On Life, Love, and Musical Collaboration
I understand that you have been working in collaboration with another songwriter, who is he, and what can you tell me about your collaborative songwriting process?
Stu Johnson is the guitar player from our cover band HELLA BLUE. During the lockdown we decided to form a duo with the thought that a duo might get booked before a band when we were booking gigs again. Stu surprised me last February when he sent me recordings of some guitar riffs he'd written. I was immediately inspired to write melody and lyrics. In two days we had eight songs. Then he surprised me again when he told me he plays piano, bass and drums. Then he astounded me by learning to be a sound engineer!!!
LY: Can you choose (3) songwriters or music artists that you feel have had the biggest impact on your music.
Only 3 artists who have had the biggest impact on me???...I have always struggled with questions like this so per era I'd say in the '60's and '70's... Carol King Carly Simon Joan Baez when I was a child, but also all of the female singer/songwriters for giving me hope that I could do it too. In the '80's and '90's I have to credit Sharron McLeod for not only being my guide to the world of Jazz and female vocalists like Billie Holiday Betty Carter and Carmen McRae, but also for being the monster jazz composer and vocalist that she is. And more recently I have been singing a rockin blues sound so Janis Joplin Beth Hart and Susan Tedeschi have been huge influences. I must include Robert Plant because he stopped to talk to me while I was busking at the corner of Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue in the early '80's. He asked if I wrote the tune I had just played and I said yes. Then he gave me $2 US and said, "Keep up the good work." That did more for my confidence and drive than anything else to date.
LY: Pick a song you wrote which best represents your style (provide the song title/and the album, and date of release), and how would you describe your style of music?
One song ??? How about one from before I got sick with migraines and seizures and couldn't play or write for many years and one from more recent healthy productive times.
LY: I'm sorry to hear that. I'm glad you are better and making a comeback! What was the inspiration for writing your songs, and what was the recording process like?
I wrote and recorded 'It's Fate' in the 90's. in a live church where I was a part of an event called Cover Girls which Lori Yates organized. It is a classic love song in a moderate tempo written in a way that could be arranged to suit any genre of music. I was supposed to sing 3 cover songs but I only knew how to play one on my guitar so I played it then I sang acapella 'Mercedes Benz' and then my original but I didn't introduce it as an original. People told me afterwards that it was their favourite and sounded familiar but they couldn't recall who wrote it. To me that was the highest compliment. I recently sent it to Jann Arden in a Facebook comment because it sounds like a song she'd sing and you don't get unless you ask. This song was never officially released as a single or on an album. It would be nice to record and release it now. The inspiration was divorcing my husband at the same time my Mom was living with Leukemia.
Lost Until We're Found is a Beacon Street song * I wrote the melody and lyrics for, inspired by the guitar riff Stu Johnson wrote, which we just released in July as a single and my most recent song is always my favourite. This song is my first ever latin beat, a flamenco rumba Cajun style rhythm with lyrics that are general yet point you to your own thoughts and life experience. We recorded this in Stu's home studio. I was inspired by the unkindness that has spread around the world more and more the past five to six years. *Beacon Street is Tami and Stu's duo name.
LY: I'm impressed by how you've brought those tough life experiences into your songwriting. I love your song title: Lost Until We're Found! What have you been doing during the pandemic?
Since the pandemic, like most people I have been sitting in my house too much. The best thing that came of it is the music Stu and I have written, recorded and released.
LY: What has inspired you the most lately?
I am most inspired by the response to our new original songs especially from people like Bob Wiseman, original pianist in Blue Rodeo and Paul Laine, lead singer in the rock band The Defiants (local Vancouver Island vocalist/composer big in Europe) as well as countless other pro's who have voiced their support.
LY: Tell me about your plans for the release of your newly recorded tracks.
I have been getting and plan to get the songs I have written more air-play on University Radio stations in Canada and the US as well as podcasts. I have been seeking an agent who places original music in film and television as well as finding other musicians to record my songs who are touring and recording. I am only interested in doing local Vancouver Island gigs, no tours, no videos.
Current city: Nanaimo
Featured song: Lost Until We're Found, by Tami Blazer
Producer: Stu Johnson
By Sharron McLeod
I am very humbled that Lesley asked me to write about songwriting for her blog.
Thanks Lesley! You are truly an inspiration to many songwriters I am sure :-)
What can I say about writing songs? That I need to do more of it? Yes definately! That said, it's not about having a vast volume of songs with my name on it that is the purpose, but the joy of creating and finishing a song that you really like. There is no feeling like it, really.
Recently I released four songs, two of them are originals. The Griot's Lament and Ballad of the Six Parables. I have written other songs, and the process for each is different.
The Griot's Lament has a harmonic motif that I really like, so it was inspired by the harmony at first. Then I wrote the words and the verses didn't really fit into the 8 bar phrase that we are accustomed to in Jazz or American songbook repertoire (which is much of the repertoire that I perform.) So I decided 7 bars worked better and it did. It was originally written in A minor and I moved it to Bflat minor because of working with saxophone players and flat keys are considered more horn friendly. It still seemed short, so I added a vamp section to go in between verses which was a suggestion from a friend and colleague that I worked with.
Ballad of the Six Parables was an entirely different process. It is much more bluesy in it's structure and I spent more time on the chords. Lyrically it has a chorus and verses. Six verses to be exact and that's why the word 'six' is in the title. The chorus is a series of chords that move up via half steps and then a leap of a 5th. It was really something that I stumbled upon, with a very simple melody worked to fit over the lyric. Then I put it between the verses and a structure started to emerge, and I just followed it. I used that structure and finished the words and then it was done. The song started to write itself. It's kind of cool and mysterious because one can't know where the muse will take you.
So ask yourself what inspires you. Is it the lyric? Is it a melody? Is it harmony? And yes, I forgot to mention...rhythm! Perhaps a rhythm or groove might inspire a melodic idea or lyric.
Sometimes writing a song is influenced by many things you wouldn't have thought of otherwise. So when you are writing, don't be afraid to drop bars here or add vamps or sections there. Maybe even section without words. Or some words without music. Don't be afraid to try different things. Also asking questions of the musicians you work with and trust is a good idea. Whose work do you admire and respect and why? And then start there.
Best of luck and have fun!
Current city: Nice
Songs featured: The Griot's Lament and Ballad of the Six Parables, by Sharron McLeod
with Philomene Hoffman
Interview By Lesley Young