Marcia Ball has the music of the Gulf Coast in her bones. Born in Orange, Texas, and raised in Vinton, La., Ball’s childhood consisted of listening to soulful tunes that came out of those two states.
“Growing up, all of the bands that I heard and the records that (my family) heard, it was all centered on New Orleans rhythm and blues, like Fats Domino or Lee Dorsey and people like that,” says Ball, 66, on the phone from her Austin home. “And also, from the Texas side, the Bobby Bland and things that came out of Duke Records and Peacock Records, out of Houston.”
Ball came from a musical family; both her grandmother and aunt played the piano. Ball followed suit and started twinkling the ivories as a kid. With a grandmother living in New Orleans, Ball was introduced to many of the greats while hanging in the Big Easy. “I got to see some of the great musicians and even the records of people like Lloyd Price, and I got to see Irma Thomas when I was a kid,” she recalls. “So, all of that was what we had growing up.”
For over 40 years, Ball has maintained a solo career as a blueswoman, churning out music that’s been called everything from Texas swamp-rock to Gulf Coast rhythm and blues to Cajun country. “Well, they’re all descriptive of what I do,” she says. “The one that’s least descriptive is probably the Cajun country, because we don’t really play anything in French and it’s not country. The most descriptive is probably the Gulf Coast rhythm and blues, and we do some boogie-woogie.”
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Ball has picked up many honors for her music throughout the decades, from Grammy nods to Blues Music Awards trophies, and has been inducted into several halls of fame. But Ball is also proud of how she’s progressed as a singer-songwriter, composing tunes that reveal deep, personal insight and social consciousness. “The music is more personal than ever for me,” she says. “There’s one on my recent record (2014’s ‘The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man’) called ‘Human Kindness,’ and that’s a general wish for mankind.”
She’ll be performing those songs and others Wednesday at Motorco Music Hall in Durham, where she promises to get Triangle folks in a fun, dancing mood. Ball mostly appears to be happy to still do that for people after all these years.
“Something that I observed a long time ago about the blues, the rhythm and blues, is that you don’t get pushed away because you’re older, you know,” she says. “In my experience, there were so many great players who I got to see as a kid who were our heroes, and they were like Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon and Koko Taylor and Katie Webster. And rather than push them aside, these people were more revered and more respected as they aged and as their careers went longer.
“There’s, of course, a brand-new world out there – a lot of great acts coming along and very deserving of the attention. But that doesn’t mean that the people who play for years – and, in my case, some of the links to the real, first-generation blues players – there are many of us out there and we’re still playing, and still getting plenty of work.”
Who: Marcia Ball, with Good Rocking Sam
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
Where: Motorco Music Hall, 723 Rigsbee Ave., Durham