Diane Blue

Diane Blue
In Their Own Words

By Diane Blue
May 2013

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I did not jump into singing fearlessly and effortlessly. As a kid, I didn’t have a life-long dream to become a performer. I was way too shy for that, and I had so little self-confidence when I was young. I knew I could sing, sure, but I suppose I didn’t feel as though I fit the “image” of what was marketable in the music business.

Like a lot of singers, I first started to sing in the church choir when I was a kid, around the age of 12. I was pretty shy back then, and I didn’t really know how to project my voice, so I never got to sing any leads. I just sang with the alto section. I used to hide in my room and strum my dad’s guitar, singing whatever songs I could figure out the chord progression for (or close enough). Mostly I sang folky stuff. Some of my college friends discovered that I could sing, and I was still really painfully shy about it, so when they suggested that I try out for a talent contest, I was not so sure about it. But, I met someone who played piano very well, and he really encouraged me. I remember it well: He sang a song, and I sang “The Rose.” It was pretty sappy. We won second place. But, the winners were boys who choreographed a routine and lip-synched, so I really felt like we won amongst all the singing acts. That really boosted my confidence. After that, I performed in a couple of musical shows in college.

After graduating from college, I got a job in Newport, RI, working as a corporate trainer. I didn’t really have much interest in taking to the stage, as I was still pretty shy and self-conscious. I was also very conservative, thinking that I needed to have a good job with benefits, so that I could take care of myself in this world. I was the youngest of eight children. My dad worked two jobs for many years, just trying to make ends meet. My mom was a traditional homemaker, always there for us, making meals stretch and mending our clothes. I didn’t want to have to struggle like that. I know that my parents sacrificed a lot for us. We didn’t always have what we wanted, but we always got what we needed. We knew that we were loved, and there was always music in our lives. My mom would sing little French songs that she learned from her mother, often accapella in the house. My dad sang in a men’s choral group. The guitar that I played as a kid was my Dad’s. He bought that beautiful Gibson acoustic-electric sometime in the 60s from a guy at work. I think he worked out a payment plan of $3 a week until it was paid. After he retired, he learned to play keyboards, something he had always wanted to do but never before had the time. We always had a record-player (the big console piece of furniture with the turntable and radio built in) and a collection of vinyl LPs. One of my favorites was Gladys Knight and the Pips. But I digress…

One night after I taught a corporate training session I was cleaning my classroom and getting ready for the next day, and I heard what sounded like live guitar playing. There were a couple of guys in the next room playing guitar! I asked if they minded keeping the door open so I could hear. They asked me whether I could sing, and one of them, Paul White, pulled out a song list. I didn’t know any of his songs, but my sister had taught me how to play “House of the Rising Sun” on the acoustic guitar, so I asked if I could play and sing. My guitar playing is not very good – but it was good enough to accompany me through the song. Paul said, “I would be willing to learn anything that you would like to sing.” And that was the beginning …

As part of my day job, I did consulting with clients around the country, so I traveled quite a bit. I was assigned to a project in Ohio for 13 months. I flew out there on Mondays and flew home on Fridays. As it turned out, Paul lived on the same street as me, so he would come over when I got home on Friday, and we’d jam acoustically in my living room. After a few months of that, we had a bit of a repertoire, and Paul said, “This is nice, but I need a goal. We have to go where people can hear you. So, our goal is to learn 3 songs that you like, and we’re going to the open mic jam next Sunday.” And I said, “No, we are not.” He basically dragged me there by threatening not to hang out with me anymore. The first time was nerve-wracking. I was shaking while holding the microphone, I didn’t have any stage presence whatsoever, and Paul led the band for me. I couldn’t wait until it was over. Then, Paul said, “in two weeks, we come back, with one new song.” I was mortified, but we did it. One of the songs that I sang there was the very first Blues song I ever sang, “Women Be Wise.” I covered the version that Bonnie Raitt did with Sippie Wallace. This was when I discovered my affinity for the singing the blues. After a few more times at the jam, I decided that I really wanted to sing.

Soon after, we hooked up with a guy named Al Tetreault who is a fantastic acoustic guitarist. This was my first combo: an acoustic cover band called Gypsy Fringe. We sometimes added bass and drums and did a few gigs. Paul gave me my first blues harp in the mid-90's, and said, "Honk on this and see what you can do. There are a lot of chick singers out there, but if you can play this, people will remember you more." That’s how I got started on the harp. Just for fun, I sang regularly in a Quonsett hut garage in the Portsmouth, RI marina, owned by Denny Diezel, a seasoned sax player (and diesel boat mechanic). He would close his shop at 5:00, and we’d jam along with a bunch of local guys with a whole lotta heart and soul. I met the drummer at a local jam and he invited me to Denny’s one night. It became a regular thing. The people would gather around from the Melville Marina docks, bring a picnic and watch the sunset while the band played to feed all of our souls. This band "Diezel" played a few public gigs together at the restaurant in the Melville Marina in Portsmouth, RI.

Throughout the 90's I sang lead and background vocals with local singer/songwriter Peter Piltz in the Newport area, mostly acoustic duo stuff. I frequented jams in Newport and Providence, RI. Later, I did a few gigs with the Blues band Loaded Dice in Providence, before joining up with Acme Trucking Company (Dick Souza, Lewis Taylor) and Rory & the Blues Hounds in the early 2000’s. During the summer of 2003, I teamed up with Matty James (guitarist of the Newport-based band Mr. Chubb) to form an acoustic combo (sometimes duo, trio, foursome) called Tumbleweed, and we performed on occasion in Newport.

About this time, I was laid off from my day job, and shortly thereafter my Mom became very ill. I spent some quality time with her before she passed, and I did a lot of soul-searching during this phase. I started to think about what was really important. My Mom put her dreams aside for her children. When she passed, I was essentially alone, with nobody to take care of but myself. I didn’t really find personal fulfillment in my day job, but music fed my soul in a way that I had never quite experienced before. So, I decided to leave the corporate world behind and pursue music seriously. That’s when I moved to Boston, in 2003.

I found a day job in Boston to pay the bills and get health benefits, and I also quickly found the Blues Jam at the Cantab Lounge. I faithfully attended the jam that was then run by Little Joe Cook on Wednesdays and Sundays at the Cantab. After a while, Joe got to know me and he would put me up with the best players, often with the house band. My repertoire grew and so did my confidence. When Joe retired from the Cantab about 2007, they asked me if I would do some Fridays and Saturdays fronting the band. Soon, I was doing just about every Friday and Saturday, as well as booking gigs in other venues around Boston, Providence, Newport and the suburbs in between. Along the way I met some really talented veterans in the music community, and I was very fortunate to be mentored by some of them. My music career began to blossom.

At one of my shows at the Cantab, Jim Carty introduced me to Roberto Morbioli, an Italian blues-band leader. Roberto asked me to tour with him in Europe, and this was the beginning of a synergetic collaboration. Roberto and I share wonderful stage chemistry. I went to Europe a few times and performed with him at some outdoor festivals and club gigs in Italy, Luxembourg, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands. Roberto also did some gigs with me in the greater Boston area for a few weeks each year. It was at a duo gig with Roberto where I met Ronnie Earl in 2009. Over the past few years, Ronnie Earl has graciously invited me to sing at his concerts. On his most recent live recording project, “Just for Today” (scheduled for release April 9, 2013), I am the only featured vocalist.

I am where I am now due to the encouragement of friends, moral support of family, and solid advice and mentoring of friends in the business. I feel truly blessed. I have been very fortunate to meet and play with some of the best in the business. They keep me reaching for a higher “bar,” helping me to realize that I have a long way to go, and so much more to learn.

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