Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard Skelly was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper
on May 27, 1998. All rights reserved
Meet Long, Tall, Marcia Ball
Central New Jersey fans of blues, zydeco, and cajun
music can sample a bit of the music and food of southwest Louisiana
on Sunday, May 31, when Michael Arnone’s ninth annual Crawfish
comes to northwest New Jersey.
Arnone’s event, now in its second year at Waterloo Village in
drew a crowd of several thousand last year, most of whom were able
to sample the food, beer, and music without letting any of these
get the best of them.
Food vendors at the festival, which Arnone promises are expanded in
number from last year, to avoid long lines, will include boiled
crawfish etouffee, alligator sausage, boudin, jambalaya, red beans
and rice, fried catfish, and shrimp creole. For those not enamored
of the hot and spicy food of New Orleans, there are also hot dogs
The musical lineup this year not only includes Buckwheat Zydeco, a
perennial favorite at the Crawfish Festival, but also File, a Cajun
band, "Long Tall" Marcia Ball, and the Radiators, the latter
a band emblematic of New Orleans roots rock ‘n’ roll.
Yet it is the pianist and singer-songwriter "Long Tall" Marcia
Ball who finds herself in an enviable position these days. Her latest
album for the Boston-based Rounder Records, "Let Me Play With
Your Poodle," is still selling, and she’s just released a
with two other women singers of some renown, Irma Thomas ("The
Soul Queen of New Orleans"), and Tracy Nelson, formerly lead
with Mother Earth. The trio’s album, "Sing It!" is doing well
on the radio and in stores.
Last year in Philadelphia, Ball took time out from her concert
to reflect on her life and times. She was born Marcia Mouton in
Texas, in 1949, and raised just across the border in Vinton,
She says her earliest awareness of blues music came by way of the
radio, and her aunt and grandmother were both piano players, so she
had plenty of local inspiration. She began taking piano lessons at
age 5 and continued until she was 14. By the time she stopped taking
piano lessons — but continuing to play piano — Ball was
to the singing styles of Etta James and Irma Thomas. She entered
State University in the late 1960s as an English major and began
in a psychedelic blues-rock band called Gum. It was then that she
began writing songs and experimenting with guitar.
"I never bought a record until I was 20 years old and
Ball says, "there were a few records we had around the house when
I was growing up that were very classy, like Ray Charles, James Brown,
and some Dinah Washington. I remember checking an Odetta record out
of the library in Vinton." Ball recalls that Odetta taught a whole
new generation of women who didn’t have a high voice that they could
still sing in the lower registers. "For years, in order to sing,
you had to be like Julie Andrews," she says.
Ball has since become one of the most talented blues songwriters on
the circuit. With her crack backup band, she alternates between
blues like "Hot Tamale Baby," and Texas blues songs like Ivory
Joe Hunter’s, "Let Me Play With Your Poodle." All the while,
she’s singing and pounding out splendid, soulful, complicated piano
solos on her electric Yamaha. But for Ball, the most satisfying aspect
of the business of being an entertainer is the songwriting process.
"The songwriting process has always been the most fulfilling part
of the business for me.
"I’m always keeping my eyes and ears open for things I might hear
or see," says Ball. "Austin is a great town if you’re a
lots of people there are constantly writing good songs. And you feel
like a dolt if you’re not out there writing songs with them."
— Richard J. Skelly
Village, Stanhope, 212-539-8830. With Marcia Ball, Buckwheat Zydeco,
The Radiators, File, and Smokin’ Section. $20 adult; under 14 free.
Sunday, May 31, noon to 7:30 p.m.
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