An In Depth interview with Liz Mandeville
For Immediate Release! Liz Mandeville has been named to the List “40 Great Indie Musicians To Watch!” by the Alternative Root Magazine! After a record year in 2015 that saw Liz set personal bests for CD sales and festival performances (despite having a broken right foot!) Liz has spent every spare moment either touring or in the studio working on new releases for the BLUE KITTY MUSIC imprint.
The first release Liz produced for BLUE KITTY MUSIC will drop September 1, 2016. The project started in 2013when the first of 4 guitarists, Tulsa Blues/Rock stringer and Blue Parlor Recording artist, Scott Ellison, came to Chicago on tour and took time out to write and record 3 tunes with Liz. The following year Dario Lombardo came from Turin Italy to perform a tribute to his former boss, the late Phil Guy for the Chicago BLues Festival. A chance meeting led to yet another collaboration between the Italian Blues man and Liz Mandeville that yielded 3 more songs. Later that year Miami based Blueswoman,Rachelle Coba was nominated for a Blues Blast Award. The two women had met when both were in Clarksdale Mississippi performing for the Juke Joint Festival. Liz invited Rachelle to come to Chicago before her trip to the awards show and the two women collaborated on 3 addition tunes. Finally, Japanese native, Minoru Maruyama, who had played on Liz’s 2014 release Heart ‘O’ Chicago, stepped up to contribute 2 more songs co-written with Liz.
Why would an award winning songwriter work with other artists? Here’s what Liz says:
“The only other time I’d written with another songwriter was when my former labelmate, Johnny Drummer and I co-wrote the title track for my Earwig CD, Back In Love Again, in 2005. Johnny is a terrific songsmith, he’s written some great tunes. Since we worked well together, it seemed like a no-brainer. We had fun writing that song, and I think we came up with a great tune, but I wondered if it was a fluke. That’s why I was so interested in seeing how the process worked with these other artists. I’m so thrilled with how this project has turned out! I can’t wait to release it!!”
Co-writing 11 new songs over the course of 3 years with 4 different guitarists from around the world of blues, they worked, wrote and recorded in Liz’s Northside of Chicago basement studio. In honor of the clandestine nature of the process the new disc is called “Underground Guitar Conspiracy.” In addition to the guitarists, the CD features an encore performance from keyboardist Joan Gand who worked on Liz’s Heart ‘O’ Chicago CD. Joan is also the force behind the Chicago Women In The Blues review, Liz is one of the featured performers and MC’s that show. The CWIB’s have performed for the past 6 years during the Chicago Blues Festival and have been featured on several other festivals and at Governor’s State University. A host of celebrated horn players, percussionists, drummers and bassists make up the rhythm sections and Tampa Swing Guitarist, front-man of the Jewel Tones, Doug Deming has contributed a solo. Liz is not only producing the project she is handling all the vocals and playing guitar as well!
At the same time, the prolific, award winning songwriter, Liz is producing a set of her original INDIE BLUES that touches on Latin, Reggae, Americana and well as the Funk that has become synonymous with today’s Chicago Blues. She’s recruited respected names from the blues, jazz, rock and funk world to contribute to the album’s sound. It’s not your grandfather’s blues record, but Liz Mandeville is not your grandfather’s blues artist! That as yet to be named album will be released in 2017.
Taking time off from the road and the recording studio in January 2016, Liz, who is fascinated by all music and sound and its effects on the human body, spent 8 days at an Ashram where she took 35 hours of coursework on the Yoga of Voice and Sound. Studying with world renown experts in the field of Sound Healing, Liz was certified as a sound healer and has been utilizing what she learned to add healing qualities to her live performance.
“When it comes down to it, music is everything and everything is music, because everything is the result of vibrational waves. Some are more harmonious and some can mess you up. Think about your breath, or your heartbeat, there’s no more basic music than that. I’ve learned how to use sound to create a vibe that will enhance your mood, make you feel good, lift you up and leave you feeling renewed. It’s all about the groove, which is why I’ve always been attracted to the blues, soul and funk music. It’s the groove I’m chasing!”
In April of 2016, Liz traveled to Switzerland to perform in the Basel Blues Fest’s Tribute to Sunnyland Slim. She performed with members of Sunnyland’s final band, The Big Four, the members, Bob Stroger, Barrelhouse Chuck, Steve Freund and Sam Burkhardt had been influential in Liz’s career. As a young blues fan in the 80′s, she had made many a pilgrimage to see this band and Sunnyland performing at the BLUES on Halsted for their weekly Sunday night set. The tour with her heros’ was a dream come true. She returned from Switzerland to make her 4th appearance in the Clarksdale Mississippi Juke Joint Festival the following week. A perennial favorite, Liz enjoyed the largest crowd of her tenure. The week after she returned to Chicago, gathered her band and hit the highway for her bi-annual Southern tour, hitting points in Tennessee, Georgia, Florida and Mississippi.
August 1, 2014, Blue Kitty Music released, Liz Mandeville : Heart ‘O’ Chicago, the second from Liz’s Blue Kitty Music label, is the 10th time Liz Mandeville has appeared on a CD release. She has released 5 CD’s for Earwig Music and been a guest on two of their other artists works. In addition to the Earwig discs, Liz also appears on The Red Hot Mama’s from Blue Chicago Music.
Heart ‘O’ CHicago tips it’s hat to Chicago Blues as it was rendered in the last decades of the 20th century, the melding of tradition with innovation. From the traditional lump of Jimmy Reed to the soul of Magic Sam, Liz Mandeville has soaked up all that music and created new forms to express it! And express it she does, both in live performance and on her records.It has been named to Roots Music Report’s Top CD’s of 2015. It was named one of the Top 10 Releases of 2015 by Tom Lounges, NPR BLues DJ writing for GO! Magazine. Heart ‘O’ Chicago also earned Liz TWO JimiAward Nominations! One for Best Song Of The Year for “Why Would A Woman Sing The Blues?” The other for Guitar Heroine for Liz’s furious performance on the same song! Although every song form Heart ‘O’ Chicago had been downloaded more than 1000 times, the ballad, “Quit Me On A Voicemail” from the CD has been downloaded from Spotify more that 150,000 times! I guess somebody had a really broken heart.
Regarding the making of Heart ‘O’ Chicago, Liz Mandeville says, “When I came to Chicago in ’79 and would go out to blues clubs over the next decade as I was starting my career, I’d hear so much great blues, I didn’t know I was witnessing history! Otis Clay, Tyrone Davis, Son Seals and Koko Taylor were among the great artists performing almost every night of the week in various clubs. I’d sit in the back of the club and soak up the blues that was drenched in soul and r&b and that music inspired my own writing and performance. In honor of all those great musicians and bands I produced this album. This one’s for Lefty Diz and Floyd MacDaniels, for J.B Hutto and John Brim, for all the Alberts, the Kings and the Littles.”
As a young blues artist starting out in the 80′s, Liz had the privilege of sharing the stage with all of those artists and more. She’s worked with Sam & Dave, later Sam Moore, Johnny Copeland, David Bromberg, Albert King, Jr. Walker, she has been a house musician at every important blues club in Chicago and has played with every local great from Lurrie Bell to Michael Coleman, Zora Young to Shemika Copeland to Hollee Maxwell.
Liz, who started her career in 1983 with a string of gigs at the notorious “Deadwood Dave’s Wild West Saloon” on the city’s north side, won the Windy City Blues Society’s 2011 Blues Challenge,with her then partner, dobro player Donna Herula. Liz’s highly engaging shows often end in standing ovations; at the 2011 Lansing Blues Fest they were dancing in the street. They were on their feet in South Carolina at theCrawfish Festival. At the Windy City Blues Society’s Blues Challenge Finals show at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago, Liz armed only with an acoustic guitar, her dynamic voice and stage presence and her trusty washboard, not only got a standing ovation, she won the Blues Challenge that night by unanimous judges decision! All the judges were on their feet too!!
A seasoned pro, she has logged thousands of road miles; since 1983, she’s played hundreds of gigs – and people say she just keeps getting better! Based in Chicago, Liz has led her Band through countless tours, playing venues from New York to Seattle, St. Paul to Key West. She has toured Canada, Mexico, Latvia, France, Belgium, Holland and South Africa. Liz and her band toured Germany several times with label mates Honeyboy Edwards and Louisiana Red, and with Robert Cray. Germany’s ARD TV features Liz in a “Chicago Must See” travel show. Liz set a festival record at the 2008 Chicago Blues Festival, for the most CD’s sold by a single artist. Liz Mandeville has played too many festivals to mention them all, from the Sasquatch Reunion in Saskatchewan Canada, to the Heinekinn Queensday Fest in Maastricht, the Netherlands, from the Pine Island & Sarasota Blues Festivals in Fla to twice headlining the Durban South Africa Blues Fest, where they loved Liz so much they had her back two years in a row and still keep in touch via the internet! Liz has graced stages in 12 countries and on 3 continents. She has toured so much over the years in Canada, her fans there are now bringing their kids to see her high energy shows!
Multi-talented Liz Mandeville is no stranger to hard work! Not content to be ‘just a singer,’ Liz taught herself to play electric and acoustic guitar, washboard and porch-board. She has written and produced hundreds of original songs, resulting in five critically-acclaimed CD’s. Four solo efforts for the Earwig Music Co label, Look At Me(1996) Ready To Cheat (2002) Back In Love Again (2005) Red Top (2008) that established Liz as a versatile song-smith and creative producer. She’s also featured on Earwig’s (1996 release) Aron Burton “Live from Buddy Guys” and Johnny Drummers (2000) “Unleaded Blues.” Liz also recorded two songs for the Blue Chicago Records 1997 release “Red Hot Mamas.” In 2016 Earwig released “Angels Sing the Blues” recorded at a live show in 2007 the features Liz, Shirley Johnson, Mary Lane and Johnny Drummer’s Starlighters Band.
In the 1990′s, while working as a blues singer by night, Liz earned a BA in Music at Chicago’s premier arts school, Columbia College. At that time The Center For Black Music Research was housed at Columbia. Liz spent many long hours there doing research on blues history, music business and women’s contribution to blues history. She has given fun, interactive Blues Music Workshops based on what she learned in venues as far flung as Thunder Bay Ontario to Durban South Africa. In addition to her rigorous touring and recording schedule, Liz also writes a column for ChicagoBluesGuide.com, and she is an on air personality for WNUR-FM’s The Blues Show .
Clarksdale, her first release for the new Blue Kitty Music label, an idea fostered by Grammy winner Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, dropped in May of 2012. Smith, best known for his work with the late Muddy Waters, contributed five tracks to the new disc. Clarksdale also features a riotous performance by long time friend and Howlin’ Wolf alum, the Legendary Eddie Shaw and includes tracks with Nick Moss and Donna Herula who was Liz’s partner in the IBC challenge. Liz’s childhood family trips to the American south can be tasted on all these soulful tracks and inform her music and delivery both recorded and live.
Liz also produced four critically-lauded CD’s for the Earwig Label showcasing her powerful, rich, versatile voice and her creativity as a producer, arranger, guitarist, and song crafter. Her 2008 CD RED TOP shot to #3 in theRoots Time Radio Charts, and stayed in the top 20 for weeks. Amazingly, “Scratch the Kitty”, one of that CD’s tunes, held the #1 spot for 22 weeks on the Cashbox Charts in 2010, making it one of the most downloaded Blues songs ever! RED TOP, like Liz’s other CD’s, has been included in numerous “Best Of” lists. Chicago’s Tom Marker, (a popular DJ in the nation’s third largest commercial radio market) named Liz’s “Illinois National Guard Blues” #5 in his list of the “WXRT-10 best of 2008.” In 2015, Earwig released yet another CD featuring Liz Mandeville. Recorded live in 2007 at The Taste Entertainment Center on Chicago’s deep South Side, Liz is captured along with Mary Lane, Shirley Johnson and and All Star Band lead by Johnny Drummer. That CD is currently in rotation.
“Liz Mandeville’s music gets me hard!” – Legendary Blues DJ, octagenarian “Sunshine” Sonny Payne said as he hosted Liz at his historic 50th anniversary broadcast during the King Biscuit Fest, 2011.
Liz has been described as a ‘smart, sassy songwriter’ with an ability to ‘build sensitive snapshots….’ The petite redhead was nominated “Songwriter of the Year 2008” by the American Roots Music Association. She won the2005 USA Songwriting Contest for her song,”He Left It in His Other Pants” and was a finalist in the American Songwriting Contest for her deep Blues song, “Juice Head Man”.
Liz has led her own band longer than any other female musician in Chicago. Starting in 1983, when she started her seminal R&B/Blues band, The Supernaturals, with then husband, guitarist Willie Greeson, Liz has never stopped working. Laughingly calling her band “Liz Mandeville’s Technical School of the Blues” members who’d come up thru the Supernaturals went on to join Jimmy Rogers, Dave Specter, The Mighty Blue Kings and The Legendary Blues Band. When Greeson ultimatley left their band Liz formed The Blue Point’s in the early 90′s and went on to be signed by Earwig Music Co. The Blue Points line-up has gone thru some changes over the years, a one point the rhythm section was made up of Albert King and Albert Collins alumnus, with bassist Aron Burton acting as mentor, guiding Liz through her recording debut with his revue. Aron is also responsible for Liz’s tenure with the Blue Chicago Club which lasted 5 years. With each incarnation of the band bringing another layer of innovative music to turn up the heat their sound runs the gamut of blues styles, from traditional to swing to rock. They’ve wowed crowds with long-running house gigs at Chicago’s oldest blues venues, including B.L.U.E.S., The Kingston Mines, Bill’s Blues, and Blue Chicago, to name a few. In her long and storied career, Liz has played every major blues venue in Chicago.
Liz Mandeville grew up with the arts. Liz’s dad played and sang Americana music for his family while taking classes at the Chicago Art Institute on the GI Bill after serving in the Korean War. He taught his daughter to paint and to sing. His work, always art-related, exposed Liz to galleries, gardens and museums. Her mother, an actress who taught, took young Liz to musicals, plays and concerts, insisting that her daughter get music and dance lessons, even if it meant the family might go without. Their Hi-Fiwas always playing, sometimes Stravinsky or Broadway or Mahalia Jackson, sometimesLedbelly, Chet Atkins, Johnny Cash or Hank Williams.
Liz’s dad’s basic training in Louisiana led to lifelong love of New Orleans, so the family took many auto trips through the South, always ending in dad’s favorite city. Those trips exposed young Liz to the many flavors of American Roots music fromAppalachian Bluegrass to New Orleans Jazz,Southern Gospel music and all points in between. Liz plays the washboard in a style first made popular in Louisiana and employed in many traditional blues settings, adding that Creole rhythm to her music.
Liz got her first guitar at 16 and started playing professionally soon after. Her guitar style tips its hat to her oldest influences: Mississippi John Hurt, Chet Atkins and Muddy Waters mixed with T-Bone’s swing, soul from Curtis Mayfield and the Chicago Blues of Jimmy Reed. With a sense of humor that shines through her impassioned performance, Liz is a polished, professional, and consummate entertainer, not to be missed!