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April 17, 2024

Carrying and passing the torch

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Fiona Boyes

With eight USA Blues Music Award nominations, career tour dates in 20 countries, and her recent induction into the Blues Victoria Hall of Fame, Fiona Boyes is a relentless and curious musical explorer. Fiona plays deep blues, influenced by a myriad of traditional regional styles and has carved an international reputation as a blues guitarist, bandleader, vocalist and songwriter.

Winner of the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, USA, she is also a Blues Blast Music Award winner and former Port Fairy Folk Festival Artist of the Year. Fiona’s nomination for the Koko Taylor Award (Best Traditional Female Artist) at the 2019 USA Blues Music Awards in Memphis was her eighth BMA nomination over various categories since 2007. Fiona is the only Australian ever to be nominated for these awards, which are considered to be the Grammies of the Blues.

We caught up with Fiona to see what she likes about Bluesfest.

Fiona, like me, you’re a Melbourne girl.

I’m a Melbourne girl originally and it’s funny because when people say where are you from? I say I’m from Melbourne – I still consider myself quite Melburnian but I actually haven’t lived at home in Melbourne for some 15 years. I lived in America for a couple of years and I’ve been in South Australia and Canberra and I did a stint for quite some time in the Northern Rivers.

It’s actually funny because when I first got started as a player, I didn’t start playing till I was in my late 20s, and in my first band, one of the first times I got out of Melbourne, was Bluesfest in 1995 when it was a bunch of fields at Belongil.

Traditionally when you think of blues you think of old black men in smoky-filled rooms in the Mississippi Delta and here you are, a white blonde Australian chick. Do people find that unusual when you walk out on stage?

I have to say that I’ve been absolutely thrilled and humbled at how well received and how welcomed  I’ve been by the elder statesmen and women of the blues – you know, when you go to America you’re conscious that you’re playing an American art form.

We’ve lost a lot of those older players over recent years – I got to play with Pinetop Perkins, the legendary piano player who played with Muddy Waters and everybody else – he recorded on one of my albums. He sat in on a session, he was 96 and he played piano, and it was just fabulous. And for me, it was not only a chance to play with these players, for me, the whole concept of the blues is about that notion of it being an historic thread and it is a traditional art form. So when you write and play, you need to be respectful of the genre. But then, of course, you try and find your own voice within it, and part of that is respect for elders and to have the opportunity to sit with those foundational players.

It’s not just about ‘what can I learn’ or ‘what licks can I pinch’ or something, but also to listen to their stories, because the whole history is amazing.

It’s like the whole package of that learning from the elders and passing the torch on to younger players, that I think has been foundational to the music.

I’ve played some pretty funky places in the States and I’ve had the chance to play in some very traditional black juke joints in the south where white players don’t often play, you know, let alone white women from Australia, so to be accepted, and often encouraged by those by those older players is just priceless to me.

What inspires you?

My inspiration tends to be very much drawn from the roots of the music. A lot of people who love blues have fallen in love with rock and then found a player like Hendrix or Clapton and gone ‘where are their roots?’ and moved back.

The first blues I ever heard was the early documentary recordings 20s 30s 40s, and classic Chicago was from the 50s, and the closer to the roots it gets, the happier I am generally, but as far as songwriting goes, look, it’s magic, I don’t even know where that inspiration comes from. Some songs you have an idea and you agonise over it takes ages for a song to settle. And some songs, I’ve had a couple of songs in particular, that I just wrote down a title on a piece of paper and put it away and then five years later, I got up one morning, picked up my guitar and played the song.

Are you having enough fun?

Yes, I am. I do. I actually have a song which is called Too Happy To Sing The Blues because I was told once I smile too much to be in a blues band.

You too can have too much fun with Fiona Boyes & The Fortune Tellers on Thursday and Saturday at Bluesfest.


For all the essential info you need to get the most out of your Bluefest experience:

Bluesfest 2024 Liftout Feature

Download PDF (16MB)

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