Music

LA blues legend Beth Hart: The songs that made me

Beth Hart reveals her biggest musical inspirations to The Big Issue, including dance ballads from Florence + The Machine to reggae masterclasses from Bob Marley

Los Angeles singer-songwriter Beth Hart has fought for her reputation as one of the greats of blues-rock. She rose to fame in 1999 off the back of her single LA Song (Out of This Town), and went on to collaborate with legends like Slash, Jeff Beck and Buddy Guy.

Hart has released twelve studio albums since 1993 as well as several live recordings, including the revered Live in Amsterdam with guitarist Joe Bonamassa. Her 2015 release Better Than Home was named #4 Best Blues Album Of The Year by Mojo magazine. With a voice so dynamic and a songwriting approach that is emotionally raw, Hart carved out a niche for herself across genres that she is still confidently planted in today.

And nearly a year on from her sold-out stormer at the Royal Albert Hall she is only just able to admit it may have been a success, mostly remembering the nerves she felt walking out on stage at such a special show.

Music, she says, has always been and still is her greatest obsession, and she always mixes covers of songs she admires into her headline sets. But what influences the boundless passion behind Hart’s burnt-honey voice? She tells The Big Issue which songs inspired her to break her way through adversity, and which songs cemented themselves as musical milestones in her life.

Bob Marley – Exodus

When I was around 13 my brother started getting me into reggae. This song is a great example of the thing I love so much about the songwriters in reggae music. They always talk about inspiring the people of the land to come together and know their worth. Know that they’ve got something to say, no matter how many people have oppressed them or told them they’re nothing. They find joy and they share it with each other and they celebrate it. Not in a way of victimisation, but in a way of power.

Bruce Springsteen – Thunder Road

I was never a Bruce fan as a little girl. I couldn’t stand it, I couldn’t take anything that came on the radio. But whether you want to be a songwriter or a novelist or any kind of writer, you’ve got to study that song and lyric. And how he puts his point across – about getting out and going to make something of yourself, getting out of this rotten place and finding all the beauty and inspiration that gives you the strength to get out. To this day I think this is the greatest lyric of all song writing that I’ve ever heard. I’ve never heard anything more poetic but at the same time, nothing pretentious. Its poetic for the sake of the truth.

Leonard Cohen – Hallelujah

The greatest of them all. Cohen really influenced my perspective on what it is to be a great songwriter. He was a poet on a whole other level with that beautiful low voice, deeper than the ocean. And I took a great lesson from him – his very simple melodies. He made sure you heard every line as you listened, with nothing to distract you from that. He was just so marvellous.

Melody Gardot – Your Heart is Black as Night

This is a song I have had the pleasure of covering with Joe [Bonamassa, guitarist and Hart’s long-time collaborator], which means a lot to me. This track is so gorgeous and she has got an amazing story. She had a major accident while riding a bike that put her in the hospital for a year. She couldn’t speak, she had gone partially blind. She had to learn how to speak again and so they did singing therapy with her. Her voice is so captivating and haunting, she is one of the greatest jazz singers of all time – right up there with the classics.

Florence & the Machine – Shake It Out

So many of the musical milestones in my life are from before even the time of my childhood, but Florence Welch really got me. She not only has this brilliant, unique voice, but her song writing is next level. I was doing a television show in France and I’m in soundcheck, doing my thing, then it’s her turn and she sang this. It was phenomenal. I had my husband get me her first two records and that material is still so thrilling to me. And she is such an inspiration as a performer, she works unbelievably hard and I have so much respect for her craft.

Live at the Royal Albert Hall is available now via Provogue Records/Mascot Label Group.

Read the full article in this week's Big Issue.
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