Karen Lawrence and Blue By Nature came out of the LA music scene with several years of great blues and rock-tinged blues tunes. Karen grew up in LA, enjoying the music and singing from an early age. Blues was always in there—even when she wrote pop and rock, there was always an undercurrent of blues in most of her prolific output. Singing with the seminal LA Jets, they produced some outstanding albums in the 1970s. Singing with the band 1994, she got notice as a poweful singer with a couple of popular releases from then.
These were busy times for Karen, who continued to write tunes as well as sing. One of her tunes, the song Prisoner, was heard by a movie production company who got the rights to it. They wanted it for their movie The Eyes of Laura Mars with Tommy Lee Jones and Faye Dunaway, giving it to Barbra Streisand, who had a monster hit with Karen’s sultry ballad. Jeff Beck tagged her to sing lead vocals and write songs on his album Beckology. Also, Aerosmith used Karen for some vocalizing on their song Get It Up. She even wrote for TV, penning and singing the theme for Misfits of Science.
Wanting to have her own band, in 1993 Karen formed Karen Lawrence And Blue By Nature with guitarist, friend and writing partner Fred Hostetler. Karen Lawrence And Blue By Nature was a powerhouse group, aided by former Aerosmith guitarist Rick Dufay. Dan Potruch, who has drummed for Keb Mo’ and Guitar Shorty, keeps time while Charlie Diaz plays bass. Culled from live performances on their Live at the Lake double album from 1998 as well as a live performance at the Galaxy Theater, Fred and Karen have produced a great electric blues album at the height of Karen Lawrence And Blue By Nature and their live performing period.
Karen spoke with the Los Angeles Beat about this album, her group Karen Lawrence And Blue By Nature, her career and what’s in her future for singing, writing and performing.
Q: Karen, at the age of 13, you sang in a blues band. After that, you sang and wrote rock, new wave and pop music. Finally you came back to the blues. What’s the attraction with the blues?
A: I think the blues is just natural. For me it’s natural, it’s just normal music. If you’re in a band—and the first band I was in, they recruited me—we did blues, that was just what was going on in the early 70’s. That’s just the root music and it feels natural for me. In all the times writing say rock, when I was in the LA Jets rock band, it was always blues oriented for me. If I had to go out of that towards pop or something like that, it’s just not natural. It doesn’t mean I can’t do it, but personally I don’t think I do it very well. I don’t think I write well that way, whereas I think I write well in the blues; it just comes out of your heart. Whenever you’re thinking or talking to yourself you say “Oh yeah? Well I’ll show you what’s what! Sounds like a song!”. You put 1-4-5 and a little bit of splash and it’s a way of expression. It’s more natural for me.
A: I think that I can make a great record. But, I think that if I want to impress somebody, I play them live tracks. I thinks that’s what sets me apart, I think it’s the generation I came from, where it’s a form of expression and pretty free. At least that’s the way I feel. I think I probably stand out as a performer. I think I’m a good singer, but my standout part is performing live.
Q: I’ll Get Along All Right is a wonderful blues-rock tune. Is there a story behind it?
A: I’ll Get Along All Right is typical of my cocky attitude. The only reason I can say this is because I’m looking back at when I wrote it. I did an interview and as I arrived at a couple of answers I realized that I was very cocky. Very cocky; and I think that’s part of my attitude when I am pissed off or burned.
A cocky attitude like “I’m just fine!”. The kind of thing where you stumble and fall, but get up and say “I meant to do that!”. It’s just a way of feeling confident and telling anyone who burns you “I’ll show you. I’ll get even better! What do you think of that?”.
Q: Listening to Fun and Games, it’s hard not to think of Janis Joplin in her prime. Did you have her in mind when you wrote it?
A: I hate to say, regarding Janis, but I never have her in mind. I just have my story. Janis was not an influence, a lot of people think she was an influence for me, but I did her Piece of My Heart song once.when I was fourteen years old and I never touched it again because it just doesn’t seem right for me. I think a lot of people find in common that 1970’s ‘be cool’ quality and that’s just her vibe. There weren’t that many women back then—except for R&B—doing that back then and they might equate me, but I didn’t have that in mind at all.I just had in mind the SOB that I’d just shut the door on—that’s what I had in mind when I wrote it in my car. I played it that night—poor Rick!
Q: This album remasters several of your Live at the Lake performances from 1997. Do you have new recordings on the horizon for us?
A: I’d like to say a positive yes! I see there is something cooking on the horizon and that is my first thing, number one on the agenda. Fred Hostetler and I have talked about whether we wanted to play and I just decided that I think it’s best to record first and do a few pertinent gigs. He has wanted to play and we talked about “the band’s got to learn all the old songs” the essential Blue By Nature material. But I like new songs—I can’t handle it, I need to write new material. As I said about the day I wrote Fun and Games, by the end of the day it was completely arranged, with the ending and the breaks. I couldn’t help it, I had to have the band play it for me that night. It’s new expression, that;s my thing.So we’re just trying to talk about new tunes right now of which I have a ton. There’s a lot of danceable stuff, they’re not all torchy ballads. We’ll get it down to ten or twelve songs, so that’s first on the agenda. I can’t wait!
Q: It’s All About You has all the elements of a classic blues tune. What do you love about the traditional blues sound?
A: Well…..I wish I was Muddy Waters. I wish I was Howlin’ Wolf. I wish I was a guitar player. Those are the things that I like. I don’t have any of those things, so what comes out is my version and it’s really nothing close to that, but for me, the best form of expression is that it’s got splash, it’s got torch, it’s cocky and funny, it’s terribly sad. It’s ironic and it’s full of double-entendres. That’s what I love about blues.
By the way, It’s All About You is a happy song, it’s a love song. It’s the last song and it was not on the Live at the Lake album. That song was done with Tommy Ray Moody on guitar and Philip Meyer on bass.It was after Rick left. We were still playing and that song was a new song for us. It was actually live at the Galaxy Theater and I had it made into an audio that I was handing out. I just loved it, so when Fred had the idea to remaster and edit these, I stepped right up and put this one on there. I’m glad we did because I love that song, it’s one of my favorites!
Q: Tell me a great story from the road or the studio……
A: I have one great story, it’s not a road story but it’s a stage story and I was just thinking about it. I heard some guys talking and they were talking about leaving their families behind at 60 years old and playing on the road. They’re doing blues and I think to myself sometimes ‘YEAH!’ but I did that almost my entire life.
I was the first person on the stage at the A Star is Born contrived concert for the movie with Barbra Streisand. There were 100,000 people there! I was the first person on stage with Bill Graham himself, the great promoter, looking at his watch, holding up his hand and pushing us on stage, telling us to go. First person onstage, at 7 or 7:30 in the morning.Following that, there were 20,000 people—I was the opening act and I walked out with my butt enclosed in a silver jumpsuit. The audience was going crazy just over my butt! They didn’t even know who we were and then we turned around and they’re reaching up, trying to take our rings off your sweaty hands. They’re just screaming and having a great time. That was absolutely thrilling! I feel really privileged to have done that night after night. Every night, one or two shows like that. That’s quite an experience.
So here’s the second thing. Blue By Nature was so natural and so talented. With just the slightest hint of a different note that I would sing, Rick would play the guitar and pick it up, or Fred would pick it up and stick it into the rhythm and it would turn into a theme. Sometimes it would turn into another song! The experience was so great and so creative and so emotional. Your interior is so relaxed, it’s working like a really great basketball player that doesn’t have to think about it—take a step, one step up for the layup, dribble here and dribble there, it’s just natural.
You’re forty-something and you’re really good at what you’re doing and everybody is dialed in. You’re just having a ball and you don’t care if the audience likes it or not, you’re just going all out.Your brain is just going ‘BAM!!!’ and that is what we did in Blue by Nature. I was lucky to play with great bands and great guitarists. The guitarist just makes me go crazy and a great drummer; everybody together. Blue by Nature was the core, being strong and playing together almost every night—that was an incredible experience. That’s my favorite road story!
Q: The Blue By Nature band at the point was playing some tight and powerful blues.did it help to have some talented players behind you?
A: If you don’t a person like me could not even concentrate. I’ve been doing this a long time; I’ve been playing in front of people since I was a child. I can close my eyes, concentrate and give a good performance, but there’s noting like a real band, a good solid band that you don’t even have to think about behind you. You don’t have to orchestrate—-I don’t want to orchestrate, I don’t want to think about the arrangement. Like when Tommy came on, if you watch the song It’s All About Youyou can see that I’m cueing up the bridge and my entrance, telegraphing my entrance.There’s nothing like having a band that’s independent of what I do and I feel real lucky that we got to be that way.That was great for me!
Q: Thanks, Karen, hope to hear more from you soon!
Karen Lawrence And Blue By Nature have really come up with a masterful live album in Best Of Live. This is a band at its prime, tight and able to boogie up a storm.I’ll Get Along All Right is propelled by a clean bass line and guitar work that just keeps the song moving. Karen’s voice is perfect for this tune and shows her tasteful work and a ton of soul. Another Day Another Mile showcases Rick and Fred’s fine guitars and Karen’s knack for knowing how to write a solid blues tune. I Had It All Wrong is electric blues at its finest and just keeps moving along propelled by Karen’s dynamic vocals.
It’s hard to pick favorites on this album. Each song sets a mood and shows why Karen Lawrence And Blue By Nature was ahead of its time for straight, unadulterated electric power blues. This is an indispensible album for blues fans. And it gives a presuasive case why Karen and Fried need to put out some new recordings and live shows—it’s time we heard much more of their dynamic blues work.
Best of Live
Karen Lawrence And Blue By Nature
Karen Lawrence And Blue By Nature Facebook Page
Karen Lawrence And Blue By Nature Best of Live CD and download on CD Baby
Photos courtesy of Doug Deutsch PR