Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1099

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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 & Soulâs sweet boy Ricardito about her current musical interests, her reaction to Patti LaBelleâs 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 âGeorge Clintonâ 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 itâs 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. Itâs 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 âCarouselâ or âOklahoma!â I pretty try to avoid musical t heater, it is not for me. Although I love âSweeny Toddâ I am not that much into musical theatre. Although I am creating a rock operaâ¦.I have a love hate relationship with [musical theatre]. Itâs a sci-fi mystery musical, itâs not your average rock opera or musical theatre. Its based on one of my albums âSkin Diverâ and its actually called âSkin Diverâ.

B&S: Are there other music genres youâd like to try?
NH: Hmmmmmmm I donât 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 donât remember everything, it wasnât so much a concern more I wondered what she would remember after so long. It wasnât 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 Pattiâs 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) hmmmâ¦well she is bigger than me. its true I can move faster, but she rides horses so might catch me. Let me thinkâ¦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 itâs a way I make a living.

The Final three for three.
Three songs you wish you had written:
âLady Marmaladeâ of course, wish I had written that (laughs). âImagineâ or a Beatles Song, and âWhats Going Onâ by Marvin Gaye.

Three songs that take you back to your childhood.
âBlueberry Hillâ by Fats Domino, âJohnny Be Goodâ by Chuck Berry, and âBlue Suedeâ Shoes by Elvis Presley.

What are the three songs to get you buckwild on the dance floor
âGot to Give It Upâ Marvin Gaye, âHow Do you Want Itâ by TuPac Shakur, âThe Same Thingâ by Sly & The Family Stone.
Words Richard 'Ricardito' Ashie

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