Texas-born blues musician Marcia Ball started playing piano at the age of 5. She was enrolled in a class to learn how to play the instrument, and was schooled on the “kiddy classical” primers, but the sound she was drawn to was the music she heard from her family. Her grandmother played Ragtime and Tin Pan Alley music, and her aunt played the music of her time, mid-century classics by the likes of George Gershwin and Rodgers and Hammerstein. It was by them that she was introduced to boogie-woogie, and she loved it from the start.
It was a thriving time in music when Ball was growing up. Many styles had their “heydays,” she said – Motown, New Orleans R&B – and popular piano players like Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard were “just as likely to break into a boogie as anything else.” And the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were transforming rock and roll music.
Ball went off to Louisiana State University in the 1960s, and played in a few rock and roll bands as a college student. After moving to Austin, she established herself as a musician with the country group Freda & the Firedogs in the early 1970s. The group split up in 1974.
“I had to decide whether to be in a band, join a band, or find something else to do,” Ball said, “and I decided to try to start a band.”
That decision would launch her nearly 40-year career as a solo artist, in which Ball has played the White House, won several Blues Music Awards, and has been inducted into both the Gulf Coast Music Hall of Fame and the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.
She’s also a five-time Grammy nominee, earning the most recent for the 2012 award in the Best Blues Album category for her latest release, Roadside Attractions, her 15th solo album.
It’s an exciting honor, she said, and if anything this nomination was more special to her because this year’s awards saw fewer categories for blues musicians.
The album marks the first time Ball has had a hand in writing all of the songs on one of her records, and it’s more autobiographical for it. She reflects on her life – how it is now, and how it used to be.
“I’m gonna let a little secret slip/It’s not the destination, it’s the trip/It’s the moss you gather while you roll,” she sings on the song “That’s How It Goes,” to the celebratory sound of organ music.
“It seems to be, as my life goes on, there’s doesn’t seem to be less to write about, but rather more,” Ball said.
With the anticipatory jangle of the keys that opens “We Fell Hard,” a sound that promises a foot-stomping, hip-shaking time, and the up-tempo romp “The Party’s Still Going On” (the title speaks for itself), Ball’s brand of blues is made for moving.
Ball will be playing the State Theatre June 2. A frequent performer at the State, Ball said the dance-floor space at the venue makes it an ideal home for her.
“We like to bring to wherever we go the feeling that they have walked in off the streets and straight into a Gulf Coast honky-tonk,” Ball said, “straight into a sweaty dive with high humidity and a bunch of people having a good time.”
It’s a type of music suited to dancing, Ball says, and there’s something intrinsic to its sound making the body want to move. Proof enough of that is found in the reaction of her grandchildren and great nieces and nephews, when the 63-year-old musician introduces the newest generation to those boogie-woogie sounds.
“If you start boogie-ing, they start dancing,” Ball said. “It’s an elemental response.”
• For more information about Marcia Ball, visit marciaball.com.