The Mojos - from left to right: Paula, Gina, Kaz, Steve, & Fiona

Fiona Boyes - Australia

Our first interview highlighting blues women all over the world is with Fiona Boyes , the guitarist and vocalist for "The Mojos" of Australia. The land "down under" has become a hot bed for the blues!

How long have "The Mojo's" been playing the blues and where did your name come from?

The Mojos have been playing for about 13 years now. For some of us it was our first band, so the fact that we are still together after all this time is pretty amazing. Kaz had the idea and the name of the band in mind before she actually had the players. [The band name came from] the idea of a Mojo as a good luck kind of thing is appealing.

Who are the members of the band and how did you get together?.

Kaz Dalla Rosa on harmonica, Gina Woods on piano, organ and accordion, Paula Dowse on drums and myself, Fiona Boyes, on guitar and vocals. We have just lost our current bass player (Steve Brooks) to a chronic strain injury, which is strange because the bass spot is the only one that has changed over the years. We injured our last long term bassist (Annie Pirhana) too. It's getting to be like the drummer in Spinal Tapp - I don't know how we 'break' them... Kaz got the band together. Kaz, Gina and I knew each other a little bit from seeing each other at blues gigs around town. One night at a particularly rowdy party she decided that as we had all just started playing various instruments we should start a band - it seemed a bit of a farfetched idea but about 6 weeks later we were in front of our first audience. Paula wasn't from the blues scene but she found us when we were asking around for a full time drummer.

What "type" of blues would you say you perform?

Traditionally Australian blues bands have played mostly Chicago style blues or Blues Rock. Having the piano in there set us apart from the very guitar based bands around us. I think a lot of those players discovered blues via rock (Cream, Jimi Hendrix and so on), whereas we have been more roots orientated in our influences. We call it Southern style blues but it's got a lot of original material in there now, so I'm not sure what style you'd call it in the States!

Why the blues?

Blues seems to be the sort of music that just 'grabs' some people... I know that Kaz, Gina and I all loved blues music and listened to it a lot before we were ever players. It's the sort of music that is often introduced to people through word of mouth or a good friend. The other beauty of the genre (which I think is under appreciated by a wider audience), is that it is a very broad ranging style - from delicate finger picking like Mississippi John Hurt, hard rocking howling slide, Professor Longhair's New Orleans rhythms, uptown swing from T Bone etc. - it's all blues. I suspect that anyone that says they don't like blues just hasn't explored hard enough.

How are you received as an "all woman" band? Has it been an asset or liability?

Both - probably in equal measure. To start with there was a novelty factor, which got us a audience I guess, but you can't keep a band going for 13 years on novelty alone. Sometimes it hurt when we were dismissed as an 'all girl' band, or it was implied that we got gigs because of our gender. I am more than satisfied that we have worked very hard to get those gigs - and that we have had to work just as hard to have credibility as players in a very male dominated blues scene. The last few years we have had a male bass player. I have really enjoyed having a guy in the group. In some ways I think it is even more subversive that having an all female band - some people were quite offended!

What is the name of your most recent CD and do you have future recording plans?

Our most recent CD (the third we've released) is called 'Swing O'Clock Blues' on Black Market Music here in Melbourne, Australia. We recorded this one live, vocals and all, over two and half days. It was great to just get it down. Each time we have recorded it's been like a snapshot of what the band has been up to at the time; reflecting what we've been writing, listening to and playing at our live gigs. It's a very organic arrangement, so I suppose it depends on when the next project feels right.

Australia is a long way from where the blues began, is blues popular 'down under' and when were you first exposed to the music?

Blues is really quite popular here, especially considering our relatively small population. We have some good established blues festivals and a blues scene in each state. There is a fair bit of blues sensibilty in the tradional Aussie pub rock band - a lot of the popular local live acts from the 60's and 70's were basically blues outfits. As always, it is difficult getting mainstream radio play which would afford a bigger audience to the style. I was personally introduced to blues by a lovely guy, who is still a great friend, that I met at college. He was really into early country blues and delta blues, so that was the first stuff I heard a lot of.

What musicians do you admire and consider an inspiration?

Everyone has their particular favorites - Gina is influenced by a lot of the early boogie players and Professor Longhair. Professor Longhair is also cited as an inspiration (along with Miles Davis) by Paula even though those musicians are obviously not drummers. Kaz lists harp players as diverse as James Cotton, Charlie McCoy and Toots Thielemans as important and influential to her. I am very influenced by country blues - I also play acoustic stuff in that style, so I would have to put Memphis Minnie at the top of my list. Not as much as an influence perhaps but as an inspiration. I remember the first time I saw a picture of her, the only woman apparent amongst all the country blues classic players - she looked really sassy with her guitar. As for the electric guitar, T Bone Walker really got me interested.

How do you want to be remembered?

I asked the band about this one. Gina seemed confused by the question... Paula said - "as a stroppy little drummer" (she is all these things - and a fine friend.) Kaz would like to be remembered as a harp player that played with tone and feel. For myself, as I am getting more involved with songwriting, I would love to have my songs go out into the world and be played by other people - and to continue honing my musicianship as a player and performer. And, yeah, it'd be nice to be remembered...

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