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John Peel OBE, 1939 - 2004

Red Lick Records



 

 

Early Blues Interview
Cherry Lee Mewis,
singer/songwriter
 

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"Cherry Lee Mewis is a twenty-four-year old female singer-songwriter from North Wales with a voice that means business ..... Cherry betrays her age with performances of some of the most gritty songs from places so far removed from North Wales and from a time that bears no resemblance to that of today. I'm pleasingly reminded of early Janis Joplin or at the very least the late Jo Ann Kelly .... "
Extract from review of Cherry's latest album 'Southbound Train' by Allan Wilkinson, Northern Sky

"There are not too many young women around on the British blues scene and still fewer capable of making one of the finest and more original albums to come out of the UK that I have heard for a good while. Cherry Lee has a fine voice and mixes up vintage jug band sounds, fifties skiffle, hillbilly bogie, pre-war blues, diva-ish jazz and just a slight dash of rock'n'roll and soul to make a very individual approach, generally close enough to a traditional blues sound to be categorised as such, but sufficiently distinctive to be far more than worth a cursory listen ...."
Extract from review of Cherry's latest album 'Southbound Train' by Norman Darwin, Blues & Rhythm
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 Copyright 2010 Andrew Lock. All Rights Reserved.Alan:    What are your first musical memories growing up in North Wales?

Cherry:  Being 8 years old and starting a girl group in school and we used to practise every lunchtime in the playground and charge kids 5p to sit and watch us!! I wrote our songs, if you could call them that and was very bossy with the other members, sometimes they didn't want to practise and I would say things like "we have to, we're never going to get famous if we don't!" 

Alan:    Did you come from a musical family?

Cherry:  No! There was always music around and I remember my mum playing Motown cassettes in the car and my dad playing records all the time in the house and I was really into the girl group Eternal, which was the main reason I started a girl group in school but I just remember turning to my mum one day and saying "I want to sing" so I did and so then I started to perform on any stage that would have me! But no one played or sang in my family. 

Alan:    Did you always want to become a singer?

Cherry:  For as long as I can remember, I played violin and piano from a young age but annoyingly didn't continue, saying that I did start to dabble with piano again later on. I was a Michael Jackson fan from around 4 years old I think, and then Easther Bennett the lead singer in Eternal was a big influence on me .. as soon as I knew I wanted to sing, I've gone for every opportunity that came my way and just got out there and learnt my craft.  

Alan:    How did you get started in music?

Cherry:  I started by doing talent shows between the ages of 9-11, just as a way for getting out there on stage and gaining some experience with audiences and developing my confidence. From the age of 12, my dad took me to our local music shop and we got to know the guy who ran it and my dad bought my first PA system from him including a good ol' tape deck for all my backing tracks that I was starting to build up! Turned out that he was actually a pub/club singer and he invited my dad and I to one of his gigs and got me up to sing ... it was in a grotty pub and I was only 12 but it made me want to start doing my own gigs all the same!

Being from North Wales, there's a lot of holiday camps and so my mum and I would go round them all and try to get gigs and before I knew it I had a summer season booked in one of the main camps in North Wales! Word got out and I was brought to the attention of some local agencies so they started to get me gigs as well. So I worked the pub and club scene right through from aged 12 til I left home at 22 ... I got involved with my local radio station after winning a talent competition they organised when I was 9, and started doing radio roadshows with them all over Wales which was great fun. Not to mention appeared on some TV shows which will no doubt surface one day! 

 Copyright 2011 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.Alan:    What kind of material were you playing in the early days?

Cherry:  I was on my own, I didn't have a band then, so I had backing tracks and I would do covers ... I realised that a lot of the other acts on the circuit were doing the 60's and 70's material but I wanted to do chart stuff! All kinds of styles from Janis Joplin and 4-Non Blondes, to Shania Twain and Alicia Keys! It's great to explore different styles with your voice, and that's where I learnt my craft and learnt to sing different styles and use my voice differently, oh and deal with lager louts and learn how to work a crowd! 

Alan:    What first attracted you to the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

Cherry:  My dad's records! Growing up, I was into the songs my friends at school were into and followed the charts, but then there was stuff from way back that none of my friends would listen to but I'd hear it around the house and love it. I got into Janis Joplin and from reading about her influences, Bessie Smith being one, it introduced me to the sounds of Bessie herself, then Memphis Minnie, Robert Johnson, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Otis Redding and I'd ask my dad "have you got anything by Blind Lemon Jefferson?" or any artists I was checking out at the time and he always would have records by them! I think it's important to know where things come from. All music evolved from blues. 

Alan:    Who are your favourite blues artists (both old and new)?

Cherry:  Mississippi Fred McDowell, Son House, Howlin' Wolf, Karen Dalton, Judy Roderick, there are so many! I also love Ike & Tina, Etta James, Koko Taylor, Bette Midler when she played 'The Rose' in the film of the same title ... so many great artists - I'm a fan of the big powerhouse-type singers and artists that are different and really push the boundaries ... I'm a fan of songs too, not 20 minute solos all over the show, and just real good performers that entertain the crowd. Blues artists today that I really rate are the Gerry Jablonski Band, Ben Poole Band, Never The Bride - more rocky blues but I love this band and Nikki Lamborn is a fantastic singer and entertainer. 

Alan:    Who has influenced you the most in your music writing and playing?

Cherry:  Alanis Morissette has been a huge influence lyric-wise, amazing lyrics and her Jagged Little Pill album was one of the first albums I bought when I was 9! I'm a fan of story-telling lyrics, unusual lyrics and topics and Alanis's songs just blow me away. Shania Twain's Come On Over album and her Up! album too - biggest selling album by a female artist of all time. I can listen to them over and over. The voices I admire are Janis Joplin, Jeff Buckley and also an amazing soul singer Marsha Ambrosius. I'm into so many different styles of music and listen to all sorts - like anyone learning an instrument growing up, you're eager to be able to sing/play lots of varied things so I love belting stuff out but then also love to hold back with my voice and sing in a way that people wouldn't expect. Lots of influences but ultimately when I'm up on that stage, it's "tonight Matthew I'm Cherry Lee Mewis ..."! 

 Copyright 2011 Cherry Lee Mewis. All Rights Reserved.Alan:    In 2008 you moved to Bedford to further your career (why Bedford?) - that must have been a wrench?

Cherry:  Well when I was 17 I signed with a management company in Bedford, I sent a demo tape to them after I saw a lot of internet buzz on an artist they were managing at the time who was doing all these amazing gigs supporting chart artists yet she was unknown. And so I had a management and production deal with them. I had just passed my driving test so it worked out great, I'd bomb down the M6 & M1 in my little Metro almost every week to go and record original material and cut my teeth in the studio. I was doing pop/r'n'b material then which wasn't my preferred style but I just went with it at the time and for the whole time I was with my manager and producer, from 17 to 20 years old, I got to release my own 12-inch vinyl white label and it got into the Music Week's Urban Club Chart as highest new entry amongst artists such as Beyonce & Eminem, went on my own 24 date UK tour sponsored by non other than VK Cherry! Also did various 'Party in the Park' gigs alongside Jamelia, Lemar, Girls Aloud and so on ... it was great and I nearly got signed but it just didn't happen ... material wasn't good enough I don't think but I got introduced to my now guitarist, Max Milligan who also lives in Bedford, and we started to do acoustic gigs together. When I parted ways with my management, Max suggested I do an album with him and he asked what I'd like to do. I told him how much I love blues music and we started working on Little Girl Blue in 2007 and in October 2008 I was tired of travelling back and forth to Bedford from North Wales so I eventually moved! All my band now live in Bedford and surrounding areas so it's ideal now and the music scene here is really healthy, much more than back home! 

Alan:    Tell me about your debut album 'Little Girl Blue', how did you select the songs and what attracted you to the songs of Memphis Minnie, Robert Johnson and Jelly Roll Morton?

Cherry:  Well I always tell people that I see Little Girl Blue as a blues version of what Joss Stone did with her debut album The Soul Sessions - taking rare and hidden gems from way back to the 1900's and without changing them too much, doing our own arrangements of the songs while still keeping it real raw and dirty! A lot of the songs I chose like The Man Next Door by Koko Taylor & Keb Mo, Everybody Here Wants You by Jeff Buckley (which was actually recorded in 2005 and it's a bonus track on the album as it doesn't really fit with the other songs but I really wanted to release it), Sweet Substitute which was originally Jelly Roll's song but I'd heard the Karen Dalton version. My dad suggested I record Wade in the Water and he played me Judy Henske's version which I loved instantly. Max chose Cherrywine (which is a real crowd pleaser at gigs!) and Shame, Shame, Shame. There was one original song on there, Ugly Night that I wrote on the guitar. We just wanted a nice mix of material, showcasing the different dynamics. 

Alan:    Your second album 'Southbound Train' was released in 2010 to critical acclaim, this time with your own material, how was the recording process this time round compared to the first album?

 Copyright 2011 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.Cherry:  Well because of rearranging the 20's blues numbers on Little Girl Blue, I wanted my own songs on this album and Max (my guitarist and songwriting partner) and I soon got to work on it! Even writing stuff and gigging it before recording it which I personally like to do because you find that the song just evolves and performing it live is so much different to when you record it. I personally don't like people listening to Little Girl Blue now because when we perform those songs, 4 years on, they're so much different and I sing them better which is another reason why I would like to do a live album next.

The title track, Southbound Train was written really quickly. Max had a battered old 3-string guitar that he rescued from a skip and he came up with this great riff. He recorded it and I had it playing in my car for a couple of weeks and wrote the lyrics to it quite quickly really and it signified my move down south too! I wrote Time Limits quite a few years ago but it didn't have a melody so I came up with the chorus on the guitar and then played it to Max and he 'fancied it up'! There were also contributing writers, Drew Ford, Jo Burnett and Lindsay Scott who are so talented and Drew's song Western Star, is a popular one at gigs. The writing process does vary from song to song - I sometimes write lyrics on my own and come up with a melody straight away or Max and I will write music and lyrics together or Max will already have some music and I'll write to that - lots of different ways of bringing a song to life! 

Alan:    Are there any particular songs that you play that have special meaning to you?

Cherry:  To be honest, they all mean something special to me - you have to feel something about that song in order to perform it - sure, you can blag stuff but it's only when you get inside the song that you really perform it. I've watched singers that sing the song and then I've watched singers that sing the song. Classic example is Bette Midler at the end of the film The Rose where she does an explosive performance of Stay With Me Baby - wow. That is what being a singer is all about. 

Alan:    In 2010 you supported Walter Trout and you also performed at the Howlin' Wolf Memorial Festival in West Point Mississippi, as well as appearing as a special guest of Blind Mississippi Morris in Memphis and supporting Mud Morganfield on his UK tour (wow!), how were the experiences?

Cherry:  Amazing! To finally go out to Memphis with my dad was one thing but getting asked to do a festival - the Howlin' Wolf Festival was pretty special. I got to go to all the places I had wanted to go like Sun Studios, Stax, Graceland and then took a trip to Clarksdale in Mississippi and stayed at the Riverside Hotel which used to be a hospital and was where Bessie Smith died in 1937. The room in which she died is now a shrine to her and was just so surreal to step into. I met Howlin' Wolf's two daughters and niece at the festival - I had to pinch myself! I had an amazing bunch of musicians who were my band out there including Grammy award winning Billy Earheart on keys who plays in The Amazing Rhythm Aces and Little Richard's guitarist, Kelvin Holly!

Blind Mississippi Morris did the festival too and a few days later my dad and I were in BB King's on Beale St and found out he was playing there that night and when he learned I was there in the audience he asked me to come up and do a couple of songs with him and I was so happy to get up there and perform on that famous stage.

Mud Morganfield is fantastic and I told him when I met him that only a couple of months earlier I was standing in his late father's wooden shack in the Delta Museum in Clarksdale! Great guy and we're pleased to be supporting him again in May.

Funny story with the Walter Trout support. The original support band didn't show up to a date Walter was doing at The Stables in Milton Keynes and at 7.10pm I was gearing up for a night in front on the TV, 7.15 I got a call from The Stables venue asking if I could 'fill in'!! I grabbed some things, luckily my guitarist was on his way back from a day of teaching in London so he went straight there, I bombed my car there fully aware that I was having to go onstage at 8pm!! We did it just as a duo and it went down really well and Walter was at the side of the stage after we came off and said "loved it, you playing with us tomorrow too?!" So we got asked to do the following night at the Assembly in Leamington Spa! 

Alan:    Inevitably reviewers have made comparisons, do you see yourself as Britain's answer to Bonnie Raitt?

Cherry:  Not at all! I love Bonnie but I don't play guitar for one! Well not publicly anyway! I'll use the guitar to write songs with but I've never wanted to play guitar onstage, maybe one day who knows? Huge compliment though to be compared to her, I love her voice and songs. Everyone gets compared to artists and if Bonnie Raitt is my comparison, I ain't complaining! 

Alan:    Tell me about the band, Max Milligan, Robbie Mathews and Nick Slater, when did you all get together?

Cherry:  Well as explained in an earlier answer, Max and I met back in 2005 and after we released Little Girl Blue, we always wanted to get a band together eventually and for a bit we had ex-Argent member, John Verity (who produced LGB) playing guitar with us and also Jeff Dakin on blues harp but knew it was only a temporary set up but Max already knew Nick and Robbie and they came on board in 2008 and we haven't looked back! Nick plays his resonator guitar and Robbie plays upright stick bass. We do sometimes have a drummer, Flow, who Max and I already knew from the Music Centre in Bedford. People sometimes ask why we don't always have a drummer and it's mainly because we can go without one because of the style of the songs as it's acoustic but I have to say I am a fan of the driving beat and the fuller sound when we have all of us up onstage together. When we do festivals it's always the 5 of us. They're the fuel to the igniter - they're like family to me now and we have so much fun on the road, just watch some of the video blogs I've put on my YouTube channel! 

Alan:    Some music styles may be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do you think that is?

Cherry:  It's real, it's about real musicians and regardless of styles, it always comes down to songs, they're what lasts and talented people that write, play and perform them. You still see so-called blues fans dissing what's blues and what's not nowadays but the blues has evolved so much throughout the years, the roots are there still but the playing styles change and so on. If the music is good, that's all that matters!  

Alan:    How do you see the future of blues music?

Cherry:  Younger and younger people are picking up instruments and today's blues musicians are getting younger! It's fantastic ... having a focus on something when you're that young is brilliant. I'm a strong believer in knowing where songs came from and how it all began so to know your music history is important and I think younger people are getting curious about artists like Robert Johnson, but all in all, it's a very healthy scene and it will only continue to grow. 

Alan:    What are your future aspirations; what's in the pipeline / plans / gigs / tours / albums?

Cherry:  Can't wait for festivals to start! We've got some great ones lined up this year; Springfest this coming weekend (Sat 16th April), Scunthorpe Blues Festival, Maryport Blues Festival, Colne R'n'B Festival, Bedford Proms in the Park, Cambridge Rock Festival and so on! Plus a return trip to Memphis in 3 weeks! I'm performing on the Market St Festival in Columbus, Mississippi so I can't wait to get back out there and catch up with my friends and fellow musicians. I'm going to do a video for a new track, Man Overboard and then release it in iTunes over the summer as well .. I am interested in doing a live album, whether that will be this year or not I'm not sure...new album next year. Hopefully see you all at a festival or two in the summer!

Alan:     Cherry, thank you very much indeed.

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Cherry Lee Mewis's albums available from all good stores.

Click here for Press Release


www.cherryleemewis.com

 Copyright 2011 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright 2011 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.

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