Blues Underground Network
Sandy Carroll "Just As I Am"
About Sandy Carroll & "Just As I Am"
"I have been playing, writing and singing music forever!" says singer/songwriter/pianist Sandy Carroll. "I am originally from McNairy County in West Tennessee (home of legendary sheriff Buford Pusser of Walking Tall fame), in a little town where our studio (her husband is Grammy-winning producer Jim Gaines) is now located. It is two hours east of Memphis, but I consider my musical home as Memphis.
"My new album for Catfood Records, Just As I Am, is a release that celebrates all the different facets of who I am, what I've seen and learned and what I hope to be," she says. "The songs deal with gratitude, goddessness, anticipation, worthiness, sassiness and the vulnerability of a life. Every woman's blues and every woman's triumphs. I have performed internationally and written for artists who inspire me and who make me a better one and recorded with players that lift my songs to the sky. So here's to all you strong, amazing women out there -- to the sweetness of who we are, what we've lived through and our unreasonable ability to find humor in it all."
The new CD was produced and mixed by Jim Gaines, (Stevie Ray Vaughan, Santana, Luther Allison) and recorded at Bessie Blue Studio in Stantonville, Tennessee. In addition to Sandy Carroll's deft work as a singer, songwriter and piano player, Just As I Am features some of the best musicians in Memphis, including drummer Steve Potts, bassist Dave Smith, keyboardist Rick Steff, guitarist Evan Leake and singers Reba Russell and Daunielle "Pie" Brown Hill, among others. Sandy Carroll had a hand in writing all of the album's 10 tracks, including co-writing with Bob Trenchard, Rick Steff, William Lee Ellis, Jim Gaines and Evan Leake. The title track was co-written by Carroll, James Solberg and Luther Allison and originally recorded by the late, legendary blues guitarist on his Reckless album.
"Just As I Am" is a project Jim and I have been working on for a few years. It came together when Bob Trenchard got involved and we decided to finish it and release it on Catfood Records," says Carroll. The songs on the album are an eclectic mix covering a wide swath of her roots musical influences, ranging from ballads, blues/rock and gospel, to New Orleans styles and country.
Sandy Carroll reflects about several of the tracks on Just As I Am: "The CD's opening track, 'Blessed Be,' is a song of gratitude," she says. "Even with the blues, there is always something to be thankful for. The song is a compilation of the energy, feeling and spirit of being thankful. The background vocals by Reba Russell and 'Pie' Hill take us on up to heaven. On 'Help Mother Nature,' I wanted to get a New Orleans/Meters-type feel. The lyrics speak to those of us at a 'certain age,' aware of all the help out there, like Botox, lipo, nip and tucks -- now, do we do it or not? This is a humorous (and maybe a little cynical) way to look at aging. 'Heartfixin' Man' is a collaboration with Evan Leake for the music and Jim Gaines for the lyrics to make a blues groove that rocks. Love can fix the heart, even in this restless world where there is no time for games or guessing. 'Waiting for the Storm' is a true 3 AM blues tune. You hear the warnings, see the signs, and you KNOW the storm is coming, but you don't know when. Walking on eggshells to prevent it, but you are at that stage in a relationship (or life) where you know it is right outside.
"On 'Romeo and Juliet,' Bob Trenchard actually gave me the lyrics to this tune for a melody with another artist in mind. After we demo-ed it, he and Jim liked the way I sang it, so we decided to put it on this album. It's a timeless story of young love that is supposed to last forever. The accordion added the retro feel of a Tex-Mex blues groove."
Sandy calls "Messin' with Me" a "goddess song with a funky groove; a full-blown woman who knows it. On 'Baby Comin' Home,' I wanted to accomplish a stride piano feel with a simple theme of a woman returning after sowing a few wild oats and finding out what she was looking for was already there. 'Just As I Am' was written as a love song to my husband and we wanted to capture the essence of the lyrics and the simplicity of the melody with just piano, guitar and accordion," she recalls.
An interesting historical twist is that on the Just As I Am CD cover, Sandy Carroll is pictured against the graffiti wall that is now part of the Hard Rock Cafe on Beale Street in Memphis.Â During construction, this one wall was left unpainted from when the Beale Street Studios occupied the building. Jim Gaines recorded Luther Allison's version of "Just As I Am" there and Sandy was lucky enough to witness it. So ... the CD and art have come full circle.
Sandy Carroll has spent much of her career in the area, recording and singing in clubs around the mid-south. After playing on the road for five years, she headlined at the Lafayette's Corner club on famed Beale Street in Memphis when the street re-opened in 1983.
"It was a great adventure to be on Beale in those days and I did a lot of writing as a solo artist sitting at a beautiful grand piano and watching history re-unfold," recalls Carroll. Writing and recording the singles, "If You Got It" and "Memphis in May" in 1984, Sandy partnered with the legendary Jim Dickinson, NARAS Memphis chapter's seven-time producer of the year. "Memphis in May" became a regional hit and for several years, the unofficial theme song for the Memphis In May annual festivities. Sandy performed at the Memphis in May Festival with the Memphis Horns (and special guest Rufus Thomas) and also at the first Beale Street Music Festival. She also sang the national anthem and "Memphis In May" in front of 30,000 people at the Memphis Showboats football game.
"For several years after that, I wrote and recorded in San Francisco and did a short stay in the Midwest, but had the opportunity to come home to Memphis and work with the great Willie Mitchell," she remembers. In 1989, Albert King recorded Sandy's, "If You Got It" which appeared on his final studio album, Red House. One of Sandy's more unique gigs was writing the Memphis Mad Dog football team theme song, "Mad Dog Boogie" recorded by Southern-fried soul and blues musician Preston Shannon. "I moved back full time in 1992 and released the album, Southern Woman, returning to Beale Street and touring the UK for a month as a solo artist," Carroll says.
Back in the States, Sandy continued promoting Southern Woman, performing at various festivals in the South, including Arts in the Park, Eureka Springs Blues Festival and the Southern Heritage Festival. She maintained a heavy schedule on Beale Street playing in clubs such as Rum Boogie, Blues City, Black Diamond, Joyce Cobbs, Kings Palace and Blues Hall.
Her next album, Memphis Rain, was released in 1997 and was nominated for a Premier Player Songwriting award by the Memphis NARAS chapter. During that time, she wrote for Albert King, Reba Russell, Anna Popovic, Ellis Hooks, Barbara Blue and other artists. Also in 1997, the great Luther Allison recorded Sandy's "Just As I Am" and "It's a Blues Thing" on his final album, Reckless, which was nominated for a Grammy. She finished the decade and into the new millennium with numerous regional tours and festival dates and continued to be a major presence on Beal Street.
In 2001, Sandy's composition, "Just As I Am," was first released on the compilation CD Goin' Down South. She also recorded for the McCarty-Hite, Weekend in Memphis CD and other Memphis area projects. That same year, Sandy was filmed by Memphis' PBS station WKNO, along with great songwriters Keith Sykes, Teenie Hodges, Nancy Apple, Duane Jarvis and Delta Joe Sanders as apart of the "In Their Own Voices" concert. Premiered in 2001, the concert was been syndicated on PBS affiliates nationwide.
The following year, the Inside Sounds label released the CD, Memphis Belles: Past, Present & Future, which featured Sandy along with Ruby Wilson, Cybill Shepherd, Carla Thomas and other Memphis female artists. Two years later, Sandy performed with her Memphis Belle pals at a concert at the Cannon Performing Arts Center in Memphis.
Sandy Carroll released Delta Techno 2006, an album produced by Jim Gaines, which generated extensive radio airplay and also made the Roots Blues Charts.Â In 2007, she released an EP Rhythm of the Rivers, with five previously unpublished songs and a reprise of her song, "Bound for Glory." Rhythm of the Rivers showcased another side of Sandy's music and writing, and the songs reflected her love for home both her Memphis musical heritage and her childhood and present home by the Tennessee River at Pickwick.
In 2008, she was awarded a note on Beale Street (one of four living women to hold that honor), and in 2010 the note was "put to rest" in front of the Hard Rock Cafe. In 2011, Carroll filmed a show that is to be part of an upcoming documentary called "Ladies of Beale," which celebrates all the women who have a note on the street.
Equally at ease in solo or full band settings, Sandy Carroll says: "the intimacy of a solo show is a quiet nurturing, and the groove of a band is the rockin' feast. The studio is where the ingredients mix together."
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