Diane Blue

Diane Blue
From corporate to chromatic

By Bill Copeland
September 2007

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At only 5 foot 2 inches, Diane Blue may appear to be someone who has to work hard to prove herself. Yet, once she gets behind a microphone and starts belting out a tune and playing her harmonica, everybody finds that she is the one controlling the room.

Blue moved up to the Boston area from Rhode Island in 2003 to pursue music.

"I got a day job to pay the bills," she said. "I was at a point in my life where I just wanted to make music my focus."

After her move she went to a couple of popular jams.

"Itís a very closed feeling until you get out there and make yourself known, and thatís pretty much what I did. Iím still working on it," she said.

Blue had just played a festival in Greenfield, N.H. with Roomful Of Blues shortly before giving this interview.

"It was good. It was hot. It was like 95 degrees and humid," she said. "Four people were sitting in front of me for my first set because it was so unbearable to sit in the sun. We did two sets and the second set was a little more lively, and Roomful Of Blues played at the end. It was a pretty big crowd."

Blue never dreamed of this when she was young. She was 25 when a musician friend discovered she could sing, and he pushed her to get up on stage. Somewhere along the line she got comfortable with it and found herself. When she embraced it and started to run with it, she left behind a corporate world lifestyle and a lot of money. Some of her family members wondered if she had taken leave of her senses when she became a blues mama. Although one of her sisters said she respected her for following her dreams.

"Iím not following a dream," Blue had retorted, ĒIím just trying to be who I am."

One person told her that she looks like a soccer mom. Another called her a geek because she majored in computer science. Yet, personal history proves her cool. Blue had been playing out in Rhode Island from 1990 to 2002 when she made the move to Boston. Although Providence and Beantown are similar New England cities, this singer saw a major advantage.

"The thing that drew me up was just that it was a bigger city and there were more venues, she said. “That doesnít mean that there are more venues that are right for me. I learned a long time ago that you donít want to play a room thatís not right for you. I just wanted exposure in a bigger city. I grew up in a small town, and I lived in Newport for ten years. So I wasnít exactly exposed to city life. I always wanted to give it a try and see what it would be like."

Blue has been making quite a name for herself at the Cantab Lounge in Cambridge, where the diminutive singer and harp player belts out tunes like nobodyís business.

"The first jam I found was at the Cantab, and it was like I found my home," Blue recounted "I started hanging out there pretty regularly because I love the music that they play. Itís all blues and soul and R&B. Not only do I do blues, but I do soul, and I do R&B. All of that music speaks to me. I hung out there pretty regularly for the Sunday nights and the Wednesday nights when it was Little Joe Cook running the jam. You get to know the same people who hang out there and the same people who play there, and once people realize that youíre dedicated and youíre not fooling around - you love what youíre doing - you start to catch on.Ē

Blue kept it low key as a person while letting her passion come through in her music.

"I love what Iím doing and I try not to be pretentious or give anybody diva vibes in any way, and opportunities just started coming my way," she said.

People noticed she was good, and she was invited to join bands.

"I was very cautious at first because I didnít want to get locked into something and then find out there was something different. So I did some freelancing, and I still had my gigs in Rhode Island so I still had a couple of things going on, and I tried to feel it all out and then things came together naturally," Blue said.

She recruited a lot of popular Boston players to help her record her disc, Here I Am, released last year. Her credits feature Marty Ballou, Gordon Beadle, Chris Stovall Brown, Steve Burke, Mike Duke, Johnny Juxo, Vinny Pagano, and Mark Taber.

"At the time that I decided to do my CD, I had been working with most of those players pretty regularly,Ē she said. “I did a house gig at the High Hat in Providence. It was every other Thursday, the first and third Thursday of every month. Marty Ballou helped me get in that room, so it was only right to ask him if he wanted to do the gig with me. In doing that gig with me, he really opened a lot of doors for me in suggesting other players to fill in when I needed a guitarist. If I needed a drummer or if he couldnít do the gig, heíd pass me the name of a bass player. Thatís how that got formed was through word of mouth from players like Marty."

Drummer Pagano pounds the skins on all of her albumís tunes. Pagano is also Blueís musical mentor.

"He started working with me probably five or six years ago," Blue recounted. "Heís watched me learn and grow in the business. At first I felt like I was undeserving, being on the same stage with all of them. By no means do I feel like Iíve surpassed anybody or that Iím all that or that Iíve arrived in way, because I have a long way to go. But I feel like I can hold my own."

Blueís title track "There I was....Here I Am" was inspired by her experience working in the corporate world when she was living in Ohio.

"I was driving a rental car to my job. I was feeling like I was stuck. I was sitting in my car, and I just said, ĎSo there I was.í"

Blue said the words "So there I was" in the same cadence she had heard The Three Stooges use the expression "Niagara Falls...slowly I turned." The comparison made her giggle during this interview.

"There I was thinking in my head and then I just decided that I wanted to make a little story out of it. None of that has any truth to it - It all started with that little phrase ĎThere I was.í I really was feeling lonely, and I didnít know what to do to get out of it," Blue explained.

Her song "Gypsy Child" comes from a very personal place.

"I wrote that for my mother. I used to travel a lot to work when I worked in the corporate world. She used to always call me her gypsy whenever I came home. Sheíd go ĎOh, my gypsyís home now.í And Iím the baby of the family. Iím the youngest of eight kids. I wrote it for my mother. I wrote it before she died. She was sick when I first wrote it. It just came to me one day. She had always been so humble, yet she taught me so much without ever saying a word and I want to be like her," Blue said.

Blue feels she has learned her motherĎs wisdom and her love for life.

"Sheís gone now, and she still speaks to me. I hear her words in my head. I say her words. They come out of my mouth, and I go, ĎOh, my God. I am my mother,í" Blue said.

A slow, torch number, "Restless," also stems from a difficult time in BlueĎs life. The song talks about feeling blue and restless at the end of the workday when her personal life was going nowhere.

"That one is also from my corporate world days when I was working for the man," she said. "I had it all, except no one to share it with, and thatís where that came from. I had money. I traveled all over the world. I bought a house. I had a brand new car. I could buy whatever I wanted. But I really just wanted someone to share it with. So, I ditched the corporate world and now Iím more happy. Iím ten times happier."

Blues standards, classic rock cover songs, R&B from the 1950s and 1960s, and a Billie Holiday number round out her disc. Personal taste and variety was what she was looking for - a chance to put her own personal stamp on popular tunes.

"I just did them because I liked them. I donít like to be categorized, so I choose songs with different styles, so I could do what I do best. I wanted to feature my vocals, mostly. I also wanted to play harp because thatís part of who I am. I just picked songs where I liked the groove or I liked the words. All that spoke to me in some way," she said.

Blue can recall many memorable moments in the studio, such as working with her favorite friends, created a sense of camaraderie.

"The best part for me was to have the whole band in the studio together and to do it live. I could feel their vibe. I didnít want to put layered tracks because you canít capture the essence of the performance when you layer tracks," she said.

Blue has become as known for her harmonica playing as she has for her vocals. Her old friend Paul White, a Rhode Island guitarist, encouraged her early on to get on stage. He also slapped a harp in her hands and told her to give it a shot.

"I was definitely afraid to get on stage," she admitted. "Paul White basically groomed me for the stage. He forced me to practice. We did an open mike together. After a few months of practicing together, he threw a harmonica at me, and he said ĎHonk on this and see what you can do with it. It will differentiate you from all the other chick singers out there,í cause thereís not a lot of chicks who play. So, it was at his suggestion that I picked it up, and I just started practicing. Iím mostly self-taught," she said.

Playing harp may not work as a marketing gimmick in gaining rooms and fans, but it does make Blue a little bit different.

"It does differentiate me in that you get more bang for your buck,Ē she said. “You get two for one. I sing and play. Sometimes Iím asked to front for other things because I can do both. Itís part of who I am. But really, Iím a singer who plays harp. Iím not a harmonica player who sings."

Blue did not have much to say about why many girls donít learn to play the harmonica.

"Itís hard to say because I like it. Iíve met a few who do it. Of course, Cheryl Arena is great. I havenít met Annie Raines but I respect her work a lot. I was in the crowd when she played," Blue said. "When I play too many nights in a row, I get cuts on my lips. You canít wear lipstick. It takes a little bit away from your femininity. It could be something about that. I donít know why people donít do it. I only know why I do do it."

Like many other blues singers, Blue began singing in her church choir. She moved onto college musical theater, and passed a college audition for a musical revue from the 1950s.

"I thought it was all going to be Happy Days music. It turned out that it wasnít anything like that at all. It was all music from the theater musicals," she said.

Her first time on stage found her doing two duets and two company numbers.

"It was the musicals of the 50s. It was real straight up theater stuff," she said.

Blue has become contented in her new life as a blues mama. Her music has become her way of connecting to a lot of people at once, even when she is playing to a roomful of people she doesnít know very well. She also has good reason to believe music has the power to heal many things.

"If I can touch one person in a whole big old room, then Iíve done my job,Ē she said.

‘Sometimes you never know. Sometimes they tell you. There was a man who had been diagnosed with cancer, and I didnít know that, and I didnít know him. And he came to me and he told me that he had been diagnosed that day. And he said, ĎYou made me forget everything for a few hours while I was listening to you,’"


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