If Paula Harris listened to everyone that told her she was too old to launch a career as a blues vocalist she’d still be singing Linda Ronstadt songs at corporate events. Not only did she flout the non-believers, she did so with overwhelming acclaim: Harris was a Top 3 winner in the 2012 International Blues Challenge and was the 2012 Monterey Blues Festival’s Battle of the Bands’ champion.
“I took the risk,” she says. “It opened a lot of doors. That’s the kind of stuff you have to do when you’re an older artist.”
This year, Harris, who performs at Laguna Grande Park on Sunday with her Blues Band for the latest installment of Blues in the Park, has received even more verification that she and the blues are a good fit: Her debut Turning on the Naughty – featuring members of Tower of Power’s brass section – was nominated for a 2013 Blues Music Award for Best New Artist Debut. Additionally, she was nominated for a Sean Costello Rising Star Award and Blues Blast Music’s Best New Artist.
One of the keys to Harris’ success as a late blooming woman of the blues, along with a voice that knows no boundaries, is her cerebral understanding of taking ownership and bringing new life to any blues tune she tackles.
“I look for a song that speaks to me but hasn’t been overdone,” she says. “Changing the timing and feel and adding solos that aren’t in the original gives them a brand new signature sound.”
Harris’ interpretation of Jimmy Witherspoon’s “Some of My Best Friends are the Blues” is a stripped down organic composite of soul, funk and blues.
Harris’ forthcoming record – tentatively titled Who Put Those Scratches on Your Back – will feature Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive,” pending licensing. The only element of the 1970’s disco anthem left intact is its lyrics. Harris manipulates everything else into greasy, swampy 12-bar blues that would have blown Studio 54’s speakers into Brooklyn.
“It’s important to always play stuff that speaks to us as musicians,” Harris says. “The only way ‘I Will Survive’ could speak to us is if it sounds nothing like ‘I Will Survive.’”
PAULA HARRIS and HER BLUES BAND and Broadway Blues Band perform at 1pm Sunday, Aug. 4, at Laguna Grande Park, 1249 Canyon Del Rey Blvd., Seaside. Free. 899-6805.