For English musician, and blues enthusiast, Bex Marshall, it was her uncles.
“I had uncles on both sides of my family who inspired me ... One was a live rock n roll singer in the 60 s who had a huge voice and stage presence the other a very knowledgeable blues music fan who had an incredible collection of records which I used to sneakily play while he was at snooker ! Also my guitar tutor who taught me to pick ragtime blues inspired me to that roots playing.” says Marshall.
Marshall's latest record, House of Mercy, is out now.
Marshall learned as much about the basics of guitar playing as she could and says she spent her teen years listening to music ranging from ACDC to John Lee Hooker. Then she started writing on her own and, more important, traveling.
“That kind of thing grounds you and the blues music that has always been the root of what I have been into the acoustic pickin' style always challenged me so I started developing a style of playing which incorporated it all,” she says. “Then I bought my OZARK resonator ... Of which I have several now including a one off to my very own spec s.”
Marshall says she plays the blues when she is up, when she is down—and it might even be the same song.
“Blues must come from whatever provokes you emotionally. The serious tunes can make you smile too. It's the music you should feel most at ease with like an old buddy,” says Marshall. “It is the building block of all music and most respected, it’s for me it’s the most exciting genre. When you hear the first few bars of a good blues tune it gets my haunches up!”
But how does a new artist fit themselves into the rarefied world of blues. How do you fit into the time-honored and sometimes even calcified genre?
“By sticking to the basic rule of good blues--the songs, the songs have to be good. Lyrics are so important to me; I love play on words, and blues can be very repetitive, so if you gonna sing one line many times it better be a good line!” she says. “I love writing stories and the blues genre is all about stories, usually troubles that begin between a man and a woman ha, but I want to explore the music and try to push boundaries while still keeping it real, there are so many incredible influences in blues music, roots to hardcore electric blues, the main thing is arching your back and putting your heart and soul into it!”
Then there is the whole blues MAN aspect.
“It’s always tough when you try to break into a male dominated world, so you have to be made of strong stuff. I grew up with lots of men around me in my family, so I was toughened up early. I prefer the company of men to be honest, so I am comfortable in the blues environment. I have always had a need to strive to be as good if not better than them at what I do,” she says.
“I just want to add a slightly different dimension to the whole thing, to be original and the mission is to get under the skin of the hardcore purists and get them secretly listening. I want to take the pure and make it interesting in my own way, with as much real blues quality as I can.”
How does Marshall view playing in the USA—artists coming here to play smaller venues are often not treated as well as in Europe (by venues).
“Although I will say the USA is the home of the blues and the people know it-- The audiences rock! There is a respect for musicians here which is unrivalled anywhere else in the world I think,” says Marshall. “It is a joy to play here. Whether it’s a big club or a mom n pop bar, I feel much more relaxed playing here(the U.K.),I think, like coming home.”
“Barry my husband who booked a club called The Borderline in Soho for 6 years, wanted to buy it and after researching the location, found that St Barnabas Church ( next to The Borderline) had in the 18 & 1900's been a prostitutes refuge called the House of Mercy, he wanted to use that name for the restaurant venue above the Borderline which he wanted to transform into a weekly residency show bar for top class artists he eventually lost out in a bidding war to corporations and eventually left the club, but kept the name for our company that now that includes a weekly syndicated radio show which is produced from the Snake Pit Studios which we built in the back garden. “ she says. “It also incorporates our record company through which the record has been released. The radio show has two 'as live' radio sessions a week, taken from the wide vista of Americana, so we are always full of musicians and their music, jams happen all the time and that's where I got the House of Mercy song from and now the title of the record, it's a song that encapsulates all of my styles that eventually appear on the record. We also subsequently put up the odd band and traveling minstrels so in effect we are a refuge for musical prostitutes.”
This record was also self-produced with assistance from the engineer from previous outings.
“I wanted to have a go a producing this record myself this time around, I had learnt a lot from my first two records Bootlace and Kitchen Table and took it on this time, I have an incredible engineer who I work with called Nick Hunt and he is so fantastic to work with, he made it very easy for me, considering I’m " THE ARTIST " I was very aware about not being too precious and over indulgent about things and having a definitive goal for the record to sound like,” says Marshall. “Although I did have a certain amount of freedom in the studio, which was a luxury, I recorded the bands rhythm tracks in the same small studio I used for Kitchen Table which is about a mile from my house in Muswell Hill called Boogieback Studios, sticky carpets and amps in the bathroom etc, and a great vibe, a lot of the overdubs with the Reno Brothers, Brigette De Meyer, Eileen Healy and BJ Cole were done there.”
The mastering was done at Snakepit Studio and at The House of Mercy. She would mix with Hunt and then spend time listening to the recordings in her car (always a great way to really hear music how people listen to it—at least in the old days).
Marshall also worked as a dealer. No, not meth or smack, but in the gambling, card-tossing way. One thing that has always eluded me is shuffling cards. So I asked if she could teach me.
“Yes there is a cool shuffle I could teach you; split the pack and hold the two packs facing outwards in both hands and squeeze gently at the top and bottom of the cards so they bend slightly in the middle towards your palms then squeeze hard so that the fly out of your hand and fly across the room ..... It’s called a 52 card pick up shuffle...heeee. My advice? Don't play cards.
Marshall recently finished a tour of the USA. Be sure to keep an eye open for Marshall in tour during 2013 in the USA and Europe. This most recent tour was solo but the next will be with a band. She also hopes to hit Australia down the road.
Go for the blues, not the card tips!