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My Bluegrass Beginnings
I was the first child born into the home of 'Sweetheart' Grace and 'Smiling Bob' French, whose names are inscribed on the first generation honor roll plaque at the National Museum of Bluegrass in Kentucky, USA. So naturally the first kinds of music I sang other than the National Anthem and church gospel, were country and bluegrass.

My father had the first radio show in Boston to feature bluegrass music, and I can remember how jammed that tiny little room got with all the radio gear, the one big mic in the middle, and the whole bluegrass band huddled around it making the most incredible music - live on the air! Pop featured bands up from The South and the few local acts he could find who played bluegrass. The folks at the labels weren't really on to bluegrass as a type of music yet, so when they sent him music to play on his show, they just sent him everything with the word "blue" in it. So he got heaps of blues and rhythm'n'blues recordings, which he passed on to us kids to play with.

I used to play them on my battery-powered, portable, plastic record-player, late into the night, huddled under piles of blankets to muffle the sounds.

From Bluegrass to Rootsy Blues
That music turned me away from the country and bluegrass of my upbringing, and at around the age of 14 I started playing solo in hoot'n'nannies, and coffee houses like the Club 47 in Boston and the Gaslight in NYC, thanks to my connections to agents via Mom and Pop. I played mainly acoustic folk and blues, a lot of which was original, full of pubic angst and public protestation of all things political and plastic. I thought I was a real "heavy" and spent an unbelievable amount of time practicing mean, hard faces in the bathroom mirror – to no avail. Some of the people I knew and worked with as a scrawny, bawling, teenage hippie became legends in the genre: Jonathan Edwards; Arlo Guthrie; Martin Mull; Peter, Paul & Mary; Rambling Jack Elliot; Tom Rush; Pete Seeger; The Smothers Brothers; James & Livingston Taylor;


To Electric Blues and Rock
Rock bands, soul bands, and r&b bands became my major forms of musical transportation in the late sixties through the seventies. I was singing in regionally popular bands who opened in concert to many big-name acts touring the Northeast, mostly booked by the Lordly & Dame agency out of Boston. Once again, I found myself rubbing shoulders with many blues and rock & roll icons. I went MIA from school and home when invited to join The Yardbirds with Eric Clapton (Brandeis University show, Boston, 10 SEP 1967), and twice for The Byrds (the Avalon Ballroom 2 NOV 1968, and the Boston Tea Party 22 FEB 1969) on tour.


To Recording Deals and Studio Session Work
Although I had been signed to labels as early as 1970, including the doomed Playboy Records label out of Los Angeles, my first major label album release didn't come until 1980. It was a Columbia Records deal, and everything that might have gone wrong from contractual terms to song choices, recording, release, promotion and follow-up, did. It was a 2-year nightmare scenario the effects of which reverberated for years throughout my professional career.  Live gigs lost out to a flurry of studio work.

From The USA to Asia and Europe
The nineties found me in New York, involved in many musical projects which were only locally and regionally successful, until 1999 when I migrated to Asia and established a musical presence for myself in Singapore. I returned to perform in the States from time to time, and in 2006 decided to explore the music scene in Europe, I've been making an annual circuit of Asia, Europe and the USA, in ever expanding circles of music and friends.




Am Not
I'm not her. I can understand why people scream "Jaaaniiisss!" when I sing - not only at me - but at all the bawling power-blues singers of my gender. We miss her. We all owe her a debt. She was the first. She made it okay for cracker-faced singers like me to sound the way we do. She broke through and touched millions with that cat-scratchy voice. But Janice wasn't really an ICON for our era until after she died, when the media began to love her as well, and discovered one day that "what" we had lost was really a "whom".
I didn't even like her at first, and never planned to sound anything like her. We listened to the same wailers - Mahalia, Bessie, Billy, Moms, Ray, James ... and the way they made me feel changed how I wrapped my mouth around a song - mostly a phrasing thing. But tonally, we were headed in very different directions. I wanted to use their stuff, but never planned to sound like any of them. Not that I could, anyway. I hadn't lived enough. I hadn't lived "hard" enough.

Life and passing years did a number on my clear young Joan Baez-like voice. At one point, only its husk was left, and I was getting ready to quit. But I didn't know how to do that. So I kept on. Even through a time when everyone said I'd lost it. I couldn't get rid of the rasp and squeaks, so they had to be made to work for me. My passion to survive threw everything on the fire to keep it burning. That dried-out, empty husk began to fill itself up with the swill and slop of life that others threw out or buried. It drew from a wellspring of love and wonder and gratitude and learned compassion, too. It fed on the guts of my life, then it turned around and swallowed me whole. And I'm guessing that's what happened to Janis, and how we both wound up on this page.

So, I'm not her. I could be a little sister, but my bumps and scars and mad adventures are my own. I'm older than the average white chick singer, but that one thing, that age thing, that thing the Industry is so scared of, it's the same thing that makes me good at what I do. And it's the same thing that makes me tough enough to keep going. I'm on this side of a long, hot dusty road, tennis shoes sticky with tar, hair all raggedy, thumb out, back-packing an old Martin and wearing my best smile - you might pick up on me ... I've got some stories to tell.
- Jeanne Marie French