American volcalist Beth Hart headlines this month’s Mahindra Blues Festival in Mumbai.
Beth Hart’s influences cut across genres, starting with western classical and Beethoven.
American vocalist Beth Hart, who will headline this year’s edition of the Mahindra Blues Festival in Mumbai in the second weekend of February, has released a dozen studio albums over the course of a 25-year career. She believes her being prolific has a lot to do with her personality. “One of the things I attribute it to is being overly sensitive as a kid and just being in so much pain all the time,” said Hart, who’s always been candid about both the drug addiction that almost derailed her career and the mental illness she deals with daily.
Her eventful life has informed the songs that make up her discography, which includes three collections of cover versions recorded with American blues-rock guitarist Joe Bonamassa. Classics from those albums, such as ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ by Etta James and ‘I’ll Take Care of You’ by Bobby Bland, are likely to feature in her set. But Hart, who Bonamassa hailed as a modern-day Janis Joplin, doesn’t call herself a blues musician. “First and foremost, I am really a songwriter,” said Hart. Her influences cut across genres, starting with western classical and Beethoven, with whom she fell in love when she started playing the piano at the age of four.
Along with songwriting stars such as Carole King and James Taylor, her list of inspirations include jazz greats such as Billie Holiday and Dinah Washington. Her brother introduced her to reggae royal Bob Marley and hard rock heavyweights Led Zeppelin. She credits an ex-boyfriend for turning her on to blues boss Big Joe Turner. She came to love alt-rock emissaries Soundgarden and Alice Chains listening to the radio in her early 20s, and she discovered soul legend Otis Redding through a compilation tape somebody handed her at one of her gigs.
Hart says they each share a quality. “They don’t use the genre as a place to lean on but really use their heart and soul,” she said. “To me, they’re really leaning on their story.” As far as stories go, Hart has plenty of her own to share.
It might come as a surprise, though, that the melodies and arrangements of her compositions come to her more easily than her lyrics. “I torture myself over [them],” she said. “But I love it. That feeling of searching for something. I know how I feel but [not] how [I’m] going to relay it to where it makes me cry or move or feel like I’m finding the truth. [Songwriting is] always a spiritual experience.”