"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 the incomparable 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 a battle over the years and not just 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 have all left indelible marks on who she is; not only as a person but also as a performer as well. "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 are just several which not only shaped Etheridge as a person but as an artist as well. Averaging an "Album about every two years," Melissa openly admits that each and every release is reflective of what was occurring in her life at the time. "Oh Absolutely," she stated emphatically. "Every single one of them have had something to say or reveal about what was happening. 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."
Melissa's 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 heavy weights 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) have all had their hand in the making of this latest effort."This album, well, it seems that I've fallen into making a new one every two years; which would explain why I have twelve over the last twenty four years but this one 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 (laughs)! 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. Then I heard Jerry Wonda and I thought, wow I really need to play with that band and I did and it's on the DVD. They are so talented, everyone who helped on this album is so talented."
The tour supporting the new disc kicks off on Wednesday June 10 in Chattanooga, TN including two shows in New Jersey; the first on June 12 at Caesar's Atlantic City and the second being June 17 at the restored and renovated Count Basie Theatre in Red Bank. Both of the shows in the Garden State will be solo acoustic presentations as Melissa gathers her road legs under her during the first month of this five month road show. Etheridge will be making both full band, as well as solo acoustic presentations on this jaunt which has her crisscrossing states at times but none the less enthusiastic. "Yeah, Monday is the first show. I had a few obligations at home first to take care of; my oldest daughter is graduating high school; which I can't believe that's happening already. It seems such a short time ago she was small and suddenly, wow. My other kids are finishing up school for the summer too, so I had to get that all wrapped up and now I'm ready to go. This tour is just about half or right around half solo and full band shows. The Count Basie and Atlantic City shows are solo but are different from what you may expect. I'm going to be 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 (laughs). 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."
Etheridge couldn't definitively recall whether she's ever made a stop in the Count Basie Theatre before but she had no problem recanting her "Bucket List" appearance with Jersey's native son Bruce Springsteen. 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 with obvious satisfaction."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 day 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 really 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."
Seemingly content and with so much going right for this now veteran rocker; Etheridge still seems to carry the excitement of her youth with her as she discusses her career and upcoming events. "This tour is going to be so much fun," she stated. "Between the solo stuff and the band shows; we are playing at some big festivals in Ohio and Michigan where we are co-headlining with Blondie and they're fantastic so it's going to be a great summer!"
To discover more about Melissa Etheridgeand to see her complete tour schedule, or to purchase tickets; please go to www.melissaetheridge.com
That's it for this week! Please continue to support live and original music and until next week....ROCK ON!
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.