Roxy Perry it is a pleasure to get the chance to sit down and speak with "New York City's Blues Queen!" How did you get bestowed that lofty title?
For more info on Roxy Perry and how to purchase her CD, visit her website at www.roxyperry.com
NY BLUES QUEEN..by Tri-State Blues 1997 Woman In Blues Edition (on the cover) With all modesty and humility... This title has been given to me by many reviewers since. I do my best to honor the title at all times.
Where are you from originally?
New Rochelle , New York.
You have done lots of traveling....
I've traveled throughout the U.S. and Canada as a back up vocalist and a band leader over the years. I made the most of these tours by making a point of exploring the cities and towns and cultures in my spare time. I've lived in many places. My family moved out to L.A. in the fifties for four years. We then returned to NY in the early 60's. I lived in Augusta, GA. for a while in the early 70's. Mid 70's Columbia SC for 5 years. Seeing new places , meeting new people and playing my music for them was very enriching. It all brought me to where I am today .
Are you from a musical family?
No, [but] my father was a big music fan and a great dancer too. He had a great record collection that I listened to all the time rather than playing with toys. He could name the who , where and when info. on just about any record (popular music, jazz, blues, swing). I learned a lot from him.
When did you first decide that music was your thing?
When I was two or maybe even sooner. I actually do remember singing at two and getting a hand from the relatives. They were amazed that I could sing on key. I still had to work on speaking better though. I WAS JUST TWO! (LAUGHING).
How long have you been performing?
37 years is a long time! What have those years been like? I know there have been ups and downs and ins and outs.
NYC is a tough town. When I was about fifteen, I had an audition at the Palace Theater that was arranged by a well meaning friend of the family. I spent many nights dreaming of a grand audition on the famous stage. When my father and I got in to the theater it was all boarded up. We waited in the snow and rain for the friend of the family to show up. Two hours later he showed up drunk and apologetic. We proceeded to scale the well worn stairs to the offices above the theater. We arrived at an office that was so small we had to stand in the hall. A cigar smokin' guy at a piano covered with sheet music asked me for my charts. I didn't even know what charts were at the time. He asked me what song I wanted to sing and in what key. I didn't know the key either. He then basically told us that I was not ready for show business and slammed the door in our face. I was crushed and cried my first tears on Broadway that day, but they weren't my last. I had lots of hits and misses in the early years there. By the time I was 18 I was playing with my seven piece. band on 45th St at the Peppermint Lounge: six sets a night, six nights a week. This led to a road tour which was very good. After that, I played many gigs in Time Square and Greenwich Village which were all cool. It was the place to be in the 70's. I moved down south after that and returned to NYC in the late 80s. The Blues scene has been great from day one. Over the years there have been a lot of rough times. I can truely say I payed my dues bigtime.
I can truly say you definitely _have_ paid your dues... What was it like the first time you got on stage?
The first time I got on stage was when I was five . They tell me I wasn't scared. I even said "hi" to my mother from the stage......(laughing) . But my first paying gig was with a swing orchestra [at] Glen Island Casino when I was ten. My heart was pounding and my voice quivered for a few notes but I got it all together .After that [I] had many return engagements. I really never feared the stage. Music was always an emotional outlet for me. So, I always welcomed the opportunity to play.
Is it as much or more of an emotional outlet now that you have lived so much life...-
It's a completely emotional outlet. I tell the truth of my life at every engagement. At this point the stage is the only place I can vent. I wear too many hats at this point and the stress in dealing with the details of band business, my record company, soliciting to get a distributor and better label and bookings...is really wearing me out. Hopefully it will change soon and I can get back to just singing and writing.
What has your experience like getting the labels interested? What do you feel you have to offer that no other band has?
It's been tough landing a real label. It baffles me completely considering all the flawless reviews in all the major and minor magazines and web reviewers, the cd has been on the air for 10 months , The fan base has expanded to international status even without distribution, The festivals that we have lined up, our track record in the clubs. I truely think we have a ton to offer a decent label or distributor. We are very original, professional, skilled as musicians and songwriters and are very easy to deal with. I can't figure out why a label hasn't snapped us up. At this point most of the footwork is done. The last cd is still airing. It's not like we are new or need development. I only choose the best players talent wise and attitude wise. There'as no problems here. This act is a find to any label at this point. I imagine things will change regarding our label status after the festivals. If not I may finally retire.
Retire!? You wouldn't do that to us! (laughing). But I do understand the frustration the music business (an that is the key word is "business") brings. Now, let's talk about those vocals yours! With that strong voice of yours, there are so many styles of music that you could be singing. Why the blues?
Never played much with toys. Life was very tough for my family especially in my pre school and school days. I heard something in the blues that I could relate to and it just stuck with me. I've drifted into other styles of music, but it always came out blues I've always been drawn to blues. I was born 1950 and grew up listening to the radio and watching tv. I also played my parents 78s a lot . There's no mother to me like the blues. It comforts me and brings me home.
James Brown sang "It's A Man's World." No better place do you feel that than in the music business. How do you feel about being a woman in the blues business?
It's very tough. I'm glad that I now have agents to intercede for me because women as business people in the music business do not hold much credibility.
That is just unfortunate and some of us are committed as hell to changing attitudes...
...I haven't met many strong woman in the business. It's still primarily 'a man's world' out here.
True, but the world sure wouldn't turn the way it does without women.....
I hear ya!
When I turn on Dinah Washington, Mahalia Jackson, Bonnie Raitt, Aretha Franklin, Patsy Cline, Muddy Waters - whew! I could keep going for ages (laughing) - I feel inspired to keep singing my song...Who were/are your musical influences?
There are so many..in the early years.. Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Ella, Billie Holiday, Etta James, and all the 40's and 50's players. Later years, Johnny Winter, Irma Thomas, Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters and many, many others. Currently listening to Alberta Adams new cd. What catches my ear is good lyrics, chord changes and grooves. It's a never ending learning process. I've been listening to new artists like Rhett Tyler, Love Dogs etc. for entertainment. But I must admit that I stick with the classics most of the time.
The crowd is waiting in anticipation...what do you think of right before you go on stage?
That I can't wait to go out there and give em some laughs and all I got. I usually have a comical observation of the current events to get them laughing. I am waiting out in the dressing room listening to the sound mix of the band and usually thinking that they sound great. I'm also reminding myself to pace myself because I tend to want to wail all night. With long gigs like Manny's Car Wash I have to be sure my set list is balanced so I can do the whole night with equal energy.
You have lots of energy! Is the "public" Roxy, much like the "private" Roxy?
No, strangely enough. I live a lifestyle that few people would imagine. When not doing Roxy Perry business (which is about six hrs. or more per day) I pretty much live the life of a housewife. I grow vegetable and flower gardens in season, [I] like to cook , do some artwork when the spirit moves me, watch old movies and documentaries on t.v. and occasionally go to the casino up in CT. for the day with my friend just to clear my mind. I'm actually pretty boring. But my friends claim that I give them a lot of laughs. Friends that I hang with are luckily not in showbiz. So time spent with them is a good change of pace.
I am down with that. I am also much more laid-back - does that read as "boring"? (laughing) than most would believe. You know, I have met quite a few blues women who are lucky enough to be able to share their professional as well as personal lives with their spouses. Do you work with your husband?
Yes I've worked with my husband / bass player for over 25 years (most of the time). It's good to know there is one solid player who is always going to be there. He helps me out a lot with equipment and bookings and makes sure drunken fans don't get too friendly. Bob is a great supporter. Actually all the guys in my rhythm section watch out for me all the time and back me wholeheartedly. I'm blessed to have such great band members and friends.
Who are the guys in your band?
My husband BOB FUSCO on bass, Matt Baxteror Alex Rastopchin on guitar, V.J. RICCITELLI (new) drummer, new keyboard player Jerry Zasloavsky just in, Richie Cannata, Dave Mullen, Baron Raymonde saxes among others.
Is it difficult keeping a solid band together?
It's sometimes hard to keep the same horn section and keyboard player because there isn't a lot of work here for big blues bands. The rhythm section stays working so there is no problem there. I know my players respect and care for me as I do them. There is no problem being a woman running a band if you are competent. I tell them what I expect from the get go. If they don't do their part I just don't hire them again. I don't get into arguments or confrontations ever. If someone has a problem with anything or anyone they are just not called again. We all get along great, play great together and are there because we really want to be. If someone new comes in and makes waves I have to let them go to be fair to the rest of the guys. I carry full responsibility for what happens on and off stage. It's stressful, for sure. But it has to be done.
Do you play any instruments?
Yes, I play harp.
You are a regular at "Manny's Carwash" in New York City?
Yes I have been playing at Manny's for 5 years or so.
Do you tour also?
Yes, I do tour occasionally. Hope to have the chance to play out in California one day soon because we have lots of fans there too.
These days it is almost a necessity that a serious band have a CD. ...
I have 2 cds out HI HEEL BLUES / MONAD RECORDS 1996, and ROXY PERRY NY BLUES QUEEN / BLUEPERRY HILL RECORDS 1998 This new cd is only available through me presently..at gigs or by mail.
So many singers find it hard to capture that "live" feeling singing in a room with a mike, especially if it is just you and some tracks....Are you comfortable in the studio?
I am very at ease in the recording studio and known to get things done in one or two takes. I enjoy recording, producing, writing and arranging as much as I do performing. I did all of the above on my new cd and it was very natural to me. Of coarse I had great musicians who are my band members and great supporters. Their hearts were really into it and I think they did great...so do the reviewers. I am looking for a real label to re-release and distribute this new cd and allow me to do another cd as well. We are already working on the material.
Your song comes from somewhere deep down within. Your guts... How do you feel when you are told you have a "black sound"?
I think people are mistaken. What they hear is a person singing from the heart and telling the truth. You have to have the inner strength to be brave enough to bare your soul. Black performers are known to let it all out. That's why folks say I sound black. I never made a conscious effort to sound black. Just to be myself.
Yes, we bare our soul in the music, and blues is soul baring music....there is lots of history, pain, joy and tears behind that sound... Have you ever felt a sense of having to "prove yourself" as a white woman blues singer?
No because I don't try to sing black...even though I can. I am myself and that's all I want to be. Audiences of all races and ages attend and enjoy our show because we tell the truth. It annoys me when people form opinions and make decisions concerning business based on race. The only person I have to prove myself to is God and myself.
What are your future goals Roxy? Where do you want the music to take you?
Well as I get older the wish for fame has dwindled to respect and the wish for fortune is getting more important. You can't be nearing fifty and not think about your future. You wonder how long you will be physically able to perform and what you are going to do when you can't anymore. Of coarse you would like to have recognition as an artist and writer. Right now if the world was perfect I'd like to get on a really good label that can get our cds out there and help us progress careerwise. I have a good track record so far and think we would do good for any serious label who got behind us. We have a lot of new material that we are anxious to record too. I'd also like to produce other new blues artists cds. I think my experience over all these years has a lot to offer new artists.
There are so many girls, boys, women, men who want a career in 'the business.' Like so many of us, they live and breath the music. Do you have advice for them?
First and foremost be yourself. Have your own style and concern yourself primarily with providing quality music. Many gals out there try to copy Joplin, Taylor, Raitt. It's a big mistake and a waste of time unless you just want to play local bars all your life. I am yet to hear a dead ringer for any of the above. You will never get a record deal copying these artists lick for lick. Originality is the key to success. Even if you never make it at least you will be known as yourself and not a version of someone else. Blues is a personal thing. You have to tell your story your way and be willing to bare your soul in public to be concidered the real thing. Don't be afraid to write your own songs. Only write from your personal experience..If you can't write then please only choose songs that are believeable. For instance the song ..''A CHANGE IS GONNA COME'' " I was born by the river in a little tent."....Unless you were..don't go there. I was born in a hospital and the only cotton my mother picked was out of a medicine bottle. There are many gals out there that are more concerned in struttin their stuff than singing on key. If you want to be a stripper then go play at a strip club. You will probably make more money. It's important to look good. Always dress better than the crowd. Never let your natural sexuality undermine your singing. Do only what comes naturally and unconsciously. You should have other things on your mind ( like fronting the band and giving exact cues) . If you go on the stage prepared knowing your lyrics, keys you sing in , the arrangements,etc. you will come off professionally and gain the respect of your audience and band members. If you are just starting out, I strongly suggest that you go to the local blues jams and try your skills. Go in knowing the tunes and what key you sing them in. If you don't do well the first time, try again. You should certainly check out who are the better players and try to jam with them. They may be your future band members so pay attention. Jams are very important. I still go to them. It's good to be part of the music community. That's how you get gigs and find out the facts on what is going on in your area. Start at a low profile jam and move up to the heavy hitters jam once you are sure of yourself. Last but not least. If you are trying to be a band leader you will have to get gigs. That's the only way to keep a band together. There's lots of aspects to the business side of music. It is not an easy task. Be sure you choose team players and not hot shots. It's hard to get players who all get along and play well together. Just keep making changes until the mix is right. Never get personally involved with your players. Because if things go wrong you will be in a bad spot. Hang in there because it's really tough. Be true to your music and be yourself.