“Like everybody else, I’m trying to regroup and figure out how to do this thing again,” said a laughing Marcia Ball as she discussed her upcoming show at the South Orange Performing Arts Center, Feb. 19, and her latest album, Shine Bright. “People would say, ‘I haven’t seen you in so long,’ and then I’d kind of catch myself and say, ‘Well, hey, I haven’t seen anybody!’ ”
The singer-songwriter and pianist has been entertaining audiences for more than five decades worldwide. As it says on her website, she is able “to ignite a full-scale roadhouse party every time she takes the stage,” and when one talks to her, it is easy to understand why. Words such as “feisty,” “fun,” “good-natured” and “jocular” come to mind to describe her effervescent, larger-than-life personality.
Hailing from Orange, Texas, raised in Louisiana and currently back in the Austin area of Texas, she makes music with a fiery Southern and Southwestern edge. Now that the world is opening up again, she is stoking the embers in various ways.
“Shine Bright came out before the pandemic but honestly, I’ve been doing other stuff,” she said, ”I’ve been writing on a musical with a friend of mine, so I’ve written a lot of songs over the last couple of years but very few that would apply to me making a record. I need to get on it because I have the energy and, for some reason, now that the prospect of getting back to work and playing is on the horizon, I’m excited and I’m thinking about writing.
“I joke about this but one of the only songs that I completed during this time was what I call my pandemic experience song and it’s called, ‘I Took to Drinking’ (laughs), and I’ll tell ya how clever it is, I actually worked in the word ‘jeroboam.’ When you talk about bottles of wine, you have a magnum and then you have a jeroboam. (laughs)”
A jeroboam holds four bottles or roughly 20 glasses of wine but is most likely not big enough to contain the enthusiasm that Ball has for her latest release, its roots, her band, her love of the stage and the upcoming tour.
“Steve Berlin, the sax player for Los Lobos, produced it and we made half of it in Austin and half in Louisiana at a great studio called Dockside Studio, where B.B. King did his Blues on the Bayou record and Dr. John did a couple of records. There is a Jesse Winchester song on there called ‘Take a Little Louisiana With You Everywhere You Go.’ When he did it, it didn’t sound like a zydeco song, but when I did it, I wanted to use my friends down there — Yvette Landry, Roddie Romero, Eric Adcock and people like that — to play on it. Lee Allen Zeno, who played bass with Buckwheat Zydeco for many years, also. We did several songs there and several here in Austin and Steve produced the whole thing.”
So what else did she do during the pandemic lockdown? A musical with friends that apparently turned into a little something more.
“We had written all of the music for what was supposed to be a musical, about 15 songs, and because we couldn’t do a play we decided to do a podcast and because it is now eight episodes we had to write a whole bunch more songs,” she said with her infectious laugh. “There are three of us working on that, so I’ve written a lot of songs.”
Music isn’t the only thing keeping Ball busy; she also sits on the board of a very worthwhile charity, one that helps other musicians in need.
“We have a nonprofit here that a bunch of us women in the music business founded called Home and we pay rent and utilities for older musicians. We started about 10 years ago. We felt the need.
“A friend of ours, Miss Lavelle White, who is 92 now and had lived here in Austin and then came back about 10 years ago after being away for a while … when she came back, she had nowhere to go and had no resources. Her manager contacted a whole bunch of us and we got together and discussed what to do and we threw a gig where the bunch of us sang Lavelle White songs. We held the gig at Antone’s, the blues club here. We recorded it and it was great.
“Ruthie Foster is on our board, Carolyn Wonderland, Shelley King, Eve Monsees. That gig was before we even had a board, that was when we just threw a fundraiser to help her out and get her off the streets but that was when we realized that, (a) We could do that, and (b) it needed to be done, and now we have 21 or 22 people that we are supporting. In 2020, we had a couple of virtual fundraisers, but next month in March, it is my birthday month and another board member’s birthday so we are going to have a big event and it is going to be our first live and in-person event, an outdoor event on a deck by the lake out here in Austin. Our poster says, ‘Birthday Bash 2020” Scratch! 2021 Scratch! 2022.’ (laughs)”
Speaking of live performances, what can we expect at a show like the one coming up at SOPAC? A show that is being billed as “Celebrate Mardi Gras with Marcia Ball.”
“I have a great band,” she said. “I have a great sax player, Eric Bernhardt, a great guitar player name Mighty Mike Schermer, they are on the record. I have a new bass player because my bass player that has been with me for 40 years, when I started talking about going back out on the road, said, ‘I’ve got to tell you, Boss, I’m not going out,’ and I don’t blame him. So I have a new, young, wonderful bass player named Michael Archer and my drummer is from New York and his name is Mo Roberts. He used to play with Shemekia (Copeland). He came to Austin; he’s lived around various places and he may be thinking of going to New Orleans. If I were a drummer, I’d go to New Orleans to get my butt kicked. (laughs) I do it periodically to get my piano butt kicked. (laughs)
“A lot of these places ask for a 75- to 90-minute set and I have a hard time doing that because I tend to go more like two hours or a little over that. (laughs) The guys laugh if we have to do an hour or under an hour, they just shake their heads. ‘I don’t think she can do that.’ (laughs)
“The tour is just a week. It is all in a tight little pattern in the Northeast. We have six gigs in seven days. I prefer to do it like that. I’d do 16 gigs in 17 days. I love what I do. After laying off for a while, I really had to make an effort to stay in shape over the last year because when you are used to doing over 100 gigs a year and then laying off of that, you can lose your muscle tone. I had to play some private and personal gigs for myself. (laughs)”
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