
BW: Are you on the prowl Toni? First it was the surfer boys and now Jesse Winchester?
TP: No, but I appreciated beauty wherever I see it. Plus I ain't dead yet!
BW: Moving right along, are you planning to tour behind Talk Memphis? I suspect the record is going to do very well for you.
TP: Thank you, Bob. In fact it's already doing well. You know, my daughter was just telling me that no one buys CDs anymore, so please tell me Bob, do people still buy CDs?
BW: They do, but as you know it's a very different world now, with downloads and all the related digital world, but I still feel that there is still a good enough market place for people to make a living selling CDs, but I also feel a lot of that has to now come from selling CDs off the stage during performances.
TP: I am kind of a dinosaur in that I still call them "albums." These young kids today!
BW: Are you computer-centric these days?
TP: No way, I've never even turned one on.
BW: One last thing, please play the DJ role for me and pick one track from Talk Memphis to play.
TP: How about "The Power" or maybe "Gravy," no, no, let's do "Runnin' Out" because that guitar solo is by Derek O'Brien and he just knocks me off my chair every time.
BW: And now your runnin' out on the beach, enjoy your day, Toni!
TP: Surf's up Bob, got to go darling!
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com