An Interview with Celebrated Blues and Ragtime Musician Del Rey: “Hooked By That Sound.”

 

Noted blues, jazz and ragtime singer, guitarist and ukulele player Del Rey will bring her resonator guitar and ukulele stylings to the Fort Hunter Centennial Barn in Harrisburg on Saturday, April 13th at 7:30 pm.  The concert is sponsored by the Susquehanna Folk Music Society.  More information can be found on the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website. Tickets are $24 General Admission, FREE for SFMS Members, and $10 for students (ages 3-22).  Tickets will be available at the door or online.


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Earlier this week, Del chatted with SFMS staff writer Peter Winter via email about her discovery of traditional blues and ragtime, her introduction to the resonator ukulele, and her passion for telling the stories of great, largely unsung, female musicians. 

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You’ve mentioned how your journey to ragtime and blues really began when Lou Curtiss, proprietor of Folk Arts and artistic director of the San Diego Folk Festival got you into some older recordings when you were a teenager.  What were some of these records and what about them spoke to you?

When I stumbled into Lou Curtiss Folk Arts Records I stumbled into a several wonderful art worlds. First there were the up and coming musicians playing gigs in the tiny store: I saw inspirational early performances of Tom Waits, The Summerdog Bluegrass Band, Pop Wagoner-all playing to 30 people wedged under the record bins. Lou ran the San Diego Folk Festival too, where I saw Lydia Mendoza, Martin Bogan and Armstrong and Sam Chatmon. So I got to hear and learn from a lot of real characters. 

Then on record, there was everything from Memphis Minnie to Seven Foot Dilly, 78s to LPs, and Lou had a good way of playing you things and making cassettes that gave me a good idea of what songs I wanted to learn. 

What first called you to the ukulele?

My friend Sandy Hines from (at that time) Charleston SC was the first real ukulele fanatic I met. It rubbed off on me hanging around her and I found a cheap pineapple uke at the flea market. Then my guitar maker, Ron Phillips made a me a superior metal resonator uke and I was really hooked by that sound. 

What were some of the hurdles you experienced converting your guitar style to ukulele?

The change from guitar to ukulele made me think about chords differently and understand them better. The shapes are clarified, being only four notes. Even though I use the re-entrant string as a time-keeping note with my thumb, I’m also attracted to how that high sound inflects chords, with the sweet brightness of ukulele.

What about resonator guitars and ukuleles do you love so much?

Sparkle! Metal resonator instruments made of nickel silver like mine have a lot of sparkle. 

Who are some of the figures you touch on in your Women in American Music presentation, and why so you think projects like this are important?

Women In American Music is a project where I talk about a few of the incredible stories of women musicians often left out of standard music histories. Vahdah Olcott Bickford a classical guitarist who helped make guitar the popular instrument it is today; Memphis Minnie, one of the most influential fingerstyle blues guitarists; Carrie Jacobs Bell, songwriter and music publisher;  Lovie Austin, pianist, arranger, songwriter and bandleader; Mary Osborne, electric bebop guitarist…it’s an ever changing list of women who interest me who played great music. 

You’ve been really prolific over the last two years! What can you tell us about your last two records, Communique in 2018 and Solo in 2017?

My latest albums are Comuniqué and Solo. The latter is a response to requests for an absolutely solo cd of me singing and playing uke and guitar. It’s recorded in a very unadorned manner, “straight to tape” as they used to say. Comuniqué is a collaboration with Suzy Thompson, the great blues singer and fiddler, and bassist Matt Weiner. They are two of my favorite living musicians and we play everything from Bessie Smith to originals on that one. 

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Peter Winter lives in Harrisburg where he writes, teaches music, plays in the Celtic group Seasons, and DJs. He is on instagram

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Blue and Ragtime with Del Rey on Thursday, April 6th at the Ware Center in Lancaster

West Coast blues guitar and ukulele queen Del Rey brings her quirky, infectious stage presence and command of blues and ragtime to Lancaster on Thursday, April 6th. A 7:30 p.m. concert is sponsored jointly by the Susquehanna Folk Music Society and the Ware Center concert. The concert will be held at Millersville University’s Ware Center located at 42 N. Prince Street in Lancaster.

Del Rey is known for performing on both the resonator guitar and the resonator ukulele and is a foremost authority on the music of blues giant Memphis Minnie.

Del Rey began her musical training in classical guitar at the tender age of four. When she hit her teens and found blues music, the serene classical numbers fell to the side. Her music soon rang with the soul of blues, but jingled a little, too, with ragtime and jazz, and even some rock flavoring to stir things up.

Her distinctive fingerstyle playing has a fascinating complexity such that she makes her solo instruments sound like a whole band. Rags, blues, and tunes of the early 20th century are her specialty, even as she writes new music to add to the tradition.

Rey has taught and played all over the world, and has toured with Steve James, Suzy Thompson, and Adam Franklin. She writes about music for various publications, including Acoustic Guitar Magazine, and is a popular instructor at numerous guitar camps such as Ashokan and the Swannanoa Gathering.

Concert tickets are $25 General Admission, $22 for SFMS members and $5 for students ages 4-22. Advance tickets are available through the Ware Center Box Office in Millersville or Lancaster or by calling (717) 871-7600. For more information, visit the Susquehanna Folk Music Society website at http://www.sfmsfolk.org.

 

Below Hank Imhof, an area guitarist and blues enthusiast who is a favorite on the winery and coffeehouse circuit, tells about how purchasing a Del Rey teaching video was a “game changer’ for him.

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The name Del Ray kept on showing up in my music studies, so after taking some time to read about her music, I decided to purchase one of her learning DVD’s called The Blues Styles of Memphis Minnie published by Homespun. I learned that Del Rey is considered one of the finest interpreters of the music of Memphis Minnie –a blues guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter whose recording career lasted from the 1920s to the 1950s. Memphis Minnie wrote, played and recorded many great blues songs, some of the best known being “Bumble Bee”, “Nothing in Rambling”, and “Me and My Chauffeur Blues“. She has inspired many great musicians, male and female, among them Del Rey.

While working with the video I have been really floored by Del Rey’s playing abilities and style. I started in and have very much enjoyed the lessons. Del Ray is very infectious and teaches with a light heart and a lot of smiles. I also bought the other Del Ray DVD Boogie Woogie Guitar before even finishing the first. I’m looking forward to spending as much time as I can to learn from these video lessons!

My discovery of Del Ray and her music talents have been a game changer for me personally. Del Ray’s study of blues, blues history and guitar along with her beautiful spirit and a bunch of smiles are a force to be enjoyed. Her guitar skills on her steel bodied resonator guitar set up a groove and infectious sound that is wonderful.

Del Rey’s music reflects a deep study of black history, blues history and especially channeling the female perspective of all of the above through the soul of her hero Memphis Minnie. Del Ray sings and tells stories about Memphis Minnie while adding her own musicianship and spirit to everything she plays and sings. It’s very much like hearing the two of them play together on the same stage.

Equally inspiring to me has been learning more about black history, black women’s history and the power of women, all women. Del Ray is furthering the awareness of this music and an history that maybe you’ve never heard before.

Please come and enjoy Del Ray, I’ll be there!