the blues all Saturday long:
Coloma festival stars Robert Cray and
features up-and-comer Laurie Morvan
Laurie Morvan follows a grand tradition of blues guitarists and frontwomen that includes Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Bonnie Raitt, Susan Tedeschi and...
There aren't a lot of women like Morvan, even in 2010. The Long Beach-based musician, playing the Coloma Blues Live! Festival Saturday on a bill headlined by Robert Cray, sees that in audience members' surprsed expressions when she rips out a solo. "People will have a lower expectation", Morvan, 49, said by telephone. "My favorite thing is when they are no longer thinking about gender."
Thee hard knocks of the music business hit all musicians, Morvan points out. When she encounters a club owner or festival organizer who still views a female blues guitarist as a niche act, it is "just a different flavor of hardship," Morvan said.
She has overcome it handily enough. A blistering blues-rock guitarist with a powerful alto voice, Morvan books regular gigs with the band carrying her name. The group's 2009 CD "Fire It Up!" was named Best Self-Produced CD earlier this year at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis.
"She's an excellent guitar player, and she may not be a household name yet, but she is worth coming out early" for her 12:40 pm slot at the Coloma event, said Roger Nabor, CEO of the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise. The Blues Cruise, a floating festival hosting somee of the biggest names in the business, brought on Morvan last October as a special guest and jam session participant.
A flute player and drummer in her school bandd in Illinois, Morvan did not fall in love with an instrument until she picked up a guitar at age 19. She's still enamored: "I feel like I still have so much to learn about the guitar," she said.
Starting in cover bands that were more rock than blues, Morvan started recording original material in the late 1990's. The more she played, sang and wrote songs, the more she felt the influences of her favorite musicians: Raitt, Etta James, Freddie King, and especially Stevie Ray Vaughan.
"I am kind of rockin' up the blues," Morvan said. Her songs offer sophisticated harmonies one doesn't usually associate with blues. "It is the cross-pollination that happens when you take big choruses and a hook mentality and marry it up with the visceral connection you get with the blues."
Playing electric blues guitar is, to Morvan, a natural extension of her earrlier life.
"I have always done what you would call the nontraditional thing," Morvan said. At the University of Illinois, she played volleyball and majored in Electrical Engineering. "Sometimes it would be 50 guys and me" in her classes, Morvan said.
Morvan skipped the part of the musicians' backstory where he or she drops out of school in favor of $50-a-night gigs and fleabag motels. Instead, she graduated with an engineering degree and later earned a Master's in Applied Mathematics.
She remains in academia, teaching Calculus and Trigonometry at a community college. She keeps a Mon-Thursday class schedule so she can gig on weekends, and tours most heavily in the sumer months.
"I made a decision a long time ago that I could deliver pizzas or I could teach Calculus. ...I decided I want to have a house and have health insurance," Morvan said.
Most of her students are unaware of her dual careers. "When I am teaching, I am too busy to talk about myself," she said.
There has been some pushback, hovwever, from fellow musicians and audience members who don't believe she has paid her dues.
Morvan recalled being approached after a show by someone who had seen her play for the first time. "She was really excited, and asked 'What do you do to keep your arms in shape?' " Morvan recalled. As they discussed music andd fitnesss routines, Morvan mentioned that she had played volleyball in college. The woman's face fell "she said, 'Oh. You went to college,' " Morvan recalled. " 'So this is a hobby for you.' "
Morvan, who devotes about 60 hours a week to her "hobby," shrugged off the comment.
"I have never let someone's disapproval decide my path."