As we sit right in the middle of the silliest political silly season in living memory, L.A. rocker Melissa Etheridge, never one to keep her thoughts to herself (thankfully), is aghast at what is unfolding. Somehow, though, she finds some hope in the chaotic circus playing out in all of its ugliness on our television screens.
“What I see is the death of an old paradigm,” Etheridge says. “The death of the idea that daddy’s gonna come in and punish all the bad people to keep us safe — the patriarchal belief that has run us for centuries. We’re going back to the balance of matriarchal and patriarchal. That some people cannot possibly trust an overqualified woman because they think that she’s a little bit of a bitch. Seriously? That just blows my mind when you look at the worst that patriarchy has to offer.”
That Etheridge would plant herself in Hillary Clinton’s progressive camp should surprise no one. She was a vocal supporter of Bill Clinton. Plus, Trump’s stance on immigration and attitude toward women, to name just two things, sits light-years away from the singer’s belief system.
This is a trail-blazing, strong and wonderfully opinionated woman, quick to acknowledge the work that female rockers that came before did to smooth over what was (and still is) a rocky road. That’s why it’s so appropriate that, last year, she went out on tour with Blondie and Joan Jett, while this year she’s on the road with Pat Benatar.
“I would also enjoy playing with men, I’m sure, but this is what has opened up for me, and it seems to be what the fans have really enjoyed last year and this year; we’ve done very well,” Etheridge says. “It has been amazing. These women did it a decade before I did. I know how hard it was when I did it, so I can only imagine what they went through.”
While it’s unfortunate that the Etheridge/Benatar package won’t be coming to Boulder, the reasoning is sound. Etheridge feels a special affinity with this fair state, so she likes to pull out all the stops with a solo show in Colorado.
“Colorado was one of the first places that loved my music and has always been supportive,” she says. “I’ve always done well in Colorado, and I’m so grateful that I can always go there and do my own thing and come back every year.”
This year’s gig should be particularly special, as Etheridge has a new record coming out, Memphis Rock and Soul, that saw her travel to Memphis and dive into the pool of awesomeness that is the Stax Records catalogue. That turned out to be a wildly educational experience.
“This is the music that influenced the music that influenced me,” Etheridge says. “I was directly influenced by some of the songs, but I know that the Rolling Stones, Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin – all of those artists were directly influenced by Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave, all of these great soul artists that were coming out. I think it really fueled rock ’n’ roll, so I wanted to go back and finish that circle and record those songs with the musicians that have played them for so long and have kept that fire burning.”
It sounds like a special project: Etheridge worked with the Hi Rhythm Section (the Stax house band), including the Hodges Brothers. Not only that, but she used Al Green’s famous “number nine” microphone. Much of the recording was filmed, and that footage might eventually see the light of day. For now, until the new album is released, we’ll have to be happy with A Little Bit of ME: Live in L.A., the live album recorded on the last date of the This Is ME tour.
“I have changed my band since then, but I knew it was a special band that I had at the time,” she says. “I wanted to really lock that in. The album was a celebration at home in L.A. I enjoyed working with (producer/writer) Jerry Wonda so much. He really brought me closer to that R&B-and-soul feeling that I love. That led the way to me going to Memphis to record. I wanted to really capture the band that I had, and the fun of This Is ME, and I really did.”
It seems amazing when speaking with the ever-youthful and infectiously enthusiastic Etheridge that her self-titled debut album is approaching its thirty-year anniversary. When asked if she intends to commemorate the occasion, Etheridge is stunned.
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“Good God,” she says. “Thirty years? I guess so, wow. You know, I’ve just been walking the path that’s in front of me, and the good news is that I’ve gotten better and better every year. That’s my hope – that I can keep learning and growing, because there’s always more to do. Music is endless.”
The Melissa Etheridge live experience in 2016 is both fun and thought-provoking. She’s still a musician first, going out night after night with the intention of kicking ass. And kick ass she does.
“You can expect to have your mind blown and your rock ’n’ roll dreams come true,” she says. “Just to have a really good time. To leave feeling better than when you came. That’s my goal.”
Melissa Etheridge plays at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, August 16, at Chautauqua Auditorium; 900 Baseline Road, Boulder; 303-442-3282; $60-$78.