Beth Hart is one of the finest female singers on the planet. She has lived an incredible life filled with love, loss, addiction, fear, and redemption. She’s played with big time rock stars, as well as in front of the President. She can scream with the hardest of rockers, sing the sweetest melodies, and belt out the most powerful soul music you’ve ever heard. Beth has released two albums this year; “Bang Bang Boom Boom” (her newest solo effort) and “Seesaw” (her second release with guitar legend Joe Bonamassa). She’s a humble, honest woman who has triumphed over the demons that took many of her musical heroes too early in their lives. Everyone who has heard her sing is fascinated with her, and I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to talk with her.
Q - I first fell in love with your music when I saw you open for Jonny Lang back in 2000. Shortly after that, you disappeared for a little while. What happened?
A - You know, I don’t even remember being on the road with him at all. I don’t have any recollection of the “Screaming For My Supper” time period. I remember the very beginning of the tour, but I was drinking a lot. Then I started abusing a certain pharmaceutical drug that does great things for some people, but for me, it just got me really high. It made me so high that I couldn’t remember anything for about a year. I was so sick, and everything was so screwed up. When I finally got off of it, I lost my deal with Atlantic, and I had to start my life over from scratch. I didn’t get better right away. It actually got a lot worse after I stopped because my brain chemistry was so messed up.
Q - Were you still writing music through all of that?
A - I wasn’t. I stopped playing the piano; I stopped writing, and just stopped everything. The only stuff I was doing was that drug, and whatever I had to do on the road. That was really it.
Q - How influential was your husband in getting your life turned around?
A - Scott was unbelievable! I don’t want to sound so dramatic, but I prefer to be honest about it. I didn’t want to get better. I didn’t have any desire to be around, but I was too chicken to kill myself. I really didn’t want to be alive. I didn’t really care about anything, but then I spent one little night in jail. Growing up, everyone in my family was a bail bondsman. I was always going in and out of jails because of that, while we were getting people out. Suddenly, I was in jail; not for the first time, but for the first time in a long time. My family wouldn’t bail me out because they wanted to teach me a lesson, but a family friend did. Something about that night made me realize that I had had enough. The next day, I canceled all of my prescriptions that I had been forging, which was as amazing as the parting of the Red Sea. I had already been living with Scott, and we were in love, but I wasn’t a very good girlfriend. A couple weeks after I canceled the prescriptions, we took off to Vegas and got married. When we got back, I was really depressed. One day, I took a walk around Silver Lake, and stopped to talk to an antique dealer that I used to bum drug money from. I told him, “I’m not doing so good.” He said “What else is new?” I said, “You don’t understand. I don’t want to get high or anything. I just married this amazing guy. He’s fucking killer, and I have no clue what I’m doing. I’m gonna ruin his life.” He told me, “If he’s that good of a guy, then let him teach you how to treat him. Watch how he treats you and loves you, then you can do the same.” That really affected me when he said that. I figured out that I could also apply that to other things in life. If you can find a bunch of other drug addicts who don’t do that shit anymore, they can teach you how to live like you’ve never known how to. I applied that philosophy to a lot of things in my life, and it took a long time for things to get better. Things were finally going in the right direction though. I got a lot of love from my husband, and my family was really understanding and forgiving. I got really super lucky. I’m beyond blessed.
Q - Once you got back on track, you spent years releasing albums and touring in Europe. Were European audiences more into your music, or were you just more comfortable there than in the United States?
(Photo Credit by Jeff Katz)
A - I called my manager and told him that I was sober; I had been seeing a really good psychologist and I wanted to get back to making music. We worked out a deal with an independent U.S. label, and I made the “Leave the Light On” record. This record became a majorly important record for me, when it came to connecting to the songwriting and building an audience again. That audience would be Europe. The deal in the States was bullshit. They didn’t get behind the record financially, and I couldn’t tour without that support. I could tour Europe though. The labels there, starting in Holland, were incredibly supportive. The people there really jumped on the record while we were touring. It was really weird. I had toured there before but there was a different thing going on there this time. The audiences in Holland were quite large from the beginning. I played there six or seven months out of the year in big venues and it was crazy. Then it moved into Denmark and Norway shortly after that. For four years, I only played in three countries, but it was massive, and I was making a good living and putting out records. It was pretty amazing. I wanted more though. I wanted to play more places. Secretly, I wanted to play the states again. I think the reason I didn’t get things going in the States again, until recently, is that I was afraid. The experience during the “Screaming For My Supper” tour was over-the-top traumatic for me, and I think in some irrational way, I thought if I toured the States it would all happen again, and this time I would die. I think there was just a security about being in Europe, and the people there have been so good to me. Playing there has really given me a second chance, and I’ve been able to learn how to have a career without being on drugs or alcohol. I began to get frustrated though, and I started to think about why I couldn’t get over my fear, and have some faith that I won’t completely fall apart if I do it again in the States. I got angry with myself, and decided that I had to at least try. It wasn’t about being famous in the U.S. either. It was really about going back into the lion’s den, with faith that I wasn’t just gonna go in there to die. I had to have the confidence to do what I love to do, and not completely fall apart in front of my friends and family. I had to have faith in myself as an artist, and play in my country again. It was weird, because it was overnight that I got my head in the right place, and then landed a record deal in the United States. Now we just finished a sold out tour of the States!
Q - You received a lot of hype and praise after your performance with Jeff Beck at the Kennedy Center Honors in 2012. Did that make you realize that American audiences still had a lot of love for you?
A - It wasn’t even about that. It was about being able to play with Jeff in front of the President and Led Zeppelin, and especially in front of Buddy Guy. I worship Buddy Guy. It was mostly about respecting and honoring that amazing moment for him. That was the focus. I didn’t allow myself to get nervous. I get really freaked out about everything. I had to talk to myself in the mirror and say, “Listen to me dude. You are not allowed to be nervous. Don’t miss this amazing opportunity. Feel the joy, feel proud, and show up and have a blast with your husband. Take it all in. This is not about you. It’s about Buddy, and you need to do a good job for him. Period.” I kept telling myself that over and over. It was a four day event. We went to the State Department, the White House, and all of that, and I didn’t get nervous the whole time. I had the best time, and when it was all over, I didn’t even know we had gotten the standing ovation. What a wonderful experience that was! It was one of the highlights of my life.
Q - “Bang Bang Boom Boom” is an outstanding record, and it’s getting lots of buzz from critics and fans. Is this a redemption album for you?
A - I wouldn’t look at it as a redemption album, but it is an important record for me because it was the first time in my career that I switched directions as a writer. I was afraid that I was about to write the same kinds of songs I had already done. I had already done some hard rock, singer/songwriter stuff, a little bit of progressive, and a touch of jazz and blues, but very little. I was really scared that I was gonna start repeating myself, and I thought that was really dangerous, boring, and not challenging at all. I’d rather not do a record than repeat myself. I told my manager that we might be at the end together, and then I met Joe Bonamassa. He asked me to do a covers record with him, and when we did that record, the soul, blues, and jazz music we were doing made me so happy. I had the time of my life making that record. I hadn’t been that excited since I was really young. I realized that this is the music I loved as a child, and I never thought I could write or sing these types of songs. My heroes were Etta James and Billie Holiday, but I never attempted to do their songs. I never thought I had the tone or the ability. It became a quest. I had to go down this road as a songwriter, and see what would happen. I had to try, and that’s when the material for “Bang Bang Boom Boom” was written. I wanted Kevin Shirley, who produced the album with Joe, to be my guy, and the record was made.
Q - A little over a week ago, your second album with Joe Bonamassa, “Seesaw,” was released. You and Joe have such an amazing chemistry. Was that record as fun to make as it is to listen to?
A - It is so much fun to record with Joe, Kevin, Anton Fig, and Arlan Schierbaum, who is a psychotic player! All of the guys are so mellow. The only one who isn’t mellow is me. I get high strung, nervous, and crazy, but everyone else is so professional. Everything moved at a fast pace. We recorded this record in six days, and the last one in four days. Kevin has everything set up and sounding fabulous before we even get there. Everybody shows up, goes to their instruments, and we do everything together. It’s like playing a live show, except we play each song a few times until Kevin says we got it.
Q - I read recently that you didn’t even want to be a singer when you were growing up. I hear the scream you let out in “Miss Lady,” the tenderness and vulnerability you sing with in “Baddest Blues” and “There In Your Heart,” and your incredible vibrato, and I’m constantly blown away by the versatility in your voice. How is it even possible that you didn’t want to sing?
A - Well, I always thought it was very annoying to hear myself sing. I really loved to play the piano more than anything. I loved to write music on the piano, not sing and write lyrics. When I was around 6 or 7 years old, my mom took me to see “Annie,” and I really loved it. I got the “Annie” record, learned how to sing it, and performed it for my mom every night when she went to sleep. I thought my voice was horrid, but I got a kick out of the way my mom would react when I sang to her. That was when I first liked to sing, but I really loved to perform. Then I got a cello, went to see Yo Yo Ma at the Hollywood Bowl, and thought I was going to go to Juliard. Around 14 years old, I decided I wanted to sing, but I was going to do opera. I auditioned for opera in school, and one of my coaches told me, “You’re not disciplined enough. You like to do your own thing, and you can’t improvise with classical music. You have to respect the composer, and do it to the letter.” I decided that opera was no longer my thing, so I moved on to singing whatever I wanted and never stopped.
“Bang Bang Boom Boom” and “Seesaw” are available on ITunes, Amazon, or anywhere else you find good music. Check out www.bethhart.com for tour dates and other info.
Tim Taylor is a writer for Zoiks! Online, and is based in Dallas, TX. Follow him on Twitter at @nutgoat. Email Tim at firstname.lastname@example.org.