PITTSBURGH: Gaye Adegbalola Interview by Monica Yasher

Posted on 9/10/2009 by Monica Yasher

"I think blues does more than anything to heal the broken heart. There is no pain greater in the whole wide world than a broken heart."

I met Gaye Adegbalola a few years ago at the Elkins Blues Camp. She was my mentor in singing the blues. I took the blues vocal class. While there, I found that there are many sides to Gaye. She is able to speak her mind with forcefulness. She is able to be a teacher in a nurturing environment. She is able to talk lovingly of her mother and son. I am glad that I met Gaye; And, she is one of the most intelligent women I have met in my life. Don't take my word for it though. Read what Gaye shared with me and decide that for yourself!

Monica: I am here with Gaye from Saffire, and it’s my understanding that this is the last tour you will be doing with Saffire.

Gaye: That is correct. We have been together 25 years. Actually, Ann and I have been playing together since 78, so that’s 31 years we have been working together. And all along we worked to get to where we are and I was just telling you that I’m 65, so Lord willing I might have 10 more good years. Lord Willing, you know what I’m saying? So, I’m willing to put my energy in a different direction. If I should stay with the blues…if I stay with music….I’ll stay with the blues. And if I do, I’ll want a different sound. I want to hear that drum set? (Delta Highway was playing.)

Monica: Yeah. (She laughs…)
That’s more you, huh?

Gaye: Yeah. I love doing what I’m doing. Don’t get me wrong. But, at this age, if I’m going to try something different, now is the time. I can’t keep on putting it off. So Saffire has been an amazing journey and we still love each other and we still make good music but that’s that’s where I am.

Monica: That’s one of the nice things about the blues…you always pick up and you meet and you still jam. That’s.. that’s the beauty of the blues so even though…

Gaye: Another good thing about the blues is that unlike some other kinds of music, the older you get… the more the authenticity…or the more you are revered you are welcomed to the family. You become a matriarch, instead of an old has been. People give you more respect. So I guess we’re at a point now where a lot of the people we really looked up to have passed on… KoKo Taylor, John Cephras, uh Ruth Brown. And, you know, of that tier who is left? Pinetop, you know Etta James is not that old. But, she is up there with them. So, you know you just keep moving on up and up. Yeah.

Monica: Let’s talk about the musical journey you have had. You are an individual artist too, and just in the past year you were nominated for contemporary blues female artist of the year ..

Gaye: Right.

Monica: So what do you think you did from other artists that put you in that group?

Gaye: Did you hear my last solo release? It is called Gaye without Shame. And that’s what it’s about. I am fully open and fully embracing who I am.

And, what I try to do in the CD is I try to take gay lesbian issues, or I should say queer issues, that’s more inclusive. Otherwise you get into transgender questioning or bisexual. I try to take queer issues to the blues community and I try to take blues to the queer community. So on that CD there is jump blues, piedmont blues, delta style blues, there’s classic blues. There’s all these different genres…different types of blues, and at the same time there are issues how I closeted myself. There’s a song for transgender folks. I wrote a love song with a woman. There are 2 rock songs with women. I sing with Resa (Gibbs) on one and I sing with…was Cleome there the year you were there?

Monica: No.

Gaye: OK alright. It was really…a contemporary undertaking, and Bob Margolin was the producer. So it had a real different sound from a Saffire sound. It had everything from accapella choir…to a just me and
Bob with his guitar and my vocal to a full band.

Monica: That Accapella choir, is that the song you shared in class? You invited a bunch of friends on a Sunday to do with you?

Gaye: That’s it. That’s the last cut of the CD.

And also on the CD is a segment of a speech I did at a pride rally, which compares the struggle for gay rights to the struggle for blacks and their rights. And, the differences of the two things. And, I end up by saying that you know you didn’t have to tell your Mama that your black. But, the hardest thing in life is to tell your mother that you’re gay. You know. So there’s such a big difference and a struggle. So that CD addressed all of those things. And, I played with Roddy (Barnes) a lot touring to promote the CD.

Monica: Was it hard to do or was it liberating to do?

Gaye: It was very liberating to do. I took it to Alligator at first and they weren’t interested. Instead of going to other record labels, I opted to do it myself. And then I had it distributed by Vizztone and PR’d by Vizztone, which is a different kind of label group. But, I knew I wanted to..I’ve always been an activist and I knew I wanted to curve my activisms in that direction. And, I had to do it through my music. So, no. It was not hard to do. I performed some of those songs at the blues music awards this year and…

Monica: How was that?

Gaye: Well I didn’t know how people were going to accept it.

Monica: Oh?

Gaye: And, uh, it was fine.

Monica: You were nominated. How could you think that people wouldn’t accept?

Gaye: Well because those that nominate are really like blues expert archivists, and they really know the music. Really…inside and out. A lot of people that vote, it’s like a popularity contest. And, I hadn’t toured a lot last year.. My touring is with Saffire. And Saffire, you know… Ann had three life threatening diseases last year. And in 2007, I had four hand surgeries. So in ‘07 and ‘08, Saffire didn’t work that much. So, I’m grateful that enough people heard Gaye without Shame, that I got the nomination this year.

Monica: How is the playing with the guitar and such?

Gaye: It’s good.

Monica: Oh good.

Gaye: It’s good.

Monica: Where you worried about that?

Gaye: No, guitar’s really not my long suit. No. I played just enough guitar to keep from dividing the money by more than three. And, so, I beat my guitar a lot. And, uh, I do different kinds of rhythmic patterns. Something like a… just a little background cushion . So it would be worse off If I couldn’t write.

Monica: Yeah, cause you are songwriter.

Gaye: Yeah my songwriting is much better than my guitar playing.

Monica: You say you’re a songwriter before a performer and all so..yeah.
(talking to Maureen) One thing Gaye taught me is that you shouldn’t be just a chick singer. I haven’t done anything with that yet. I still just show up and just sing. I’m hoping someday to do more than …

Gaye: All I’m saying, you know, is that if you play guitar or piano you can be independent. You don’t have to look for somebody to always accompany you. And, it doesn’t matter if it’s just a bum, bum , bum. It just gives you a cushion. And I so I just try to encourage people to accompany yourself. Another reason why I played guitar all the time, was just so whoever is in the audience they see 3 women on stage playing as opposed to a chick singer. I don’t know any other band like that. I mean look at the Dixie Chicks or the Indigo Girls. You name any of them, and , uh

Monica: That was going to be one of my questions, that I felt that you were one of the first women acts in blues. How did you get inspired for that?

Gaye: We didn’t set out to be that.

We set out to be just friends. Ann and I were together before the third person was added. We were two friends playing music and we got work. And, we happened to do a lot of songs by Bessie Smith. We happened to do a lot of songs from like the classic blues era of the 20’s. And then, I don’t know if Ann told you or not, she was teaching computer at a community college and one of her students couldn’t make the final exam. So Ann went to her house to give the exam because she had a piano for us to practice on. We’d been sneakin’ in at a local college to practice. So, after her student finished the test, that was Earlene, she came down in and joined in on bass. So Saffire was born. And we only had one personnel change, Andra replaced Earlene. So, it just happened.
You know…we didn’t set out to be three women playing music. And, at first it kind of worked against us - they looked at us as a kind of novelty act. They would say: “Oh it’s three women playing blues.” “Oh it’s three old women playing blues.” “Oh its three old culturally diverse- a black, a Jew and Earlene was part Cherokee-playing the blues.” And then it was like.. Oh they happen to play good music. So it took a while to get through all of the labeling, before we were just accepted musically. But, I think it also worked in our favor you know.

Monica: Tough huh, pretty tough?

Gaye: Well yeah. But not too tough I think that the most negative thing we get is probably from sound technicians. They figure we’re women and we don’t know.

Monica: Yeah. LOL

Gaye: Yeah. That’s the hardest. The most sexism we run into. I think early on the media, they always want something to write about, right? As well as your self. You know? So your looking..

Monica: Well I just like you and happen to want to talk to you!

Gaye: But, you’re looking for a different angle to write from, so it’s not the same old thing. So, of course, they write from the three women angle. Not from they play good music.

Monica: What I would like to write about is what you have in the future. You said you may or may not be doing blues. Would you like to tell us what you have in the works with your websites and things?

Gaye: Well I don’t know. If I do blues, I’ll either continue with Roddy… I love… He’s very easy to work with. And he gives you such a fat cushion. And some background vocals like Resa or 3 part harmony background. I like vocals and I might experiment with that a little more. OR, I would love to….if I have the where with all, I would love to work with an electric band. I have never put a band together by myself. Saffire’s different because we’re a democracy. Usually there’s a leader in the band and then a side person in the band. So I’ve never done that. And I know how much work it requires. And I don’t know if I’m up to what kind of work it takes. I don’t know. I’m tired. I am tired.

Monica: Are you?

Gaye: I broke up with my partner this year-18 years.

Monica: Oh my gosh.

Gaye: I had to put my Mom in a nursing home. I turned 65; got Medicare. That’s a slap in the face. Um. My Mom had to deal with Medicaid. It’s been a bad year and I am tired. I should be grateful cause I’m in between 2 albums you know. I got a solo album that got great revues. And Saffire’s CD got great revues, and we’ve been doing a great job. But, also, my career is in there. So, it’s been a hard year and I’m tired. And, it takes a lot of work to manage a band. Not so much to lead a band, but to manage a band… to work out travel arrangements is hard. To work out rehearsal schedule with everybody having different jobs is hard. So, I don’t know what I’m going to do on that front. I’ve been approached by several people. I’ve been approached about writing my autobiography. And, that would be interesting. I know my story would be interesting…giving the oppression…giving the abuse… giving the career changes and um, I’ve also been talking about doing a book of my songs and how I wrote each one. Where they come from.

Monica: Oh-I would love that!

Gaye: Yes, and yesterday I was called by the university in my home town. They need a multicultural program director.

Monica: Teaching? Maureen she was teacher of the year in Virginia.

Gaye: So I don’t know. They need that person now and I really don’t have that kind of time until November. But people are meeting with me and it would be real nice to have a fixed income for a while. As it is with us we never know from month to month if it is going to be a good month or if airfares are going to wipe out money. You just never know.

Monica: Yeah.

Gaye: I’m not sure. I think I need to take a couple of months and just go to an island. But, my mom is 96 and she is my heart and I’m an only child. My son is an only child and we got her spoiled rotten. (both of us LOL) So, if I go to the island I probably have to go for a week and come back home.

Monica: Yeah.

Gaye: She is a real blessing to me that she’s she’s still in good shape.

Monica: Well Good! Excellent.

Gaye: Part of my thing would be just to enjoy my mother.

Monica: OK. Well is there anything you would like me to put in the writing? Anything you want me to add?

Gaye: You can put in there that I am so proud that you are doing this!

Monica: Awe, thank you!

Gaye: And, you know whatever it takes to get to your passion, wether it is writing, photography, playing, teaching. If you love something, you have to go after it. I believe that music will save the world. I think that the arts will save the world. I think that it is a dire necessity. I think blues does more than anything to heal the broken heart. There is no pain greater in the whole wide world than a broken heart. You can chop off my leg before you break my heart. You know what I’m saying?

Monica: I do.

Here are some events that Gaye has plAnnd:

Saturday night, September 12, will be the debut performance of "Miz A and the Freedom Band" at the Colonial Tavern in downtown Fredericksburg. Reservations are suggested. Call 540.373.1313. This is a "pay as you are able" event. We want everyone to hear this new sound. (A suggested donation is $10, but don't let money stop you from coming out.) The show will be two sets from 9 p.m. to 12.

The band consists of:

RODDY BARNES ~~ piano & backing vocals;
JEFF COVERT ~~ lead electric guitar
RESA GIBBS -- 2nd vocal & percussion;
JACKIE MERRITT ~~ electric bass & harmonica;
JUNO PITCHFORD ~~ drums (yes, that's my son); and of course,
GAYE ADEGBALOLA ~~ vocals & occasional acoustic & slide guitar.

This will be a new and interesting sound for Gaye -- one that's mainly electric. Thier main objective is to have fun -- for the listener and for the band! The first set will be songs from the "Gaye Without Shame" CD. The second set will be full of surprises. Let the good times roll!


The Fest will take place in downtown Fredericksburg on Saturday, September 12 during the day. Gaye will be performing solo at the festival at 10:15 and 11:40 a.m. The performance site is at the intersection of Charlotte and Sophia Streets. That evening, "Miz A & the Freedom Band" will perform at the Colonial Tavern. The Fest celebration continues here!


Saffire's final concert is on November 7, 2009. Tickets are now available by mail order only until September 30th. After September 30th, tickets will only be sold by retailers in the Fredericksburg, VA area. Ticket prices and seating details are located at

If you are unable to attend the final show, check out our full schedule, visit

You may also like to read about the other members of Saffire:

Ann Rabson
Andra Faye
Copyright © 2009 Monica L. Yasher. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2009 Copyright Maureen Ceidro. All Rights Reserved.

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please email

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