Marcia Ball has had a career as lengthy as often cited legs. Long Tall Marcia Ball will perform at The Heights Theater on Friday, March 17 with her newly formed four piece band.
“Everything changed and I was lucky again to be able to put something back together that's really satisfying,” says Ball of her new band after many of her longtime band members decided to stay home following the pandemic. “It’s really a good group,” she adds.
Ball knows a thing or two about what it takes to make a good group. Hailing from Louisiana, Ball was making rock and roll music with her band Gum before the band broke up because one guitarist followed the hippy craze to San Francisco where Ball intended to follow suit.
Originally planning on just passing through Texas to San Francisco, Ball’s car broke down in the Capital and changed her life forever.
“We got to Austin and just fell in love with it,” says Ball. “It was a little bit of paradise then, small and slow moving. It had the college crowd, the capital and that was about it,” she describes the now bustling city with an ever changing skyline where there was none before.
“I was a product of my times,” says Ball of her time with Gum. “I was in a rock and roll band in Baton Rouge and then I got to Austin and we ran into that progressive country scare,” she says referring to her band Freda and the Firedogs which disbanded in 1974 leaving Ball to find her own sound.
“When I started my own band I realized that I was a piano player and I was going to be doing that more and I went back to my roots. I went back to what I grew up with.” Ball began to emulate the Louisiana giants like Professor Longhair and James Booker with her fast grooving, piano pounding style of playing.
“I just fell in love with that New Orleans piano style that I've been playing and I have been fortunate enough to be able to follow that muse,” says Ball.
People often associate loud guitars to rock and roll but the origins of the style of music are rooted in piano. It is nearly impossible to hear a good boogie-woogie rhythm on the keys and not feel the ghosts of rock and roll.
“The biggest stars used to be piano players,” says Ball. “When I was growing up it was Jerry Lee, Little Richard, Fats Domino and Ray Charles and at some point guitar took over but I still think there's so much in the piano.”
Most recently Ball was part of a tribute to the “King of Hillbilly piano players” Moon Mullican when she recorded “Good Times Gonna Roll Again” for Johnny Nichols Presents: Moon And The Stars along with Linda Gail Lewis, Earl P. Ball and Augie Meyers who also contributed tracks.
Focusing on the piano as her instrument has not only formed her sound but greatly affected her songwriting approach. “You write differently on the piano,” describes Ball. “There are different rhythms I feel and in fact there are times that I've written using a guitar just because I want to establish a different feel.”
Ball continues to call Austin home where she and a group of likeminded, women artists founded HOME after learning that legendary blues woman Lavelle White was returning to town and had limited resources. The organization assists older musicians with housing and other needs.
"We've got to keep an eye on them," says Bell adding, "We know what's going on. We keep on an eye on who we know is having trouble."
Ball is currently getting back into the swing of writing and planning on recording new material. During the pandemic she worked with Gordon Wright on Mr. Texas, a musical centered around Texas politics.
“I do touch on serious subjects,” says Ball of her songwriting. “But I am first and foremost an entertainer so I don't have a lot of angst or anything. I haven't used that in my material so much and maybe I should and yet there are times when I definitely get to the subject but primarily I let the good times roll.”
Marcia Ball will perform on Friday, March 17 at The Heights Theater, 339 W 19. Doors open at 7 p.m, $24.