THE REPORTER

SINGING THE BLUES
Zola Moon is the real deal.

By Michael Hixon

          Growing up in the Bay Area, Zola Moon’s inspiration for the blues were the likes of Janis Joplin, Big Mama Thornton, Etta James, and B.B. King, but she got into a little trouble as a youngster pursuing her love of singing.
          “I was one of those girls that club owners have to be scared of because she sneaks in the back door,” Moon said. “She finds a way to get in without the ID. So I got thrown out of various clubs. You didn’t have to be 21 to get into the Winterland or the Fillmore. I used to go to them with my older sister who’d drive us around and we got to see Janis Joplin. I got to see B.B. King. I got to see an early Aretha Franklin show. Etta James was a real anti-pop wonder. None of those artists would have made it on MTV. They weren’t cute. They just sang their asses off. Which is what I do.”
          Moon has been a fixture in Los Angeles, singing her brand of the blues, ever since she moved here more than 20 years ago. She is celebrating the release of her seventh CD,  “Wildcats under My Skin.”
          Moon calls her band a group of “roadhouse warriors.” She calls them The Pretty Boys and they consist of Jerry Olson on drums and percussion; Michael Carter on lead, rhythm, and acoustic guitars; and Eric Williams on bass guitar.
          “When I first came from San Francisco I was really a green kid,” she said. “I went to Hollywood like everybody else but I couldn’t live there so I ended up in Orange County for a brief period of time. That didn’t work out either. Then I went down by the beach and the air was great and it was cooler. It seemed like a beautiful place to live and I’ve loved it ever since.”
          “I’ve been able to work and to work steadily. A lot of it has to do with my fan base. I’ve built up a big one over the years and they really support me and my music. Without them I’m out of work, that’s all there is to it.”
          While songs from the new album like “Big City Blues,” “A Paycheck Away,” and “Tequila Dreams” all have their roots in the blues, Moon doesn’t limit herself to the label of blues singer.
“I realize I’ve branched out quite a bit so I’m not calling myself just a blues singer anymore. It’s more like I’m a blues-based Americana roots artist. That’s more accurate of what I do, but it’s still all based in the blues.”
          Moon wasn’t always a songwriter. Early on she was good at improvising but was more interested in singing and working on her voice. That changed around 10 years ago when she started playing the harmonica and picked up a pen.
          “I used to run a jam session for aspiring players,” she said. “They’d come in and sit in with the band, and somebody had to sing with them. Usually, it was me. I would always try to find something interesting to sing about. I came up with a lot of hooks and ideas that way. I would be doing something lyrically and realize from the response of the crowd and of the band that I was coming up with some great stuff. Like ‘Big City Blues,’ the opener on my latest CD ‘Wildcats under My Skin.’ It was pretty much developed at a jam a few years back but it’s always been in the back of my mind.”
Even with her success over the years, Moon said it is still a struggle for most musicians with the exception of the famous few. “It’s a struggle, but I’m doing better than most. It’s very, very difficult to be original and to be independent as an artist. And the club world is sometimes no walk in the park. There’s a hierarchy in show business where ‘the stars’ make millions and millions of dollars and then there’s everybody else.”
            “Wildcats under My Skin” was recorded at Dino M4 Studio in Torrance, California on an old school 2 inch analog tape recording machine because Zola feels the sound you get is much fuller and richer than on the latest digital, computerized equipment. “That new stuff is really for people who don’t know how to sing or play their instruments,” she says.
          She said that she many of the up-and-coming blues artists are “running outside of the West Coast swing crowd in Southern California” and keeping the blues alive. “In Southern California, inside the blues community that is, 90 percent of what’s promoted is West Coast swing. But I find that a lot of the younger artists are more attracted to the big city blues sound or the blues rock sound or the American blues sound like me.”
          “I got some rock influences in there and some country influences in there and some jazz influences in there, but it’s all blues-based. It’s real American roots music done with real musicians playing real instruments. No digital this or that. No computers. No synthesizers. I don’t need any gimmickry in the studio to fix what I do, thank you very much.”