Sitting in the Electric Fetus tent [at the Apple River Blues Festival] with Alberta Adams, I took the opportunity to interview her while she autographed CDs and greeted the people after her set that Saturday. She was beautiful up close. There was no way I could tell how old she was and the years of entertaining hadnít diminished her beauty or her life force. Her face was smooth, her skin powdered, her nails manicured and lacquered. She also had that certain fragrance particular to the mature Black women I grew up hugging...aunts, cousins and such. Itís a combination of lilies of the valley perfume, lipstick and something else that I call the "aroma of authenticity." Her prescription sunglasses were the same color brown as her skin, her hair an auburn red. I kept trying to catch a glimpse of her eyes behind the shades but she avoided that kind of personal contact. After all, she didnít know me "from Adam" and years of life on the road have taught her to be cautious of who gets to be close enough to her to partake of the "juice"...that energy that bestows the feeling for the blues. She kept the conversation business-like but sociable, engaging but at a distance.
Her stage show with Detroitís Blues Insurgents gave me what Iíve been looking 6 and a half years for....the actual live correspondent to my radio show, Rollin & Tumblin. I needed to see it come to life, and I did. The set that Saturday combined some of my favorite elements into one expression...the female perspective voiced with experience, the single but capable saxophone of Keith Kaminski, funky upright bass by Dirty Red (thatís all she called him), and that sophisticated drum style that rides the fine line between blues and jazz, courtesy of RJ Spangler (Adamsí manager). All the instrumental goodies were represented with a special homegrown treat, Shorty Lenoir, formerly of the Gary Primich Band, sitting in on lead guitar.
Us blues ladies were down front for Albertaís show. There we were, five chairs across: Shirley Smith (Groove Merchantsí manager), Groove daughter Terri Smith, Paulette Wigens, Groovette wife of keyboardist Paul Wigens, Stacy Stockhausen and myself.. At one point during the show, I had a strange experience that unnerved me for a while (and no, it wasnít due to consuming adult beverages while out in the summer sun). The Blues Insurgents were clicking away, locked in and smoking, moving to Albertaís minutest hand cues. She was preaching the blues, telling all us women how her man was "no good," when suddenly I felt everything around me slow down. The imagery of her live performance somehow got superimposed over a scene of me sitting in the blues chair back at the station. For a minute, I couldnít tell if I was watching her live or if I was only imagining it, based on one of the many songs of hers Iíve played on the show. Talking to her helped make the experience real for me, but I couldnít stop smiling the whole time I sat with her in the Fetusí tent. Iím sure she thought I was losing my mind!
Jacquie: Miss Adams, of all the things youíve seen come and go in music through the years, what do you think is the most significant change?
Alberta Adams: That no matter what, the bluesíll never die. And you know what? The blues is taking over, too. Everywhere you go, the blues is there!
Jacquie: What do you think of all these young women getting into blues, playing guitar not just singing?
Alberta: Itís good. We were doing it first, then the men got involved. Itís good to see the ladies out there doing blues. Itís getting so anyway though, you go to a club to sing and if you canít sing the blues, you ainít doing nothiní.
Jacquie: Youíre on an 18 day tour right now. Howís life on the road treating you?
Alberta: Treatiní me jusí fine. This is what I know about. Entertaining is all I ever wanted to do from the time I was little. The blues is what I know.
Jacquie: Does being way from home (Detroit) so much bother you? Are you able to take care of yourself?
Alberta: (With a quick, intense glance my way) My band takes care of me. I donít worry about it. My band takes care of me, so does my daughter (She points to the chocolate beauty whoís been hovering about). My daughter goes with me everywhere. Sassy meet... (hesitates, but not for long) Jacquie. (Pats my hand) Honey, did you give me your card? (I had)
Jacquie: Your band is really good. Did Johnnie Bassett have another gig?
Alberta: No, Johnnieís sick......but heíll be all right.
Jacquie: Some promo material said you used to be a back-up singer...and a shake dancer...
Alberta: (Another sharp look my wayÖthis time though, her gaze lingered. I thought the interview was about to be terminated.) No honeyÖI ainít never been no shake dancer and I ALWAYS sang out front. Never been no back-up singer. I danced but I tapped-danced.
Jacquie: If you could sum it all up, what would you say about your life in the blues?
Alberta: Donít get the big head. You go acting like you got a big head and you lose your crowd. You GOT to entertain the people. And donít forget, thereís always someone who can do what you do better than you can do it. But jusí stick to yourself...jusí do your own thing...someone will like it.
Sassy: Sheís for real with that. She always told me that all the time I was growing up. Just cause someone can do what you do better than you, ainít no reason for you not to do it too. You just got to keep on doing your own thing.
Jacquie: Miss Adams, what do you see as the future of music?
Alberta: Blues. The future is blues. Jazz, country... itís all blues. The blues is taking over....
Jacquie: What would you say to the young people trying to get started in blues?
Alberta: If you donít feel it...donít do it. Simple as that!
Known as the Queen of Detroit Blues, Alberta Adams records on the Cannonball Record label. Her music can be heard on Rollin & Tumblin with Jacquie Maddix Johnson Tuesday 4-6:30pm on KFAI 90.3FM & 106.7FM
CLICK HERE for a profile of Alberta Adams.
This interview is copyright © 2000 by Jacquie Maddix Johnson, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.