Born: March 20, 1949 in Orange TX
With a sound that is often equal parts Texas blues and Louisiana swamp, blues pianist Marcia Ball has quietly forged a successful career as one of the leading advocates of American roots music. Seldom flamboyant, and with a healthy respect for blues traditions and old-school artists, Ball's significant body of work bridges the gap between an earlier generation of piano-pounders like Professor Longhair and Roosevelt Sykes and the new breed of blues pianists like Eden Brent and Deanna Bogart.
Born In Texas, Raised In Louisiana
Ball was born in Orange, Texas but grew up on the other side of the Texas border in Vinton, Louisiana. All of the women in her family played piano, so it was only natural that the young Marcia would pick up the instrument as well. She began taking lessons at the age of five, originally learning Tin Pan Alley songs, but Ball would later be influenced by the songs she heard on the radio from Irma Thomas and Etta James. At the age of 13, Ball saw New Orleans musical legend Thomas perform, and the young piano player became enamored of blues, soul, and R&B music.
Ball attended Louisiana State University during the late-1960s, playing her first gigs with the blues-leaning psychedelic-rock band Gum. In 1970, Ball decided to relocate to San Francisco to pursue her career in music, but when her car broke down in Austin, Texas she fell in love with the city's thriving music scene. Ball stayed in Austin and began gigging regularly around town with the country band Freda and the Firedogs.
Professor Longhair's Influence
During the early 1970s, Ball began studying the music of New Orleans' great piano players as she worked on developing her songwriting skills. Ball was particularly influenced by the legendary Professor Longhair as she created a unique piano style that mixed boogie-woogie with Cajun spice, New Orleans jazz, and Texas roadhouse blues. After recording a single album, Circuit Queen, for Capitol Records in 1978, Ball would sign with noted folk and roots music label Rounder Records.
Ball would release a half-dozen critically-acclaimed albums for Rounder during the 1980s and '90s, beginning with 1984's Soulful Dress. Ball's Hot Tamale Baby would follow in a year later, and Gatorhythms in 1989. In 1990, Ball collaborated with two other celebrated blueswomen, Angela Strehli and Lou Ann Barton, on Dreams Come True, released by the local Antone's Records label.
The Alligator Records Years
Rounder released Ball's Blue House album in 1994, and Let Me Play With Your Poodle in 1997. By this time, better than a decade of touring North America and Europe had made Ball a popular live performer and raised her profile on the blues scene. Ball won her first W.C. Handy Award in 1998 as "Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year;" that year she also released her final Rounder album, Sing It!, a collaboration with her idol Irma Thomas and fellow blueswoman Tracy Nelson.
Ball signed with Alligator Records in 2000, releasing her debut for the label, Presumed Innocent, a year later. The album earned Ball a W.C. Handy Award for "Blues Album of the Year." Ball's So Many Rivers followed in 2003, earning the pianist another pair of W.C. Handy Awards, including her second "Contemporary Blues Female Artist of the Year." Documenting Ball's intense charisma as a live performer, Alligator released 2005's Live! Down The Road to great response.
Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year
The live album led to Ball's win of the 2005 W.C. Handy Award for "Best Instrumentalist – Piano," wresting the honor from its annual dominance by the great Pinetop Perkins. Ball followed up her win, becoming the recipient of the first "Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year" Blues Music Award winner in 2006, an honor she took again in 2007and 2009. Ball released Peace, Love & BBQ in 2008, and Roadside Attractions in 2011.
With an impressive body of work, and a reputation as an entertaining and dynamic live performer, Marcia Ball has become one of the most high profile artists on the contemporary blues scene. She's been the subject of articles in such mainstream publications as USA Today as well as music magazines like Downbeat and Blues Revue. Ball has performed on NPR's Prairie Home Companion and PBS's Austin City Limits, and an appearance on the Late Show With David Letterman with The New Orleans Social Club was part of her tireless work on behalf of the victims of Hurricane Katrina.
Recommended Albums: Ball's Presumed Innocent is the best of her Alligator studio albums, featuring guests like Texas music legend Delbert McClinton and guitarist Sonny Landreth. Live! Down The Road does a great job of capturing Ball's onstage electricity, while Gatorhythms represents the best of Ball's efforts for Rounder Records.
Marcia Ball – Select Discography
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- Circuit Queen (Capitol Records, 1978)
- Soulful Dress (Rounder Records, 1984)
- Hot Tamale Baby (Rounder Records, 1985)
- Gatorhythms (Rounder Records, 1989)
- Dreams Come True w/Angela Strehli & Lou Ann Barton (Antone's Records, 1990)
- Blue House (Rounder Records, 1994)
- Let Me Play With Your Poodle (Rounder Records, 1997)
- Sing It! w/Irma Thomas & Tracy Nelson (Rounder Records, 1998)
- Presumed Innocent (Alligator Records, 2001)
- So Many Rivers (Alligator Records, 2003)
- Live! Down The Road (Alligator Records, 2005)
- Peace, Love & BBQ (Alligator Records, 2008)
- Roadside Attractions (Alligator Records, 2011)