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Sharon Lewis The Real Deal Delmark DE 816
The blues is about celebration and survival, not merely bemoaning or wallowing in misfortune. The overall tone of this disk is as celebratory as Sharon Lewis' shows. She’s not about to let negativity compromise her attitude, her thoughts, or her soul. It’s no more evident than when she discusses the controversies that have arisen over who (if anyone) should inherit the crown worn by the late Queen of the Blues, Koko Taylor. "I’m not ‘Queen’ of anything," she avows. "I’m The Real Deal."
Sharon Lewis, vocals
Bruce James, guitar
Roosevelt Purifoy, piano, organ, rhodes
Melvin Smith, bass
Tony Dale, drums
Dave Specter, guitar (solos on 1,3,9,10)
Billy Branch, harmonica (6.8)
Kenny Anderson, trumpet & horn arrangements (2,4)
Steve Berry, trombone (2,4)
Hank Ford, tenor sax (2,4)
Jerry DiMuzio, baritone sax (2,4)
Bruce James, Tony Dale & Deitra Farr, backup vocals (6,13)
1. What's Really Going On? 4:26 (Sharon Lewis)
2. The Real Deal 3:22 (Sharon Lewis)
3. Do Something For Me 3:35 (Sharon Lewis)
4. Crazy Love 4:17 (Van Morrison, Caledonia Prod. Inc./WB Music Corp., ASCAP)
5. Mother Blues 7:59 (Sam Taylor, Aradia Music Inc., ASCAP)
6. Blues Train 4:05 (Sharon Lewis)
7. Please Mr. Jailer 4:03 (Wynona Carr, Sony/ATV Songs LLC, BMI)
8. Mojo Kings 3:59 (Sharon Lewis)
9. Silver Fox 3:37 (Sharon Lewis)
10. You Can't take My Life 3:56 (Sharon Lewis)
11. Ain't No Sunshine 5:06 (Bill Withers, Interior Music Corp., BMI)
12. Don't Play That Song 3:27 (Ertegun/Nelson, Unichappell Music Inc., BMI)
13. Angel 6:46 (Sharon Lewis)
Album Production and Supervision: Robert G. Koester
Produced by Sharon Lewis and Steve Wagner
Recorded at Riverside Studio, Chicago May 23 & 24, 2011
Recorded, mixed and mastered by Steve Wagner
"It’s all blues if it comes from the heart."
Sharon Lewis has lived enough, and survived enough, to know that labels and categorizations usually have little to do with real life, let alone real music. Nurtured as a young girl in a loving but strict religious household, in which the sole purpose of music was to praise the Lord and the sole purpose of life was to serve Him, she discovered the thrill of secular music ("Ahhh! Music could be joyful without going to hell! R&B! Motown! Sam & Dave! ‘Hold On! I’m Comin’!’ Oh my god!") after moving to Oklahoma from her native Ft. Worth, Texas when she was about nine years old.
As Sharon grew up, her musical horizons continued to expand –she met Ike and Tina Turner when she was sixteen, and they invited her to join their Revue as a dancer, an invitation she turned down– but she also began to encounter some of the "stumbling blocks" that her God-fearing grandmother, Sister Maude Anna Bennett, would no doubt have counseled her to turn into "stepping stones" with the help of the Lord. Over the next few years she got married, divorced, and then fled an abusive relationship, moving from Oklahoma to Chicago, back to Oklahoma, to California, and to Chicago again in the process. During all this time, she scarcely gave the blues a thought. "The perception I had of the blues," she says, was, "You know, ‘knock my woman down, gon’ drag her back home by her hair,’ that kinda thing." But then one evening, she went to a club on the South Side of Chicago called Lee’s Unleaded Blues, and saw vocalist Patricia Scott perform.
"Oh, she turned my head around," Sharon remembers. "She took every idea that I had formed about blues, and she removed ‘em. Here’s this woman up there –and a very handsome woman, I might add, who seemed to have her **** together– talkin’ ‘bout what she’s gonna do! ‘Shot my man five times, they left him for dead / I stood over his head, raised my dress / and the man raised his head!’ I’m tellin’ you! I said, ‘Sho’ ‘nuff!’"
It wasn’t long after that that Sharon gave her first musical performance at a picnic (she sang Ike and Tina’s "Proud Mary," which she called her "magnum opus" and which remains a highlight of her shows), and over the next few years she began to establish herself around Chicago as an up-and-coming vocalist, fronting an eclectic, blues-rooted band called Under The Gun. By this time she had no problem with the word "blues," but she was adamant that she’d define them –and sing them – on her own terms. Sharon’s church background, her youthful love for R&B and Motown, and her eventual introduction, courtesy of Pat Scott, to modern soul-blues all combined to give her a determinedly eclectic view of the music she had begun to embrace as her own.
She’s no less adamant today – which brings us to the title song, and the overriding theme, of this CD. "Blues purists get on my nerves," she attests. "Thinkin’ that if it ain’t a one-four-five [chord pattern], lump-de-lump, lump-de-lump, that’s not blues."
"When I say they ain’t been where I’ve been," she continues, "they ain’t lived in my skin, they don’t know how I feel – they don’t. For somebody to just look at me and say I’m not a ‘real’ blues singer – you’ve lost your mind. You ain’t been where I’ve been. You ain’t lived in my skin. Y’know? And even if you read about me, you still don’t know how I feel."
Where Sharon has "been" might fill volumes, but she shares quite a bit of it on this CD. Her song "Angel" limns some of the more harrowing depths, as well as some the more inspiring victories, she’s experienced; conversely, the ironic bite of the topical "What’s Really Going On?" brings a sardonic bluesiness to her take on the day-to-day challenges of negotiating social and economic uncertainties, alongside personal and emotional travails. "The message in my songs," she says, "is about life. I think a lot of blues songs are about struggle and overcoming, struggle and survival. You’ve got to understand that this is a struggle; just living is a struggle. But even more importantly, the struggle comes when you decide to overcome. I remember my pastor saying, ‘You have to go through to get through.’ It’s a hard thing. Basically, I wanted the message to be about dealing with life – coping, surviving. And I think that in order to survive, you have to be real."
She chooses her cover material in a similar spirit. Van Morrison’s "Crazy Love" and the old Ben E. King hit "Don’t Play That Song" (which Aretha revived in 1970) unflinchingly stare down the emotional fires of both love and its betrayal; "Please Mr. Jailer," which Wynona Carr originally recorded in 1956, has an even more urgent story to tell. In the U.S. today, there are more young African-American men behind bars than there are in college; Sharon, who has two sons, knows all too well the sorrows that this crisis has brought about.
"If you hear the song," she points out, "You think it was written last week or last month or last year, but the song was written [over] fifty years ago. And it still applies. It’s still going on. I’m reading this book now, called The New Jim Crow [by Michelle Alexander], and it’s just saying what I’ve been saying for a long time. First of all, we’re losing voting power. They can’t get loans to further their education, some places won’t let them live there. You can’t get a decent job, you can’t have a decent place to live. We need to keep this in front of us. Because it’s still going on; it hasn’t stopped. It’s just legalized Jim Crow, and this song talks about that."
But the blues, as Sharon makes clear, is about celebration and survival, not merely bemoaning or wallowing in misfortune. The overall tone of this disk is as celebratory as Sharon’s shows – and, for that matter, as uplifting as the gospel music on which she was raised, and which she still holds dear to her heart. "I’ve lived through some treacherous times," another of her lyrics tells us, and after prevailing over those times and that treachery, she’s not about to let negativity compromise her attitude, her thoughts, or her soul.
It’s no more evident than when she discusses the controversies that have arisen in Chicago lately over who (if anyone) should inherit the crown worn by the late Queen of the Blues, Koko Taylor. Various claimants have been suggested; a few have even suggested themselves. It’s led to hard feelings in certain quarters. Sharon, though, refuses to besmirch Koko’s legacy, or her own inner peace, by being drawn into the fight. She remains determined to stay focused on what’s truly important –in music and in life– and not be distracted or corrupted by side issues.
"I’m not ‘Queen’ of anything," she avows. "I’m the real deal."
- David Whiteis, August, 2011
Sharon Lewis & Texas Fire: Real Deal (CD)
She's one of the finest vocalists on Chicago's scene, today. 'Basically, I wanted the message to be about dealing with life - coping, surviving.' Her songs are dealing with the basics of everyday life. The blend of soul, blues, and r&B delivers the perfect soundtrack for her lyrics. Excellent.
Sharon Lewis made her Delmark debut in 2007 as a special guest vocalist with Dave Specter on Live in Chicago (CD Delmark 794, DVD 1794). '...it's Sharon Lewis who provides the disc's most exciting moments. Her powerful pipes inject a strong gospel vibe into her originals 'In Too Deep' and the head-turning ballad 'Angel'.' -Blues Revue
Born in Fort Worth, Texas, Sharon's earliest musical experience was as a member of a gospel choir. She moved to Chicago permanently in 1975 and became active on the Chicago blues scene in the early 90s. In 2005 Sharon formed her own band, Texas Fire. The Real Deal features new Sharon Lewis original songs and a few covers of songs she often performs in her live shows like Van Morrison's 'Crazy Love' and Bill Withers' 'Ain't No Sunshine'.