Melissa Etheridge finds her niche in practically every genre

Published on March 30th, 2021

Melissa Etheridge is comfortable – and excellent – playing any kind of music, and there is a pretty good reason for it.

“That’s because I grew up in the Midwest, and there was a radio station in Kansas City, WHB AM, and they used to play everything,” she said. “You would hear a Tammy Wynette song, Led Zeppelin and then the Shondells.  I didn’t think of it differently.”

She will perform with her band Friday, Sept. 8, as part of the 2017 Thornton Winery Champagne Jazz Concert Series.

“I started in the ‘70s in country bands while listening to Journey and The Rolling Stones,” she said. “I’ve always had this mix and when you start to look at where music came from, that was the well spring. So, I have an appreciation, and I don’t like thinking I can only do one type of music.”

In 1988, her self-titled album was a hit and she earned a Grammy nomination out of the gate. She would win her first Grammy a few years later with “Ain’t It Heavy.” But it was her fourth album, “Yes I Am,” that exploded, going platinum six times.

Certainly her performances on stage have always had a platinum feel to them.

“Oh yeah, that’s where it all happens – on the stage,” she said. “That authenticity, that truthfulness connects with the audience. It’s sort of a feeling as to how we can celebrate that moment of the sharing of the song and getting into the moment.”

There have certainly been a lot of special moments for Etheridge. There was the 2007 Academy Award for the song “I Need to Wake Up.” She has also performed on Broadway, has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, she has beat breast cancer and has been involved with numerous charities.

“I got to tell you it is interesting,” she said. “I have watched the industry change and the good news is that people love music and it is huge. People have thousands of songs on personal things and it’s a good thing. So now, everything is re-arranged so I can reach my fans and I don’t have to go through a record company.”

But according to her, it requires discipline.

“For my next project, I don’t have to answer to anyone and can just create but it requires me to just make myself do it and requires discipline. How do I want to do it and where do I want to land with it is the key. How do I want to express myself?”

Last year at Thornton Winery, Etheridge challenged herself in a big way. She took the stage on her own, creating rhythm and lead tracks on multiple instruments by herself, creating a unique warmth that carried over throughout the audience, whether it was to rock out, craft the blues or reach deep inside everyone’s souls.

“I was in a learning stage,” she said. “I wanted to challenge myself to play more lead guitar, to practice it and to get to the point I wanted to be and that tour forced me and allowed me to stretch out musically.  I could lay those loops down, and I could just play and play over it and it gave me a space to step out each time and I didn’t have to do it with the band and it was a big learning experience.”

But it was clear she is more than a great musician. She is a great entertainer, connecting on many levels with her audience, whether it is at an arena or a small winery.

This time, she is playing with a full band.

“I approach every show with a challenge to myself,” she said. “I think about last time what did I play because I want to offer a different menu this time. There are four or five classic Etheridge hits I’ve got to do and I enjoy doing it. But I can expand the offerings and maybe do some from the first album or put other jams together and just create a package of songs that is challenging and fun for me and connects to the audience.”

Like most good artists, she does not rest on her laurels.

“I’ve always played rhythm guitar and stopped learning in my 30s and 40sm but then I started to wonder why I should stop learning,” she said. “So, about 10 years ago I said ‘I’m going to step out more,’ and the last five years I’ve gotten more intense and now I’m buying vintage instruments and just expanding what I do and have.”

And her last project, Memphis Rock and Soul, was a tribute to the classic Stax Records lineup featuring songs by such legends as Otis Redding and Sam & Dave.  

“I always wanted to sing that music and just have that intensity,” she said.

Ultimately, she has a single goal when it comes to music she records or performs on stage.

“I just want to people the way music has always moved me,” she said.


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