Sounds Local: Creating music is about sound and rhythm
Li’l BeeDee & the Doo-Rites is a band with a mission: to create good-time music and “to do ya right!” And you can be sure that when this five-piece band brings its blend of rockabilly and old rhythm and blues to the Full Moon Coffeehouse in Wendell on Saturday, Oct. 27, at 7:30 p.m., it will do just that.
To most music fans, Li’l BeeDee, better known as Betsy-Dawn Williams, is best known as the singer and guitarist of the local honky-tonk band Girl Howdy. They also might recognize her as the rubboard player in the zydeco group Slippery Sneakers. But what they probably don’t know is that in 2004, Williams released an acclaimed rockabilly album called “Rocket Girl” on the European El Toro label.
Singing in a voice slightly reminiscent of her musical idol, Wanda Jackson, and backed by plenty of hot guitar licks, raucous rhythms and some frantic piano work, Williams established herself as a first-rate writer and singer of rockabilly. And it’s her love of this music that prompted the Northampton-based Williams to join forces with the Doo-Rites, a group of killer musicians that includes Jeff Potter on piano, Frankie Blandino on lead guitar, Brian Rost on bass and Doug Hinman on drums.
I recently caught up with Williams, who is the writer, singer and rhythm guitarist of the Doo-Rites, to talk about the formation of this band, her roots in rockabilly and the joy of watching ants.
SH: What prompted you to form Li’L BeeDee & The Doo-Rites when you are already working with a couple of other bands?
BW: Well for one, it’s a completely different style of music from the other two bands I play in. They are all different, which gives me the opportunity to stretch out musically, and I love that. What all my bands have in common is that they all feature roots music, but in various genres. This new combo for me is one where I can bring in whatever I want, including a lot of my original work, because this is a band where I am in the leader seat and blazing the trail.
SH: How did you ever get into old rhythm and blues and rockabilly music?
BW: I suppose from records from way back, like the way a lot of people discover music. And perhaps my upbringing in North Carolina — being from the Southeast perhaps gives me an affinity toward all things twangy and bluesy.
SH: Where did you ever come up with the name Little BeeDee & the Doo-Rites?
BW: It was inspired in part from the cartoon character Dudley Do-Right, and from my overall mission to do right by an audience, to bring on the good times, to clear their heads and let go, in a medicinal good grooving kind of way. And, because my closest friends shorten my name Betsy-Dawn and call me simply BeeDee, I decided to use that in the name, too. And also to give the full band name a touch of alliteration with an old-school sound.
SH: Do you have any plans to record with the Doo-Rites?
BW: Yes, this winter I’m planning to go into the studio and do that very thing. I have about a dozen or so new songs I’ve written and I’m planning to get those crystallized and brought into being. I’m excited about this and I think I’ll be trading a winter vacation in order to do this.
SH: What can you tell me about your lyrics?
BW: I guess for a lot of people lyrical content is a big thing — and I love clever, thoughtful lyrics and rhyming schemes and all that, too. But when I write a song, I never ever start with lyrics or any ideas about what to say. For me, a new song has always grown from a rhythmic feel first, a musical idea. I get a groove in my head and from that springs chords and melody, and from that I begin to hear vowel sounds. I then find words that fit all of that and convey the feel that I’m hearing. Of course, I try to make these words into sentences and paragraphs that make some kind of sense. But for me, creating music is about sound and rhythm. To me, that says a lot.
SH: When you take the stage at the Full Moon Coffeehouse, will you primarily be playing material off “Rocket Girl?”
BW: We are performing that material as well as newer originals. But we are also digging up old (songs) from the rockabilly and rhythm-and-blues worlds. One thing we are not, however, is a tribute project. We reinterpret songs like crazy, make them our own, and don’t give a wit about reproducing the way they were recorded. So, with that said, we also stay away from songs that most people feel cannot be touched because the recordings are so stamped into the collective consciousness. The stuff we select is more like the B-sides. I should also tell you that our piano player, Jeff Potter, is also a contributing writer and vocalist with this band.
SH: You must be so busy with all your various musical projects. What do you enjoy doing when you are not making music?
BW: I bought two kayaks this summer and I’m loving exploring the waterways. I also love to get to the ocean as much as possible. Everyday would not be too much for me. I also love staring at the ants in my yard. They have no worries, they just do their thing.
SH: Have you played many local shows?
BW: Not many, not yet, even though we took our maiden voyage in 2010. That was in the Boston area. Then 2011 was the hiatus and we have been re-tooling this past spring. Our Wendell Full Moon Coffeehouse show will be the first in the area. I’m really looking forward to playing this venue because the folks up there are so nice and they are ready to get up on their feet and have a good time from the first downbeat. Love that! It’s also nice that every show at the Wendell Full Moon is a benefit to raise funds for various good causes, which makes me feel good to play a role there and honored to be part of their line-up. The show we’re doing on Oct. 27 will benefit the Community Network for Children.
Admission is sliding scale donation of $6-$15 at the door. No advance tickets or reservations available. For more information visit www.wendellfullmoon.org
The Wendell Full Moon Coffeehouse is in the Wendell Town Hall, on 6 Center St. The show will start with an open mic at 7:30 p.m, with Li’l BeeDee & the Doo-Rites starting at 8 p.m.
Sheryl Hunter is a music writer who lives in Easthampton. Her work has appeared in various regional and national magazines. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org