5 Kick-Arse Blues Women You Should Know About According To Fiona Boyes

Published in Music  
Fiona Boyes plays 2021 Blues On Broadbeach (Gold Coast) 20-23 May. Fiona Boyes plays 2021 Blues On Broadbeach (Gold Coast) 20-23 May.

An Australian blues musician who has earned an international reputation as a guitarist, bandleader, vocalist and songwriter, Fiona Boyes knows a thing or two about the history of the genre.

Whether it's the sounds of her Delta slide guitar, single chord Mississippi Hills grooves, intricate country blues finger picking, or material drawn from the classic blues sounds of New Orleans, Chicago and Memphis, Fiona has it covered.

It's why she has so many industry recommendations, like Willie 'Pinetop' Perkins – a Grammy-winning Delta pianist: "I ain't never seen a woman finger-pick a guitar like that since Memphis Minnie. [Fiona's] the best gal guitar player I heard in more than 35 years."

Ahead of her performance this weekend at Blues On Broadbeach (Gold Coast, 20-23 May), Fiona shares a listicle of kick-arse blues women you should know.

1: Lucille Bogan

Ms Bogan may have been born in 1897, but you can definitely forget any notions of her music being prim and proper! All the stars of the classic blues era were women, and Lucille was one of the earliest recorded.

Her songs tackled all manner of topics – partying, sexuality, gender politics and more – as song titles such as 'Sloppy Drunk', 'BD (Bull Dyke) Woman Blues' and 'Shave 'Em Dry' will attest. Lucille's alternate take of 'Shave 'Em Dry' should only be played after the kids have gone to bed.

2: Memphis Minnie

Minnie ran away from home and started playing guitar on the street when she was in her teens. After starting as an acoustic country blues picker, she also pioneered resonator instruments and, later, played in one of the first electric guitar based bands in Chicago.

Minnie once won a guitar 'cutting competition' against luminary Big Bill Broozny, recorded hundreds of songs (compared to the 29 attributed to 'King of the Delta blues' Robert Johnson), and apparently always carried a gun in her purse. My hero! Not the gun part, though.

3: Jessie Mae Hemphill

Speaking of guns, I have actually played Jessie Mae's old guitar. It is quite playable despite having a bullet hole clean through the top bout of the instrument. Yes, she cracked it one day and shot her guitar.

Jessie Mae was born in Como, Mississippi, the epicentre of a style of heavy, hypnotic, riff-based blues known as North Mississippi Hill Country Blues. As well as guitar, she also played drums in her grandfather Sid Hemphill's band.

Good and raw, these Mississippi blues vibes are a big influence on bands like The Black Keys and lots of Aussie roots acts.

4: Beverly 'Guitar' Watson

You probably haven't heard of Beverly, even if you are a blues fan, but you will know some of the folks that she played guitar for over the years; like James Brown, BB King, Ray Charles.

I saw Beverley rocking it at a festival in up-state New York when she was probably in her 70s. She still wore tight leather pants and could play the guitar behind her neck. Take that, societal expectations.

5: Gaye Adegbalola

Gaye's regular live streams – 'Front Porch: Half-Lit and Talking Shmack' – are a real blues education. Roaming over her new, and old, repertoire of original songs, she also tackles vital blues music history and contemporary social issues from a female/ black/ LGBTQI perspective, with a good deal of humour, frankness and the odd adult beverage.

Songs titles like 'Hetero-Twinges' and 'Big Ovaries, Baby' tell you you're dealing with a blues woman who speaks her mind. Find her @GayeAdegbalolaMusician

"Of course, there's many others; how could I leave out Sister Rosetta Tharpe?," adds Fiona.  "Oh dear, you better YouTube her as well to see an early example of rock & roll guitar twang from this gospel maven."



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