Pittsburgh: Ann Rabson Interview by Monica Yasher

Posted on 10/30/2009 by Monica Yasher

Monica: I am here with Ann Rabson of Saffire, and we are at the West Virginia Blues festival. We want to ask her a couple of questions. It is my understanding this is the Have the Last Word CD tour and these are the final concerts for Saffire.

Ann: Right. Our final tour, the farewell tour.

Monica: I saw that you wanted to be musically promiscuous.

Ann: Yeah. Funny you should mention that. I was just talking to a bass player and drummer, and hey, told them if they needed a piano player to let me know. I’ve enjoyed over my career backing up a lot of wonderful, wonderful musicians and meeting a bunch of wonderful, wonderful musicians and I would like to do more of that.

Monica: You write songs. Do you think this will give you more time to write?

Ann: I hope to. Yeah. You never know. I’m not in charge of that. It just happens when it happens, and I wish I was more prolific…and I wish I could make it happen. But sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Monica: Let’s talk a little more about your songwriting. Do you start with lyrics or a great chord progression? How does it start for you?

Ann: Each song is different. I have, for example, on the new album…I have one song where I’ve had the lyrics for probably 10 years and kept changing them and changing them….putting them in different settings. It’s a song called, Since You’ve Been Gone. and it just got a lot of lyrics. It’s actually hard to remember them all (lol). Some of the songs like, there’s one on my most recent solo album called, I can’t get my mind off of you...I had the tune for years before I had the lyrics. In fact, I was inspired to write it when my dog died.

Monica: Oh

Ann: So, yeah. But when you write, you don’t want it to be about anything specific. So you make it about loss, because everyone has been there. So, there has been stuff like that. Another song that took me years to write is on my Strutting My Stuff recording and it’s called, Late November Afternoon. I finally gave up. I couldn’t…all the lyrics that I could think of were either too trivial or to whiney for the melody so I enlisted another co writer. A person named David Almay. He wrote the lyrics. I wrote the music, then we sat on the piano bench in his house, and wrote the lyrics and music to the bridge together.

Monica: You’re a Handy winner?

Ann: No No. No. I’m very often a Handy nominee. Many, many times. Well I mean, I’m in a category with Koko Taylor. I always said I would rather Koko be around than win the Handy. But, unfortunately, that’s not true anymore. So maybe if I’m nominated…who knows.

Monica: Let’s talk about those nominations. That’s still amazing! What do you attribute to being on that list so many times? Is it the songwriting, performance? What do you think put you there?

Ann: I really don’t know. I think one of the things…there are several different things I’ve been nominated for. One is songwriter, and that was years ago for a song called Elevator Man. Many…most of them have been for traditional female blues artist. That’s partly because I sing. I write. I play guitar, which most people don’t know. I play piedmont style guitar, and I play barrel house style piano. So I have a lot of area to cover. I think that is where that maybe comes from, and then one of my albums Music Making Model, my first solo album was nominated for a traditional album of the year and acoustic album of the year. But again, I’ve been up against people like BB King, Buddy Guy, and I’m just so honored to be one of the nominees. One of the best five female blues artists in the country. Come On THAT’S nice. I can’t be concerned.

Monica: Do you think for the blues, that women have it harder to make it than men?

Ann: You know, I have an essay on that on my computer.

Monica: Do you? (laughs)

Ann. I think, again. It works both ways. On the one hand it is very hard to be taken seriously. But on the other hand, people pay more attention to you, and one you got their eye, if you can do it, if you can play, if you can sing, if you can write, then you got fans. But you got noticed. Another advantage which I think is disappearing sadly very fast, is the older blues gentlemen are very, very kind to women, and the older blues woman are very very kind to women. So you kind of have the older generation backing you up.

Monica: Let’s talk about….do you want to talk about….why saffire is not going to go on after this year?

Ann: I just think we all have other directions that we want to go in. I know that I started playing blues professionally in 1962. Saffire started in 1988. So I have a background and all during this time. I have been playing solo, and playing with other people backing up old guys and just playing in a lot of different bands. So I’ve just been enjoying that. I just want to do more of it.

Monica: Where are you going in the future? CD’s, Websites, touring? What do you want to tell us about? What do you have in store for us?

Ann: OK. I’m working on an instructional video on how to play barrelhouse piano for Hal Leonard. I’m almost done with the script. I only have a couple more lessons to script out, and then I’ll record it. Probably after the big push of Saffire. So, that’s coming out. I’m hoping to teach at more workshops. I really enjoy that. I teach at one in Elkins West Virginia.

Monica: Have you ever been to the Fur Peace Ranch?

Ann: I have twice. I am so honored to be asked to teach piano at a guitar camp (laughs). The other thing. There is a place called Centrum out in Washington state where I taught. But there’s a lot of workshops for guitar, but not a lot for piano. I hope to do more of that. I hope to do a lot of solo work, and I hope to accompany other people. I enjoy these. I just don’t want to be in a band all the time.

Monica: When you say you want to accompany other people, who is your dream gig? Do you have one?

Ann: Wow! Are we just talking about one gig? (We laughed.) There are a lot of players out there I would like to play with. Unfortunately most of them are dying. But, there are still quite a few. Actually one of my favorites is Magic Slim. Oh my goodness! He’s wonderful! I’ve enjoyed…There’s actually a number of people I have already played with. Pinetop and I had a nice little duet. Marsha Ball and I have done some duets. I’m trying to think…there’s just a lot of \people. Like I said, a lot of them aren’t with us anymore, and I missed opportunities on quite a few.

Monica: Whenever you put in a CD or listen to your ipod, what are you listening to? Do these people inspire you?

Ann: Very Much! Very Much! I listen to a lot of new artists. I’m at a lot of festivals this summer, and I am hearing a lot of new artists…and I’m really enjoying hearing some new people that I really haven’t heard before. I heard Chris Thomas King once before, and was impressed by what he was doing. But, I heard him THIS year and I am VERY impressed.

Monica: So he grew as an artist?

Ann: He grew as an artist. I think he had to get older. He was doing some stuff that was very edgy and that’s fine. I want something from the heart more and he’s back to that.

Monica: That’s what the blues is about.

Ann: I think so. The blues is a big tent. You got the rock blues, jazz blues, folk blues. There‘s even classical blues. I mean…there‘s just all kinds of stuff. I love it. I love all the corners. If you listen to my solo CD’s you see there’s stuff by ZZ Hill and then stuff by Ray Charles. There’s country blues. I like the whole….and if it’s good…I even like the rock blues. Speaking of which, going to be here soon is Ronnie Baker Brooks. I think he is terrific! He’s kinda rocky.

Monica: Have you met him before?

Ann: I have! I knew… I know his Dad. I would love to play with Ronnie. I’m very impressed with him. Very impressed with him. I like him. I like his music. I like his attitude. I don’t know if you have time for this story.

Monica: Sure!

Ann: I did a festival as a solo…I think in Ohio, and he did a Ray Charles song with a line about if you walk around here with your head so hard I think I’m gonna have to use my rod. I believe I believe. I thought, How’s he gonna deal with that? You’re walking around here with your head so hard I think I’m gonna havta play my guitar! He went to this great solo and rocked it out!

Monica: So, he worked it!

Ann: Yeah! He did. I know he is raised right cause his Daddy is a sweetheart!.

Monica: Cool. Anything else you want to tell me?

Ann: I’m going to do some more recording. I just haven’t figured out what to do just yet. I have all these things in my mind…like all Ray Charles…like all people that were popular when I was coming up.

Monica: Thank you Ann. I look forward to hearing all these good things you have planned.

Ann: Thank you.

I turned off the recorder here and we chit chatted a bit more and I got “Turn that recorder back on!”

Ann: One other thing I was thinking about doing for the next festival scene. I was thinking about…You know how they have those harp blowouts and guitar? I want to get a piano shootout going. A number of people I’ve been thinking about. Maybe Erwin Helford, Daryl, Amos and maybe Barrelhouse Chuck. There’s a whole bunch of great piano players, and I don’t think they get…3 players, 3 pianos…everyone plays a little bit by themselves and then together. What do you think?

Monica: I think it’s awesome! That’s a CD for sure! I love that idea!

Ann: Ok. We are now good and thank you.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

As the female perspective at American Blues News, I want to remind everyone who has a special lady in their lives to remind them to take care of themselves by doing thier breast exams! I shouldn't have to tell you, but will tell you, that the lady in your life will most likely put herself last. So, be sure to tell them you love them by reminding them to take care of themselves! And, if you find someone you love battling to be a survivor, here is a great video by Saffire reminding us you can still shine....Here is Bald Headed Blues:

If you enjoyed this article, you may like: Gaye Adegbalola, Andra Faye

Or please read about another Handy Nominee: Gina Sicilia
Copyright © 2009 Monica L. Yasher. All Rights Reserved.
Photo Copyright © 2009 Maureen Ciedro. All Rights Reserved.

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Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

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