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Marcia Ball: Standing Tall for Her Texan Musical Roots
Posted Jul 1,2008

Marcia Ball will be cooking on two fronts this weekend at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C. On Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, the award-winning rhythm-and-blues singer/pianist will represent her native Texas with several musical performances and a couple of cooking demos. Pop Omnivore will be there and promises to post her recipes for “emergency gumbo and shrimp remoulade”—ready in half an hour, Ball says. Here’s what the lanky Texan had to say about music, food, and life after Katrina.

You’re part of the delegation representing the culture of Texas. What is Texas music?

Texas music is as big as Texas itself. All the influences that make up the music of an entire country come to play in Texas. We have Cajun and Czech and Mexican and some of the roots of the blues and soul music and rap and, of course, western swing and cowboy music.

There are Czechs in Texas?

There’s tons of Bohemians and Czechs here in Texas. We have a huge polka crowd. The Germans came to Texas in one of the first migrations, in the 1830s. They also came to Mexico, which is why Mexico has such good beer (and why Mexico has a great beer called Bohemia). They brought the accordion with them when they came. And the accordion came from Mexico up through Texas to New Orleans.

What makes your music Texas?

I represent the Cajun culture that doesn’t stop at the [Louisiana] state line but is very strong all the way into east Texas and all the way to Houston.

You’ve got a lot of New Orleans in your music.

I grew up listening to Fats Domino and Huey “Piano” Smith and all the great stuff that came out from New Orleans, and my grandmother was a ragtime player from Lafayette.

Did you study piano?

I took lessons when I was a kid, but like everybody else I quit when I was about 14. I started chasing boys and playing sports and stuff. Then I got into a rock-and-roll band, and after a while started playing piano.

You’ve often classified as a blues pianist, but your music isn’t at all down and out.

It’s New Orleans–style rhythm and blues; it’s got that energy and jump to it.

Your new album is called Peace, Love & BBQ. How come “barbecue” is up there with “peace” and “love”?

The song is about home, about country, about family—about anything you do in the yard where friends and family gather and eat and play music.

Do you have any secrets to making good barbecue?

Oh yeah—I let my husband do it! That’s my secret. My husband is the true cook and true foodie in this family. You know two-alarm chili? My husband’s father, Wick Fowler, started it.

Like many musicians from the Gulf Coast, you wrote a song, “Ride It Out,” that alludes to Hurricane Katrina on your new CD. But isn’t it time to move on?

Those people are still in distress. It’s not over, and we don’t need to move on; we need to move on it. I’m going to play with Tab Benoit and the group he calls Voices of the Wetlands at the opening of the Democratic Convention to address the need to restore our wetlands, to turn attention to the fact that they’re critical to the security and safety of our coastal country, and to our food and our resources. If you like shrimp, eat ’em now [unless] we do something about the wetlands.

Are you unhappy with the government’s response?

For the last eight years, [we’ve had] a government that doesn’t seem to much care about its people. I don’t know if you want to get me started on that.

-Marc Silver

Posted by Marc Silver | Comments (1)
Filed Under: Music


Rudy Vorkapic
Jul 1, 2008 2PM #

The only difference between Marcia Ball and the Statue of Liberty is the Statue of Liberty can't play piano.

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