It had been five years since my last conversation with singer, songwriter and pianist Marcia Ball when she was slated to appear at Kents Hill School, so when I discovered that she was returning to our fair state for a performance at the Opera House at Boothbay Harbor on Saturday, Aug. 31, I decided that I should touch bases with her once more. When I reached her at home in Austin, Texas, Ball acknowledged that she had just returned home after a 10-day stint over to the West Coast and back touring in support of her latest Alligator Records release, “Shine Bright,” which came out in April 2018. I asked if she was working on a follow-up for that CD and she declared that she and her band were not “bored” with the songs on most recent album, so there was no follow-up project planned at this point. All was going well until her phone started acting up and before it cut out completely, Ball promised to call me right back once she’d figured out what was wrong.

Ball: Hi, this is Marcia — my phone got so hot that it just quit working, it’s over 100-degrees here in Austin, so I took it into the house to cool it down. It just came back on — I’m so sorry about making you wait. I guess it’s time to upgrade.

Q: Well, technology is a wonderful thing — when it works. But we’re talking now, so everything is good. Now, I noticed while reading your bio that we share the same birth year.
Ball: Uh-huh.

Q: Yeah, it’s my 70th year of life and my 50th year as a music journalist.
Ball: And my 50th year of music — actually band-type music — it’s been 65 years of playing the piano.

Q: Now, the style of playing you do, is that called “barrel house”?
Ball: Well, I’ve played that but I really kind of play the New Orleans rhythm and blues style now with the band. There’s bits of barrel house and stride and boogie woogie and zydeco and Cajun and the blues, so there’s just a lot of different elements of music all accomplished by the music I grew up with on the Gulf Coast of Louisiana and Texas.

Q: Speaking of coasts, you’re heading up to the Maine coast soon and I know you’ve played in Rockland at the North Atlantic Blues Festival, but have you ever performed in Boothbay Harbor before?
Ball: I might have one time — I’m not real sure if I’ve played at the Opera House there, but I have at the Camden Opera House. One of my favorite gigs was a fundraiser we played one time on Vinalhaven — that was a great few days. They let us come early and stay late, so we had about three days on Vinalhaven and that was spectacular.

Q: Yeah, there is something special about the coast of Maine, for sure. Now earlier you implied that you weren’t planning your next recording — does it take you a while to get the songs written?
Ball: Well, once I decide it’s time, I pretty much go to it. I write better with a deadline. What happens is I start collecting the information. I start writing down phrases that I hear, and I’ve already started doing that, so I know that it is imminent and when I decided that it’s time, I got at it with a vengeance.

Q: Speaking of songs, what will you be doing — set-list wise — up in Boothbay?
Ball: Well, we’ll be doing a lot of the songs from the new record in the middle of the set, but we start with a few songs that are kind of like warm-ups: songs that energize for the opener. Then sometimes we do a couple of older songs and then we do a bunch of songs from the new record. And in the absence of making a new record on writing a whole bunch of new songs, I’ve been kind of digging into the older catalogue for songs we haven’t been doing very regularly that I miss doing and like. So, that’s kind of what we’ve been doing. We end up with a couple of ballads or a ballad and an up-tempo {one}.

Q: Is there anything, Marcia, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article about your impending show in Boothbay Harbor?
Ball: Well, I just hope people come out and we’re going to show them a good time. I have a wonderful band — I think I may have the best band that I’ve ever had — it’s really fun to play with them.

Q: Now your band line-up is Don Bennett on bass, Mike Schermer on guitar, Eric Bernhardt on sax, and Corey Keller on drums; and I just have to ask, how long has the oldest member been with you?
Ball: By the time we get to Boothbay it’ll be 38 years.

Q: Really? Wow!
BALL: (Laughing) Yeah, he started in September of ’81.

Q: I’ll be darned! And the youngest member has been with you how long?
Ball: About four or five years, I think. Eric, the sax player, is the newest guy, and my guitar player’s been with me for about 10 years now. And my drummer’s been with me maybe 12 years this time.

Q: This time?
Ball: He’s been with me twice (laughter), he played for a while and then he didn’t and now he’s back.

Q: Now, is there anything, Marcia, that we haven’t discussed that you think we should?
Ball: I don’t think so, I think we’ve covered it all.

Lucky Clark has spent 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.


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