I run a web site for a club in Akron, which lead me to Doña Oxford as she would be playing this club in the near future. After putting a link to her site (wwww.donaoxford.com), I contacted her management team and was thrilled that Dona could take some time to answer some questions and give us some insight into touring and her latest album “raw.” Later in the week I witnessed a concert so filled with passion and talent that I had to go hear her (and the band) again. When I called her cell phone I caught Doña getting a cup of coffee in New York, and she was gracious to stop and answer some questions.
GOM: You went to NYU for theater, how did you end up in music?
Doña Oxford: I had been doing theater, and I actually lied about my age to get a job as a waitress at a club. I would watch these great blues musician’s come in with a different band every night. I had always played piano, and I just thought “I would like to do that.” I guess I always wanted to be a performer. When I was little I would be singing, and when I finished a song, my Mom would stop doing the dishes and come in and clap at the end of every song. Her friends would be like, “Do you do that at the end of every song?” and she would answer, “Yeah, she likes it.”
GOM: You had done some theater work (both regional and off-Broadway) as well as some walk on work on soaps, which industry is more “Cut-throat?”
Doña Oxford: I would say the acting world. It’s such a cattle call. You could go to an audition for the part of a “blonde girl” and walk in with brown hair and they wouldn’t even talk to you. They didn’t even care if you could act or not. The music world (aside from the Britney’s and NSyncs of the world) isn’t solely based on your looks.
GOM: Is the competition tougher in the acting world?
Doña Oxford: Well it was funny, a bunch of actors could get together and say “let’s do a show” but you knew deep down they were all trying to get each other’s parts. The music community doesn’t seem as competitive (hmmm… maybe except for the occasional guitarist). I think the love of the art brings musicians together. The fact that we can’t really do it all by ourselves; you need each other. When my first CD came out it got reviewed in Keyboard magazine and I didn’t even know it. Another keyboard player I barely knew called me up to let me know he saw the review. I thought, “This is a person I barely know doing something nice.”
GOM: Its fun to look back now and say you’ve played and recorded with artists such as Keith Richards, Hubert Sumlin, Kenny Neal, Pinetop Perkins, Shirley Dixon, Commander Cody, Shemekia Copeland, Bernard Allison, Bob Margolin, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Michael Hill, Popa Chubby, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and your idol, the father of the rock & roll piano, Johnnie Johnson, but how did you get here from there? I know one of your big breaks came when you joined Shemekia Copeland’s band.
Doña Oxford: I had moved to NYC for acting, and I began going to jam nights at the blues clubs. This got me introduced to many of the local blues artist in the field, and basically I networked my ass off. Eventually I released my first album, and was touring the east coast, and still trying to gain some momentum. Then Shemekia Copeland (daughter of Johnny “Clyde” Copeland) asked me to join her band.
GOM: Was that a hard decision to put your solo thing on hold?
Doña Oxford: Well at first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be the “sideman.” But my manager and folks around me said “Look Shemekia is going to be the next big thing.” She had the backing of Alligator records, and she is such a powerhouse, so I told her I would try it for six months. Well, we got to tour all over, the money was good, and before I knew it the six months turned into two and a half years. She is such a great talent.
GOM: And now you’re solo…
Doña Oxford: Doña: Yeah, Shemekia was great. She so understood what I needed to do. I had that itch to go back to doing my own thing. She was/is very supportive. I just spoke with her yesterday on the phone
GOM: Now you have a booker, management, and a publicist. How did you assemble the team?
Doña Oxford: Through networking, and working to build a following, eventually they approached me. An example of that would be Rafael Fuentesof Fountain Bleu Records saw me when I was on tour with Shemekia and approached me. He thought he could do national distribution since I had national exposure ( He helped me record my first album Rowena Said…” (available at www.donaoxford.com )
GOM: How are things going on the road?
Doña Oxford: Things are going great. We’re doing a tour of the East coast hitting New York, Ohio, Main, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Illinois.
GOM: I looked at your schedule, and it’s pretty packed.
Doña Oxford: Yeah, we’re doing 8 shows in the next 9 days.
GOM: Are there any fears of burnout?
Doña Oxford: When it comes to touring you have to think of it like an athlete. If you’re not in shape, then you’re going to have problems. For me as a vocalist I have a great vocalist coach in New York that I use, I do voice exercises on the road, and sometimes I’ll call the coach from the road to help me keep me in shape. Typically it’s not the singing that damages my throat. It’s trying to talk to people on break. You end up screaming over the jukebox, and it’s the screaming that does the damage.
GOM: Do you have a “Favorite Gig?” Would that be the night you went to Johnnie Johnson’s show, only to have Keith Richards join Johnnie on stage, and then have Johnnie call you up on stage to play?
Doña Oxford: Yeah, that was an amazing night.
GOM: It’s not too often you get to play with one of your idols along with a Rolling Stone…
Doña Oxford: Yeah, and you know Keith Richards is one of the nicest guys.
GOM: At the other end of the spectrum, do you have a worst gig?
Doña Oxford: Well I had a real disappointing gig where we opened for the Temptations in front of about 10,000 people. There was a problem with the sound system, and through my entire set there was a very loud (annoying) crackling noise. We had hoped to sell some CD’s and I think we ended up selling about three. Looking back you have to kind of laugh, I mean what are you going to do?
GOM: You’ve had so much touring experience, do you have any words of wisdom for our members. Something that you thought “Man I wish someone would’ve told me about this” when it comes to touring.
Doña Oxford: Well you have to realize that you are going to live with these people 24/7. If you are assembling a group to tour and you have two musicians and one has slightly lesser talent but a better personality, take the personality. If you find yourself burying your face in a book to avoid people, it can make the tour very long. Of course like a family you’re not always going to get along, but try to find a team player, or it can make your band completely miserable.
GOM: Lets talk about your last CD “Raw”
Doña Oxford: Well we were getting ready to play the Chicago Blues Festival and we thought about going into the studio to record a new CD, but it would’ve been rushed. A friend of mine had recorded a gig on mini disk, and after listening to it, we thought it captured the energy and feeling of our shows. We had it mastered, and it sounds great. It gives club owners a chance to hear exactly what to expect at a show.
GOM: That explains why it sounds like you’re in the front row. You are. I’ve listened to the samples on your web site It sounds great.
Doña Oxford: Thanks
GOM: How long have you been together?
Doña Oxford: We’ll I’ve been doing this for 10 years. My current touring band has been together for about 9 months. I had to assemble a new band when I moved to Chicago.
GOM: You’re No longer in New York?
Doña Oxford: Most people don’t realize that after September 11th, musicians had a really hard time making a living. Seventeen blues clubs closed after September 11th. Then there were laws put into place (for “dancer” bars) but people would get up and dance (not strip), and the cops could come in and close the bar. Then there were fines; it was horrible…
GOM: Kind of like Sam Kinison screaming at people starving in the dessert. “Move to where the food is!”
Doña Oxford: (Giggles), yeah you live in sand! But Chicago has plenty of blues clubs.
GOM: Who is your current line up?
Doña Oxford: Are you ready for some fun spelling? Mark Diffenderffer – Drums (we call him “Diff”). Eduardo Garcia – Guitar BNY Dughba – Bass
GOM: Do you have a motto?
Doña Oxford: Oh man, um Wear your heart on your sleeve and live life to the fullest. I just made that up. But, yeah, that’s pretty much it.
GOM: Who are your influences?
Doña Oxford: My idol growing up was/is Johnnie Johnson.
GOM: Don’t hate me, but I don’t think I’ve heard of him.
Doña Oxford: Most people haven’t as he was a sideman for most of his career.
GOM: What’s in Your CD player now?
Doña Oxford: Oh man, good question. Umm, let’s see, NRBQ at Yankee Stadium. I am getting into Nora Jones and John Mayer a little these days. Oh! Wait a Solomon Burke CD, oh man the CD is out of print and I can’t remember the name, but it has a version of “Letter to my Darlin” and oh man….
GOM: Favorite Part of being in a band?
Doña Oxford: To me it’s seeing all the different places, and meeting people. I’m a people person. I love to go out and touch, talk, and bring a smile to people’s face. Seeing the joy on their faces feeds and inspires me to play.
GOM: And the part of being in a band you hate?
Doña Oxford: Well, it’s all pretty good. You know I just read something that in 1970 the average band made $400-$500 per night. You know what the average band makes now a night? You guessed it $400-500 a night.
GOM: Any other advice for bands?
Doña Oxford: You know when it comes to touring; it can easily become a blur. Take the time to smell the roses, and take in each city. You never know when you’re going to be back there again.
This interview originally appeared at the Musician’s Cyber Cooler (www.jammindave.com/spotlightartist/donaoxford ) For tour information, CD’s t-shirts, bios, pictures, go to www.donaoxford.com