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FEATURE: Interview with Bex Marshall

It’s a Man’s, Man’s Man’s World. And then there’s Bex

British Blues Woman Bex Marshall headed to Home of the Blues

By Eric Schelkopf

Photos: Jennifer Noble

Bex Marshall


British female blues guitarist Bex Marshall continues to break down barriers in a male-dominated guitar world.  An acclaimed blues and roots guitar phenom and compelling singer/songwriter -- who has been favorably compared to Bonnie Raitt, Derek Trucks,  and Mark Knopfler -- Marshall began playing guitar at age 11. Since then she has toured all over the world, both as a solo artist and with a seven-piece band.

Chicago Blues Guide’s European reporting team, Glenn and Jennifer Noble caught her last London gig before she comes across the pond for a tour of the U.S. and Canada. Here’s what Glenn had to say about her show at the intimate 12 Bar Club, a roots music venue where Marshall began her professional career over a decade ago:

“Musically, she's a rootsy, front-porch finger picker and slide player with a Janis Joplin-like edge to her voice. Her songwriting reflects a deep love of blues, gospel and bluegrass which she spins up with her own lyrically distinctive touches. The most recent album, The House of Mercy, has been getting great reviews and will no doubt feature heavily in her U.S. shows.”

Marshall, www.bexmarshall.co.uk, has earned the distinction of being the first and only woman to be invited to perform at the Cork's International Guitar Festival. She is about to embark on a tour of North America, with a stop at SxSW in Austin, TX.

On the way, she will bring her acoustic steel-top resonator guitar for a solo show on March 6 to Uncommon Ground, 1401 W. Devon Ave., Chicago. The show starts at 8 p.m., and more information is at www.uncommonground.com.

Bex Marshall


CBG’s Eric Schelkopf had the pleasure of talking to Marshall about her career.

Q - Great to talk to you. You're latest album, "The House of Mercy," has received some good reviews. What were your goals for the album and do you think you achieved them? What made you want to self produce the album?

My goal was first to make a great album in its entirety...showcasing what I do of course, but while not being too precious about anything in particular.

I wanted to make the songs the best they could be, Bex Marshall style, and I think I achieved that. When I play the record it flows in my mind and the music production police in my head are quiet.

I wanted to be able to send across the feel, the vibe, and have the right sounds behind specific words or meanings. I wanted to play, create and manipulate a musical body of work to MY imaginative specifications and to be in control of the end result.

Many artists don't have that luxury (or wouldn't want it anyway), but I fancied a crack at it and was lucky enough to have the chance and get it right, for me.

Q - Your last album, "Kitchen Table," hit the Top 20 on U.S. Americana charts. Was that a surprise to you and did you feel any pressure in following up the album?

Yeah I guess it was a surprise, but the record was a slow burner and being an independent artist with my own record label, the timing around the release was slightly ajar.

But it still ended up doing well anyway, so yes I was pleasantly surprised. It was my first dip into releasing a record in America and was just going with the flow.

I always believe if something is good enough it will find its own value or place anyway, even if it takes 20 years. It's a bit like Ebay (ha ha). Whatever it is, in the end, it will find its real value.

There is always a certain amount of pressure when recording a record, even if you do it in a couple of hours live, you can never really guarantee the outcome.

I do however, believe in going with your gut reactions and I did a lot of that on this record. Luckily, I had the pleasure of professionals working and contributing to the musical performance, engineering and mixing and that makes a big difference, but I oversaw every note.

The background stress of keeping your eye on the clock and pulling together the sounds and feeling that moment of 'YES,' now that's what I'm talking about feeling!!!

With the new technology, it's easy to get carried away and forget what you are trying to do sometimes, but on the other hand, you have a mighty weapon that can indulge your imagination to the max. You just gotta know when to reign it in sometimes!

Bex & Steve


Q - I understand you started playing guitar when you were 11 and you were first attracted to classical guitar, but eventually started playing country and the blues. What attracted you to country music and the blues?

Yes, when I look back at my early influences and what I naturally gravitated towards, it always had a bluesy vein running through it. I was lucky I had my Uncle Alex's record collection at my disposal and on the agreement that I always wiped the record with the black velvet cloth before and after and carefully lowered the arm on to the vinyl every time; I had carte blanche to listen to it all.

He had all the classic blues/rock/Americana artists I still love today: there was Eric Clapton, Eagles, Leonard Skynyrd, Howlin' Wolf, early Tina Turner, Elkie Brooks, to The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and The Who, it just went on.

Q - What was it like busking on the streets? Did that experience help you grow as a musician and a performer?

Busking is a great thing to do, it reminds you that it's a big bad world out there, but you're here, believing in yourself and loving what you're doing. And it gives you a huge sense of,  "I'M DOING MY TRUE MUSICAL CALLING AND ALL THESE COMMUTERS ARE NOT LIVING IN THE REAL WORLD."

It's a great way to get your music heard though, and the great thing is you hear so many feel good stories about buskers getting deals or gigs from busking. In London, you have to have a license to play on the streets or you get moved along, so you have to audition to get a license, which is a great way to expose your sound.

When I was in Australia about 15 years ago and really broke, I bought a balsa wood guitar, took it back to the youth hostel, drew aboriginal art all around it, cut the sound hole a bit bigger, and went on the streets alongside these masters of street entertainment, guys who could play outstanding guitar picking while playing the didgeridoo at the same time.

I sat down and watched and thought to myself, "I gotta raise my game." Busking is like paid rehearsal too, it's a great thing to do. Only a few weeks ago, I saw a picture of Huey from the Fun Loving Criminals sitting on Carnaby Street busking with a beanie hat on and wearing an old raggedy outfit.

Q - As a female slide guitarist, you probably get your fair share of comparisons to Bonnie Raitt. Are those comparisons flattering? Who are your biggest musical inspirations?

Well yes, I do get compared to Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin quite a bit, but other artists too. As long as they get what I'm trying to do and get the songs and dig my record, I don't mind at all!!!

I always feel flattered, who wouldn't? But as the reviews keep coming, they are gradually hearing me in there too!!

Bex Marshall at 12 Bar Club


Q - You have earned the distinction of being the first and only woman to be invited to perform at the Cork's International Guitar Festival. Do you consider that an honor and do you think you have broken down some barriers in doing so?

Yes for sure. I'm doing it again this year; that festival is probably the most fun you can have with your clothes on!

I love that part of Ireland, it's where my grandfather was born and when I took my mother there a few years ago, we found one of our really old relatives buried in the graveyard in Kinsale, not so far from there.

To me it’s so important to be in touch with your family tree and knowing my family came from there, it's just the coolest thing I could think of; the music that erupts from that part of the world on a daily basis is like hot musical roots lava.

Q - Do you feel that the guitar world is still dominated by men? If so, how do you turn that around?

This is a man's world....This IS a MAN'S WORLD.....but it don't mean nothin.....NOTHIN without a woman or a girl!!!

Eric Schelkopf has covered the arts and entertainment scene in Chicago for over 25 years. Visit his informative blog at: http://www.thetotalscene.blogspot.com/

 

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