Playing with Heat: Peach’s Inspiration for the Blues

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Photo credit: Chris Strother
       

As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 3 – Ladies Rock the Blues – June 2018

“For me, musical influence is about the heat – whether it’s jazz or blues or any genre, you have to perform with heat, like Prince did. That’s what it’s all about.”

“I wanted to prove to the world that I was a girl who could play guitar, thank you very much!”

A musician can be subject to the blues, while the blues itself can be, well, rather subjective. Simply put, everyone has their own definition of the genre. Even while sticking to the recipe of basic 12-bar forms and antiphonal riffs, blues artists tend to add their own flavor to classic blues songs.

While blues has evolved significantly since the late 19th century, it has always remained based in emotion, giving artists the freedom to create their own unique style. This is, in part, due to the fact that blues artists draw inspiration from a variety places.

Peach is one such artist. With decades of experience as a performer, Peach has toured far and wide, lending her unique style of blues to delighted fans worldwide.

Peach opens up to GGM about what inspires her, recording live, and the state of blues today.

You’ve performed music all over the world and have put a lot of miles into getting where you are today. At what point along your journey did you realize writing and performing music was what you wanted to do?

That realization happened early on in my career. I was, at first, a language major at the University of Denver, and then switched to being a music major. Around that time, I said to myself, “I just want to play music.” That was in my very early twenties, and I’ve been playing music ever since.

You’ve said yourself that you’ve played a lot of different kinds of music – from jazz to rock, and bossa nova to blues, you’ve expressed a variety of musical interests. Has your style changed or been influenced recently, perhaps as a result of your time in Europe?

Absolutely. I’m guilty of being constantly influenced, changing styles, and crossing genres.

Over the past couple of days, I’ve been obsessed with Prince. For me, musical influence is about the heat – whether it’s jazz or blues or any genre, you have to perform with heat, like Prince did. That’s what it’s all about. I’ve never confined myself to or focused on one specific genre, like so many other artists do.

When I was young, I played jazz. This had a lot to do with being female. At that time, I wanted to prove to the world that I was a girl who could play guitar, thank you very much! I was really in-your-face about what I was doing. I loved jazz, but I mostly loved singing and delivering a song. These songs were very poignant and beautiful and fit the melancholy mood of my twenties and thirties. 

After I had my daughter, I just wanted to rock. I got more into blues rock – which in a lot of ways is like jazz. So, I’ve been playing blues for over twenty years. 

Lately, believe it or not, I’ve been playing country music with my daughter. If you told me a year ago I’d be playing banjo, I’d shoot you. Though I think the only person to do any shooting now is my downstairs neighbor, who has to hear us practicing.

Tell me more about playing with “heat.”

Playing with heat is about bringing passion and emotion to whatever music you’re performing. For example, when I perform with the Almost Blues Band in Europe, I egg on the guys to play their best performances. I want them to really go for it and blow it out. Playing with passion takes the performance to a whole new level.

Going back to Prince, one thing I loved about him is that he would play another artists’ material as well as his own. I do the same thing, because if I feel passionate about a certain song at a certain moment, I just go for it. It could be one of my songs or someone else’s, but I make sure to bring that heat and intensity.

In regard to your last album A Night in Copenhagen – what was it like recording blues numbers in front of a live audience as opposed to in a studio?

I like live recording because there’s more energy. For better or for worse, the only way for me to record is live. You do lose the ability to go back and overdub and be a perfectionist, but, going back to the concept of heat, the energy you get from an audience is so important to your performance that I prefer recording live. 

For that particular album, the feeling in the room was so warm. I needed an audience like that because when I perform, I’m trying to connect my energy to the audience, and have the audience’s energy connect back to me. Some artists are studio people, but I’m more a live audience player. I’ve played almost all my life, and I’ve found that’s the kind of energy I like and need.

Are the Blues alive and well in Europe?

In my opinion, blues is much more alive and well over there than here. I haven’t played in the South lately, so I can’t speak to what it’s like to play in a blues club in Alabama these days. But I’ve played blues in Europe for 10 years now, and I can tell you, they really love it. 

For example, in the States, if I tell my American band to play classics like “Sweet Home Chicago” or “Kansas City,” at least one band member will groan. They’ve played those tunes so many times, they’re tired of them. But if you call out those tunes in Europe, you’ll see smokers come running back inside just to hear them. And that’s just fine with me, because sometimes I want to play “Kansas City” – it’s easy to play, it’s fun, and it’s energetic. I love those old songs, and so do the crowds in Europe.

As I’ve come to learn in time, if my name is on the marquee, then I get to choose what the band plays, so it really doesn’t matter if any members groan.

Speaking of A Night in Copenhagen, you wrote a song included on that album titled “Tell Me You Love Me” – where did you draw the influence for this song? 

That song had a long history before we recorded it. I wrote it when I was younger, and from the perspective of who I was at the time. I was trying to be with someone who was too proud and macho to tell me they loved me. By the time I recorded it, I added some Danish to the lyrics because I was fascinated with a man in Denmark at the time. 

The best songwriters can draw inspiration from everything. For example, when I was younger, I played guitar with a guy who wrote incredible love songs. I had such a crush on him. So, of course, I thought this one song he wrote was about me. Eventually I asked him who the song was about. He said, “Oh, it’s about a whole bunch of women I’ve known.” I was in shock! But over time, I’ve realized artists use life experiences and the people they have known to write their songs.

From your first live show to the point you’re at now, how significantly have you progressed as a live blues guitarist?

As a young girl, I was very proficient at playing chords. I was playing with jazz guitarist Davis Ramey – he was incredible. He’d teach me different chords to play while singing and he would solo over them. In the era I grew up in, girls weren’t encouraged to play solos. In fact, there were bands I played in that didn’t want me to play guitar at all. They wanted me to be the “chick singer” – I never liked that, even at the time. Partly because I’ve always been proud of my guitar playing. 

It was at some point in my forties when I decided I wanted to take my own solos. What made it hard was the fact that I always have played with great performers – guys who played with Lionel Richie and Rod Stewart, who could really clean the slate with their guitar solos. And here I was taking my first public guitar solo in my forties.

I was very dedicated to developing my guitar solos. I’ve realized that my solos are simple, but I like them like that. When I take a solo, it’s extremely different than when other people in my band take solos. This is because of how my playing has developed over time, and because it’s what I want. 

I hate to admit it, but I’m not a shredder. Even if I could play like Stevie Ray Vaughan, I don’t think I would.

Some say, in part due to performers such as yourself, blues is making a comeback; but was it ever really gone?

No, but some say that it’s gone because clubs in America don’t make money on the blues. Music in America is all about the money, and if a club isn’t making money on a blues artist, that’s it. The House of Blues in Los Angeles was really a rock club because they could make more money on artists that weren’t blues artist. We blues musicians called it “House of No Blues.”

Is that changing?

It’s certainly not changing on the west coast. I’ve had a lot of my favorite blues clubs close and nothing replaces them. It’s hard for blues musicians to make a living in America. In 2004, I released a record called The Real Thing, which featured Taj Mahal. It was doing pretty well and getting decent radio play. But I never got a dime for any royalties. Blues in America is really difficult for the artists.

Despite the tumultuous state of blues in America, what is it about the genre that really speaks to you as an artist?

The blues is my home base. Any artist will tell you, they cannot change their art because of public opinion; you just have to play what you want to play, what speaks to you. Even if it means going to Europe to play. I did the same in the late ‘70s – I was young and fearless, and I got this contract to perform in Japan. I’ve always managed to follow my heart and play what I want to play. And now, I’m doing the same thing playing in Denmark, where they like blues and support blues artists.

I’ve noticed that you – like many notable blues artists – play fingerstyle, meaning you don’t use a pick. Have you always used this technique? 

I actually used a pick when I was younger. It wasn’t until my bossa nova phase in my twenties that I played with my fingers, picking the bass string with my thumb and the high notes with my nails. This is, in part, due to a private guitar teacher I had while at the University of Denver. He was a flamenco guitarist who was obsessed with his nails and would show me all these techniques about trimming and filing nails to get an edge. I remember taking his advice, but thinking he was nuts! Later, I tried acrylics, which are rough on your fingers. I then switched to playing with gel polish. Playing fingerstyle gives me better control of the strings, letting everything fall into place.

In playing the banjo, I’ve realized you use your finger to pick single lines – not your thumb. That’s been fun to learn but challenging.

Speaking of your guitar work, what’s one technique every Blues musician should master and why? 

Start by keeping your guitar in tune. It can be a problem when you’re hitting the strings hard and they’re fresh and without realizing it they’ll go out of tune. That’s the most important thing.

It’s just as important for a blues player to listen. Most of the great artists I’ve known are great listeners – they have encyclopedic knowledge of all these different players and ways to play. It’s all about listening and emulating sounds, like slides and vibratos. Listening is key.

A Night in Copenhagen received great reviews. Can you tell us about your next move and whether your last album set the bar high?

There are a lot of things on the horizon. 

The band in Europe wants to record a studio album at some point, so that may happen. It’ll take multiple trips and a lot of time, plus we’ll have to write new material. So, we’ll see.

At some point I’d like to record with my daughter. I know she’s my daughter and I’m biased, but she sings like an angel. She’s also really into bass guitar. I’d prefer to just record a few songs and not a full album, and perhaps a video. When we sing harmonies together, she adopts my Midwest accent – even though she’s from Los Angeles. It’s so funny. I’d like to do this with her before she moves on to join a punk band with people her own age, which I’m sure will happen. 

Is there any message you would like to share for aspiring female blues guitarists?

One thing I’ve found about young women now, this new generation, is that they’re fearless about everything in regard to music. Unlike how it used to be, there’s no question now that women can play solos. I’m amazed every time I come away from a group of young women who are musicians. Their orientation now is so different, which is great. 

People like that realize they have to keep on pushing their dream, because no one else is going to push it for them. You have to follow your own ideas, because in the end, it’s all you really can do.

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Based in the Washington Metropolitan Area, Marco is a public relations consultant, freelance writer, and guitar teacher. Aside from his passion for spreading appreciation and knowledge of music to his students, he enjoys traveling, fishing, and performing at local bars and coffee houses. His biggest guitar heroes include Stevie Ray Vaughan, Dickey Betts, Chuck Berry, and Chet Atkins.