New Year's Eve 2013. Sticky Lips Juke Joint. There I was, doing my best Guy Lombardo/Dick Clark/Lenny Bruce mash-up to toast the lucky new year. When all of a sudden amidst the champagne, prime rib, noise makers, and confetti canons, a firecracker appeared on stage with The Pubic Market Band. She was a blonde in a little blue sequined dress, and she exploded into a gorgeous wail we all call the blues. The rough-and-tumble alto encounter lasted a mere two songs, and left the crowd licking their chops for more. No sweat, I told them. She's Natalie B, and you can catch her all over town.
Natalie B — the B stands for Bartholomew — is relatively new on the Rochester music scene, though she's been singing since her teens. Frequent visits to open-mic night at The Landing in Fairport lit the 34-year-old's blue fuse. She recently placed third in the Western New York Blues Society's Memphis Bound competition in Buffalo, and she will perform in Memphis with her band later this month. After that it's into Sammy G's studio to hammer out a platter of original blues rockers.
And this is only the beginning. This blues mama — a mother of two, to be exact — sat down for an interview to discuss the blues and why she's got 'em. An edited transcript of the conversation follows.
CITY: How'd you get started?
Natalie B: I've been singing since high school. I was in a couple of rock bands in my 20s that never really went anywhere.
Where did you first hear the blues?
I started going the open jam at The Landing in Fairport about three years ago and I started singing the blues there. I really enjoyed he energy it gave. I formed the Natalie B Band last year out of the excellent musicians I met there.
What is it about the blues that grabs you?
What I liked was that rock was so based in the blues, and I had been missing the point where rock 'n' roll had come from, like B.B. King. Or the women like Koko Taylor and Ruth Brown.
Blues is essentially a black, male-dominated genre. How did you break in?
I grew up in the country. We didn't have a lot, we were working class, I was a single mother for a while. I could relate to the hardship in the blues
But it seems the sadder the tale, the more gruesome the heartbreak, the more joyful the blues.
That's the therapy in it. That's what it does. It makes you feel better.
How do you write your original songs? What's your process?
I'll hear a word or a phrase — somebody passing by will say something that I think is cool, and I'll write from that.
What do you bring to the blues?
I definitely have a rock edge. I like taking classics like Ruth Brown and making them a little harder, a little edgier. And I like to shake it. I like to get the audience involved. I like to talk to the audience. I have a song where I call out people's names and get them involved in the whole show. That's what I bring. That's what I like.