I Love The Blues
Di Anne Price turns her mothers love into raucous, good time, barrelhouse blues.
by Lydialyle Gibson
he may not know it, but Di Anne Prices devotion to the blues is scarcely distinguishable from her devotion to her mother.
My mom is a wonderful lyricist, and I do a lot of her songs when Im performing, says Price, over the din of happy hour at Wangs Mandarin House, where her cool voice and barrelling blues piano had lingered like a spell until Michael Bolton on the radio jarred the air. I just love her. Shes been a lyricist, for, well, all my life and long before I came into the world. Shes talented. Im not talented.
Yet Price is a woman who learned to play piano and the blues when she was 4 years old. She started playing it for money when she was 5 or 6, made her first tape when she was 9 and has recorded several others since then. In fact, she hasnt gone a week in the 42 years since without a musical paycheck.
Both my parents were very much into the music, and so if I hadnt wanted to do it, I wouldnt have had a choice, she says. But I always wanted to do it. And I guess I dont play any better now than I ever did, but I love it. I dont know of anything I would want to do other than this.
Born and raised in Memphis, Price works 9 to 5 as a social director at a nursing home. But most nights of the week she can be found playing and singing in bars and restaurants or special events around town, sometimes with, sometimes without, her band, the Uptown All-Stars or the fellas, as she calls them.
This Friday, Price will be playing at the Center for Southern Folklore, joining 11 other female performers in Lady Sings the Blues, a breast-cancer fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society.
Though she is not a huge international star, Price thinks shes had a good career, and like everything else about her, her success is inextricably bound up with her mother.
My mom decided when I was a little person that I needed to learn how to read, she says, because I claimed that I loved music so much.
To Price, reading means reading notes, and she speaks of her mother and music in a long, slow rubato, itself almost a song. I would wake up in the middle of the night as a little person, and I would sit straight up in the bed, and I would want to play the piano, she says. And my mom, she would be ready to go with me. And we would go and play piano all night long. We had a big ol ramblin two-story house, and downstairs it was cold and dark. I would put on my clothes my trousers, my socks, my shoes, my muffler, my coat, and my gloves. I can play with my gloves on. This was in the middle of the night. My mother, she never said she was too tired, she never said, This is not the right time. She never said that.
Prices music, barrelhouse piano and good times blues, harkens back to the 20s, 30s, and 40s, and she takes as her models everyone from Fats Waller to Memphis Minnie to Tony Bennett. Her songwriting mother is in there, too. Price describes her own voice as a throwback to another time. Its smoky, its sultry, it makes you think of Jack Daniels and bars.
The first song I ever learned was the blues, she says. My mother asked me, she said, Do you want to do this? And I said, Yesum. I always had the blues. I love the blues. I love the blues. But the blues dont make me sad. Ive often thought and, of course, my mother wrote a song for me what would have become of me if it hadnt been for the blues? I love the blues. The pitfalls that the blues tells of, I didnt fall in that because of the blues. It says, Dont do this, Dont do that. So I didnt.
But ever since she was a little girl, the blues was more than an accidental lesson in social behavior. Its a sustenance, a warmth that engulfs me, Price says. It takes me where I need to go.
Its something she wants to share with the world. Price recalls the time when she used to bring her kittens to her choir rehearsal at church so they could hear the music. When I was at home, they always sang with me. So I would stick them down in my purse, and they would go with me. But one night I was at choir rehearsal, and they got out, got down under the choir stand. As the choir was singing, they were singing, too. I had to send a couple of kids down under to get the cats out. There we were in the middle of a sermon, you know, with the cats singing as loud as the choir. And my minister told me, he said, This is the last time. This is the last time.
So for Price, the performance this Friday offers not only the opportunity to have an impact on peoples awareness about breast cancer and its effects, but also the chance to share her music. In a moment of silence, she reverts to her refrain, I love the blues. You know, when Im in a bar, smoke-filled, you can smell the Jack Daniels all around, and Im singing something thats right just for the moment, thats working just for that moment, and people are really listening, thats everything I need. n
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