Melissa Etheridge is rock 'n' roll royalty, but she doesn't rest on her laurels. Though she has been honored with Grammy, Juno and ASCAP awards—and even an Oscar—what she really loves to do is tour and perform. This summer, Etheridge is showcasing selections from her latest album, Memphis Rock and Soul (Stax, Oct. 2016), celebrating the songbook that emerged from Stax Records, the legendary Memphis studio where the Staple Singers, Otis Redding and B.B. King recorded classics.
Prior to her Tuesday, Aug. 8 appearance at the Egyptian Theatre in Boise, Etheridge talked about her musical inspirations and how her tour allows her a unique perspective on the current political and cultural climate.
"Boise always loves its rock and roll," she told us. "It's always a good time."
You've enjoyed three decades of success, plus a bounty of awards and honors. What excites you lately? What inspires you?
Playing music. For the last ten years in particular, I've been working on my guitar playing, becoming a better player, pushing more of my music to the edge of rock and roll and blues. That led me to my last album, Memphis Rock and Soul. I really am on a journey of understanding rock and roll and its place in the world right now. I really want to dive into how exciting live music really is.
Can I assume your political activism informs your art?
I'm an LGBT activist because I'm an LGBT person. When I think about health or the environment, it's because I went through breast cancer. All of these things come from my own personal experience, so yeah, that's a big part of me and a big part of my music, and my music comes from a very personal place.
You're in a unique position in that you travel to every corner of this nation and, as a result, you get to check America's pulse.
Especially this summer. All across this amazing nation, I see people who care, but they're a little afraid. I see people trying to overcome fear of "the other" or fear of change. But, I swear to you, when I look out on my audiences, I see people of all ages, colors, everything and it shows me that this beautiful experiment that we call America has its ups and downs but is still rooted in equality. Yes, I see people saddened by a lot of the current rhetoric, but I still believe that all of this makes us all a little bit stronger. It's kind of a big thought, yet it's something we can all hold on to.
Let's talk about the classics that exploded off your album, Memphis Rock and Soul, when I first listened to you singing and playing the music of the Staples and Otis Redding.
Yeah, one and one makes two. It was perfect. I've recorded thirteen albums of original songs and I have rock and roll classics of my own. But, I really wanted to show how rock and roll came from such gorgeous soul roots. Stax was this beautiful place of no race. It was completely interracial. You walked through the doors and it didn't matter what color you were and this beautiful music came out. I find that very inspiring. Like you said, [with] the Staple Singers and Otis Redding, who I think was the greatest singer in the world, you get these songs that are so classic, and I want to do my best at paying tribute. They're also some of the greatest vocal challenges, ever.
You have a tremendous number of fans here. Can you share some memories of performing in Idaho?
I think it was the first time I played Boise, and the guy in charge of the club had a noise level issue with the neighborhood. We didn't understand why, but were told to keep our music at a certain level. The audience kept getting louder than the level, and the crowd kept asking me to turn it up, but I was told I would be fined thousands of dollars. Finally, I said, "You know what guys? I cannot not play this for you loud, so I'm just going to have to do this."
Did you let it rip?
I said, "I'm probably not going to get paid tonight." We let it rip.
You shouldn't have a noise issue when you play the Egyptian on Aug. 8.
Looking forward to it. It's going to be great. We're pretty excited.