Posted July, 2016
Melissa Etheridge represents many things to many people.
First and foremost, she’s primarily known as prolific and masterful songwriter and performer. Her lyrics reach to the depths of the listener’s soul and causes them to think deeper than they ever have before on whatever Etheridge is singing about. All of that has resulted in close to 14 million domestic album sales, earning her several platinum and gold records.
She’s an iconic gay rights activist and has been very bold in her support of the gay community and, likewise, they’ve been unabashedly loyal to her.
Others see Melissa as a courageous and victorious cancer survivor, and rightly so.
Etheridge is also a committed environmentalist. Her celebrity has given her the platform to promote smart energy.
It is because of the first point – and her performance this month at Knoxville’s historic and beautiful Tennessee Theatre (as well as Atlanta’s Chastain Park Amphitheater and Nashville’s iconic Ryman Auditorium, if you’re inclined to make the day trips for those shows), that I was able to chat with Ms. Etheridge.
The first thing that I would like to say about our conversation is the total demonstration of classshe and her people showed. The interview was done as a favor and a few minutes were culled out of her jam-packed schedule just so she could speak with me about the tour and show. My phone number was transposed, making it impossible to get in touch with me at the appointed time. Yet, they persevered until they were able to get through to me.
This elevated Melissa and her team to a far taller pedestal than I already had them on. An artist of her status would have been well within their rights to blow off the call due to their busy schedule. The fact that Melissa didn’t speaks volumes of the kind of human being she is.
Once we connected and got through our introductions, I started the interview by asking how preparations for the tour were going. I was given a surprising glimpse into her personal life.
“It’s great. Right now, I’m in my quiet time. Get the kids finished up at school. I’m at home. That’s me prepping to go on the road, making sure that my teenagers are all set for the summer and that everybody is good.”
When I gasped that her kids are already teenagers (not realizing that THAT much time has elapsed since they entered her life), she gasped back by saying, “One of them is in college! She just finished her first year at Columbia University! Just amazing!”
For the Knoxville and other stops on this tour, I asked what we could expect from those shows.
“I’m kind of doing a couple of things this summer. I’m touring with Pat Benatar. That’s ninety minutes of the hits and we’re hitting it like that. The Knoxville stop will be my own show. What’s new about this is it’s a new configuration of musicians for me. I have played with three other pieces. I’ve played with full five piece bands. I’ve played with symphonies. But this show is going to be a trio. It’s me, and drums and bass.
“Because I’ve been doing my solo shows, I’ve gotten really strong in my guitar playing. So, I said, ‘Look, I want to see what it’s like to move into this trio feel,’ which I was always relying on another guitar player or something else to fill it up. So, I go, ‘Let me see if I can go more into the Jimi Hendrix/Nirvana kind of space.
“I’m using a Nashville guy – David Santos is going to play bass and he’s just an amazing bass player. I’ve got Brian Delaney on drums so it’s going to be another new way of hearing ‘Come To My Window’ and ‘Bring Me Some Water’ and some of the hits you love. It allows me to really explore my own musicianship and re-imagining some of these songs. I’m really excited about it – a little scared, but that’s good!”
As a fan of both her solo and band performances, I was curious which environment she preferred to perform in.
“You know, it depends on the mood because, with a band, I get that dynamics. I totally get dynamics. Solo, I get to do everything myself but I don’t get dynamics because I have to do everything kind of on this one level. But I think I’ll always love playing with other musicians the best. I just like that experience.”
If you go to Melissa’s website, MelissaEtheridge.com, the first thing you see is a big splash about the cruise she’s hosting this fall. I asked her about it.
“Ah! It’s going to be so much fun! We’re going from Tampa, Florida, to Key West, Florida, then across the Gulf to Cozumel, Mexico, and, then, back. It’s all about music. There’s a lot about health; taking care of ourselves. It’s going to be a blast! It’s my very first cruise I’ve hosted so I’m really looking forward to it!”
As for what is on her radar for the near term besides the tour, Melissa shared:
“Next year! Speaking of Tennessee, I went down to Memphis at the beginning of the year. I went to Willie Mitchell’s old studio – Royal Studios – and I recorded with the High Rhythm Section. I’m re-imagining some Stax songs. I’m actually recording on Stax Records. They’ve been defunct and Concord bought the catalog. They’ve opened up and allowed me to use the Stax label. I made a Stax record. We’re actually mixing it right now. Vance Powell is actually mixing it down in Nashville. A lot of Tennessee influence on this next record!”
When I suggested that she’s got to do a blues album sometime, Etheridge replied:
“You’re gonna get some blues on this record. You’re gonna hear it! You’re finally going to hear me say, ‘That’s right!’ It all came from the blues. It’s where it all came from!”
As our chat was drawing to a close, I asked Ms. Etheridge what I ask many artists who have had a long, distinguished career: Looking many years ahead, when you’ve stepped off the tour bus at the great gig in the sky, how do you want to be remembered and what do you hope your legacy will be?
“Ah! I want people to say, ‘God, she made a difference! Because she was here, life was a little sweeter. Life had a little bit more of a soundtrack.’ That I just lived well; gave more than I took in the end.”