To hear a sample from Dallas' new album click here
Here at “It’s A Girl Thang, ” we like to take the opportunity to introduce you to performers who are not only nationally and internationally known, but those who are in the genesis of their careers or have been ‘out there’ a long time and are worth getting to know.
I have had the immense pleasure of speaking with blues singer and songwriter Dallas Fisher. This young, energetic mother of three is ready to rock the blues world with her sultry vocals and impassioned delivery. Based in upstate New York, Dallas performs regularly and has been receiving excellent reviews. Take some time to read our interview and get to know a wonderful, thoughtful and spiritual woman.
Hi Dallas! Thanks for taking the time to have a little “girl talk.”
Let’s start with the basics. Where and when were you born?
I was born in Paris, France in an army hospital, as my parents were stationed here working for the Foreign Service division of the US Government, prematurely...with the umbilical cord wrapped around my neck three times, at that time they used forceps to pull babies out, which caused some marking on my head. I was baptized at St. Josephs in France. Never been back to “La Rive Gauche”, but I did take three years of French in high school and have souvenir birth certificate from there. From what I’ve been told, I can become a citizen there at any time because of being born there. Kinda cool, huh? Wouldn’t want citizenship there though. I’m very happy being a USA citizen.
Where is your home base now?
I reside in Hurleyville, New York, that’s Sullivan County about 2 hours north of New York City (Home of the Catskills).
Many of the performers I have spoken with have grown up with music permeating their households. Do you come from a musical family?
My earliest definition of music came from my grandmother and mother. My grandmother used to sing to me in her deep husky, warm lovin’ voice, in Arabic (my decent is Lebanese from that side of the family) and English. My mother would sing in English.
When I was six, I received a record player for my birthday which came with a 45 called “Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep”. After I wore this out, I went through my mother’s collection and saw a half of a green apple and thought I’ll try this one first, only to hear Revolution.
This wearin’ of records cycle didn’t stop there, it progressed through her 33 collections of 50’s music where I absorbed tunes like, “Splish Splash I Was Taking A Bath” and “Charlie Brown,” “Tears On My Pillow”...
I used to listen to Casey Casum every Sunday like clockwork, gather with my neighborhood friends and we would guess at which song would go top ten. Since these early days, music became a haven form me, as my folks had split when I was 4 and I had two younger sisters. I was active in chorus, community theater (musicals) and wrote my first little silly song “Walkin’ Down Charles Street Park” at 7, instructed my sisters and 2 cousins some dance steps to go with it and went around knockin’ on neighborhood doors performing it for folks. We’d get pennies and were so thrilled!
My aunt Theresa (grandmother’s sister was a serious opera type singer) and there was always a piano at relatives homes, and a strong appreciation of music at family gatherings, singing, playin’ piano.
When I was four or five years old, I heard the Hawkin’s Singers sing “Oh Happy Day” on the radio. Then, I knew I was “in love” with the music. I know what you are talking about when you mentioned “wearing out records.” I begged my mom to buy the 45 ([Laughing] We are telling our age even knowing what a 45 is!), and I played it till it skipped every other second. That is my first remembrance of being moved by music. When do your first remember being moved by the music?
The first time was as a child, being sung to by my grandma. The seeds planted there enabled me to recognize the first conscious time being struck by music as a 6-year-old hearing “Revolution”. After that every time I heard good music, I was moved. This was especially so when I heard down home blues for the first time as an adult.
Why the blues?
Why the blues… cause the blues evokes something in me so intense that no other kind of music does. It’s a damn good, real feeling, something about the changes, coupled with the licks, coupled with the lyric phrasing that brings me to a special place that just says, yeah that’s it, I’ve landed, there’s no where else to roam, I’ve found my #@%*ing home!
I hear ya and I know the feeling!
Have you had experiences in your life that have made singing blues more poignant? You know, “man done done me wrong” stuff? I think we have all “been there” to a certain extent….
Most definitely, my whole life experience thus far has made singing blues more poignant. Being the oldest of 3 girls in a single parent home. I struggled as a child with the fear of a father not loving me and being there for us (and still do to some degree). I felt very alone & angry for a long time about my mother’s having to struggle and not being able to spend quality time with us kids, much less herself. At the time I didn’t understand these feelings, paradoxes. I found myself forming relationships with men to fill these voids... and music and later faith. Lack of self-esteem permeated me. Responsibility began at the age of 6 when I would stand on a chair doing dishes, going down the creepy basement to do laundry, just so my poor mother wouldn’t complain relentlessly about housework. She used to weep over bills not knowing how she was going to make it. One day I’d love to buy her a house. Even though she went back to college, has a computer and knows how to use it, she’s still hustling at 59. Now I’m divorced, with two children from one, and a third from another, and yet with another man now, tryin’ to get an annulment from the first. Some days, I’m my own worst enemy. I can rip myself to shreds feelin’ sorry, how unfair things were, are. Now, I’m just livin’ and learning from my mistakes, still makin’ them, just hope they’re not as often...and not as harsh. My wish is to shield my kids from letting “stuff” get to them. Singing/writing blues is very therapeutic for me.
Let me ask you something that is difficult to speak of, yet seems to be a topic of great discussion in the blues world and beyond. What in your view is the importance of race when presenting the music. Do you believe that only this race or that race can truthfully perform the blues?
[Whew!] It’s one loaded question if you ask me!
It sure is…it always is….
I apologize ahead of time for my lengthy answer. This question in my mind’s eye has two facets to it:
[The first being] the reality of what preceded this American bread music, how blues evolved... by the ignorance, greediness, cruelness of the white man robbing the African American of their home, dignity, family, imposing much torturous maladies on them over time in America; coupled with the African American’s coping/survival technique, utilizing faith, talent (singing, such as field hollers) throughout this early period...
[The second is] that God allows His children to share all His gifts indiscriminately... in whatever capacity you can think of, the giving end, the receiving end, the creating end, from any color skinned person... God’s love is limitless, a beautiful mystery which we have a difficult time understanding.
It is fact that this awesome form of music came from African Americans in a very specific way and we must educate ourselves to that to fully appreciate the fruits of their sufferings. In my opinion, this does not mean that the blues should only be played by African Americans. We, as a human race, are more of a conglomeration than of a single full-blooded race anyway. It is the mosaic of our compassion, our souls we’re talking about here. Would you hush a child and tell them, “don’t sing?” Would Jesus say, I only died for him or her? And come to think of it, only He knows how much of a white person is fully “White” or “Black” is black. Aren’t we all from one Tree? Plainly, it just doesn’t matter to Him, why should it matter to us.
I have been denied gigs, because my skin isn’t darker and have been granted gigs because of my “look”. The best is when a club wants you based on what they heard. It’s like this cat Jammin’ Jack on L, I sent him a CD and he raved about it so much and I later learned he was blind. What he said suddenly meant so much more to me. So if a club says no to me because I’m not the right color... it’s only a matter of time before I’ll be invited back. (Might take a while, a loooong while) But I know, I can deliver just like the next man and if your a blues club and people are asking for you, they’ll come lookin’. The hard part is just putting it out there so the people will start asking!
People ask me all the time, “What’s your background?” I think, “God”, but I say, Lebanese, French and German. They sometimes compliment me on how it all turned out and of course I can’t take the credit, but I say “thank you” anyway.
What is it about blues? It’s about the birth of a feeling that comes from a place back in the hull of ship, back on a plantation, when man aches for love’s sake, when a mother lays down her life for her child, appreciating a joy like togetherness; when it’s is so real it makes you want to shout out...when it’s so alive it reaches out and touches your very soul... in the form of a low down mighty muddy Mississippi River down home Blues song.
Thank you so much for your honesty.
Since we have discussed race, now let’s talk about gender, do you believe you are treated any differently as a woman in the blues?
Oh well, shall I bite my tongue or burn my butt! I think it’s not so important so much on how you’re treated, as what you put out there to be received. And then, it’s about how you’re treated afterwards. I don’t expect anything from people. I hope that I can give them something they can take home in their heart.
There are things about bein’ a woman that can help out, however, the same can be said about a man, if something is genuine, it doesn’t matter from what tree it falls.
Dallas, how would you describe your music?
I describe my music as anything but my music, it comes from every drop of music I’ve heard since I was alive, mixed with life experience, then rollin’ it up in the blues, soul and funk program and spittin’ it out.
When did you decide that you wanted to be a professional singer? Who helped once you decided?
I think God planted the seed from way back. Ya know, I never really decided that - I just always sang and now I get paid for it (a little bit). My good friend Slam Allen helped me discover blues, because I heard him playin’ one day. My good friend Mike Quick said, “You should go ahead and sing blues, you sound good.” I was a little frightened, because I didn’t have the confidence, it was such a powerful, special music, I needed someone to encourage me. Mike Quick, invited me to come over and he’d play guitar and I’d sing. Finally, I got the nerve to sing out, it just took doin’ it, to really feel comfortable and not be worried about stupid stuff. It took a lot of listening to people like Etta James, Koko, Big “Mama”, Billie Holiday, to absorb the phrasing and possible directions I could take a melody line. Now, I find myself mixing them all up, just releasin’ that material for gigs, festivals and so on.
What type of experience did you have making your first CD?
The experience was new, exciting, nerve-racking, pleasurable and rewarding. The way it went down was this: I had left over grant money from the college semester and I thought: What would be the best way to spend this money? CD popped in my mind. It would be a useful tool in showcasing original this would be sort of a calling card as well. As a band organizer for three and a half years I had to proceed in the most cost efficient manner (being poor as most musicians are). So I divided the money up between band members(five), studio/engineer/mixing. It had to be done in two days to fit the budget. I gave tapes to all the very experienced band members, who for the most part have worked together before (except one), knew each other [and] I felt would click, gel, groove well with one another. The bulk of the CD was recorded in two days as planned [11 songs]. The hardest part was coordinating time when all musicians would be available, as they were (& are) heavily working with their own bands, or solo artists. The most awkward part for me was being isolated in the vocal booth. I’m so used to feeling the presence of the band around me in a live situation and had to adapt to “feeling the band” in the ear phones. On two songs, I was able to sing in the same room with the accompanist. Before going in to the studio, in my pre-studio jitters, I asked the Blues L for advice on recording. There was a tremendous response with much useful information, and I would recommend people asking others for advice, as that knowledge added to the successful experience I was fortunate to have. All in all, it takes the hands of many to create and realize the vision of one and I in no way take credit for doing this alone!
Who are the members of your band?
The Dallas Fisher Band consists of Mark Conklin on guitar, (Mike Wiggins is hospitalized due to heart valve leak, he was and will possibly resume being official bass player - who has played with Junior Walker for over ten years and Marvin Gaye), the very respected Sly Geralds has been fillin’ the spot as bass man (Sly has toured with Al Green, Maceo Parker, and was part of Rhett Tyler’s “Early Warning section for four years), Kevin Robinson on Harp and Roger Sherman on drums. Oh, and me too. I’ll be doing a special highlight of each band member on my website in the near future where you can read more about these wonderful, talented people.
The crowd is out there, there is a feeling of anticipation in the air, the music begins to pump…explain what you feel right before you go on stage to sing?
I give thanks to God for one more time, and am happy like a kid in a mud puddle (I used to love sittin’ and makin’ mud pies after it rained). I have a very full plate, with my three young boys, going to college, promoting, managing the band, being maid, cook, and caregiver in our home. To me, I’m just makin’ them sweet ol’ Mud Pies for a spell and am very grateful and enjoy the band members playin’, enjoy the givin’ of the gift.
What do you feel you have to offer that differs from other singers?
Just myself, the way God made me up until today, that’s why I thoroughly enjoy hearin’ other blues artists, because it’s their unique self that shines through that’s so inviting and special and that’s what I grow from.
What singers do you admire of from the past and present?
I’ve admired many and continue to do so. In the early days when I was around 8, it began with the Beatles and 50’s groups, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, Stevie Nicks, Barbara Streisand, the Pretenders, the Eurythmics, James Taylor, Jim Croche, Pat Benetar,Allman Bros., The Band, Janis Joplin... I could go on. When I hit the pivotal point of finding a home in the blues as recent as 4 years ago, the influences have been equally powerful in a more mature way (as far as me receiving them). It began with a local artist Slam Allen, opening up the door to Etta James, Dinah Washington, Big “Mama” Thorton, Koko Taylor, Irma Thomas, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Otis Redding, Albert Collins, James Brown, Robert Cray,
Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Lavelle White, Bill Simms, BC, Roxy Perry, Ray Schinnery and (Lea Gilmore - never did you sing but read on the L you are killer)! These influences are in a continual flux and I’m always discovering/welcoming new (to me) blues talent.
Oh my goodness! Thank you girlfriend for mentioning me with people I have admired for a lifetime. I am honored. Now, you just have to hear me sing. [Laughing] Our mutual blues pal and fellow singer BC, of BC and the Blues Crew, suggested once that we do an “East Coast” Blues woman concert thang. I think we should seriously consider it!
Definitely, count me in... BC has been nothing but a Godsend to me, she’s like the big sister I never had...
She is a wonderful woman and has been a great friend to me also. [Look for BC to be the subject of a feature interview very soon here at “It’s A Girl Thang!”]
When I first met you at Blues 2000 in 1998, you were wheeling around an absolutely gorgeous baby! Being a mom myself, I know how difficult it can be to even find time to enjoy the music (as I edit this it is 4:00am!) . What are your beautiful kid’s names? Are they musical?
Oh thank you Lea, I love my babies to death, Nick is 9, Vinny is 5 and Elijah is 2 and a half. I keep this large basket in our living room full of musical instruments, drums, cymbals, triangle, percussion, whistles, harmonicas....they dip into this whenever they want. I play a blues CD and they run over and start dancin’, start playin’... We get a kick out of Elijah because he takes that harp and riffs. I mean really, he pulls back on the turnarounds and does his little take out lick on the ending notes. I also have a guitar that I allow them to play, strum. They’ve asked me for drum sets, We just live in this tight apartment and have no room. Nick gets to choose an instrument for next year’s band; he wants to play the trumpet! Vinny makes up songs in the car and sings them to me, it’s so funny sometimes what he comes out with. I dare not laugh in front of him or he’ll never trust me to hear his creations. And so encouragement to them all, (I say) and they do!
Good for you!
Dallas, it has been great talking with you. I wish you much future success and I know you will have it. When all is said and done, how do you want to be remembered?
A good daughter, mother, a “wife one day”, a caring soul, who sang and wrote some good tunes.
To learn more about Dallas Fisher and to order her CD
”Love Waits” surf on over to www.dallasfisher.com