Katherine Hickman Theater - Gulfport FL
Photo:  Janell Emanual

Sandy Atkinson

"Sandy grew up in the foothills of the Appalachians in South Carolina, better known as The Piedmont. Her musical influences are: Etta James, Ray Charles, Gladys Knight, Otis Redding, Elvis, Joplin, Sam & Dave, Big Mama Thornton to name a few. The gospel influence was there as well from the "tent singings" she went to as a child. She sang in church and school plays and started writing at 14 when her mom gave her a guitar. While her love for music was always a part of her life, she kept it mostly at home until one day 1988 she found herself sitting in to sing a song with some friends at a local area festival. The club owner who sponsored the festival heard her and asked if she would play the club some Friday night." 

It was great to have a chat with this talented woman of the blues:

Hi Sandy! Where did you begin this here life journey?

Oct 13, 1952 in South Carolina in the Piedmont section in the foothills of the Appalachians near Clemson. We moved to Detroit when I was three and came back two years later.

Did you come from a musical family? If so, how did it influence you? If not, how did music become such an important part of your life?

My mom loved/loves to sing. She sang to me as far back as I can remember. She sang the Disney tunes to me. It is because of her that I started singing about the same time I was learning to talk. Mom and Dad were young parents and liked lots of the 50's music. Dad didn't sing except around the house. He loved to sing to the records while he cooked Sunday dinner. Between the two of them there was a lot of diversity in the house. Ray Charles, Chet Atkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Fats Domino are some I remember. Mom was a big Elvis fan and she loved gospel too. I was on stage in church when I was very young. As I was growing up, she also took me to what we in the south called 'tent singings. There was lots of good music in those tents. Some had a soulful blues feel. There were some awesome harmonies.

I can't remember a definite time when I heard a song and knew it was called a blues song. I remember "Hound Dog" by Elvis and later discovered it was Big Mama Thornton's song. Looking back, blues is the direction/feel I leaned towards as I was growing up.

What attracted you to the blues?

I think it's the spirit, the soul and the honesty. The "just close your eyes and let it be" kind of feeling.

Sandy performing at Rock Bottom's Barnyard Boogie Benefit
Skipper's Smokehouse - Tampa, FL -  October 28th, 2001
Photo by P.W. Fenton

Who are some of your musical heroes and "she-roes"?

Ray Charles, Muddy Waters, Diamond Teeth Mary & Rock Bottom

I know that you recently went to Norway to perform. That must have been an incredible experience! 

Sept 2000, I went back to play a blues festival in Norway. It was great! The club I played had hired an artist to paint the pictures of the 4 acts that were there that weekend. He had 4 large plate glass windows in the front of the club and had a face in each one of them. It was so cool to see that. ..beautiful place in the world. And, the people are so nice. I then went to Oslo to play for 3 nights. Norway has some great blues musicians. It was so much fun... the city of Oslo was 1000 years old last year. There is incredible history there.

Rock (Bottom) invited me to tag along and help drive the bus in 1999. He had been touring Norway for over 20 years...he is very highly respected in Norway. He had just produced a CD for me and he was set to go with his band which was the same guitarist and bass player as we had on the CD. I was thrilled when he asked me to go! I was on the road for 3 weeks with those guys...Rock introduced me to lots of people and got me up to sing everywhere we went. So, I booked the gigs for next year and went back. I was set to go back this year on September 12.


That's the one time in my life that being a day late was a good thing. I will be going back next spring.

Tell us about your CD" Million Dollar Baby"! 

I wanted to get the songs down and I wanted to do an acoustic album. It had been a couple of years since the last CD. I love recording. So, I gathered up some very talented friends and we did it.

What was it like preparing for the CD? 

It was fun. My boyfriend has a studio in the house so whenever I got inspired he would set up the mic and let me roll. The hardest part of the entire project was deciding what to call it. Still not sure I picked the right track for the title.

It's a cool title! Believe me, there are some straaaange blues recording titles out there…

How were the recording sessions?

Recording is always fun. When you have the right combination of people and music, there seems to be a sense of magic that kind of takes over. It's a karma thing I think. The right combination is very important. There are lots of great musicians in the world. They don't always fit together. I've been very lucky to work with some very talented musicians.

Any good "in the studio" stories? 

Rock did a track and we thought we heard an off note and Tomcat started laughing because Rock never misses. So, we asked him to go back and listen and he did listen intently. Then he said, "I didn't miss a note. I fixed the note the guitar player missed." Tomcat was shocked! The look on his face was too funny. We all had a good laugh.

How was this different than recording your first two CDs? 

There were different players for the most part except for Rock and Wayne and this one is mostly acoustic. "Why Baby Why" had several big band productions in it and I didn't play much except for the two songs I did solo which was Blues Skies and Sunshine and Out of the Blue. I played on most of the tunes on this one and the first one. But the first CD (self titled) had more rock n' roll in it. I think the first two were more serious. This one is more fun.

What do you feel right before you go on stage?

Excited. Sometimes a bit nervous especially if it's a new audience. But, I'm ok once I start to sing.

Who are some of your favorite contemporary performers?

Etta James, Ray Charles, Lyle Lovett, Roy Bookbinder, Keb Mo, Shemeka Copeland, Taj Mahall. I know Lyle Lovvett is not blues, but he is a very diverse and wonderful talent. Way cool. Music is like ice cream. There are lots of flavors.

Very well put and I love the ice cream analogy. 

Where do you see yourself in the next five years? 

I'm not sure. If I had seen where I was going 5 years ago, I would have been surprised...and now my most recent project is hosting a local TV show beginning in January. So, who knows. I've learned that sometimes it's the things you don't plan that work out the best.

How do you want to be remembered?

First, as a good person. And, I hope that others find some fun, or solace or some happiness in the music I leave behind.


Visit Sandy's Website at http://sandyatkinson.net


©2002  Lea A. Gilmore and P.W. Fenton, All Rights Reserved.