May 24, 2024

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Interview with Gayle Harrod: Temptation about of authenticity, strength and resilience: Videos, new CD cover

Interview with Blues singer and songwriter Gayle Harrod. An interview by email in writing. 

JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music.  How exactly did your adventure take off? 

Gayle Harrod: – I was born in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, but when I was 7, my parents divorced and we moved to a small town about 30 miles outside of Baltimore, Maryland. I’ve been in this area ever since. I spent most of my growing up years in an area that was mostly farmland back then, and we had an old house on 20 acres of land and a few cows and chickens and a big vegetable garden. My Grandmother on my Dad’s side had a lot of musical talent. She played piano, had a classically trained voice and directed church choir. She sometimes tried to get me to sing with her and teach me a few little tunes on the piano, but I never had any formal music training. We didn’t live close enough for her to really teach me.

I honestly didn’t have a lot of confidence as a kid and the few times I tried out for something music related in school I got rejected, so I never really pursued it after that, but music was always around in the home. When I was little, my Dad was always playing the Rock and Roll, Soul and Motown of the early 70’s and Mom was more into Country music. It wasn’t until around 1998, I was in my early 30’s and newly divorced and looking for a new social scene that I stumbled across a local pub that had live music. I started attending an open mic Blues jam and was eventually coaxed into singing. That was really my first real exposure to The Blues and it just fit me like a glove. The folks there were extremely encouraging to me and became like family. That’s all I did for about 1015 years. It took a long time for me to really feel confident as a singer, but I loved how singing and writing allowed me to express myself and work though my emotions.

I had a brief stint playing in a duo for a year or so back in early 2000’s but didn’t join my first band until 2011, when I was 45 years old. I had reconnected with an old high school friend who was a really talented Blues singer, guitarist, and harmonica player. He heard me sing and invited me to join his band. I guess it just snowballed from there. I sang with a few other cover bands, before deciding it was time to start my own band about 6 years ago. After a few disappointing experiences, I decided I wanted to choose my own people and be in control of it. As far as making a living at it, I never really thought that would be something that was possible for me. I’m so new to all this and I’ve just released my first album. To be honest, I’m still working full time in Civil Engineering, but the response to this album has me hopeful that a living in music may indeed be in my future.

The US/EU Jazz & Blues Association (US/EU JBA): Who we are 2012 – 2023! Photo

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?

GH: – Well, I think I’m really just starting to discover my sound. I’ve been writing songs for year, just for me, just lyrics and a vocal melody because I don’t play any instruments, but “Temptation” is my debut album and first attempt at recording my original music. It hasn’t really had time to evolve, but I can tell you my music is mainly Blues-based, but heavily influenced by Soul, R&B, Motown and Gospel. I grew up listening to all kinds of music, but this is the music that has always moved me the most and think they can’t help but show up in my writing. My producer, Buddy Speir has also been a huge part of helping me find my sound. I had all these ideas about how I wanted things to sound but I didn’t really have the musical language to make other people understand. He has great instincts and just somehow got it, and helped me make a record that was beyond anything I had hoped for.

JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?

GH: – I have to admit I don’t have much of a routine practice, other than warming up a bit before performances. It has mostly been trial and error initially, learning what works vocally, and how to get better sounds out of myself. Folks who play other instruments have the advantage of being able to see their strings and keys and such, whereas vocalists are going entirely by feel and memory. I pay attention to things like: How was my tongue positioned when I was able to hit that note? Where did I feel the resonance or the vibration in my throat? And trying to replicate the things that work well. I did take some vocal lessons a few years ago to help me learn some proper technique and warm-ups and it has definitely helped. I don’t often have the opportunity to sing harmonies, but I like to practice singing the harmony parts when I’m listening to the radio. Finding harmonies is challenging for me, since I never had any ear training, so I challenge myself to do it whenever I can.

JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?

GH: – Oh goodness yes. Always learning, growing and changing. Isn’t that the nature of being human? I’d like to think I’m a little wiser than I once was, but sometimes I don’t know. I definitely have more confidence than I had as a younger person. I am more outspoken. I speak my mind now rather than holding my tongue or bottling things up. I think it just comes with aging. When you start to realize how short life is and how quickly it’s going by, you stop caring so much what other people think and you just start being more yourself and doing what makes you happy.

JBN: – How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

GH: – Let me just say that nothing could have prepared me for the process of recording this CD and the full-blown production it would turn into. I mean, I researched. I talked to people who had experience with it. I got a ton of advice, most of which turned out to be pretty good. But I was in no way prepared for the nearly year-long process it took to wrangle the over 20 musicians who appeared on this CD, the long days in the studio and longer nights talking out details with my producer, the studio flood that delayed production for weeks, the actual costs vs. what I budgeted and finding ways to make up that difference. And then, all the behind the scenes things you have to do, the preparation that goes into making it successful…I just have so much more respect now for the artists that are out there doing this on a regular basis, with the limited resources that artists typically have. It was really eye-opening for me.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2023: The Gayle Harrod Band – Temptation, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

GH: – I am honestly just so proud of this album. I’ve talked about recording for several years now, but I think my lack of knowledge and fear of failure held me back from actually doing it. Then I lost a very dear friend in early 2020 and very shortly after the world shut down to covid. It was a real wake-up call. I started to realize that if I don’t do this now, I’m never going to do it. So, I started going through all the songs I had written early on and picked a few that I thought were worth revisiting. It’s interesting how looking at an old song with fresh eyes, can give it new life. I used the time during covid to write some new songs and plan the new CD and I made a promise to myself to not only finish it, but to do it right. No shortcuts. The CD was just released February 24th, so I am right now working on promoting that, finding representation, and hopefully putting together some tours in support of it. I’ve really put everything I have into making this CD, heart, soul and wallet.

Buy from here – New CD 2023

JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?

GH: – There are three of us really at the core of The Gayle Harrod Band. Chuck Ferrell is one of those folks I met in my early days at the Blues Jam and one of the first people who encouraged me to pursue singing. He’s been one of my dearest friends for almost 25 years and one a Hell of a drummer. When I was first forming the band, I knew that I wanted him, and an amazing local bass player, Dennis Michaels. Dennis recommended Guitarist, Stan Turk. We played together in that format, for a couple of years, mostly as a cover band, trying out some original material here and there. Sadly, Dennis had some health issues and passed away a couple of years ago. The music scene in our area is pretty tough and most serious musicians are playing with multiple bands, so we’ve had a couple of bass players we’ve been using for local gigs, depending on who’s available. When it came time to choose people for the CD, I relied heavily on my producer, Buddy Speir, to help me pick the right people. He Brought in Christopher Brown for the Bass role, and we’ve been using him as often as possible on our live shows ever since. He also brought in local guitar heroes, Sol Roots, Bobby Thompson and Jonathan Sloane to do some solo work, Brian Simms on Keys, and Background Vocals from Mary Ann Redmond and Dusty Rose. On horns we brought in a group of guys we had worked with on a live stream during the pandemic, Greg Boyer on Trombone, Brad Clements on Trumpet and Brent Birckhead on Sax, collectively known as The Beltway Horns. We had a couple of songs that needed harmonica, so I brought in my friend Rachelle Danto. Last, there were a couple of songs that really needed a Gospel feel. I called in my Friend Shelley Ensor who leads the Gospel program at a local college music camp and told her I needed “a couple of vocalists” to do some gospel backups. She rolled into the studio with a full 8-person gospel choir! Buddy, filled in some missing pieces himself on slide guitar, organ and a little bass.

JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?

GH: – Well, I’d have to say that there was a particular moment in our studio sessions when the gospel choir was tracking, and we were all in the control room going over what we needed from them on “Come on People”. The first time I heard it with the choir, it just brought me to tears. This songs that was once just a few words and a melody inside my head was now this fully formed, amazing arrangement and it was really just an emotionally overwhelming moment for me … in a good way!

JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

GH: – I’ve spent most of my life in the very technical, intellectual world of Engineering and I do enjoy the challenge of solving problems, but intellectual pursuit alone, have never really been enough for me. There was always something missing. I feel my life has been much more balanced and satisfying since I started pursuing music. I can’t imagine my life without it doing this. My music is my medicine, my therapy, and my outlet for emotions, and being able to express myself and connect with other people this way is for me, a truly spiritual experience.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

GH: – Oh Absolutely! That’s what it’s all about! If I’m not connecting with my listeners in an emotional way, I’m not doing it right. Making that connection is the best part of doing this. It can be scary to open yourself up for people to see, but isn’t that the point? We’re all human and so often we feel like we all alone in our experiences, and in feeling what we feel. When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, and share the truth of our stories, we find our common humanity and we all feel less alone.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?

GH: – I’m not sure I’m qualified to speak on that topic, but in general, if you want to get young people interested in anything you have to make it fun and engaging and find a way to make it relatable to them.

JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?

GH: – For me, finding spirit and meaning in this life, is to simply be my authentic self, to find joy in everyday living, to create something, to love people with my whole heart, practice kindness, be of service and to connect as deeply with others as I can, and music is a very big part of that.

JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?

GH: – That artists could be truly valued for what they do and paid fairly for their creative work. The Arts are so essential to a civilized society and it is shameful that so many who make their careers as artists, are living in poverty.

JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?

GH: – I have such varied musical tastes, and we have a local radio station that plays a lot of indie music, so I hear a lot of new music that way, but Bonnie Raitt and Shemekia Copeland are always on my list of favorites. I frequently revisit, my early inspirations, like Etta James, Koko Taylor, Ruth Brown and Billie Holliday. Lately I’ve been listening to some newer stuff from Kat Riggins, War & Treaty, Eddie 9V, Sunny Bleau, Silk Sonic, Cinelli Brothers, Solomon Hicks, and Yola. I just discovered Durham County Poets, and The Outcrops and I have to admit, I can’t help but love me some Lizzo.

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?

GH: – For all the possibilities that exist in that question, what I’d like to do most, is just go back and spend a little more time with some of the people I’ve lost…My mom, my sister, my grandparents a couple of very dear friends. So many questions I wish I’d asked. So many things I wish I’d said. One more hug. We always think we have more time, you know?

Our US/EU Jazz-Blues Association Festivals 2023 with performances by international stars: Photos

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

GH: – I hope I convey a positive message, of authenticity, strength and resilience, to own our mistakes and learn from them and use those lessons to do better and be better. Not to settle for less than you deserve. Mostly just to treat each other better and take care of one another.

JBN: – Do You like our questions? So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…

GH: – I have to admit these were some tough questions, and you’ve really made me think hard about my answers! So, my question to you is, What is the strangest, most memorable, or most outlandish response you’ve ever received to an interview question and from whom?

JBN: – The strangest thing happened in both senses, both bad and good, when the question about intellect and soul is answered 35% – 65% or 50% – 50%, as if it were mathematics. And the good thing has been incomparably more. Barry Harris.

GH: – Thank you so much for your time and your interest in my music. Gayle

Interview by Simon Sargsyan

The Gayle Harrod Band | A melting pot of Blues styles.

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