Local songstress touches souls weekly
By Ray Schweibert --> AS A NINE-YEAR-OLD ASPIRING musician growing up in Brigantine, Patty Blee bought some books of songs by her favorite artists, taught herself a few guitar chords, wrote a song and played it for her parents.
They were moved to tears.
"I remember thinking, 'This isn't the effect I wanted,'" says Blee. "When you're a little girl and you play a song you wrote for your parents, they'd have been touched by anything you played. I just remember thinking, 'Why are they crying?'"
The desired effect was achieved over time. Blee was encouraged to carry on by a musically inclined family, and has since become the focal point of a proud group of admirers that extends well beyond her family and southern New Jersey.
Now an Absecon resident, Blee has released an acclaimed CD of 13 original songs that have a folk-rock flair, and was inspired by the musicians she listened to in her youth like Bonnie Raitt, Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills and Nash. She has played with, or opened for, some of the biggest names in the music industry, and has performed in music venues all across the country.
"I'm the second oldest of nine children, and there was always music playing around the house when I was growing up," says Blee, who has two children of her own who are musicians. "It was always festive. My father was a three-chord guitar kind of guy who played a lot at barbecues and family functions, and I just thought everybody's dad played music.
"Later I bought some song books ... and taught myself how to play. I've taken some lessons, but I didn't get as much out of them as I got from the books."
Blee, 43, did not seriously begin writing her own songs until her mid-30s, but there was no long respite from playing music, as her endearing voice and proficiency with the guitar confirms. She continues to play locally, sometimes four or five gigs per week, including twice-weekly (year-round) appearances at the Library III in Egg Harbor Township, and once a week at O'Grady's in Atlantic City.
"Music means so much to me that I need to play in an environment that is warm and welcoming, and where people are happy to be there," she says. "I make music to touch people's souls."
During a recent performance at the Library, she opened her set with a stirring version of Loggins and Messina's "Danny's Song." The set included other covers by Stevie Nicks, Tom Petty, and the song "Blackbird" by the Beatles -- all performed flawlessly on her black, amplified Takamine acoustic guitar.
"I'm like the eBay Queen when it comes to guitars," she says. "Since music stores don't usually let you take one home and try it, I'll buy a guitar on eBay, play it for a while, and either keep it or sell it back on eBay. When you're playing in different places like I do, I like to have different guitars that sound good with the various sound systems I play on."
About four years ago, Blee's longtime friend, percussionist Jerry Klause, teamed with Herb "Bubba" Birch to establish the recording label Treasure Records (named after Birch's wife, Kerry Treasure) at Scullville Studios, located just west of Somers Point. Birch left to concentrate on his other interests, including his blues band and restaurant, the Bubba Mac Shack, and keyboardist/recording engineer Randy Friel (who also plays at O'Grady's occasionally) partnered with Klause at Treasure Records.
In 2002, Klause petitioned Blee to make a CD of her songs as a pilot project at Treasure, and Blee gladly agreed. It was intended to be a simple recording of Blee singing and performing her songs on acoustic guitar, but Klause's fellow percussionist, Richard Crooks, got involved and wondered if he might include some of his former band-mates on the project.
"(Crooks) said he had some friends in New York who would be perfect for the project," says Blee. "It happened to be Bob Dylan's band."
Crooks, guitarist Larry Campbell, bassist Tony Garnier and keyboardist Augie Meyers have all played with Bob Dylan, and all performed on Blee's 2002 CD entitled Disguise. Another of Crooks' cronies, Soozie Tyrell, also contributed, and Blee returned the favor by playing backup on Tyrell's solo album White Lines, which was recorded in 2003 at Scullville on the Treasure label. Tyrell is a violinist who has toured with Bruce Springsteen and performed on his CDs The Rising and Devils and Dust. Campbell will be playing guitar with former Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh at the Atlantic City House of Blues on Dec. 9-11. Disguise's all-star cast also included renowned blues player John Hammond and recording engineer Shelly Yakus.
"Working with those people was magical," says Blee. "It was one of those things where you wake up every day and have to pinch yourself before going to the studio. Sometimes you ask yourself, 'Am I going to be able to do this? Am I going to be able to work with all these talented people? How am I going to get through this?' Then you realize that they're the most down-to-earth, spiritually generous people on the face of the earth.
"They cut through the BS," she adds. "They're not trying to impress you, and there's nothing you can do to impress them, so you're like on this even playing field. And whatever you do, if you do it from your heart, they're appreciative of it. That's what struck me most about working with people like that."
Brick House Pub & Grille has live music most Friday nights and a slew of other ongoing enticements throughout the fall.
Margate’s Music Revival
Clancy’s By the Bayfest
A ‘Haven’ at Golden Nugget
Life in the Laugh Lane