“I’ve never been on any kind of real label before. Everything earlier was done by me and my husband. We wore all the hats, but we didn’t have a record label, not an entertainment company, but we made it look like something. I booked my own shows. This new CD is the first one I’ve ever done for a real label, which also supports me.”
Tia Carroll is really excited about her latest record titled You Gotta Have It, released on June the 1st on www.littlevillagefoundation.org (LVF 1038). “One of the producers on the CD, Noel Hayes, has been to my shows for the last twenty years and one day last year he just approached me and asked me if I would be interested in recording a CD with him and of course my answer was ‘yes.’ I say ‘yes’ to everything” (laughing). Produced by Kid Andersen and Jim Pugh, the CD was recorded at Greaseland Studios in San Jose, California, and indeed Noel Hayes is credited as the executive producer.
“We started recording these songs in October last year, and the last one we recorded in February.” In these winter sessions Kid played guitar, Jim piano and organ, Steve Ehrmann bass and Paul Revelli drums. The 4-piece horn section consisted of Mike Rinta on trombone, Rod Sudduth on tenor sax, Aaron Lington on baritone sax and Jeff Lewis on trumpet. Vocal support was provided by the Sons of Soul Revivers, who are James, Walter & Dwayne Morgan.
Among the eleven songs on display, however, there isn’t any by the title of You Gotta Have It. “All of the songs represent something, whether it’s heartbreak or love lost or love I don’t want to lose, or love I need to lose, or something happening in the world. Noel and I sat down and we started like ‘this is a great song, people have to have this’ and he says ‘how about Gotta Have It’, and I said ‘hmmm... how about ‘You Gotta Have It’. It gives a chance to play on the title of the album, like ‘you have this CD? You don’t have it? You gotta have it.’”
The last song they cut for this album in February was chosen to be the opening track of the CD. Jim Pugh wanted Tia to cover and give an extra inspirational shot to Anthony Hamilton’s 2005 mid-tempo strutter called Ain’t Nobody Worryin’. On this track Charlie Hunter is on guitar/bass and Derrick D’Mar Martin on drums.
EVEN WHEN I’M NOT ALONE
The song number two is an impressive, atmospheric and wistful ballad named Even When I’m Not Alone, composed by Tia and Greg Richmond. “Greg is a really good friend of mine. I know him probably since the early 90s. He plays guitar. He and I used to play in coffee shops doing an acoustic duet. We would play all over the Bay Area way up in Northern California. He used to always invite me to his house where he would doodle around with his guitar and wait for me to come up with words. He would always have his recorder ready, and one day that’s what we came up with. He came up with the melody that just kind of struck me and the words came out of nowhere. The words represented the way I felt back in the day, when I used to be away from home and wonder what is going on at the house, is everything okay, am I being missed... That song was written almost fifteen years ago. All these years I’ve waited for something to come into fruition. Kid Andersen and the guys heard it and they really liked the song, and let me do my thing with it.”
Even When I’m Not Alone is Tia’s own favourite among the songs on this set. “I remember when Greg and I wrote that song together. He was going to split up with his girlfriend and I was going through hard times with my husband, so music was our getaway, our safest spot. We can get together with music and not worry about what was going on outside of that music room.”
Jim Pugh and John Hanes had written a blues swayer titled Our Last Time, which Robert Cray recorded for his ’92 album, I Was Warned. “I had never heard the song before. The song was actually presented to me on one of the days of recording. However, I didn’t realize it was to be included on the CD until later. After listening to it a bit I came back to the studio to record the vocals. The music was already arranged along with those stellar backing vocals. I went over to the microphone and laid it out that day.” Our Last Time is Tia’s second favourite song on the record. “I just love the movement of that music. When that music comes on, my hips start moving” (laughing).
Rick Estrin wrote a blues romp titled Don’t Put Your Hands on Me, which KoKo Taylor included on her ’93 Alligator CD entitled Force of Nature. “I never knew that Rick Estrin wrote this song. I’ve only heard it by KoKo Taylor and I used to sing the same version that KoKo Taylor did, so when they brought this up in the studio I was like ‘oh, I know this song.’ Kid said ‘you sing it all the time, but you don’t sing it like this.’ So they played me the Rick Estrin version of it and I was like ‘oh, KoKo Taylor changed it’” (laughing). Tia actually had included the song on one of her live recording sessions at a media school in Emeryville Ca. in 2009.
NEVER LET ME GO
Johnny Ace recorded Joseph Scott’s tender ballad named Never Let Me Go for Duke Records in 1954. “This song was sung also by another singer by the name of Katie Webster (on A-Bet in 1967). She played piano and sang the song, and I think Noel Hayes really loved her style. Noel knew Katie Webster and he loved her voice and this was one of his favourite songs. I did it, and he’s very happy with it.” “Sax” Gordon Beadle plays also on this track.
Among Tia’s self-written songs on this set there’s a slow bluesoul moan called Leaving Again. “That’s another one that was written 15-20 years ago. This song is a bit like mirror image of my second marriage.” It is followed by another slow blues number titled Mama Told Me, which we know as Johnny Copeland’s 1963 reading on Golden Eagle. “Noel picked this one too. I like it, because my mama did actually warn me about a couple of guys, but did I listen to her – no!” (laughing).
Ready to Love Again differs from the rest of the repertoire on this set, as it actually is a fast and catchy dancer. “Kid and his wife, Lisa Leuschner, wrote this song. They sprang it on me the day we were recording. I listened to it, liked it and so we went ahead and recorded that one that day too. Once again this resonates with me. My husband passed away in 2017. It’s like right now in my life
I feel free enough to open and let someone come into my life. This was like a perfect song for me.” Lisa is also on background vocals along with Willy
Jordan, and here again we can enjoy Sax Gordon’s playing.
I NEED SOMEONE
Z.Z. Hill had a top 30 soul hit in 1971 with his own slow tune, I Need Someone, which actually was recorded seven years earlier on Kent Records. “That was Noel. He picked some great songs and this was a good song for me.”
A mid-tempo beater titled Move On is again one of Tia’s compositions. “This song was probably written maybe 8 or 9 years ago. There was a venue in San Francisco and every year they would have an anniversary party and they would invite all the Bay Area musicians to come to this big blues jam. I was one of the vocalists that were invited. I’m on stage and really didn’t know what to sing, because I’m really not that versed in blues songs, but I know how the music goes. Kid Andersen was on stage with me too. I said ‘give me a blues shuffle’ and I look at the bass player and say ‘make it funky.’ They started the music and I made up some words, and here on this CD these are the words I made up.”
Igor Prado is playing the lead guitar on Move On. “Igor and I are good friends. We’ve known each other now for about 12 years. I’ve come back and forth to Brazil so many times, so it’s like Igor is my brother. Jim, Noel and Kid wanted to make sure that he got on this CD, as well as I, so they sent him the music, he recorded his part and sent it back and that’s how he ended up on this song.”
The concluding song is a slow and hypnotic version of the Staple Singers’
1965 Epic song, Why Am I Treated So Bad, based on actual events in 1957 with the Little Rock Nine.
SINGING IN RICHMOND
Tia Carroll was born on April the 29th in 1958 in Richmond, California, in the Bay Area, close to San Francisco. “I spent maybe two years, when I was really young, like 12, living in Los Angeles with my aunt, but for the most part of my life I’ve lived in the area of Richmond. My parents were very diverse people. They knew not only black people, but also white people, Asian people, Spanish people... They were always engaged with people. My great-grandmother was from the isle of Antigua (a British colony at the time), so she had an English accent and she wouldn’t accept ‘yeah’ or ‘whatever.’ You had to speak proper English. Even though we were in a small neighbourhood surrounded by people who didn’t have the same kind of upbringing as myself and my brothers – I have three brothers, two older and one younger – we were just exposed more to the world than an average kid in that neighbourhood. For some people, living in Richmond was horrifying, but it wasn’t for me or my brothers.”
“I never heard my mother or my father singing or playing any instrument. However, I grew up with an organ in the house. My father used to write poetry and he would send it to somebody he knew in New York to turn it into sheet music, but I never heard any of that. The music I heard was playing on the record player and on the radio. I sang all the time. Probably before I started talking I was singing. I remember when I was three or four years old, if I heard the doorbell ring I would put on my little dress as fast as I could - and here I come into the living room singing (laughing). In high school I was up and down the hallway singing. I sang because I loved it.”
“I was never in any kind of gospel choir. When I did go to church, it was Episcopal church, and that music is more like hymns, Christian music. I didn’t necessarily take to that. Those days I listened to everyone: the Jackson 5, the Temptations, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles... I felt like I could mimic every one of them. I could sound like anyone of those singers. So in my mind I was singing like Aretha, Stevie or whoever I heard.”
Professionally Tia got involved in music rather late in her life. Her first husband complimented on her voice and advised that Tia should be singing with a band. “At the time I was working with Granny Goose Foods – they make potato chips – and there was a guy there, who had an old-time rock ‘n’ roll band called Yakety Yak. This was in the early 80s. I went and auditioned, and the band members were like ‘can we keep her.’ I sang with that band for almost five years (1983-88). I used to wear the same kind of clothes as back in the 50s. It was really fun. That was my first endeavour with being a lead singer of a band. So I cut my teeth in old-time rock ‘n’ roll.”
“After that I was pregnant with my daughter, so I got out for a couple of years – ‘we can’t have you on stage with that baby’ – and then I came back and started doing my own thing. A lot of the stuff I was doing was called track shows, where I had just backing music. At the time I was still working at Granny Goose and Jimmy McCracklin’s daughter Sue was working at Granny Goose as well.”
Jimmy McCracklin (1921 - 2012) was a blues and rhythm & blues vocalist, pianist and prolific songwriter. His first single, Miss Mattie Left Me, was released in 1945, and his biggest hits were The Walk (on Checker in ’58) and Think (on Imperial in ’65). “I never knew anything about Jimmy McCracklin, and I really didn’t know Sue very well. The subject came up and she told me they needed another background singer. I had never sung background before, but I was like ‘I can do that, yeah.’ I sang with Jimmy for about 3 or 4 years (1990-93). My very first time travelling outside of the US was with Jimmy. We went to Canada, to Edmonton. This was the first time that my voice had taken me outside of my home.”
“During that time I also sang background for E.C. Scott, probably for four or five years, and in-between that I was gathering my own band, the Untouchables. And I was working with Sugar Pie DeSantoalmost at the same time I was working with Jimmy.” Born in 1951, E.C. Scott aka Ecrettia Peevy is a Californian soul blues artist and songwriter, whose albums were released on Blind Pig and Black Bud Records in the 1990s and early 2000s (http://www.ecscott.com). Sugar Pie aka Umpeylia Marsema Balinton (b. in 1935) is a rhythm & blues and soul artist, best known for her 1960 hit, I Want to Know, and her duet with Etta James six years later called In the Basement (www.sugarpiedesanto.com).
Tia’s second husband, Eldridge “Big Cat” Tolefree with His Hipnotic Band became a well-known regional blues act in his own right, too. “I met Big Cat in 1990, and we got married a year later. We were married for about 27 years, before he passed away (in 2017). He was not involved in any kind of music, when we met. I was doing music, but as the years went by he was setting up the sound for me, light and the smoke machine to make a little bar stage look like a concert event. This was in the late 90s. Somewhere along the line he got bitten by the bug and decided ‘hey, I can do this too, I can sing’, and he did a pretty good job. So he started doing his own thing.”
“The members of the Untouchables had long hair, they looked like rock, all wild, and then I came walking out there and people are thinking ‘are we gonna get rock, or are we gonna get soul or r&b.’ I thought I was singing rock, but when it came out of my mouth, it still sounded like soul and r&b.”
Tia’s very first record is an EP titled Wanna Ride on Big Cat Entertainment in 1997. She wrote all the rock-influenced four songs and she was backed by George von Giese on guitar and Jorge Icabellis on drums. Sue McCracklin is one of the background vocalists. “I was doing a bunch of rock stuff. I loved rock music. I still probably have about one hundred cassettes of Wanna Ride. First of all, we really didn’t know what we were doing as far as sales. We maybe spent five thousand dollars on that whole project, including the CD and the cassette, which was a lot of money for us back then, but nobody knew what to do with it.”
“After that I kept performing all around the Bay area. I became pregnant with my second son in 1999, so there was a bit of a break, and then my husband kind of took over the music business. My son was three or four years old, when I got right back. Earlier I was fitting in the rock look. I was curvy and on the thinner side. After I had my son, I grew a blues body (laughing). It seemed like the body and the music didn’t go together anymore, so I kind of jumped on a blues wagon, but still I think the people don’t consider me as a blues singer. I think they really have settled into blues-soul.”
HER AWESOME BLUES BAND
Backed by George and Jorge again and also by Michael Harper on bass, Tia released her second, eponymous CD on Big Cat Music in 2005. There are many cover songs on display – Breakin’ up Somebody’s Home, Got My Mojo Workin’, If Lovin’ You Is Wrong... – but also two Tia’s own melodies, I Wanna Tell You and a jump blues called Open up the Barn Door. “It was probably my first shot into blues. I liked the CD. I liked all the songs that are on it.”
Besides her own band, those days in the early 2000s Tia worked also as a lead singer with the Dave Matthews Blues Band for about five years. Today her Awesome Blues Band consists of David Sobel on keys, Jeffrey James on guitar and Michael Rogers on bass.
“Whenever I travelled for whatever reason, it was only me that was travelling. Whatever country I went into, they already had a band for me. The first time I went to Italy, it was Lou Leonardi and his blues band, and the second time it was Dany Franchi. When I went to Brazil, it was Igor Prado and his band. I went to Argentina, and that was Martin Berguez and his band. I’ve only had a couple of times, when I’ve had a chance to take my own band overseas, like the first time I did the Lucerne Blues Festival in Switzerland. Even when I got to Mexico, Emiliano Juarez, and his group plays with me.”
Besides the countries listed above, Tia has played in France, Luxembourg, Chile, Thailand and our neighbouring Estonia, at the Jazzkaar festival in 2008. She also performed at the Porretta Soul Festival in Italy in 2007 as a background vocalist for Jimmy McCracklin.
MA RAINEY’S LESBIAN LICKS
In 2007 Tia appeared in Robert Philipson’s short film called Ma Rainey’s Lesbian Licks. “Robert Philipson went to Ronnie Stewart, the director of the Bay Area Blues Society, and asked him to put together a band for him, because he wanted to do a film about The Harlem Renaissance. Ronnie asked me, if I wouldn’t mind doing this. I thought it would be just Ma Rainey’s song, Prove It on Me Blues, and I really didn’t pay attention to the words or anything. Afterwards I saw my face on the poster under the text Ma Rainey’s Lesbian Licks and I was like ‘how did that happen?’ (laughing). But it was cool seeing myself on a big screen at a film festival in Oakland.”
Alongside music, Tia has also kept his daytime jobs. “My first job was at Granny Foods. I started there in ’78 and I worked there for 18 years. My second job was at a place called Chronicle Books. They produced books, and I worked there like nine years. I didn’t quit those jobs. Either they outsourced or they moved somewhere else. Then I went to Clif Bar, and I worked there for seven years, and I gave up round 2013. Music is still not sustaining me, so after that I worked temporary jobs, but I’m always still singing.”
Tia’s third so-called “Big Cat” CD was released in 2009 and it was a live set with five well-known cover songs, such as Hound Dog and Delbert McClinton’s Give It up for Your Love, and five songs from Tia herself: 2 Drink Minimum, Pay Attention, If I Didn’t Know, No Good 4 Me and the most soulful, Had Your Love. The members of the backup band called Hard Work were Jimmy Smith (keys), Joel Cohen (guitar), Artie Chavez (drums) and Tom Towers (bass). Again practically the only sales channel was Tia’s gigs. “The same story as with two earlier CDs” (laughing).
Tia’s next project was more ambitious. Igor Prado Band – Igor, Rodrigo Montovani, Yuri Prado, Denilson Martins and also Sax Gordon - accompanied her on the Brazil Sessions. “We had a recording session that Igor was putting together called The Blues and Soul Sessions. The songs that were recorded at the studio on one of my trips to Brazil were You Hurt Me, How Sweet It Is and If I Can’t Have You. The next year I came back and we did Let the Good Times Roll, Love and Happiness, Midnight Hour and Knock on Wood. Those were done one night in a club in Brazil. The club always recorded all of the shows as video, so Igor took the audio of these. Then they put it all together and presented to me as a gift.”
“They Call It Animal and The Bluesiest Woman were done in a small home studio. Flavio Naves played organ and Deacon Jones from L.A. had put these two songs together. There were no lyrics to them, so Flavio asked me if I could come up with some lyrics for these songs. And what do I say? ‘Sure’ (laughing).
“This CD has sold very well at my shows, and people can still buy it from my website (www.tiacarroll.com). I keep reprinting it and selling it more. This is a good working CD. People like the music on here. Igor put three songs – You Hurt Me, How Sweet It Is and If I Can’t Have You – on his Blues and Soul CD (in 2012), which I think is still selling very well.”
KISSED YOU WITH MY HEART
In May 2016 Tia released a tender and beautiful ballad called Kissed You with My Heart. Lyrics were written by Michelle Bender. “I got a message on the internet. I think this lady had lost her son and she was looking for singers to sing some songs in honour of her son for the portfolio she was putting together. She wrote the words to it and I came up with the melody, sent it to her and she had a musician to put the music around the melody. She was very happy with it. There was no money involved, and I was okay with that. I just felt I did something for that woman to relieve the pain of losing her son.”
Tia’s next full-length album was cut in Italy in 2017. “I visited Milan with the promoter Tana Ro, and while I was out there he just decided to record a CD, and I said ‘sure, let’s do it’” (laughing). The music was recorded at VoxRecording in Ghiardello, about 75 km northwest of Bologna, with Dany Franchi on guitar, Michael Tabarroni on bass, Emanuele Peccorini on drums, Henry Carpaneto on keys and Max Lugli on harmonica. Titled I Wanna Tell You, this 13-track CD comprises mostly familiar, uptempo jump blues and boogie-woogie numbers, with a couple of soul stompers thrown in. The only slow songs on the set are Cool Teenager and Every Night.
CHRISTMAS & GOSPEL
For the Christmas of 2018 Tia surprised us all with a holiday album. “Someone is always asking me to record a Christmas CD. I haven’t written any Christmas songs. It’s just not something in my mind to do, so I put together a bunch of Christmas classics that everybody knows, went into a studio here, not far from where I’m living. There are no musicians. It’s just backing tracks, like karaoke tracks. And I changed and added something on a couple of tracks (Jesus Just Left Chicago and Man’s World). It was a fun CD and it sold very well.” Jay Russio is credited as the producer.
Last year Tia came up with her first gospel CD, and EP titled He Did it for Me. “Once again, a woman approached me online. She heard my voice and wondered if I wouldn’t mind recording a gospel CD for her. She’s written hundred of gospel songs.” The lady in question is Takethia Secrease and together with Tia they composed four songs for the set, which was produced by Clinton Kelly.
“We kind of collaborated on the lyrics on He Did it for Me and My Father My Saviour. She had given me a guide track and I changed that too, but she really loved it.”
AWESOME RADIO SHOW
In the West Coast music circles Tia is known not only as an artist but also as a radio personality. “I was on a radio show in ’98 or ’99, when I was pregnant with my son. That was a rock station. They played nothing else but rock, and I was absolutely loving that. I did that for about 2 ½ years, and I got back into it only about three years ago, and now I’m on KPOO (FM 89,5 – out of San Francisco). Actually Noel Hayes used to be a DJ on this very same station. His show was completely all blues. I can play whatever I want and that’s why I call it Tia Carroll’s Awesome Radio Show. Sometimes I’m just reckless with it and I play music that I haven’t heard before.” You can tune in every Wednesday for three hours of the reckless Tia.
With her music career dating back for close to forty years, Tia has won many awards, including West Coast Blues Hall of Fame’s “Female Vocalist of the Year” in 2007, Jus Blues Music Foundation’s “Best Traditional Blues Woman” in 2008 and “The Band Leader of the Year” in 2009 and “R&B Vocalist of the Year” in 2011. “In 2016 I got another award, ‘Female Blues Artist of the Year’ from NCEM and the last award I received was in 2019. It was ‘Ambassador of the Blues” award from the Golden Gate Blues Society.”
“In the future I definitely want to do another CD under the Little Village label, and I want to put a few more originals on it. I would like eventually to have a CD that has 80% originals. I feel it’s a good thing to have a cover, because you want people to be familiar with something they’ve already heard, as well as make them familiar with something new that you’ve created.”
(www.tiacarroll.com; interview conducted on May 6 in 2021; acknowledgements to Tia Carroll and Noel Hayes).
(EPs and albums)
WANNA RIDE (Big Cat Entertainment) 1997
Vudoo Woman / Let’s Rock / Wanna Ride / Sarah Sarah
TIA CARROLL (Big Cat Music) 2005
Cold Shot / I Wanna Tell You / Breakin’ Up Somebody’s Home / Damn Your Eyes / Open Up The Barn Door / Got My Mojo Workin’ / Let Go / Love Thing / Steamy Window / If Lovin’ You Is Wrong
TIA CARROLL – LIVE! (Big Cat Records) 2009
Let The Juke Joint Jump / Don’t Put Your Hands On Me / Hound Dog / 2 Drink Minimum / Matchbox / Giving It Up For Your Love / Pay Attention / If I Didn’t Know / Had Your Love / No Good 4 Me
BRAZIL SESSIONS (High Fidelity) 2014
You Hurt Me / They Call It Animal / The Bluesiest Woman / It’s Your Thing / How Sweet It Is / If I Can’t Have You / Let The Good Times Roll & Rock Me Baby / Love & Happiness / Midnight Hour / Knock On Wood / Mr. Big Stuff / I’d Rather Go Blind
I WANNA TELL YOU (2017)
Let The Good Times Roll / Shaky Ground / Show Me / I Wanna Tell You / Cool Teenager / Every Night / Little By Little / Blues Is My Business / One Way Out / I Ain’t Got You / Blues Woman / Matchbox / Shake Your Money Maker
TIA CARROLL CHRISTMAS CLASSICS (2018)
Merry Christmas Baby / Have Yourself A Merry Christmas / Someday At Christmas / Mary Did You Know? / Feliz Navidad / Jesus Just Left Chicago / Please Come Home For Christmas / Favorite Things / Do You Hear What I Hear? / This Christmas / Man’s World / What Christmas Means To Me
HE DID IT FOR ME (Praise Time Records) 2020
He Did It For Me / My Father My Saviour / Would You Be Ready / He Pulled Me Through
YOU GOTTA HAVE IT (Little Village, LVF 1038) 2021
Ain’t Nobody Worryin’ / Even When I’m Not Alone / Our Last Time / Don’t Put Your Hands On Me / Never Let Me Go / Leaving Again / Mama Told Me / Ready To Love Again / I Need Someone / Move On / Why Am I Treated So Bad