Growing up on the Southside, the blues guitarist cut her teeth watching YouTube videos of her favorite artists and learning from them. At 15 years old, she fell in with a bandand began her career in music.
Though she’s encountered pushback as a female African-American guitarist, she’s kept the flames of her passion for music burning bright — and it comes through her incendiary guitar playing.
The Chicago Defender talked with Melody about her life in music, early influences and her advice to women looking to pursue their passion.
When did you start playing?
My mom’s a singer. Because my mom sang, I started to sing pretty early on — probably around 7 or 8 years old. When I was like 14 or 15, I kept begging for a guitar. Eventually mom got me a guitar at a pawn shop. It was everything. Best day of my life.
After that, I taught myself a couple of songs and I went to my first open mic at the Subterranean. I met other musicians and they were like, “Hey, you want to jam sometime?” So I started a band when I was 15. We did club shows and I’d have to wear a band on my wrist because I was so young.
Eventually, I moved up to doing a full set of songs. I didn’t have any fear; I just went for it.
What did you like about the blues?
Anybody playing guitar just totally stole my focus. When I first started listening to the blues, I just thought, “Oh, I want to learn how to play that.” As I really sat and listened to it, and how I felt when I really played it — just by myself where I would play a blues progression and just solo over it for awhile…I literally could play all day long — all of my emotions would come up…everything I was feeling. It would just come up and through the music.
I thought, “This is a powerful thing here.” It was hard to explain. Usually I can only get to those real emotions when I sing, but the blues brought them out of me just playing. That was totally different for me. That’s why it’s so vital to me.
Blues, rock and roll and guitar playing, in general, has historically been a space dominated by white men. Do you feel that your experiences as an African-American woman has been different?
People don’t like to hear my opinion on this because it makes them uncomfortable. People will say things like, “There are plenty of girls out there playing guitar.” And I’ll say, “Name me a few female guitar players that you would put in the same breath as Gary Clark Jr. or John Mayer.” And they just look at you like, “Uh, I mean, I don’t know their names, but I’m sure they’re out there!” And ifthey can name a few names, they’re probably white girls.
I’ve had promoters tell me no for gigs because they were looking for “the top players that really shred.” Well, I can do that! I’ll try to show them a clip or something on the guitar. But still, they say no. There are all of these excuses they’ve made.
When you say that, they’ll just say you’re complaining…that you’re not as good as them. You can’t really win sometimes. Even just mentioning how hard it is as a Black woman playing guitar — it’s like nobody wants to hear from you. Nobody wants to hear you talk about that.
That sounds incredibly frustrating.
I think it’s supposed to darken my spirit or make me bitter or angry or something like that, but because I know that’s the intent of it, I have to fight back with joy and with happiness. I can’t allow anyone to take away from me how much I love music. It’s frustrating, but I will not do anything else with my life other than the pursuit of being a full time musician and being respected as a guitar player.
That’s the right kind of attitude you need — especially when someone might be looking to you for inspiration.
I try to tell every female — whether or not they play an instrument — that it’s about the mindset. You can’t let them break how you feel about what you love…what your passion is.
They can tell you no, but they can’t stop you from playing. You have to push forward. When I do, every now and then I come through that back door and they’ll be like, “Hey, how did she get on stage?” And I’ll say, “I don’t know but here we go. Plug it in. Let’s get it.”