On Jan. 31, 2010 drummer Yonrico Scott was onstage at the L.A. Convention Center for the pre-telecast award ceremony of the GRAMMYs accepting the award for Best Contemporary Blues Album for the Derek Trucks Band. On Dec. 3, he and his own Yonrico Scott Band will hit the stage right here at the historic Myrtle Beach Train Depot for the final South By Southeast Music Feast of the year.
This is why I “Trust the Frog.” The folks at SxSE spend their time scouring the road not taken by the mainstream bandwagon to bring us some of the country’s most respected singer/songwriters and musicians, most of whom aren’t household names to the public, but are well-known to other musicians.
Yonrico Scott is one of this talented community of musicians. He played with the Derek Trucks Band from about 1993, he guesses, until the band went on hiatus late last year so Derek could form a new band with wife Susan Tedeschi. He has toured with Peabo Bryson and Earl Klugh and played with greats like Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Freddie Hubbard and the Allman Brothers Band.
In a telephone interview earlier this week, we talked about his GRAMMY experience, his career and his passion for art.
As a child, Scott was greatly influenced and encouraged by his mother Ruth Naomi Scott, a gospel singer who grew up in Detroit. She was a member of the Detroit Harmonettes and it sounds like she cherished her son’s budding talent.
“She was truly an angel,” says Scott, “always encouraging me. I started playing drums at about five years old.”
By age 14, he was studying with Motown drummer George Hamilton. At 15, he recorded “Message From the Ghetto” with The Sons of Truth for the Stax gospel subsidiary.
He went to college in Kentucky, studying drums and percussion with Chicago Symphony classical percussionist Patrick Arnold and classical timpanist Dave Davenport. Scott says his classical study is the reason that he is the drummer he is today.
Upon moving to Atlanta, Ga. in the late seventies, he immediately met guitarist George Greer, who turned him on to the neighborhood arts center. Connections made there helped get his foot in the door of the jingle business, and he started doing work for Atlanta mogul Ted Turner.
Sometime in 1992 or 1993, he had a call from Col. Bruce Hampton (Gov’t Mule) with the news that then 14-year-old Derek Truck was looking for a drummer.
“The first time I heard him play, I knew this was big,” Scott tells me. “The first year we played 320 dates. We did all the small cities.
“A lot of people don’t know, but when I started with DTB, we were doing bebop … all sorts of stuff.”
Because DTB took a regular hiatus, Scott was able to play with his own Yonrico Scott Band, which includes Kofi Burbridge, keys/flute; Todd Smallie, bass; Mace Hibbard, sax; Nick Johnson, guitar; Laura Reed, special guest vocalist; and many other players on different occasion. YSB’s debut release, Turning the Corner, a 12-track disc of mainly jazz instrumentals, was released in January, 2004.
His first touring job was with Peabo Bryson and Patti LaBelle. Through Bryson, he connected with Broadway and spent several years working in productions such as The Wiz, Dream Girls, Les Misérables and Five Guys Named Mo, which featured the music of Louis Jordan.
What was it like getting a GRAMMY, I wanted to know.
“I loved it. I walked the red carpet with Ringo Starr on my right and Mick Fleetwood on my left.”
He continues, “Derek had been really cool with it, said he wasn’t going to go, so I said that I was thinking of going and Derek asked me to represent the band, so then it was official. I was going!”
Scott kept a GRAMMY journal about the experience that’s posted on the Derek Trucks Band site. It’s a great read. I love how much fun he’s having with it. Here’s just a snippet:
“I get the award and I’m trying to stay composed on stage but in my mind, I’m freaking out! A lot of the other winners seemed so relaxed when we won, but for me it was just such a huge deal. I had this Grammy in my hand and I was just blown over! Right now I still think it’s a dream and I just wonder when the dream will be over.”
Throughout all Scott’s stories (and he has many), I was impressed by just how jaded he is not. He is embracing every experience that comes along.
“After I got the Grammy, I decided I wanted to do another album. I started in March of 2010, and I finished about three months ago.”
Scott is very excited about the new recording, Be In My World, which he expects will be released in early 2012. Players include his sister Ronda Scott (they sing a duet); vocalist Laura Reed from South Africa; Derek Trucks; DTB bass player Todd Smallie; DTB vocalist Mike Matteson, jazz guitarist Grant Green Jr.; virtuoso bassist Joseph Patrick Moore; singer/songwriter Diane Durrett and more. Three of the tracks are written by funk keyboardist Reverend Oliver Wells. Scott himself wrote several tracks.
“There are 15 original songs and a cover of Buddy Miles’ “‘dem Changes,’” Scott says, “and this is the first recording with me as a lead vocal. So that’s me on vibes, percussion, singing and drums. The album, titled Be In My World is a tribute to Buddy Miles.”
Art is another passion for Yonrico Scott. “I was always drawing and making stuff, as a kid.”
Once again, his mother was at his side, encouraging him.
“‘You can have the upstairs. Do whatever you want,’ my mother told me,’ Scott laughs.
“Then, when I started with Derek, we were making up set lists and I started drawing on them. We would make color copies for the band, and then for some of the fans. And now they’re collected all over the place.”
Scott is a prolific artist, painting drum heads for his many gigs along with paintings.
“I’m not a trained artist,” he continues. “I’m making a statement . . . One of my biggest idols was Howard Finster [legendary Atlanta folk artist known for his 1980s album designs for groups like R.E.M. and Talking Heads]. He told me to keep doing my own stuff. Don’t take lessons. So that’s what I do.”
This past October, when visionary artists Alex and Allison Gray, known for their psychodelic album covers, came to Atlanta’s inaugural Visionary Arts Fair, Yonrico was part of it.
“I was playing drums, wearing a crazy suit. I loved it.”
So much is happening for Yonrico Scott these days, it’s hard to keep up.
“The biggest thing for me right now is a new band. I’ve been invited to join the Royal Southern Brotherhood with Cyril Neville, Devon Allman and MIke Zito with Charlie Wooton on bass. The band will debut at the New Orleans Jazz Fest, and we have bookings through Dec. 2012.”
Joining Scott at the SxSE gig will be jazz keyboardist Buzz Amatto, guitarist Randy Honea, and Ted Peccio on bass. Something tells me this is going to be a genre-jumping adventure, and I can’t wait.
Music Feasts are $25 per person ($20 for SxSE annual concert series members). Reservations are suggested. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, with the number of tickets and your zip code. They’ll put you on their A list.
The Myrtle Beach Train Depot is located at 851 Broadway in Myrtle Beach. For more information about the SxSE event,log onto http://www.southbysoutheast.org.
Note: I loved talking with Yonrico Scott, and there’s a lot more to the interview, so I plan to organize my notes and add some of them to this blog post soon.
EG Kight on Koko Taylor
Interview by Stoney Dennis
EG Kight, known as the “Georgia Songbird,” writes music that encompasses blues, jazz, country, southern rock, gospel, and funk. Early in her blues career, she was the only independent artist to have songs included on two Get the Blues! albums, both of which remained on the Billboard charts for over a year (Let the Healing Begin – Get the Blues! released September 18, 2001/ Narm Records; Sad Sad Sunday – Get the Blues! Vol. 2 released July 8, 2003/ Narm Records). Other artists on these albums included Delbert McClinton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Keb’ Mo’, Robert Cray, Muddy Waters, and Koko Taylor.
Kight has been nominated for six Blues Music Awards, two of which were for Song of the Year. Her songs “Fuel to Burn” and “Bad Rooster” were included on Koko Taylor’s Grammy nominated albums Royal Blue (Alligator Records, 2000) and Old School (Alligator Records, 2007), respectively. Kight’s newest release “It’s Hot in Here” was ranked #1 on the Blues Roots Chart as well as on Sirius/XM Satellite Radio’s Bluesville Channel. Kight considers herself a singer first and foremost, though she began playing guitar as a child, and her song lyrics are based on personal experience as well. She is always on the move, touring and teaching songwriting workshops both in the United States and overseas.
Kight recently finished a three-week tour of Germany and Norway with her European band Blue Alley. She performed at venues in Dusseldorf, Hamburg, Detmold, Lippstadt, and Kristiansand, Norway. At one concert, she played with the popular Norwegian band “Rita’s Lolitas.” Fans fell in love with Kight almost immediately as she wooed them with her southern hospitality.
In addition to performing with her full band, she plays acoustic solo shows, such as her recent act at the Rock Café in Paderborn, Germany. The tour came to a close with Kight headlining a concert called “Blues Meets Gospel” where she performed her original song “Through the Eyes of a Child” with a full gospel choir for the first time. This song has been nominated as one of the top ten selections in the Peace Song Challenge conducted by Bring Peace Not Pain, a multi-faceted grassroots organization that strives to promote peace throughout the world. “Through the Eyes of a Child” is one of the most real life songs I have ever heard. The musical arrangement is powerful and Kight speaks words that surpass the barriers of class, race, or cultural background. Everyone in the world can relate to this song. She taps into peoples’ emotions with masterful, smooth vocals and heart-warming lyrics.
I was invited by my friend, producer Paul Hornsby, to sit in on Kight’s latest recording session at Muscadine Studios in Macon, Ga. She and Hornsby are co-producing “Koko’s Song,” which will be included on Kight’s upcoming album. I had the privilege of listening to her record the lead vocal track for the song. Her vocals were full of energy and passion. She was so meticulous with every syllable and every note. When I listened to her sing I felt like time was standing still for just an instant and I had witnessed the birth of a song that many will cherish.
As a singer/songwriter myself it was amazing for me to talk music with her. I told her I covered “Stormy Monday,” (originally recorded by T-Bone Walker) and she was thrilled that I was so interested in the blues. When I shared my songs with her she responded by saying, “I enjoyed listening to your music. Great blues.”
Kight spoke masterful words to me and it was a great privilege. I was intrigued by her desire to write songs dedicated to the memory of Koko Taylor, and asked if I could schedule an interview. She graciously agreed to answer my questions.
Dennis: What does EG stand for?
Kight: Eugenia Gail. I was named after my father Eugene who was named after Eugene Talmadge, governor of Georgia in the 1930’s and 40’s.
Dennis: What do you remember most about when you first started out in music?
Kight: Music was always a part of my life. My mother sang in a gospel band with my uncle. I grew up singing in the church. Music came naturally to me. I couldn’t ever imagine doing anything else. When I was 16 I got my heart broken and wrote my first song about love.
Dennis: Can you tell me a little about your family life?
Kight: I’m from Dublin, Ga. and I still live here. I live on the same land that belonged to my great grandfather. I never had any children because I never got married. I came close to being married a few times, but if I had done that I would have had to quit my music. I guess you could say that no one supported my music the way I wanted. I’ve never really talked about this much. I had always been an only child, but when I was 23 my parents adopted a baby – Scotty, who is now 31 years old. I remember bringing him home from the hospital and I helped raise him. For this reason, I had a hard time distinguishing him as my brother or as my child.
Dennis: You started out in country music. Can you give me some information on that part of your career?
Kight: I started opening for country shows. I opened for George Jones, Conway Twitty, and Brenda Lee, and also performed with Ray Price and Jerry Lee Lewis. I appeared several times on Nashville Now, a variety television series that focused on musical performances and interviews with guests. I was doing Top 40 country songs back then and some blues and popular stuff too. When I was in my early 20s I performed for the Macon Elks Club. Actor Patrick O’Neal saw me sing there and told me that he was directing a made-for-TV movie called “Mr. Griffith and Me” starring Burgess Meredith and Gloria Graham. I got a job as Meredith’s vocal instructor for that movie.
Back in the early days I played over 300 dates a year. I performed in resort areas like Jekyll Island and St. Simons Island. I had a really big fan base in Tulsa, Okla. especially. I played both country and blues in my act at that time. See, what I would do – I would play country music, then when I switched to blues I would put on my sunglasses so the crowd would know it. Well, it got to the point where people liked the blues more and they would say, “Put your glasses on” during my show and things like that. So I was on the fence about what to do and I eventually favored the blues.
Dennis: What made you want to switch to blues?
Kight: I was playing a gig one night in Warner Robins, Ga. and a waitress asked me if I had ever considered singing blues. She told me that I should listen to an album by Koko Taylor. I picked up a cassette tape by Koko called Queen of the Blues. From the first moment I heard her music, it sparked a new emotion in me. It felt real. I remember listening to it in my car and thinking “I have to put this in my act.” I bought all her CDs and covered her songs. I enjoyed playing the blues more, it was well received by my fans, and I was making more money.
Dennis:What was it about Koko Taylor that made her so special?
Kight: It was just the way she made me feel when she sang her songs. She conveyed the message to her audience in such a way that they could tell that her music was straight from the heart. Listeners could connect with her on a deeper level. She was my mentor but more importantly my friend.
Dennis: When did you meet Koko?
Kight: On March 13, 1995 at 10 p.m. I met her in Chattanooga, Tenn. She was playing at a place called The Sandbar. I begged the owner to let me meet her. When I met Koko I didn’t give her much room to say anything. See, I only had a limited time to talk with her. I was trying to say everything I wanted to tell her as fast as I could. I thought, “She is going to think I’m a nut.” But it ended up turning out okay. Koko just smiled a lot as I talked. I think she was in awe that I knew so much about her. I knew every time she had been sick or gotten in a car accident for example, more personal things that most people wouldn’t know. I think that made an impression on her. Anyway she ended up calling me on the phone and that’s when we started to develop a relationship.
Dennis: Koko’s Grammy nominated albums featured two of your original songs. Can you elaborate on the creative process involved in working with her?
Kight: I feel privileged to have been able to work with such a remarkable musician. It was a surreal experience. I would send the song to Koko. She would call me back and sing it over the phone to me. Koko would sing it how she wanted it to go, and would ask me “Are you sure you like it this way?” I remember thinking “I would like it any way you did it.” But I told her to do whatever she wanted with my song. I told her to make it her own and she did. Koko would sing it for Bruce Iglauer, president of Alligator Records, the largest and oldest blues label to date. She would sing my song to Bruce and then he and I would spend a lot of time editing the track and things like that. It was such an honor to work with both Koko and Bruce.
Dennis: What gave you the idea to write a song about Koko?
Kight: I wanted to write a song that explained not only who she was as a performer, but also who she was as a person. After I wrote the song “The Queen” about her in 2000, she would always say, “Sing that song about me.” Sadly, she passed away June 3, 2009. Her passing was heavy on my heart during the time I wrote “Koko’s Song.” She was sweet and good-natured, a kind and generous woman. One could realize her love of life and people when listening to her songs.
Dennis: Have any of your songs been featured in a way that was especially rewarding for you?
Kight: My performance of the song “Through the Eyes of A Child” was broadcast during the 2007 and 2008 Children’s Miracle Network Telethons. That was a rewarding experience because that song is very meaningful to me. I had the opportunity to perform this song with a full gospel choir in Schlangen, Germany. I was honored to work with a choir for the first time because my songs had never been presented in that way. When I heard the rehearsal it brought tears to my eyes.
Dennis:Where are you currently touring/performing?
Kight: I’ve been in Europe for three weeks in Germany and Norway. I’ve been through Dusseldorf, Hamburg, and other little towns in Germany. This is my third year playing overseas with my German band Blue Alley.
Dennis: What’s coming up for you?
Kight: I’m playing at Calvin’s Live Jazz and Blues in Warner Robins, Ga., and at the Rookery in Macon, Ga. Since I am from Dublin it is like playing at home to me.
Dennis: I know you were the headliner for the National Women in Blues” festival in Wilmington, North Carolina in 2007. How did you get involved?
Kight: Michele Seidman, director of the National Women in Blues festival, heard me playing at The Blues Music Awards in Memphis, Tenn., and invited me to sing at the festival. I feel like women have always had a harder struggle in the music business than men. I don’t know exactly why that is. Someone like Michele who promotes women in the arts, that means a lot to me. The event was good because it brought so many women in the arts together to perform. I got most everybody up on stage with me – Michele, Big Red, Laura Chavez, and Robin Rogers to name a few. We had ourselves a large time. I really enjoyed it and I know everyone there enjoyed it also.
Dennis:What women do you see as up and coming blues artists?
Kight: Shemekia Copeland, Nora Jean Bruso, Robin Rogers, Reba Russell, and Dorothy Moore. I especially like Moore’s song “Misty Blue.”
Thanks to Stoney Dennis and EG Kight! Interview ©2009 Stoney Dennis.