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Melissa Etheridge

By Danny Coleman

originally published: 08/20/2015
“Oh I totally remember it,” she said with an enthusiastic laugh. “I even remember where I was. I was rehearsing for my second, no wait, maybe just prior to when my second album was released; my manager came in and said I was nominated for the “Best Rock Vocal Performance Female,” or whatever the category was exactly, I don’t think it even exists any longer. I never expected it; it was an amazing feeling. It took me until my fourth nomination to win one but it was still unbelievable. Just being there with the other performers and industry people and the parties; it was an honor.”

 Those are the words of Melissa Etheridge, whose long career has spawned twelve CDs, multiple hits and admiration of many as she described how she felt upon receiving the first of her seventeen Grammy Award nominations.  

 Etheridge has fought many battles over the years in her struggles to reach and maintain rock stardom, her sexual orientation, the birth of her children and a well publicized bout with breast cancer. “My cancer, yeah, it changed everything,” she started, speaking in slower more halted tones. “It was the biggest change ever. I’ll tell you this; it put me in line with gratitude. I now have such a different view on life, my own health, food, what I put into my body. I pay attention to things more now, it’s truly a life changing experience when you face something like that. It definitely made me appreciate life more, set me on a new spiritual path; I am so grateful for everything in my life, more so than ever before. Many people look at it like a curse, I look at it as an awakening and a positive thing; it definitely changed my perspective on life.”

These events shaped Etheridge as an artist as well. She admits that each album release is reflective of what was occurring in her life at the time. “Every single one of them have had something to say or reveal about what was happening,” she explained. “Now not all of the songs were topical; that wouldn’t be very likely but if I sat down with you and and went through each song on each album, I could tell you why it was written or what was going on at the time.”

 Her latest release This is M.E. is a unique collection of tunes which are somewhat contradictory to the title. On this disc she has teamed up with multiple industry heavyweights whose styles are far different from her own: Jerrod Bettis (Adele, One Republic), Jon Levine (Nelly Furtado, Selena Gomez), Jerry Wonda (Mary J. Blige) and Roccstar (Usher, Chris Brown).

“This album is different. Usually when I sit down to write or have new material in mind, I say I’m going to make it different from previous albums or previous things I’ve done; then I wind up still sounding like I did twenty years ago! This time though, I went way outside the box to achieve something that is very different from what I’ve done in the past. I used these guys to prevent me from falling into the same routine. I’d get an idea or have something down and I’d say, ‘OK, what do you have for me?’ Then they would come up with these ideas in their own styles and I would keep working with it until it eventually morphed into a rock song that sounded like nothing I’d done before. The whole process was just amazing.”

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 The tour supporting the new disc kicked off in June and included a pair of shows in New Jersey early on.  She returns to the Garden State on Thursday, October 1 when she performs a solo show at the Mayo Performing Arts Center in Morristown. The tour has included full band and solo acoustic presentations.   

“This tour is just about half or right around half solo and full band shows,” she explained. “The solo shows are different from what you may expect. I’m surrounded by eight to ten guitars on stage and I’m using a few looping tracks to fill things up a bit; it’s definitely more rocking than you’d expect from just a solo acoustic act. I’m doing my hits as well as a few new ones and a lot of the old favorites. The funny thing about a solo acoustic act is that it takes a real kind of crazy person to get out there and do this solo. I played for five years out in L.A. as a solo acoustic artist so I’m used to it but I particularly like it because I feel I’ve got more freedom, more spontaneity to change things up without having to worry about dragging the others with me. I can change up the song based on what I’m feeling at that moment and not worry about surprising anyone in the process; it’s liberating at times.”  

 Early in her career, Etheridge’s music was often compared to that of Bruce Springsteen, one of her major influences, and she had no problem recanting her bucket list appearance with Jersey’s native son. The enthusiasm gushed forth from her openly when questioned about a duet she recorded with The Boss of his song “Thunder Road,” years back during an “Unplugged” episode for MTV. “That ranks as one of the top five things that I have ever done; performing with him was awesome,” she stated. “It is no secret that I am a huge fan of his. Back in ‘94 I was asked by MTV to do one of their ‘Unplugged’ shows and a few days before, they asked me who I’d like to do a duet with and I said, ‘Springsteen,’ of course never thinking he’d say yes. He said, ‘Yes’ the very next day and I was just floored. I had never met him and when he came walking in for the sound check we tried ‘Thunder Road,’ which I’d been doing in some of my sets anyway and it just meshed perfectly. He was just so cool about it all and that video has gotten so much mileage; it was one of the neatest things I’ve ever done.”

Etheridge released a new live video entitled, A Little Bit Of Me: Live In L.A, on June 9.  With the video, the new record, and a tour that hits over 50 cities, Etheridge shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Danny Coleman is a veteran musician and writer from central New Jersey. He hosts a weekly radio program entitled “Rock On Radio” airing Sunday evenings at 7:000pm EST on multiple internet radio outlets where he features indie/original bands and solo artists.



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