The ‘Empress of Blues’, Bessie Smith is given the royal treatment in this dedication to prohibition era blues and jazz by Ma Bessie and the Pigfoot Band on their first rural tour with Live & Local …
Julia’s rich vocals combined with a group of musicians that look as well as sound the part. Ma Bessie’s music ranges from classic blues to jazz tunes from the inter-war years. The band including Matt Foster on guitar, Chuck Lloyd on Saxophone and Andy Wilkin on percussion and vocals bring a selection of original songs and covers. It was Andy who introduced her to Ma Bessie’s version of ‘Careless Love’. The connection came as Julia dug deeper ‘I found a varied repertoire of songs that covered many moods, styles and points of view.’ Simply, she was hooked.
‘Careless Love’, is one of the songs in their repertoire alongside ‘Gimme A Pig Foot (And A Bottle Of Beer)’ and ‘Nobody Knows When You’re Down And Out’. The former is also the song that Julia would give to someone new to Ma Bessie’s music. Based on a traditional tune from 19th century, it has been recorded several times by different people, but Julia believes ‘everyone has their own take on the song, and I like to think that the Ma Bessie version carries on this tradition.’
Most of Ma Bessie’s gigs have been at festivals or town/city-based venues but Julia is looking forward to the bands’s first rural tour. ‘Our show is very interactive; we love an audience that is up for some fun.’ For Julia and the band, it is simply about ‘Taking music that is 100 years old out to an audience that will be able to enjoy, sing along and dance.’
Although the ‘Empress of Blues’ is the centre of their show, do you have to get into character to play Ma Bessie? ‘No, our show is very much a party with the audience at the centre. We play some fantastic songs and carry the audience along with us.’ Ma Bessie still inspires Julia. She had the voice, the achievements and the business sense to become a massive success in 20s and 30s America. As Julia says, ‘she wasn’t called the Empress of the Blues for nothing.’
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