Interview with Blues Diva Eden Brent (Part 1)

2019 Shaun Murphy 2

Eden Brent is the sultry blues piano master who is topping the charts and thrilling fans worldwide. Her new alEden Brentbum “Aint Got No Troubles” is number two, behind only Buddy Guy on the Roots Music Report. Just after this interview, she was nominated for yet another Blues Music Award this year!!

We got to spend some time talking with Eden while she was off tour in her hometown of Greenville, Mississippi about her new album, her life in the blues, and her wonderful creative abilities.
Eden had a lot to say! So here’s the first part of her phenomenal and interesting three part interview:
You’ve been playing piano for a while now. How did you get started playing boogie?
I’ve been playing my whole life, and I took the standard, traditional classic lessons and was tackling pop music. I had a band director in high school that taught me how to read chord charts. Growing up taking piano lessons, I was learning from a musical staff and a score. And I hadn’t much thought about this here’s a G chord, or that’s an A chord, or that’s a D chord. I hadn’t thought much about the name of the chord I was playing until my band director turned me on to playing some of the Jazz chords. So I actually started out trying to tackle Jazz, and learning all the 7th chords first; the major 7th, the dominant seventh, which is the dominant chord in Blues! And the minor seventh, which is also used in blues. So I was tackling the 7th chords first. Later on when I went to college I was studying Jazz for a while, and then I teamed up with a local piano player here in Greenville named Boogaloo Ames, who had been a big hit back in the 1940s in Detroit as a band leader. But by that time, he primarily was a solo pianist who would play at lounges or wedding receptions and all kinds of social events. parties, debutant balls, that kind of stuff. Bogall is really the one that got me into boogie, but it took several steps for me to be prepared for Bogaloo, and I’ll admit that my education with Boogaloo and the education at the University of North Texas, where I got a degree in music, those educations overlap. And one without the other would not be nearly as effective. The practical education and the education that Boogaloo was providing really did give me the education that would surpass any one without the other. So I feel really grateful that it just so happened that it turned out that way.
In 2006 you won the International Blues Competition, which is no small feat, then in 2009 you won the Pinetop Perkins Award (Side note: just after speaking with her, she was nominated for yet another Pinetop Perking award!) You’ve really been tearing up the blues scene. Can you tell me a little about your career as a blueswoman?
Sure, naturally being from Mississippi, when Boogaloo and I were performing together, we played quite a bit of blues as we performed in many of the local and regional festivals in Mississippi, and as a matter of fact, we were kind of a popular duo for the state of Mississippi to send to other places. See, Mississippi has got this fictitious, yet very predominant, stereotypical reputation for being some kind of an ass-backwards racist state in the union. In fact, Mississippi has the largest black population per capita more than any other state in the union! The Mississippi Delta where I live and have always lived (except for the time I spent as a resident going to Texas college), the population divide between white and black is something like 64% black. It’s not 50/50, and, other than inner cities, there’s not any other place in this country that I can think of that has that high percentage ratio of black and white. So in other words, jamming us up together showed the true Mississippi. It showed what we were really like together. As a matter of fact, Matt, what was so interesting about it is that [Boogaloo and I] were the very people that Hollywood would have written about had Hollywood written our story. It was the “wealthy, white, old money southern girl who talked with a southern drawl”, the very people that Hollywood would have expected to have shunned our relationship and denigrated Boogaloo and me for it are actually the ones who not only promoted it by hiring me well before I was really qualified to perform, but they put their money where their mouth was. They hired me, they encouraged me. They came to concerts, they supported us when we were, say for example, in contension for a Mississippi Folk Arts apprenticeship grant. In other words, we had plenty of support. And I’m talking about throughout every demographic; young people, older people, middle-aged people, middle class people, poor people, rich people, everybody supported the relationship. Boogaloo’s been dead since 2002 and yet people still talk about our partnership. Because it’s not unusual for, well it is unusual for a young woman to spend so much time with an older man who’s not a relative, I don’t think that happens often, but it’s not unusual for blacks and whites in the Mississippi Delta to coexist, to get along very, very peacefully. There’s never been a KKK march in Greenville, Mississippi, and I don’t imagine there ever would be because we’d run their ass out of town! So we did a lot of tourism promotion to dispell that myth that people don’t get along here, and partly because we have such a rich African-American culture here, and there are black folks from other parts of the country who dont want to come here because they think somehow they won’t be welcomed! I invited a good friend of mine in college who plays a brilliant tenor sax from Houston, Texas to come to a blues fest and he was afraid to come because he had this antiquated and very false view of what the Mississippi and the Mississippi Delta was really all about.
So you two were not only ambassadors of Blues, but of the Mississippi culture as well, it seems?
Yeah, I would say so! Because our performances told the true story of how this blues tradition and how most music traditions were really passed on. The apprenticeship was the true way to learn for many many years until we were able to develop academic institutions and I think it’s entirely underrated. Very often the politicians all make much ado about education and when they’re spouting about education, it’s rare that they’re promoting practical education of apprenticeship, not necessarily music, but quilting or storytelling or reading or furniture making. There’s loads of skills, musically or otherwise, that can be passed on much more effectively through apprenticeship, and it’s a much underrated method of learning. So I’m happy to say that it worked really well for me and I’m happy to say that the Mississippi Arts Commission still promotes that tradition through grants, as they did with me and Boogaloo. That essentially means the MAC paid Boogaloo for 3 months to teach me, and in that 3 month period, I learned more from him than any other one single year, simply because it was a very structured lesson plan. I’m mean in other words, he made the lesson plan but I planned to meet with him for twice a week and I took it very very seriously. The art commission gave him half the money up front but he wasn’t going to make the rest of the money unless I showed some progress!
Can you tell us a little about the interactions you’ve had with The Blues Foundation?
You mentioned the Blues Challenge and then you mentioned the Pinetop Perkins Award and it’s no coincidence that both of those awards are sponsored by the Blues Foundation, because Memphis is like a suburb of Mississippi. it’s one of the northern larger towns in Mississippi, (it belongs to us and not Tennessee!), so as many times as i’d been to Memphis, I really didn’t know what the Blues Foundation was until I joined the Mississippi Delta Blues Society of Indinaola, and that was in 2004. And I didn’t win 1st place. They said I played too much Jazz. Next year I went back and that year I didn’t play one Billie Holiday song and i won and went on to Memphis that year and some people liked it. Not all of the judges liked it but something must’ve worked because I won. Anyhow, it’s been a brilliant ride for me developing an affiliation with the Blues Foundation as a member and supporter. I try to attend the IBC and the BMAs every year as a member, and if I’m not able to attend, I’m always a contributor to their events because I really believe in what theyre doing. The Blues Foundation really does such a great job at keeping the fans and artists and record labels and all the Blues writers and all of the talent companies… everybody thats’s associated with Blues, they keep us all so well connected!
Can you talk to us about what’s contributed to your many successes?

The success I’ve achieved can singly be, first of all, you’d have to trace it to my parents, and second you’d have to trace it to Boogaloo. And then Boogaloo died in 2002, and what’s so beautiful about my recent success since winning the International Blues Challenge and winning an unbelievable 3 Blues Music Awards, what’s so beautiful about that is that all of this recent success has happened sadly since Boogaloo died in 2002, but so beautifully it’s honoring him, because every time my name is mentioned, Booogaloo’s name is mentioned too. Essentially, nearly everything I play is related to something he showed me how to play. But I’m saying, when I’m doing a performance I always do something he showed me note-for-note. Its just one way I’m able to honor his memory and keep his charming charismatic spirit alive here on Earth. I wish he could be enjoying this successful ride with me. In a way he is in spirit of course, but I’m saying I wish we were still running around in a vehicle together going places, or sitting on an airplane having a cocktail like we used to. But it does make me feel so honored that I’m able to introduce somebody who wasn’t really well known in the later part of his life… he was a celebrity in Mississippi, but I don’t think he really cared to travel and live the hard life anymore. He really enjoyed his life simple the way it was, and he made money, and he loved to drink and cook with his friends and have a good time. And while he enjoyed his life, he really didn’t achieve the measure of success that I would have liked to see him achieve, and part of the reason that my career has blossomed these years later, is that while Boogaloo was alive I was promoting his career. I mean, I was promoting our career, but essentially, I wasn’t nominating us to win the Governor’s Award, I was nominating him — and he won it. I wasn’t nominating us for the Mississippi Fellowship, I nominated him and he won it. So I’m very delighted that I’m able to at least now bring attention to the piano player that I hold in such high esteem, and the one who is responsible for showing me what I’m able to do now.

Now about your CD, you wrote a lot of the tracks on it yourself, right? 8 of the 12? Can you tell me about the songs you wrote? What were your feelings? And what’s your process?
I wrote Someone to love. I usually come up with some kind of an idea, either a melody or I might come up with a melody and a lyric put together, and I’m not sure exactly how that track started, but I always start with one little piece of something, whether it’s a piece of melody or lyric. Most of the time, it doesn’t start with the piano. Most of the time, I sit at the piano and draw a blank unless I’ve got an idea in mind. It’s not that I never come up with an idea on the piano, but that tends to take longer than if , say, I’m just driving along and something just flashes in my mind. So then I’ll try to jot it down, then I’ll record it so I can remember it when i get home two weeks later. Someone to Love has a little bit of a kind of a… part of the reason I went to New Orleans to record this record is because a couple of the songs I’d already written in the last year or so already had a kind of New Orleans beat to it; I can hear that labor in them. Someone To Love being one, and In Love With Your Wallet being another.
A week before we went into the studio, I wrote Ain’t Got No Troubles. I was driving down the highway and the melody started to come to me first, then I sang to myself (sings) “ain’t got no troubles on my mind”, then I got kind of excited about the idea and tried to develop it. In fact, I was on my way to see an entertainment lawyer, who entertained the hell out of me once I got there! (laughs). Anyhow, so when I got home I started jotting down the things that I got: no man, no religion, no plans, and I had a great time writing the tune. In essence being, the more you have the more worries you’ve got. Although everybody’s got troubles. It’s a lighthearted look at a melancholy subject. It’s a melancholy subject to look at the things you ain’t got, and on the other hand, if you deal with the melancholy in a lighthearted way, then suddenly it becomes less melancholy. Really, I had a wonderful, wonderful time writing the song. I really believe that lyrically speaking, as far as cleverness goes, it’s probably my masterpiece.
I wrote My Man. That song is a little bit of a throwback and a little bit of a nod to those folks that did some of those old auggie tunes. With My Man, I had been up all night sitting here at the house and was probably drinking vodka, I’m imagining, because I was drunk when I first wrote that song and it was about 11 the next morning when I finished it! The sun was shining bright though, and I had a fun time writing it, too. It’s got a lot of very suggestive but funny lyrics, like “lets me lick his candy he’s my candy man. ” and “tills the soil in my back yard too!” (laughs). I wrote that one, and I wrote If I Can’t. I wrote that on the guitar. And Colin Lindon produced this record and did a brilliant job and not only did he — I’ve been thinkin about what a great job he did producing, and I forget to gloat about what a great job he did playing the guitar too. Colin is from toronto, but when he was a teenager, he came down from Canada and spent time in Hollandale, Mississippi, which is just 25 miles south of here, where Sam Chatmon of the Mississippi Sheiks lived. Sam Chatmon lived in Hollandale and Colin came down to apprentice with Sam and let’s just say, (I did not know this before I hired Colin to produce this record) that I understood completely why we were getting along so well, because we had more in common than it would seem just by outward appearance. We share this common bond with studying from an older person from the Mississippi Delta. Colin does a beautiful job of playing If I Can. We were in the studio and I was showing him how the tune goes and he looked at me with these bright eyes and he said “do you wanna play it?!” and I looked at him like he’s lost his mind and i said, “no you’re gonna play it I’m just showing you how the thing goes!” We did that track in one little take! Had a wonderful time doing it.
Leave Me Alone, that’s actually one of my favorite tunes on the record. I think it’s because that’s one of those universal things, you know? Everybody who listens to blues, everybody who’s ever had the blues, has ever broke up with somebody or has had somebody break up with them. For example, someone moves out in a big huff, then calls 3 days later to see how they’re doing? It’s very hard to get over someone when they wont leave your ass alone! As a matter of fact, that’s such a true and universal story, that’s one of the tunes I can get choked up singing sometimes. It’s happened more than once. That song shows a great deal of vulnerability…. that’s part of the reason.
I wrote Blues All Over. That’s also a true story. Back when I was in high school, I had a creative writing teacher who told me, “write what you know about!” In other words, write about yourself! I know me almost better than anybody else! (laughs). So everything that I wrote has an element of truth to it.
Stay tuned tomorrow for the second part of Eden’s introspective three part interview, where she discusses recording down in New Orleans, the real life inspiration for her track In Love With Your Wallet, playing in South Africa, and playing Mustang Sally!! You won’t want to miss it; Eden’s a wonderful, hilarious character!