History hasn't always given Seattle blues veteran Alice Stuart her due. In a perfect world, the guitarist's name would figure at least as prominently as Wanda Jackson's in music encyclopedias. Artists from Bonnie Raitt to Norah Jones would send her lavish annual thank-you gifts for breaking the ground upon which they now tread so profitably; had Stevie Ray Vaughan not died before her career got its second wind in the late '90s, one suspects he would have sung Stuart's praises far and wide.
What's all this hoopla about? For the short version of the story, simply check out Stuart's show this Saturday, January 14, at the Triple Door. But if you want all the details—and, believe me, you do—read on...
Hailing from Central Washington, Stuart relocated to Seattle in her teens; she performed at the 1962 world's fair, and was a regular on the 1963 TV show Seattle Center Hootenanny. Although initially affiliated with the folk scene, she was blown away by the blues: "I learned a couple of Furry Lewis tunes, and when I heard Blind Willie McTell, I just felt like I was home." In 1964, she played the Berkeley Folk Festival, and issued her first LP, All the Good Times.
A couple years later, she was linked—professionally and romantically—with freakin' Frank Zappa, performing briefly with the Mothers of Invention. She cut two acclaimed albums, Full Time Woman and Believing, for Fantasy in the early '70s; the latter spawned a UK-chart single with her version of Hank Snow's "Golden Rocket." She played and toured with such diverse acts as Mississippi John Hurt, Van Morrison, and Joan Baez; Irma Thomas, Kate Wolf, and Jackie DeShannon recorded her songs.
Put simply, Stuart was one of the first to do many things—write and record original material, front her own (male) band, play lead guitar—that female artists can take for granted today.
Stuart went on hiatus in the '80s, but returned to performing and recording in 1996, and has since issued several noteworthy albums. Her 2002 full-length, Can't Find No Heaven, earned a Grammy nomination, as well as one for a Handy Award from the Blues Foundation.
Judging from the sound of her brand-new double-CD, Live at the Triple Door (recorded last February with her band, the Formerlys), Stuart—now in her early 60s—has no intentions of simply resting on her pedigree. Her playing and singing on these versions of McTell's "Statesboro Blues" and the roots classic "Big Boss Man" are laid-back but persuasive, and she takes full possession of the country weeper "I Feel Like Hank Williams Tonight." Even more striking are her stripped-down performances on "Sugar Babe" (featuring great Dobro playing by Charlie Wallace) and "Hard Time Killin' Floor." And her own "The Man's So Good" puts a smart-but-feminine twist on the standard no-good-man clichés.
The history books may have overlooked Stuart, but if you've read this far you don't have that excuse.