Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Nona Hendryx: Leading lady

Nona Hendryx
Nona Hendryx Labelle

Now in her sixth decade of being in the music industry, Nona Hendryx has earned her place in the musical fabric that has moved and shaped the world. From The Bluebelles, to Labelle, to her own solo career and collaborations, Nona Hendryx has transcended time and genres, been high and low, and still remained gracious and humble. On a recent trip to London Ms Hendryx spoke with Blues & Soul’s sweet boy Ricardito about her current musical interests, her reaction to Patti LaBelle’s tell-all autobiography, and a Pam Grier beat-down.

B&S: Tell us about the Ready Steady Go! and Out of This World events
NH: Vicki Wickham (Ready Steady Go!'s original editor, legendary TV producer and Dusty Springfield's manager), asked for me to be a part of it, and Ray Davies (Kinks lead singer is this year's Meltdown director) also asked for me to be on it. It was a fantastic evening brimming with an electricity in the air. It was the people involved, the people who were putting it on, and the people South Bank were just great. I was really excited and glad to be a part of it.

For Out of This World one of the people involved got in touch with me through Facebook and told me a bit about it, and asked if I was interested and available. She sent me some more information, and talked about George Clinton and Janelle Monae, and what it is all about. I thought this was pretty right up my street in terms of Labelle, and basically being the group that started the space-like-futuristic type clothing, so I thought it was appropriate.

B&S: Have you worked with George Clinton before?
NH: Very funny story. Before George became “George Clinton” he lived in New Jersey and so did I and he used to cut my hair (laughs). I know I was living dangerously even then (laughs). There is a photo of George and I taken about 30 years ago, and he has these gigantic scissors, and he is pretending to cut my hair; yes George was my hair stylist.

B&S: What are your thoughts on Janelle Monae
NH: I discovered her a few years ago before anyone caught on when she was performing on a television show, and I thought she was fantastic, she had great energy, moved well and was theatrical. I saw her last summer opening for Erykah Badu, and I looked at her work and what she has been doing the whole Arch Android theme. I think it’s great; it has the same kind of excitement as Lady Gaga. There are others on the same wavelength like The Noisettes, but they were unavailable. Also Tinnie Tempah, I saw him in New York on David Letterman Show at an after party they had. There are lots of interesting young bands in America, more part of the Afro Punk movement; I think Janelle Monae is doing their big festival this summer with Cee-Lo. It’s called Afro-Punk but there are all kinds of music involved from hip-hop to hip-rock.

B&S: Do you have any musical dislikes?
NH: The only thing that falls into that category would be music to ‘Carousel’ or ‘Oklahoma!’ I pretty try to avoid musical t heater, it is not for me. Although I love ‘Sweeny Todd’ I am not that much into musical theatre. Although I am creating a rock opera….I have a love hate relationship with [musical theatre]. It’s a sci-fi mystery musical, it’s not your average rock opera or musical theatre. Its based on one of my albums ‘Skin Diver’ and its actually called ‘Skin Diver’.

B&S: Are there other music genres you’d like to try?
NH: Hmmmmmmm I don’t know, I have done so many hybrids of music. I just did an album with Cassandra Wilson, Esperanza Spalding, and Geri Allen. I think probably blues will be the next thing. The other night at the Jazz Café (London) [I did] for the first time a blues song, and we did a song by B.B.King and it went down well, so maybe that maybe something I will try.

B&S: At one point you were the main writer for Labelle, like a Lennon or McCartney. What was that like? Was there pressure or more freedom?
NH: Really at that time there was no pressure to write big hits; Labelle was really an album group. It was still kind of that period where artists were releasing albums that had a thread woven through it. So the things that I wrote for Labelle were much more about what we could perform, and because we had always been a performance group we had had kinda hits, but our success and audiences were built on our live performances not really so much on radio success or record sales. So my writing for Labelle was really about writing music, and discovering and learning that as a process, and then writing things that I thought Labelle would perform really well live.

B&S: What were your initial thoughts when you heard that Patti LaBelle was writing her autobiography? Was it to call your lawyer or joy that finally your story was being told?
NH: (laughs) My initial thought was I hope she remembers (laughs). I don’t remember everything, it wasn’t so much a concern more I wondered what she would remember after so long. It wasn’t like it was10 or 15 years ago, it was 20 or 25 years later. Also I wanted to know who was going to write it with her, as that is not Patti’s strength so that was the only concern, as to how the person would shape what was said.

B&S: If there was one trait, talent, or feature you could have from former manager Vicki Wickham, what would it be?
NH: Honesty. She will always tell you what she thinks.

B&S: So you have worked with Pam Grier a number of times in the past. If the two of you were to have a fight today, who would win?
NH: (laughs) hmmm…well she is bigger than me. its true I can move faster, but she rides horses so might catch me. Let me think…hmmmmm I think Pam would win, I think she is pretty fierce and quite strong but I can out sing her (laughs)

B&S: What are the best and the worst parts of the music industry in your experience?
NH: The best part has been making music, entertaining people, and finding a way that is capable of moving another person. The worst part is that it’s a way I make a living.

The Final three for three.
Three songs you wish you had written:
‘Lady Marmalade’ of course, wish I had written that (laughs). ‘Imagine’ or a Beatles Song, and ‘Whats Going On’ by Marvin Gaye.

Three songs that take you back to your childhood.
‘Blueberry Hill’ by Fats Domino, ‘Johnny Be Good’ by Chuck Berry, and ‘Blue Suede’ Shoes by Elvis Presley.

What are the three songs to get you buckwild on the dance floor
‘Got to Give It Up’ Marvin Gaye, ‘How Do you Want It’ by TuPac Shakur, ‘The Same Thing’ by Sly & The Family Stone.
Words Richard 'Ricardito' Ashie

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