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

Festival

comes to northwest New Jersey.

Arnone’s event, now in its second year at Waterloo Village in

Stanhope,

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

ingredients

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,

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

and hamburgers.

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

collaboration

with two other women singers of some renown, Irma Thomas ("The

Soul Queen of New Orleans"), and Tracy Nelson, formerly lead

singer

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

schedule

to reflect on her life and times. She was born Marcia Mouton in

Orange,

Texas, in 1949, and raised just across the border in Vinton,

Louisiana.

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

attracted

to the singing styles of Etta James and Irma Thomas. She entered

Louisiana

State University in the late 1960s as an English major and began

playing

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

married,"

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

zydeco-influenced

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

songwriter,

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

Michael Arnone’s Ninth Annual Crawfish Festival, Waterloo

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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