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  • Writer's pictureKen Wallis

EXCLUSIVE: Women In Blues Discussion Panel - Part 2


Women In Blues


Ken Wallis, President of The Escarpment Blues Society, held a panel discussion on Women In Blues at the Orangeville Blues And Jazz Festival.  The following is a transcript of that discussion, edited and amended for brevity and clarity. This is Part Two and the conclusion of the discussion.



Ken Wallis

I've had several conversations with people that don't know the Blues and I say I’m into the Blues and they go, oh, you listen to that old stuff? And I go, it's not old stuff. It's morphed, it's a brand-new world out there. Young people are changing it. How do you feel about that?


Cheryl Lescom

For sure, like when it first started for me was when I first heard Between The Buttons by the Stones, That’s sixty-seven? That is a Blues album, that's straight up Blues. And that was that.  The feel, the twelve bars, just the energy of the music, that was the first time that it really hooked me and then I started listening to John Lee Hooker and a lot of others like Big Mama Thornton. That album was really a kickoff for me for the Blues.


Chuckee Zehr

I was raised on classical. I did classical piano, but I think every genre of music kind of morphs back to the Blues for some reason, Jazz and Country, Rock, they're all Blues oriented. They're all Blues based.


Rosie Fleischer-Dufour

There's sort of a gap there, but it's narrowing as more younger people get into it.  And one of the things that sort of entices young folks to come to one of our house concerts because the ticket prices, for a student, it's a bit of a chunk. There are a few university students that I tell them, you can come in for half price. You bring your own booze, and you have a good meal, but you get to listen to the music, and they love it. And one fella comes, he brings another fella and then he brings another woman. So that's how we're trying to grow that.


Dale Anne Brendon

There was a program in London Ontario a couple of years ago called Blues In The Schools, which I thought was brilliant. They would take a Blues band into a school and the more that children obviously get exposed to different forms of music, the more inspiring it'll be. When I was a kid, we used to have brass quartets come to our school and you'd get a close look at what it is to play trumpet and trombone. I ended up marrying a trombone player.


Ken Wallis

I'm just wondering if any of you have faced any issues that you feel that male artists don't have to face?  And I'm sure there's a lot.


Cheryl Lescom

Oh yeah, absolutely. When I started out in the seventies, you don't even want to know. It was disgusting and it was the bar owners, if you do this, then you get that.  And if you don't do that, then you don't get this. It was very sexist when I first started out, but now with the Internet and everything else out there, people are being able to be musicians in their basements without going out in front of people. At The Summit, a lot of these kids started in their basements and they got to hone their skill before they got on that stage, which was exactly the opposite of when I started out. You had to get on stage and hone your skill on stage and entertain the crowd and entertain the audience. So we'll see how long these young people hang in because when I first started, there were a few singers and stuff, but they're not there anymore. And because as a woman, when you're, raising your kids and trying to keep your family together it's just it's a little harder. I think that women pat ourselves on the back a little bit more than men.  The bar scene, the way it was in the seventies, it's just a whole different ball game now and I think the Internet has really helped.


Ken Wallis

How how do you handle the new technology that's coming out ?  The streaming, the lack of sales of physical CD's?  Is there a way to establish a better system?


Rosie Fleischer-Dufour

From what I've seen with CD's, if you do the production, do your launch and stuff, but they pretty much just become a promotional item. I do the accounting for a lot of musicians and they say, what should I do about the lack of CD sales? And I said, they're a promotional item now. You're going to write them off.


Cheryl Lescom

But you have to make a certain amount of money to write things off and most musicians don't make that much.


Rosie Fleischer-Dufour

Well, that's a whole another topic, which is one of my mandates is to raise the bar.  I have the house concerts so that artists get decently paid, and if he or she can sell some some swag, then that's fantastic. That's a whole big issue about money.


Ken Wallis

And that's what we're trying to do with our new blues society and all the other blues societies. We're trying to make sure that artists get what they deserve. Because, and again, I see women struggling a little bit more to get exposure than men do, and I think a blues society should be bringing that forward.


How difficult is it as a woman balancing family and being a musician?


Cheryl Lescom

I had two sons that I raised after my husband left. It was very tough but it gave me lots of stuff to write about.


Rosie Fleischer-Dufour

The only other comment is there are a lot of women in the Blues that don't have children because they've just put their career first and I can only hope that the new generation that's coming up can find some way to balance it out.


Chuckee Zehr

I think the young musicians coming up are going to find a way. I think they will, they're savvy as heck. We're changing from what we know and what we learned and how we grew up in the music business. It is totally changing and they're going to find the way that's going to work for them. We'll be left in the dust, but they're going to be moving forward. Dust in the wind.


Ken Wallis

Rosie, maybe you can answer this. Years ago, there was always talk about inequity of payments. Men versus women. Has that levelled out now?


Rosie Fleischer-Dufour

I don't have a lot of experience on that. I just know that it doesn't matter if you're a man or a woman and you want to do a house concert with us, you'll get paid based on the draw. The big inequity I see is that artists aren't paid enough, period. It costs a lot of money to run a band and write music. When you're not getting paid because you take a year off to write, where do you get your money from?


Cheryl Lescom

Musicians, if they're popular, then no matter whether they're male or female, they get paid.

Because it's a passion job, somebody's going to do it for nothing, you've got tons of competition. Nobody says I'm going to come in and teach a class, or I'm going to come in and drive a truck, and do it for nothing. But being a musician, being a dancer, being an artist of any sort, you're going to have tons of people that will do it for nothing. So that's your competition, which is really tough.


Rosie Fleischer-Dufour

And it's hard for an artist when they finally say, ok enough is enough, and they draw a line in the sand and they say I'm not going to do a gig for less than this. And then they have to say no to some places.


Cherl Lescom

And then they get a part time job and then they get a full-time job and then they're gone.


Rosie Fleischer-Dufour

Or they get stigmatized by comments, like that person thinks they're high and mighty because they won't take a job for $200 a night.


Cherl Lescom

There not a lot of full-time musicians anymore.  A lot of people are subsidizing by working during the day and they just play on the weekends, which is another thing that's kind of making the price go down. An awful lot of people just want to get out there and play and they'll play for free booze and a meal.


Ken Wallis

It's like they say exposure kills. And exposure doesn't really get you very far if you're playing for free.


I know there are a lot more women becoming engineers and producers.  A lot of artists are building their own studios in their basements to avoid paying high prices to go into a studio.


Dale Anne Brendon

It's easy enough to invest a few hundred or a couple of thousand in a recording studio and learn how to do it.  I did that over the pandemic and now I'm a fabulous engineer. Just kidding.  [laughter]. But to address your concerns, it really feels like festivals are the biggest Blues proponent right now, and it's too bad that in London in the 90s, it was all Blues clubs.


Cherl Lescom

Bar owners are getting screwed left, right and centre, between the insurance to keep a bar open and trying to get the staff and trying to get the liquor license and the cost of maintaining a building.  It's astronomical. They can't keep it up. You can go into your basement all you want, but you can't entertain a crowd. You got to do it in front of people, and you've got to do it on a stage in a live venue. In the eighties, there were quite a few female musicians that were great entertainers, great female vocalists and great players. I don't see that too much. I see a lot of people that think they're singers because they put out a product, but entertaining is a whole different ball game.


Chuckee Zehr

When I I was teaching piano, some of the students are too into their phones and instant gratification. That's the problem. They don't realize that it takes years to learn how to play something. It doesn't matter what it is, it's going to take you time. Now you go on the Internet and you can play piano in three weeks. Kids nowadays need to be gratified instantly. That's the problem.


Ken Wallis

So maybe to sum up a lot of what we've been saying and I think this would be really the crux of the of the question to ask the panel.  If a young female artist came to you and said, I want to get into the business, what advice would you give them and how do to go about it?


Cheryl Lescom

I would say make sure you learn an instrument. Don't think that you're going to get there on your voice alone, because these days you've got to be multi-talented. You better learn how to play an instrument and you better be able to sing. You've got to have everything.


Rosie Fleischer-Dufour

I would say not only are you in art, but you're starting a business, so you get an accountant. You might need a lawyer. You're going to need a publicist.  If you can't do Instagram, Facebook, or TikTok yourself, then you can find somebody that can do it for you.  Just take care of yourself.  Your health is number one. 


Dale Anne Brendon

If they want to be in the business, they have to have a fire.  A passion that burns within them. And then you work and work, and not because work is a drag, but because you want to work at it.  When you work at it you become better, and then you can't be denied. And you hopefully will accept all opportunities, not just pick and choose. Accept them all. Then you filter out what you want after you've gained your wisdom.


Ken Wallis

Any thoughts that you have about the future of the business and what we can do to help?


Cheryl Lescom

I guess to help, we should just be as positive and as helpful as we possibly can. We do that Blues Camp and I've been doing it for fifteen years now and watching the kids that have come through that camp. Like you were saying, these young kids that have gone through that camp, they had the fire in the belly. They didn't take that guitar off their hands, and you know, they just worked their butts off.


I think sometimes you don't have a choice. Music picks you and makes sure that you've got good people around you. And take care of your body.


Dale Anne Brendon

It's also important, and this band is a pretty good example, The SheWolves of London has the support of people around you. We all have Dave Harland, manager, booker, agent, all around great guy, helps move equipment and everything. Surrounding yourself with good friends and a good supportive team is everything.


Ken Wallis

Cheryl said it. We need people that are helpful. And here's four examples of people that showed up and came on the panel as volunteers. So I applaud them. Thank you so much for your time.


Cheryl Lescom

People like Ken are really important in this business because he's not making any money. He's just doing it for the love of it and for the love of us.



Editor’s note: Many thanks to these wonderful folks who volunteered to help out with this panel discussion.



READ PART 1 OF THE DISCUSSION HERE



Escarpment Blues Society

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