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Interview: Australian Blues Vocalist Dee Lavell

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Q: When did you begin to sing? Who were your musical inspirations?

A: It wasn't until I was in my 20s when friends started to tell me that I had a good voice and ought to go and get with a band. I loved soul and funk music, especially the black female singers, so I listened to the greats like Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan, and Luther Vandross, but I also loved the great jazz singers as well - Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, and Billie Holiday. I was also influenced greatly by Linda Ronstadt due to her powerful voice, great pitch, and eclectic styles. I was also influenced greatly by an Australian singer by the name of Renée Geyer, and although being “a white Jewish girl" to quote her, she had the voice reminiscent of great singers who influenced me.

Q: Was your family musically active? Describe the environment in which you two were raised.

A: As a young wife, my mother loved to play piano and also loved to sing in the choir, so it was a must that music was an influence in our family. My brother plays guitar beautifully and my niece and nephew are very talented musically. I was introduced to music at the age of 7 when I began to learn to play piano. Music was one of my main elective subjects, and I enjoyed the classes in which we would follow an entire score through as we listened along to a concerto or symphony. My teacher encouraged me to play cello but after a few years of lugging it on the school bus I decided to give it up and learn flute. So I had quite an in-depth musical beginning but was never encouraged to sing by teachers or family; it was those friends around me who nudged me on. I am so grateful for the people in my life who encourage, and I do the same thing with others in whatever gifting or talents they have.

Q: How did you become interested in the blues?

A: I started to really 'feel' blues music when I stared to write my own songs. Even though I have been singing soul, jazz, R&B and funk for over 25 years, I was not successful in writing songs. It wasn't until I went through life-changing events that I felt the urge to express ideas in songs. I went through infertility, menopause, adoption of special-needs children, moving the family back to Australia, losing my father to Parkinson's disease in 2008, caring for my mother who was diagnosed with inoperable breast cancer and losing her to the disease in 2011. Then also experiencing new love and heartache gave me plenty of fodder to put into songs. There's definitely more songs to come out of all of those experiences.

Q: You were based in Los Angeles for ten years. How did that come about, and were you still a member of the Honeybees at the time?

A: I moved to Los Angeles in 2000 when I fell in love and married a native Los Angelean. I married late in life and decided to put my energies into being a wife and perusing parenthood; therefore, I put music on hold. I did, however, become involved in singing in the church we were attending and got to actually be a part of a music team with ex-Motown producers Frank Wilson and Clay Drayton. The musicians part of that team also included Cassandra O'Neal, Paul Jackson, Jr., Laythan Armor, and some amazing singers. I still had the opportunity to sing background with a few other great local artists including Niki J. Crawford, a fantastic singer/songwriter. The Honeybees are no longer together.

Q: Who would you like to work with?

A: If I had the opportunity to work with any really high echelon artists, I would like to work with Bonnie Raitt. I also love to work with Quincy Jones and Prince. I have a love of so many different styles of music.

Q: Describe how you felt performing on stage in front of many people for the first time?

A: The early days of performing bring up a lot of different feelings, especially when you're trying to learn so much quickly and you have to think really quick on your feet so the feelings of performing in front of a lot of people include both excitement and nervousness.

Q: What was your best fan response?

A: I would have to say the first time that I actually sang my very own original songs live and seeing people really really enjoyed it. It absolutely blew my mind, a very humbling moment.

Q: What do you hope people come away with after listening to Mama Told Me?

A: I hope people listen to my album and enjoy quality music. I hope they also might think a little deeper, and I also hope people will relate to things I sing about.

Q: How would describe the blue scene in Australia?

A: Although I'm fairly new to the blues scene I find that there are a lot of people who love the blues and are very supportive of the music and the artists. There are a number of blues festivals throughout Australia, and it's still a very popular genre of music.

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