Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1101

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Beth Hart: Hart To Heart

Beth Hart Photo
Beth Hart Photo Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa Beth Hart Beth Hart

A first for my blues column - devoting “Simon Redley's Bluesville” to just one artist. Ms Beth Hart; one of the greatest soul and blues voices you will hear today.

A singer-songwriter I tipped for greatness in the very first Bluesville column. LA-based Beth has gone from the odd small UK club gig, to selling out Shepherds Bush Empire, playlisted on Radio 2 and charting here. Superstar guitarist Joe Bonamassa was so blown away by her voice, he asked her to cut a record with him.

“Don’t Explain” came out in September 2011, a collection of glorious soul and blues covers written or sung by Billie Holiday, Etta James, Ray Charles, Bill Withers, Aretha Franklin and others. It charted in 10 countries including the UK.

The pair has re-united to deliver the stunning “Seesaw,” - Beth’s 11th album - after the evergreen Don Covay/Steve Cropper-penned Aretha smash. They also tackle songs by Donny Hathaway, Etta James, Billie Holiday, Ike and Tina Turner, Nina Simone and others.

I caught up with Beth at her LA home to talk about the new CD, her amazing “lucky to be alive” life story, being jailed, her battle with drugs and booze addiction, suicide attempts and self harm, the stays in psychiatric hospitals and her fairly recent diagnosis of bi-polar disorder.

But first; that sparkling gem of an album “Seesaw,” released here and across Europe on 20th May. She absolutely nails a cover of “Nutbush City Limits,” which was thrown at her on the last day of recording, with just half an hour for her to learn it. The title track is simply sensational, but Beth begged them not to put it on the CD, as she explained: “Of all the songs that was the one I felt the most ashamed when I heard it back. I begged Kevin (the producer) and Joe, ‘do not put this on the record.’ I said I can’t sing it. I ended up doing it in the original key of Aretha, and did not plan to do that as I thought it too high for me, and thought I sounded like a cat! “But I was trying to hear myself do it like Aretha. And no one is gonna sound like Aretha, right?”

Putting Beth and Joe together might be kind of like the first time some hairy-arsed cave man felt, when he rubbed a piece of flint on the wall, and a bloody great spark flew out and set his hair alight! Pure magic. A unique chemistry.

From today’s success, we turn back the clock to Beth’s early days in the business, her two albums with Atlantic Records and when her world crashed and burned, as she was on the verge of stardom.

She had won the US TV show “Star Search,” the forerunner to The X Factor and American Idol. She was signed by mega producer David Foster and to Atlantic. She released “Immortal” in 1996, and scored a major hit with “Am I The One,” and then in 1999 she dropped “Screamin’ For My Supper,” which featured the smash hit “LA Song (Out Of This Town.)” But success and fame were short lived when her drink and drug addiction, along with undiagnosed bi-polar disorder, saw her life spiral out of control. She lost her Atlantic record deal - and almost her life...........................

Beth recalls her childhood troubles. “I was always drinking and doing drugs. I was 12 when I took my first drugs. The doctors told my mother there is something mentally wrong with your daughter. I was taking things to try to make myself feel better. My first taste of so called ‘fame’ on “LA Song,” a big hit for me here in the States, was a big trigger for bi-polar. I went full blown on a very addictive medication.”

She recalls one of her lowest moments. “I got really sick. I was in and out hospital for a year and a half. Then I thought; it is all over. I blew it......................"

Beth was in and out of psychiatric wards (seven in one year) and rehab’, and her weight plummeted at the height of her abuse. “I looked like someone from the holocaust; my body was just bones.” She also had agoraphobia and couldn’t leave the house, and she suffered from bulimia since she was 12. She decided enough was enough when she ended up behind bars for suspected drink driving, but they found no booze in her system and she was released after a night in jail. She had been high on drugs, but they didn’t test for that.

Fighting fit now, she appeared on “Later....with Jools Holland” last year. In December 2012, she gave a show stealing performance with Jeff Beck on the Etta James song “I’d Rather Go Blind,” at the “Kennedy Center Honors” in tribute to blues legend Buddy Guy. President Obama, Aretha Franklin and a host of mega stars were there, and at The Whitehouse reception and dinner that Beth attended with her husband.

Despite past demons, 41-year-old Beth Hart is a happy girl today. “F*ck I’m happy. I’m grateful. I am thankful for the way my life has been. I’ve had a lot more joy than I have sadness, and the sadness I have had; I hope I have been learning from.”

“There’s no way to properly articulate to you my awareness of how fortunate I am to be alive. You gotta rejoice in the joy and the pain of it all.” Yeah, she’s definitely been on that seesaw alright.

Read the full interview with Beth in the Summer 2013 issue of Blues & Soul magazine now.

“Seesaw” is out now on the Provogue label


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