Cheryl Lescom: Belting Out the Blues
It’s hard to look at Cheryl Lescom and imagine her as an ex-biker chick. But then again, given the ever-present weapon she’s carrying, there’s no denying the fact she’s prone to release her fury with sonic assaults on your senses anytime she steps on stage.
For more than four decades, the Kitchener-based singer/songwriter has been one of the most powerful female voices on the Canadian blues scene. Beginning her career as a backup singer for the likes of Rompin’ Ronnie Hawkins and Long John Baldry, Lescom has carved out a long career as both a headliner, collaborator and touring mate with the likes of Jeff Healy, Matt Minglewood, Dutch Mason and Downchild Blues Band. With five CDs to her credit, including 1953, her most recent release with Tucson Choir Boys, Luscom continues to extend her legacy as, according to Baldry, “one of the best and biggest voices in Canada.”
In anticipation of her upcoming guest vocalist gig with The Mighty Duck Blues Band April 27th at Joe Blo’s in St. Catharines, Lescom chatted with GoBe about the toughest song to sing, her dream band-mates and her success in bar fights.
GoBe: What’s the song that you sing that challenges you most as a vocalist – one that gives you the hardest time but gives you the most joy when you nail it?
Cheryl: “Drown In My Own Tears.” (Ray Charles)
GoBe: What is it about that song that presents the challenge?
Cheryl: Getting the feel right. So many people have done it brilliantly. So making it my own, without over singing it and not getting too emotional doing that, is a challenge.
GoBe: If there was a lyric from a song that best describes your attitude toward the musical journey you’ve been on the past four decades, what would it be?
Cheryl: “Let It Be.”
GoBe: What’s the ideal band set up for you when performing live (E.g. 4pc, 5pc, keys, etc.) What configuration do you like performing with most as a vocalist?
Cheryl: I like the variety of playing with many different configurations, and many different players. But when I write music it'susually with Ray Walsh and the Tucson Choir Boys and they are mostly acoustic, so I get to sing my music and I can hear myself. That’s always a great feeling.
GoBe: If you could assemble a dream line up of artists living or dead, who would you want on that stage?
Cheryl: Ray Charles on keys, Eric Clapton and Duane Allman on guitar, Aretha Franklin and Etta James on backups, Leon Russel on organ, the Tower of Power horn section and Charlie Watts on drums.
GoBe: Have you ever been in a bar fight?
GoBe: That doesn’t deserve a one-word answer. What were the circumstances and did you win?
Cheryl: I was a tough kid. I had a rough life, had a big attitude. I was a biker chick for 10 years and a waitress at The Coronet in Kitchener. Sooner or later shit was gonna happen. You had to take care of yourself. If someone put their hands on you, you didn’t post it on Facebook or Instagram, you took care of it yourself. I felt like there was no winner. It was survival.
GoBe: Your voice has a wonderful balance of rasp and clarity. Do you follow a healthy regime to protect that asset and if so, what is it?
Cheryl: I try to sleep enough, drink tons of water, exercise, take my vitamins and not give a shit.
GoBe: Is there a new Cheryl Lescom album in the future and if so, what direction will it take?
Cheryl: I will have a new album out this year with the Tucson Choir Boys. The running theme is “a healthy respect for time or lack of it.”
Gobe: And when can we expect to have that in our hands?
Cheryl: The fall.
GoBe: Happiness or heartache; in which of those two emotional states are you more creative?
GoBe: Why is heartache the bigger inspiration for you?
Cheryl: I’m not Celine Dion. My strength as a singer is getting the point across and telling the story with emotion. Most of the music I write about or sing is from my own experience. It’s therapy. You don’t go to a therapist if everything is happy in your life. I like singing the songs that almost make me cry, ‘cuz it’s cleansing and emotionally freeing. I feel the pain but it’s safe. I’m alive!
GoBe: You toured with Long John Baldry. What’s the most memorable show or fondest memory and for what reason?
Cheryl: Being in Montreal for John’s 40th birthday. He was such a gentleman and I was thrilled to be on stage with him.
GoBe: Who’s your favourite female blues singer of all time?
Cheryl: Etta James.
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