“I was born the Dallas Fort Worth area of Texas but grew up mostly in the Columbia, MD area but have recently settled a bit south of the Philly area,” says blues/funk artist Vanessa Collier who is about to make The Levoy Theater in Millville, NJ her next stop this Saturday June 1.
A singer, songwriter, saxophonist and more, Collier is near wrapping up the east coast leg of her current “Honey Up” tour but in order to get to this point one must understand the path which has taken her there.
“I had played piano for a little bit and didn’t really like the teacher so I thought that I didn’t like piano,” she explained with a slight laugh. “So after six months of playing piano I quit and then I saw somebody playing saxophone and really loved the sound of it and it was one of those quick moments where I was like; whoa what was that? So I begged my mom for six or eight months to let me play the sax and she finally caved one summer right before fourth grade and I haven’t put it down since and it’s been 18 or 19 years now. The blues side of this came in sixth grade because that’s when jazz band started and we would open all of the rehearsals with 12 bar blues and everyone would get a solo which definitely was the highlight of my day even though it was like 6:30 in the morning (laughs). So that’s really where it started and then I branched off into jazz because that’s where the saxophone is most present and my teacher was Chris Vadala who played with Chuck Mangione for 20 years who of course was a phenomenal jazz player. Then I went to college and found a whole bunch of styles; country, bluegrass, R & B, soul, funk; you name it and I was playing it. Then I started touring with Joe Louis Walker who is blues but does rock, gospel, funk and his own bit and he kind of brought my feet back into the blues.”
Nominated for multiple Blues Music Awards both past and present this young artist whose performances have been called, “Fiery” and “Passionate” is on the road supporting her third album titled, “Honey Up,” a true “Solo” release.
“This is my third record and it’s released on my own label. I was a little bit nervous about doing that because my second one was on an independent blues label but this third one has done much better and has done the best so far. Its spent nine weeks on the Billboard top blues album charts and numerous weeks on Sirius’s top 15 and just the reception of it has been great. I keep having fans tell me that they are listening to it on road trips from beginning to end and then they’ll restart it. They are telling me that it’s great to have a record that they can listen to from beginning to end where every song is great. That’s what I was going for which was a very light, very fun, engaging record with good lyrics and nine of the ten songs are my originals; the tenth is a fan favorite, a cover of Bonnie Raitt’s, “Love Me Like a Man.”
The blues were born from misery and despair in the deltas and fields of the south; real gut wrenching outlets for the oppressed and enslaved. Over the years the music has morphed into various styles and done from different perspectives. Those early blues musicians had scars, lives full of strife and lyrics seemingly came naturally; so what does Collier write about given her lack of deep scar tissue?
“A lot of stuff, some of it’s social issues; like on my new record I’ve got a song called,“The Fault Line” which is kind of like, hey we are standing on this line where the earthquake happens where the earth tends to split and what I mean by that is that we seem to be going in a more polarized direction. So it’s really difficult to have a conversation with someone if you don’t agree with them and I think that is a really perilous place to be. I think that at the end of the day we should be able to listen to each other and find the middle ground and work from there despite our disagreements and despite what we each may think about what is right and wrong. So a lot of it is just my hopes for a better world, a better place to be, a nicer place to be and professing kindness; that’s always my thing. As most musicians are, we’re all kind of pacifists and we want the world to be a peaceful place.So that’s some of it; some of it is about relationship stuff. My first record was very much because my heart was broken, young love, first love but it still breaks your heart; so my songwriting can come from kind of anywhere. Songs about being on a record label and what that’s like, that’s, “Honey Up,” honestly that’s that song and it was kind of like, yeah, this is not for me.”
A not so long ago impromptu jam session on a blues cruise with the great Buddy Guy is counted among her highlights but who does she claim as influences?
“There’s so many, it’d probably be between Bonnie Raitt with her early delta stuff and kind of the mix of New Orleans blues that she threw in there; I think she’s extraordinary. As a singer she’s so evocative and gives me goose bumps every time and then her slide guitar playing to me is awesome; so it’s her and Freddie King. He is a ball of energy, I understand why they call him “The Texas Cannonball;” monstrous voice, monstrous player and when I watch his live videos he’s the one person I wish that I could’ve seen live. I haven’t even thrown B.B. in there and he’s one of my favorites too because he fits all the genres; blues and all of its offshoots too.”
An 8 p.m. June 1 show at The Levoy Theater where she is the opening act is followed by a show in Maryland and then over to Pennsylvania for some festival circuit work before heading west. So what can we expect at the Levoy?
“I’m doing a duo set with a guitar player named Laura Chavez and she’s phenomenal; throw any genre at her and she’s quite comfortable. I like everything to be pretty high energy so it’s going to be nice because it’s going to be a little more intimate of a set and you’ll actually get to hear the lyrics which sometimes get lost in a band setting. I’m very excited to share mostly originals, upbeat stuff and we’re gonna dance and groove and have a good time. Often as an opener you’ve got to cut down your band a little bit and I’m super excited to hear the Dirty Dozen Brass Band!”
Once the eastern U.S. is in the books; what does the future hold for this incredible artist?
“The tour has been awesome so far! Last October we traveled to some new markets and we’re about to start a tour on the west coast from the Seattle area on down to southern California and I’m very, very excited about that.”
“We do about 150 shows a years so I’d like to be doing that or maybe 200 and I’d like to be writing a lot of music; that’s kind of where my gift is. I’d like to write not only for myself but for other artists as well and hopefully touring Europe and have another two or maybe three more records out. I hope to continue to find my voice in writing and in playing I want to continue pushing the envelope to see what the instrument is capable of.”
To discover more about the great Vanessa Collier or purchase tickets to any of her shows, please visit www.vanessacollier.com.