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A Conversation with Crystal Shawanda


By Ken Wallis.



Crystal Shawanda has an unmistakable voice that reaches the stratospheres of great blues music. Originally a country artist, Crystal felt the need to belt it out in the blues world and we’re sure glad she decided to bring her unique talent to this genre. Her stage presence is mesmerizing and her studio albums have gained critical acclaim, culminating in a Juno Award of best blues album for Church House Blues.


Ken Wallis interviewed Crystal Shawanda for the radio show BluesSource Canada, which can be heard as a podcast here at The Sound Cafe. The following are edited excerpts from that interview.



Photo Credit: Ken Wallis.



Ken Wallis

Crystal Shawanda has a new album out entitled Midnight Blues and we're thrilled to have her join us. Crystal it's wonderful to have you on the show.


Crystal Shawanda

Thank you so much


Ken Wallis

You started your career out as a country artist and now you've embraced the blues. What sparked that change?


Crystal Shawanda

I was just following my heart. Honestly that's what I was listening to on my own free time. When I was sitting around at home, I was singing Muddy Waters and BB King and Etta James. I was always taking the country songs that I was doing and always trying to make them a little bit more bluesy, a little bit more soulful. I would show up to country music festivals and I would get on stage and come out singing Big Mama Thornton, and Elmore James, and the promoters are like wait a minute, this is not what we ordered. It just happened gradually but It just became apparent that's where I wanted to be.


Ken Wallis

Well, you've got a new album out called Midnight Blues and you won a Juno Award for Church House Blues. Do you feel that Midnight Blues is a natural outgrowth of that album or is it a little bit different?


Crystal Shawanda

I feel with this new album I'm not really trying to prove myself anymore, not like the first few albums. I think I was just trying to figure out who I was as an artist, as a blues artist because it was like starting from zero. It was like a baby deer learning how to walk again and so it took me a few albums to really get my rhythm of who I am because I didn't want to be posing and I didn't want to do what other people were doing. I wanted to do what felt natural to me and so I feel Church House Blues was kind of an awakening and Midnight Blues now we're just really starting to get full steam ahead.


Ken Wallis

And what's the significance of the title Midnight Blues?


Crystal Shawanda

I called the album Midnight Blues because we recorded this album during the pandemic and so we recorded in our home studio in Nashville. We were staying connected with everybody through social media and so what we were seeing a lot was people are up all night and that's when it hits you the most. Whatever is bothering you, whether it's relationship problems, or bills, or just stress of what's going on in the world, it seems like it hits us at midnight because the middle of the night we can't sleep and it's weighing on our mind. It was something that we were all going through collectively. Everybody had different problems, but everybody was dealing with something. This was an idea by Sonny Tackett that he was already floating around with, and we just really felt like it resonated with these times and so we wrote the song out and it just happened that way.


Ken Wallis

I just love your rendition of Evil, the Willie Dixon tune that Howlin’ Wolf made famous. How do you approach a classic tune like that? Do you do anything different rather than with your own compositions?


Crystal Shawanda

Yeah definitely. One of the things why I recorded this song is because Howlin’ Wolf was such a big inspiration to me as the way he carried himself in business and as well as his music. I have a raspy side to my voice and so he's one of those people who showed me that that can shine. You don't have to hide that part away because that's something that I was encouraged to do within country music was to hide that part of my voice and so he kind of inspired me to just let it go and let it fly.


Another thing I loved about him was his story, his theatrics, who he was as an entertainer. He respected and he appreciated it, and he embraced it. I love to do that in my live shows and in my music and so for me when I do a cover it is almost like becoming a character and I become the character in the song. We did the song just a little bit different than the way he does it and again this is taking the inspiration that he gave me and flowing with it.


Ken Wallis

You've got a great video for How Bad You Want It and I think I'm gonna recommend that all Canadians watch that video when it starts to snow up here in the cold North. Where was that shot, it's beautiful with palm trees, seaside areas. That must have been in a nice warm climate.


Crystal Shawanda

Yes absolutely, actually in Florida. We were on tour there last spring in April. We were just in between a few days off and so we kind of just stopped off in a few different beaches, a few different state parks. It was awesome and I wanted my family to be in it because that song me and my husband wrote it with Darren James right as we were coming out of the pandemic last summer. We were just starting to play shows again and so that song kind of really captures that hopeful optimistic feeling of what was to come of getting back to normal again. In the song lyrics it's like it's ‘how bad do you want it’ and what we mean by that is whatever makes you happy. For me it's my family, traveling with my family and continuing to play music and do things on my own terms. I work really hard for it and I I really appreciate it and so I just kind of wanted to showcase that in the video.


Ken Wallis

And one of the lines in there is ‘I'm floating on cloud nine’ and I think that's very indicative of your career so far. You have a couple of very special guests on this album.


Crystal Shawanda

We had Steve Mariner playing harmonica on a couple of tracks actually and then we also had the late great Harpdog Brown record on a couple of songs as well. As far as I know I think this might have been one of the last things that he worked on before he passed.


Harpdog Brown actually played on my very first Blues album when I first came onto the scene, The Whole World’s Got the Blues. We kind of just kept missing each other on the past few albums but we got together on this album and then unfortunately we didn't get to finish all the ideas that we had. We've been fortunate enough to play a couple of shows with Steve Mariner and we're just a fan of what he does and who he is, and we were just really grateful that he agreed to help us out on the couple of the songs.

Ken Wallis

And this album is basically a family affair because your husband is quite involved.


Crystal Shawanda

Yeah, my husband is my guitar player. He's been my guitar player for 19 years or so. We've been playing music together, writing together, and so we produced a lot of the past few albums together, and then this album I decided to take a step back and just be an artist again and I let him take the reins as producer and he actually did a lot of the engineering on this album. It's kind of funny because like I always knew what he was capable of, but he always second guesses himself and he always get other people involved to help. Because we were kind of stuck in our house, it kind of forced him to have to step up to the engineering table and so he engineered and tracked the whole album. He did a lot of the mixing as well. So, it's very cool.


Ken Wallis

And how do you go about selecting the songs that you put on an album? It must be a tough choice because I know a lot of artists, they have more than one song in mind and then they got to fit them all onto an album. Is that a tough job for you?


Crystal Shawanda

It is, it is really hard for me to narrow it down. Personally, I have to get other people involved. I have to ask other people's opinions. I really respect all the people on my team so that's who I go to, the musicians I work with, my agent, my manager, everybody on the record label that I'm working with. I've been working with True North Records the past three albums and so we send all the music to them, and we always listen to the feedback they have and what everybody's favourites are. That's really how we decide. Me and my husband believe in all of them so when people pick their favourites and help us narrow it down and see what people really connect to, because that's what it's about, is connecting with other people.


Ken Wallis

Well, I got to see you at the Lighthouse Festival this summer in Kincardine and you just floored the audience, and I think what you just said is so true. You really connect with the audience and the whole time you're performing you're smiling, and you can tell that this woman loves to be up on stage and singing the Blues.


Crystal Shawanda

I do. I'm really excited to be up on stage and I'm excited to sing, I'm grateful. I've been at the top and I've been at the bottom and everywhere in between and I've played on Broadway, and I've played Bourbon Street blues and boogie bars for tips.


In the beginning that's what decided what I had for dinner and those were some hard days when I was first started out before I even got my first country record deal. When you go through hard times and you're playing on Christmas day to nobody because you need the money and there's nobody in the crowd. When you go through enough of those times you just stay humble, and you stay grateful because you could end up right back in that spot.


So, I work real hard and I want to put on a good show. I want to take people on a journey. I want them to forget about their troubles and all the things that they're stressed out about, all the things they're worried about. Just let go for a minute and be like that little kid who just wants to dance like nobody's watching and flip our hair around and just let go and have a good time. That's what I want. I want people to cry it out, dance it out, laugh it out, sing it out, and it's really important to me because that's what I live for, that energy I get from the crowd that's what pushes me. The more they give, the more I give and it's a beautiful thing and I appreciate it every time.


Ken Wallis

Tell our audience where they can get a hold of your album.


Crystal Shawanda

You can get my album on iTunes and then it's going to be on Spotify. You can order physical copies I believe on Amazon. Also check out all my social medias, my Facebook, Tick Tock, Instagram and you could also stop by my website at crystalshawanda.co.

Ken Wallis

And while they’re at it, buy all of the blues albums, not just one they're all fantastic. Crystal I am so looking forward to seeing you in Ancaster and I thank you so much for your time.


Crystal Shawanda

Thank you so much I appreciate you squeezing me in





Website: crystalshawanda.co

Facebook: www.facebook.com/crystalshawandaofficial

Twitter: twitter.com/crystalshawanda

Instagram: www.instagram.com/crystalshawanda