Barbara J. is a singer who found her voice early on and later took the leap into professional recording. A singer all her life, from choirs to weddings to solo and band performance, Barbara finally recorded her debut LP, covering the songs of Gordon Lightfoot, Canadian folk/pop rock legend from the 1960s and 70s. She recorded the album in Nashville, TN. The ablum was produced by Jim Reilley co-founder of The New Dylans, a folk-rock band whose work has been widely recognized. The album was successful via cd sales, downloads, and lots of internet radio airplay, playing in rotation with artists from Joan Baez to Simon & Garfunkel, Karen Carpenter and other singing greats in various genres. The first single released, “All the Lovely Ladies,” was awarded Song of the Month by The Akademia Music Awards. Other tracks, including “Song for a Winter’s Night,” were featured on various podcasts of Women of Substance Radio. A Box Full of Records, her 2nd album, is a compilation of covers of some classic tunes from the 1970s and '80s. Barbara is enjoying a music career that is all about bringing classic songs back to life.
Was there something (an experience) or someone in your life that was the "catalyst" for you to start singing professionally? Tell us about it.
It sounds stereotypical to say "Growing up, I was always singing," but it is true! I have a sister who is five years older than I am, and she was in a church folk group and later in a band. I learned to play the guitar when I was seven years old by sitting in on folk group practices when they were held at our house (our parents' house, that is), and just watching, learning. It seems I was in that in that folk group, called "The Kindred Spirits," for as long as I can remember. That was my "start." As far as singing professionally, that started as an offshoot of the folk group: given that it was a church folk group, people would hear us sing at Mass, and then started coming up and asking if we would sing at their weddings...thus, I became a wedding singer, or at least a wedding ceremony singer! I started out with the same older sister, then went on to sing weddings solo, sometimes accompanying myself and sometimes accompanied by an organist or pianist. From there, I just went on, singing anywhere I could, joining a "basement band," always envisioning my time to "take the stage," as a lead singer. When I decided to finally record my first, it seemed like the ultimate conclusion to a lifetime of singing! It is still a challenge, as a studio singer, in that my "band," is in Nashville, and I am in Los Angeles, but knowing that I have recorded the albums and that people are buying and listening to them and that I am getting airplay is so very awesome!
Let's get this out of the way. What is the CRAZIEST thing that has ever happened to you in your music career?
Oh, wow...well, for starters, I met my husband on the telephone (yes, the actual telephone, back when the internet was just a baby and chat lines online were not yet a "thing") and one of the first things I learned was that he is a songwriter and a musician who had played on Rick James' first album, "Come Get It,"--he has a gold record! Talk about a small world and meant to be! That was not really part of my "singing career," though. The craziest thing was when I was not long out of high school and was part of a band one summer called "The Dog Has Wheels." The story behind the title is too lengthy to recount here, but it was a group of good musicians, along with my older sister and I, who were vocalists, and we rehearsed in the basement of the drummer's house...or, rather, the home of the drummer's parents...we played one local arts festival in rural northwest Pennsylvania, I think, then the band was disbanded (college in the fall and such!)
What has been the high point of your music path?
Recording my first album, I think. I remember seeing Canadian folk/pop legend, Gordon Lightfoot, featured on a Sunday morning news program way back in 2014. I remembered all the songs of his I used to sing along to when I was growing up as a kid...I turned to my husband after we saw that news show and said, "I am going to cover Gordon Lightfoot songs on my first album." The next day, I was on the phone to Jim Reilley in Nashville, TN, who got the ball rolling and thus, my first album, "Sundown: A Gordon Lightfoot Retrospective" was begun!
How do you choose a song to sing? Do you have favorites artists you tend to gravitate towards or do you you look for certain themes and sounds?
I sing along to nearly every song I know when I hear it on the radio (given that I work twenty miles from where I live makes for nearly an hour commute, twice a day, to and from work; that is quite a bit of time listening and singing along!) Some songs, of course, I would never dare try as they are not in my wheelhouse (i.e., Adele, or Lady Gaga, for instance), but by the same token, as a cover artist, at least to this point, the key to singing other people's songs is not necessarily being a "sound alike," but rather, putting my own touch on it, "making it mine," as the saying goes. That said, I choose the songs I like first by loving the song, then by knowing that I can sing the song and that I can sing it well and do right by it. My first album was a cover of a male folk singer, and the second album really mixes it up between bands, genres, male, female, so I cannot say I necessarily gravitate to certain themes and sounds, but I can say, that I am more inclined toward the smooth jazz, though for this latest effort, my leanings went more toward songs I remembered from great artists "back in the day," ranging from soft pop to rock ballads.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing Indie Artists today? Or, if you could ask the music industry to change one thing, what would it be?
I think the biggest challenge is that there are so many avenues for music distribution, thus diluting the actual royalties that artists can collect when their songs are played, given the many sites by which songs can and are streamed. If I could ask labels to do one thing? It would be open up their A&R to submissions from indie artists and to not dominate their rosters, and as a result, the radio airwaves, with just the super-famous--there are so many of us waiting for that "big break!"
If you could share the stage with one other artist or band, who would it be and why?
Oh, wow, wow...that is a toughie! So many come to mind, but if I had to choose one? Right now, probably Billy Joel, because he has such an extensive catalog and so many of his songs have so much sentimental meaning to me. In fact, when I heard the Billy Joel Channel on SiriusXM a few months back, I wanted to call the line where you could leave him a comment or request and ask him if he would be on my next album with me and sing, "This Is The Time To Remember." I never got to make that call, but I am still thinking of covering that song when I do my next album!
What are your rehearsals generally like? Or, how do you prepare for a live show?
We have a home studio, so I just sing, sing, sing...in the car, in the apartment, as I prepare to record. We usually record on Saturday afternoons in marathon sessions in the home studio. With this most recent album, the instrumentals were recorded in Nashville, then sent our way via DropBox. We laid the vocal tracks at our studio, then sent them back to Nashville for mixing. It was a fun process, but I think I preferred the way we did the first album, when I flew to Nashville, and spent two days in the studio with the producer and the musicians! It was also my first experience in the studio, so that made it extra-special.
Pick a song that was a challenge to sing, either technically or emotionally, and tell us about it.
That is a toughie, not because there have not been things that were, perhaps, challenging to sing for me, but because I generally choose choose songs that I am more "given to," in terms of what works with my voice quality or the range of my musical preferences or experiences. Though, I would have to say that the most challenging song was "Words Don't Come Easy," which was the prerelease to my second album. My producer actually suggested it because it was originally sung by the artist, f.R. David, and while it was a synth pop song that was quite popular in the UK and Europe in the early '90s, it never did much here in the United States. That song was fast and very "Eurosynth," which, while I loved it, was a challenge for me, having sung mostly folk ballads on my first album, 'Sundown: A Gordon Lightfoot Retrospective.' But, I agreed to sing it, and it has been one of my most-played songs on sites like Reverbnation and RadioAirplay.com, so I guess that, regardless of the fact that it was a challenge to me as a singer, it is a challenge I believe I successfully met!
What's coming up in the future?
Hopefully, great success for my current album! I have already submitted tracks to film and tv producers who are looking for singers to help them out on hooks for theme songs and tracks for tv and film...if I could just get the ear of a label who has great writers that need a great singer, I am sure I would get their attention! I would just love to do music full time, as my career, whether as a lead vocalist or even background on albums, tv shows...even singing with the Dancing with The Stars band, or as backup on American Idol! Any door could be the one to get me into "the business" full-time.
Tell us where fans can access your music?