Volume III, Issue I Spring 2004

Marcia Ball still sharing Austin with the world

Marcia Ball is slowing down. Taking it easy. Letting herself enjoy life.

Well, sort of.

After 34 years of taking her piquant stew of Texas blues and Louisiana swamp boogie on the road throughout the year, to clubs big and small in towns all across the world, the piano-playing singer has cut back to "only" 125 dates a year.

Marcia Ball "There was a time when I was doing 175, probably," the Austin, Texas-based Ball said by phone from Washington, D.C. recently, where she was heading to another gig in Virginia. "I started out doing about 125 a year, but when the opportunity to work more came along, I took it. That would probably have been 10 years ago when I was gearing up with record deals and that sort of thing. After 10 years of that, I thought I could pick and choose a little bit."

Ball has been a mainstay of the fertile Austin, Texas music scene since 1970 – when she was visiting the city and got hooked so bad she stayed. She says the Austin music scene is still as vibrant and alive today as when she arrived.

"We're fortunate in Austin. The young musicians keep coming there and the creative energy never seems to abate."

However, she laughingly said that the economic boom going on in Austin can be tough on musicians. "It helps if the real estate market is depressed so you can afford to live there."

With her most recent album, "So Many Rivers," released on Alligator Records last spring, Ball says she continues to finds new inspiration for her music – says she is still learning, still finding new linfluences.

"I still listen to the piano players; I'm still learning from them.

"I was a professional musician for a number of years before I even heard Professor Longhair."

Ball said when she was a kid and teen, she listened to "the obvious people" for an aspiring blues/rock 'n' roll pianist: Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino.

"Now I'm going back even further to Big Maceo, Little Brother Montgomery and a lot of the amazing stride players and honky tonk piano players."

If influenced by the giants of the past, Ball is probably best known for her collaborations with her contemporaries. She participated in two popular "summit" albums that sold pretty well for the blues world – 1990's "Dreams Come True" with fellow Austin luminaries Lou Ann Barton and Angela Strehli, and 1998's "Sing It" with New Orleans soul singer Irma Thomas and blues singer Tracy Nelson, who came to fame in the 1960s as lead singer for hippie bluesters Mother Earth.

While Ball said there are no more collaborations on the immediate horizon, she said she often bumps into other Austin musicians at blues festivals. As for another summit?

"It takes a lot of serendipity. A lot of factors have to come togehter." She said that the two summit albums came about because she and the other singers "happened to be on the same label, and the time and place came together." She also recently participated on "Shout, Sister, Shout," a tribute to women blues pioneer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, singing with Strehli and Maria Muldaur.

Ball said she appreciates what previous women musicians went through to make things easier for her generation.

"I'm sure that everything women did was harder then. I take for granted, and women today take for granted, a lot of things that people had to struggle for back then. Attitudes have changed. Opportunities are better. Women's opinions are taken more seriously."

And for the future, Ball said she thinks the blues is in good shape – as long as people don't expect it to be the next big thing.

"I think it's a niche and it's going to continue to be a niche. There will always be an audience for the blues and there will always be people playing the blues."

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