Marcia Ball has had a chameleon career, starting in the 1960s with rock and roll and now bringing bluesy R&B to her return to the Payomet Performing Arts Center in North Truro. Check out that pick for a gig this weekend below, and here are three more. (For even more music options, check out our online calendar at www.capecodtimes.com/calendar):
► The Cape Cod Melody Tent in Hyannis reopens for a busy summer season with a concert at 8 p.m. Friday by country star Billy Currington, who scored 11 No. 1 singles and named his latest album as we all like to think of it: “Summer Forever”. https://melodytent.org/
► San Francisco Bay Area blues band Rick Estrin & The Nightcats, two-time Blues Music Award winners for Band of the Year, will perform at 8 p.m. Friday at The Music Room, 541 Main St., West Yarmouth; https://www.musicroomcapecod.com/
► Portland-based chamber orchestra Palaver ropes will present a program of music from their latest album, “Ready or Not,” when the tour stops at 3 p.m. Sunday at the Cape Cod Cultural Center, 307 Old Main St., South Yarmouth. https://www.cultural-center.org/
Kathi Scrizzi Driscoll
Marcia Ball plays Payomet
Marcia Ball knows how to make the most of her time.
Along with her successful musical career that dates back to the 1960s and garnered her five Grammy nominations and numerous other awards and nominations, the pianist and singer actively gives back to her community of musicians. She co-founded the non-profit organization HOME – Housing Opportunities for Musicians and Entertainers – which pays rent and utilities for older musicians in need in the Austin, Texas area where Ball is based.
The entertainer will bring her hospitable southern attitude and soulful sound to Cape Cod on Saturday, June 4 when she returns to the Payomet Performing Arts Center.
“We’re so happy to be back,” Ball said. “We have been doing Payomet for years and I look forward to being there every year. We love the crowd there.
A chameleon musical career
Ball and his band have slowly ramped up tour dates over the past year and now have an extended schedule ahead of them that includes Cape Town. They came out for a shorter stint last October and another in February.
“We dove into it,” Ball says. “The contact with the people was so moving and still is. Their reaction to (playing us), their relief and their gratitude and their ability to go out and be with other people is nothing short of remarkable.
Ball has played at the Cape “every year for a long, long time” and wishes he could stay longer each time he visits, but the life of a touring musician doesn’t allow that. Life on the road and changing venues are not unheard of for Ball, however, nor is a change in musical style.
In the 1960s, Ball started in a rock and roll cover band in her home state of Louisiana, playing the music of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, she says, plus “a bit of blues” because of the where they were.
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She then moved to Austin in 1970 where she “fell in love” with country music and a burgeoning shift in the genre taking place there.
“It was at a time, in the early 70s, when this movement, this genre called ‘progressive country’ started,” she explains. “Willie Nelson came back to Austin and we were hippies playing country music, that’s basically what it was. We had a band that was a long hair band playing country music in little country bars, totally crossing lines that had never been crossed before.
After getting to grips with the country genre, Ball was “walking around” with her musical style until 1980, when she decided she had to figure out what she was going to do next. She eventually made the decision to go back to her roots and play more R&B.
“Because I’m a pianist, that’s what I had to do,” she says. “Country was something I learned to do, but R&B and soul music was what I grew up with and knew.”
Ball’s chameleon musical career led her to sign with Capitol Records in 1977 to release her country-rock debut album “Circuit Queen,” to her final release in 2018 titled “Shine Bright” which featured a bluesy R&B sound.
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She’s even collaborated with New Orleans soul singer Irma Thomas, whom she credits as a major influence since seeing Thomas perform at the Municipal Auditorium in New Orleans when she was 13.
“She’s the first woman I’ve ever seen on stage running the show, strutting around on stage and being the boss,” Ball said. “It was quite impressive.”
Helping musicians in need
Despite not having a full tour schedule due to COVID-19 concerns for the past two years, Ball has remained busy with HOME and other projects. Since its creation in 2012, HOME has helped 21 musicians who needed help.
In the past, she and her partners have helped raise money to pay for housing by playing gigs and recording music, Ball says. But HOME is now taking on the challenge of finding homes for them by “banding together with other nonprofits around (Austin) to meet the housing need.”
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When asked if the need has increased during the pandemic, Ball was quick to respond.
“Certainly,” she said. “For a while we received a very generous donation directed to the immediate needs of those affected by the pandemic, so we distributed over 100 emergency grants of $500. It is very necessary and we are very happy to be able to do it.
Ball has also been working on releasing a musical with Pulitzer Prize-winning author Lawrence Wright, based on a play he wrote about Texas politics. The show has the working title “Mr. Texas.”
But it all comes down to Ball’s music. Laughing, she attributes her long career to “good luck” and her choice of music.
“There’s just something about this style of music that I’ve been pursuing, R&B and Louisiana soul music, that’s sort of eternal. It’s happy music,” she says. “I think on the one hand I’m not taken seriously as a songwriter because I don’t carry my soul, but on the other hand I can make people happy with my music and I think that it’s something that people have responded to.”
To see Marcia Ball
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, June 4
Where: Payomet Performing Arts Centre, 29 Old Dewline Road, North Truro
Tickets: $38, members $35
Reservations and information: https://payomet.org