IN THE BEGINNING
Yvonne Schmidt's story is forged in the steely determination of a little girl who knew she was born to sing the blues. Raised in Buffalo, NY, the working-class gal with a three-and-half octave voice knew from an early age what she wanted to be when she grew up.
Her career started with the song "My Little Teapot" at age 2 and a half. Her mother took her for dance lessons, and the instructor, Mrs. Hanley, asked Yvonne's mother, "Do you hear that voice in there? That's your daughter. I think you should be sending her to singing lessons, not dance lessons."
Yvonne continued dance lessons into her junior high years. A turning point came at age 11 when she made friends with a neighbor girl, Mona Lucas, who had a large, musical family. Yvonne started singing with Mona's family, and soon the two girls made their first public appearance in West Hurdle Middle School's talent show. From that point on, Yvonne says, she was hooked. She says people still approach her and tell her they remember her from that talent show, insisting their act was the best that day.
TOP 40's GIRL
She participated in high school choirs, and soon after graduation, the self-taught, Etta James-influenced diva hit the road. In 1978, at the tender age of 19, she responded to a newspaper ad seeking a female singer to tour the east coast and Florida. She auditioned the Top 40's band, Cold Storage. Yvonne auditioned for a rock band position, competing against 40 to 50 other girls. She and one other girl were chosen, with the company promising to give Yvonne all of the rock selections.
Cold Storage started her off with six weeks of intense rehearsals before taking her on the road gigs. On tour, she worked three-and-a-half years solid, traveling up and down the east coast performing six nights a week, 5 sets per night, with occasional Saturday matinees thrown in.
Yvonne soon tired of top 40's material, and she was suffering severe burnout from the constant traveling. She wanted to grow and develop her own style. Seasoned from the road and ready to explore other avenues, Schmidt met up with John Brady, a popular musician/songwriter in the Buffalo area. Brady, who is a virtual icon in Buffalo, wrote "Hooked On You," which was recorded by blues great Albert Collins. Brady mentored Yvonne and got her to record his songs.
MISS Y - GETS THE BLUES
In 1988, she met The Black Cat Blues Band and fell in love with the music. The style was what Yvonne calls "good across-the-board blues," focusing on the work of artists such as Etta James, Koko Taylor, Memphis Minnie and Robert Johnson. Yvonne started gigging out with BCBB right away. Since they were booked five nights per week, she was able to work with them steadily two nights each week, and together they became Miss Y and The Black Cat Band.
WILD IN BLUE
In 1994, Miss Y and her friend Annie, from Rochester, NY, got together and decided to start their own blues band. They began hooking up with various jammers, checking out possible choices for their new group. Wild 'N Blue consisted of four girls and a male drummer, consisting of Keyboardist Ann Phillipone; Guitarist Maria Aurigema; Bassist Doti Hall; and Drummer Al Hury.
Yvonne says they were 'all very young and green about the blues. It just kind of formed. Then we got into an apartment and started hammering out simple blues tunes.
Al Hury was Yvonne's old drum teacher from her childhood, and he agreed to play for the girls. They worked vigorously four nights per week for two years before creative differences caused the band split to pursue other projects.
Yvonne talks about Wild 'N Blue with heartfelt emotion, saying that it was the most fun she ever had. The whole project meant so much to her and the band were all so dear to her because "it brought me back to life from a lot of deep wounds." She loved the group's name, taken from an Elmore James quote, and decided to retain Wild 'N Blue as the name of her own company.
NOTHING BUT BLUE
On December 28, 2001, Schmidt was standing at the bar at The Blues Room in Buffalo, now The Lafayette Tap Room, when she met songwriter/producer Tom Hambridge. Hambridge produced Susan Tedeschi's debut CD Just Won't Burn and wrote "It Hurts So Bad" and "Rock Me Right".
Schmidt had recently acquired a copy of Hambridge's CD Balderdash (Artemis Records) while working for local radio promoters who thought she might be interested in his work.
It was open jam night at The Blues Room, and Tom and Yvonne ended up playing two or three numbers together, after which Tom asked her if she was working with anybody. She had just finished a demo of original material from a local writer, and Hambridge showed interest in the demo. Schmidt was looking for a producer for the CD work. She says she knew the songs were good but that they needed work. She also had a solo CD in mind.
The following March, Hambridge got in touch with Yvonne, telling her he loved her voice and would love to produce a CD for her. Knowing he had had great success with Tedeschi, Schmidt was excited. However, Hambridge asked her if, instead of recording the demo songs, she would be interested in recording his originals. She agreed, and the collaboration between the two began.
Yvonne had recorded some live stuff at home and in a local club with Wild 'N Blue, but those recordings were never released. Other professional recordings include "Giving Back the Blues" and John Brady's "Let's Get Out of the Cold," which was never mastered. Although the songs were recorded in the mid-nineties, she thinks she might do something with them someday.
Collaborating with Hambridge proved to be a much different experience for Schmidt. With Nothing But Blue, (CD Mountain), her dreams became reality. Schmidt took her new CD on the road. Her recent trip to Mall of Georgia's 2004 Summer Concert Series put her and her new release in the limelight with multiple radio interviews, airplay, and, since the show, many radio requests. No wonder. She loaded the deck by packing her 11-track CD with well-known, seasoned musicians who have achieved much in their own rights, but understand how to back a veteran band leader and professional club singer such as herself.
For the CD, Hambridge himself provided drums, percussion and background vocals. Nick Veltri holds down the line on bass, and Doug Morgano plays all lead and rhythm guitar parts.
In an era jam-packed with Janis Joplin wannabes, the petite brunette pulls no punches when belting out her rendition of "Turtle Blues." She is as true to the original as can be, with an extra dose of strength added. Schmidt's voice is more technically-developed than Joplin's was, and with just the right amount of soul to match.
The pithy, soulful originals are where she shines best, though. Her understanding of phrasing and interpretations gives testimony to her experience and dedication to each song. 'Nothing But Blue' hit number five on the Living Blues Radio Charts.
The Buffalo News' Jeff Miers says, "No lie; this stuff is of an international caliber and would be quite at home on a major blues label like, say, Alligator."
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