Bex Marshall finds her voice in the blues

Photo providedBex Marshall
Photo providedBex Marshall

People tell Bex Marshall she sounds like Janis Joplin.

“I love that, because it’s the biggest compliment,” the pleased British singer-guitarist said from a truck stop between Chicago and Indianapolis.

Marshall most of all is pleased that people don’t tell her she sounds like someone she doesn’t like.

“Of course, I love Janis Joplin,” she said. “I have that kind of vocal tone, I suppose, and the nuances that do remind people of her.”

But Marshall’s greatest vocal heroine is that soul-stirring dynamo from Nutbush, Tenn., Tina Turner.

“I loved those rootsy voices, back-porch voices, as it were,” she said. “I was really into Tina Turner’s early stuff, not the ’80s pop stuff. I ended up singing a lot of men’s songs. I love Rod Stewart, Led Zeppelin and, obviously, Robert Plant.”

Marshall and Zeppelin vocalist Plant, another British singer who revels in American blues and R&B, share a manager.

Finding one’s voice takes years, Marshall said.

“These young singers who come out with these great ranges and start singing blues, it doesn’t really do it for me,” she said. “They’ve got great voices but they haven’t got the lived-in voice. That’s what this genre needs.”

Expression, of course, is key.

“Like Muddy Waters,” Marshall said. “And they’re almost rapping. They’re telling a story.”

Marshall’s goal for her new album, House of Mercy, was to tell stories, sing expressively and exploit her vocal range wherever necessary.

Beyond being a expressive singer, Marshall is a virtuoso guitarist. She plays blues, ragtime and even extremely difficult, finger-stretching classical pieces.

For her acoustic work, Marshall plays an Ozark steel-topped resonator guitar. Her electric guitar is an Electric Lady model made by Chris Eccleshall, a luthier based in Marshall’s hometown, Devon, England.

“Devon made for a Devon maid,” she jested.

British stars David Bowie, Paul Weller, Pete Townshend, Dave Davies, New Order and The Cure are among Eccleshall’s customers.

Marshall’s latest American tour includes her second performance at a legendary Louisiana venue, Teddy’s Juke Joint in Zachary.

“The first time I was there it blew me away,” she said. “It’s so off the beaten track, so not a stereotypical commercial sort of music venue. For me, it was like being transported back 50 years to how it really was. Back-porch stuff.

“Teddy, he’s such a character as well. The decorations are just out there. His long-suffering wife behind the bar, bless her. She puts up with his promiscuous deejaying.”

Shortly before her Advocate interview from a truck stop, Marshall soaked up Chicago, the home of the blues, and hung out in Louisiana native and longtime Chicago resident Buddy Guy’s Legends club.

“Yeah, it was awesome,” she said. “I was there just listening to the staff at the end of the bar, chatting away. I love people watching. That’s another thing that artists do. We watch people and listen. I love slang. I can write an album about the conversations I’ve heard.”

Marshall is especially looking forward to her tour’s Southern stretch.

“The first time I went to New Orleans, I so wanted to take something from it. I love that macabre vibe, that dangerous, voodoo-y undercurrent. I was dying for something to happen and it did.”