VAIL — Although she is most often categorized as a blues artist, Marcia Ball fits under many musical umbrellas. It’s true that the Austin Music Hall of Famer has earned Grammy nominations and countless blues awards throughout her storied professional career, dating back to her first record in 1972. But the Texas native has also been known to knock out her fair share of New Orleans-inspired jazz rife with lively, steppy piano. Her music could even be classified as hoedown or folk rock. Above all, Ball considers herself a storyteller.
“That’s one of the most striking aspects of my music. There are stories behind the songs, stories in the songs. I like to tell stories,” she said. “I like to balance what we record so there’s some up tempo and fun songs and also some serious things to think about.”
In one yet-to-be-named track on her newest album (set for release this fall), Ball sings about the disparity between economic classes,“about people who have too much and people who have too little,” to the powerful contrast of quick, upbeat instrumentation. Some songs address global topics such as environmental devastation and hunger, while others tell stories of her own personal experience and the savoir-faire of others.
“I write things down constantly. I’m a terrible eavesdropper,” she said. “I’ll write down a snippet here, a snippet there, sometimes on paper scraps. When it gets down to the real point of putting a record together, I go back into my stack of notebooks and legal pads.”
“The Power of Love” — one of Ball’s most revered songs, was written about her husband during the early stages of their relationship. “I don’t want his ego to get too big,” she said laughing, mentioning that her husband also served as the inspiration behind the less cajoling “Find Another Fool,” from the same 1989 album, “Gatorhythms.”
She wrote “This used to be Paradise” about growing up in South Louisiana and witnessing the aftermath of the BP oil spill. Another heart-wrenching favorite, “Saint Gabriel,” refers to the women’s prison in Louisiana and was inspired by a woman who went to jail for killing her husband out of self-defense. Ball actually met with the woman and the song became pivotal in instigating her release from prison.
Although not as overt, the pianist’s stories have provided a type of release for fans, too. Given that the subject matter sparks an emotional gamut, Ball’s fans have told her that the songs have not only stayed with them but helped through rough times.
“The energy we expend is given back to us multifold,” Ball said. “Somebody will come up after a show and say, ‘That made me so happy. It helped me so much.’ One woman wrote recently, ‘I work with you all the time.’ I am keeping her company — my music is keeping her company — as she works.”
Although she has been producing and performing music for nearly 50 years, not a day has ever passed in which Ball could see herself doing anything else.
“I never take for granted the fact that I’m getting to do what I love to do, what people dream about doing — traveling around and playing music. If you can’t have fun doing this, you need to re-examine your priorities,” she said.
Shauna Farnell was contracted by the Vail Jazz Foundation to write this story. Email comments to email@example.com.