Her show was hot, sexy and dangerous. With every song, the ladies in the festival audience edged closer and closer to the stage. The men, however, didn't know whether to applaud or to strategically split the scene to go get more beer. Even the men on stage with Queen Denise tried unsuccessfully to look elsewhere when she started giving the kind of marital advice that would make Ann Landers stutter. "Real Women" Ms. LaSalle says, "would like you to 'Lick It Before You Stick It.'" After the initial shock wore off, the wild blues women started whooping, hollering and yelling for mo'.
Before her set that Sunday evening, I had a nice backstage visit with Denise LaSalle as she and her 5-piece band were getting ready to perform. They had just arrived from Jackson, Tennessee in a rented 15 passenger van. Their regular show bus bit the dust in Jackson just before they were leaving for this appearance. As Al and Jay told me, they
drove the entire way....from Tennessee to Minnesota non-stop, and they were tired and sweaty but glad to have made it safely. The band members started looking around for places to change clothes and Denise glanced my way with a look that said: "Hold up....my guys come first before any media BS." So I waited. But, thanks to Carl, one of the Bayfront staff members, my patience paid off, cause I got to ride up to their trailer
in style on one of the little golf cart thingees. Once in the trailer with Ms. LaSalle, she shooed extraneous folks out the door, smiled at me, then opened up.
Jacquie: You write such lyrics.......
Denise: (Smiling a wicked, radiant smile) Well...that's me!
Jacquie: You have a reputation as a black woman who tells it like it is..is that a fair assessment?
Denise: You got THAT right! Always have...always will! I'm observant and pay attention to what's happening around me. What I see, I write about so my writing
has authenticity. My song "Sad Story"...that was about some members of my band at the time. They was always talking about playing on women. So I said to them....if you was to hand me that line...I'd tell you that was a real sad story. "Don't Jump My Pony"....that one was for me. I wrote that for me. The title says it all...Don't Jump My Pony.
Jacquie: What do you think of the re-emergence of the Soul Blues sound?
Denise: I love it! It's about time. I've worked real hard to bring that about. It's been about 20 years in the makin'. Me and Z. Z. Hill started an organization to
preserve soul blues, the National Association for the Preservation of the Blues(NAPOB). We did some letter writing to DJ's, radio stations, award shows, things like that. After Z.Z. passed away, I had to do it on my own, but I see it finally worked.
Jacquie: After many years of playing second fiddle, women are returning to the spotlight in soul, jazz and blues.
Denise: It's great that it's coming back around to the ladies. In fact, I'm doing my best to help the ladies out myself. Sheba Potts-Wright (Ecko Records Recording Artist) and Karen Wolfe are my protégé's.
Denise: Karen has been with me for 6 years. She's my background singer. She's also my sister-in law. I'm married to her brother. I'm Denise Wolfe. My
husband's (James "Super" Wolfe) a performer, too, in gospel and blues. He used to be a DJ.
At this point, Karen and Al have come into the trailer. Al, the bass player for the band, is also Denise's music director. I ask Karen a couple questions about her music background. Turns out she's a gospel performer and has been at it for over 22 years, in both traditional and contemporary formats. Though, when asked which she prefers, Karen says she rather do soul music cause she's having too much fun being on stage with Denise. Then, Al and the two women talk for a bit about tunes they're going to do for the evening. A worried Denise turns to me and asks:
Denise: What do these folks even know about my music? What tunes of mine do they know?
Jacquie: Sad, Sad Story.....If You Cant Do Me Right.......Don't Jump My Pony...you know...all your sassy female stuff.
Denise: What about my new stuff???!!?? You know, soul blues
just isn't getting the respect it should. I'm not putting down Koko Taylor or Etta James.
Those ladies work hard and they deserve the respect they get.
Jacquie: What would you change or do differently if you could?
Denise: I'd change the way music is labeled. Take for instance my music. They say I'm not blues. But I'm soul blues which in the old days they called R&B.
Now, these days, R&B means something else...something we'd call pop music. Even the
Grammy awards....they lump too many artists together in one category such as R&B artists with rap artists. But they do the same with blues and soul-blues, R&B and traditional blues. If everyone is in the same category and only one person can win...that really limits possibilities for everyone. Especially when, for some of the awards shows, like the Handys, the same people win year after year.
Jacquie: You've been with Malaco for so long. After all these years, you continue to work with them. Haven't you been wooed by other labels?
Jacquie: Not even Alligator?
Denise: They don't want my kind of blues. I don't do "gut-bucket" blues or rock and roll. Alligator doesn't know what to do with my stuff. But, I'm moving on to Ecko Records. My next release (Still The Queen) will be out on Ecko. Larry Chambers will give my recordings the push they need. I'm surprised how many stations didn't even get my 2 CD set "Real Woman." I recorded that in 2000.
Jacquie: How would you counsel young folks who are attracted to blues and soul?
Denise: Be true to the music and to yourself. New artists bring a fresh perspective to the music. The old blues musicians are dying and we have to keep the
blues alive. The way to do it is to encourage young people to take their place on stage. We need to take a hold of our children right now and teach 'em some values. Kids today aren't getting what they need from society or from their parents. There's just too much apathy, from the grandparents on down. Too much reliance on welfare and the like. You know, these young rappers have the right idea. Rap is good music. Not all of rap is bad. Of course, lyrics that put women down are bad, but not all of rap is bad. But, then
again, not all of any music is good.
Jacquie: You're the band leader, lead singer and primary songwriter for the band...pretty much you're the boss. How do you stay in charge, especially the guys start getting "mannish" on you?
Denise: I stay firm but nice. Really, I'm a pushover and they know it. I just love 'em. That's the secret. I really love the guys I work with. But, let me tell you something. If I don't like you...I can't be around you. I mean the folks I work with I love. But, there's others I just have to be away from. But, I do keep band members....Kenny's been with me 26 years; Karen for 6 years; Jay for 4.
Jacquie: Do you still love the business?
Denise: Yes...I wouldn't stop now. I love to write about what I see and sing what's true to me. I love the music. I love to express myself that way and I love seeing young people doing that.
Jacquie: How do you stay so youthful and gorgeous? What's your beauty secret?
Denise: A good man!!!!!!!
More on Denise LaSalle available at www.deniselasalle.com
The Denise LaSalle Band
Denise LaSalle: Vocals
Karen Wolfe: Background Vocals
Al Wilder: Bass
Jay Jackson: Keyboard
Fenoye Lenoir: Drums
Kenny Kight: Guitar
Rollin & Tumblin