Photos: Mike Stephenson
Keepin’ It Real
MS. Jody is the fastest rising star of the southern soul. She may be the currently closest to a cross over to mainstream R & B as white circles. Yet, in her music is not found any traces of smoothing or conformation.
On the one hand, her stage performances and music hails from a tradition where Millie Jackson and Denise LaSalle celebrated great triumphs, on the other hand, there is a depth and insight into human fate that is far away from any superficiality. It is with great pleasure that we can present Ms. Jody. The article writer Mike Stephenson is also involved in the English Blues & Rhythm, a blues magazine that holds the discography science high, all is not yet said.
Editor in Chief Anders Lillsunde
Could you describe where you were you were born, and about your early days and how you got into music?
My name is Verti Delapaz, Pickens is my maiden name, and I am a divorcee and I was born in Chicago, Illinois, at Cook County hospital there. My parents lived there for about two years after I was born and then we moved back down south and I’ve been here all my life. I live at Bay Springs, Mississippi, we live out in the country and we have a two hundred and fifty acre spread and that’s where we were raised. I have five brothers and four sisters and my youngest is deceased and both my parents are deceased. I had a wonderful childhood there and even now I don’t want to live anywhere else but the country. I love the country. I live between Bay Springs and Heidelburg now, and I have a house and five horses.
How did music develop for you?
As far as music is concerned I have been singing all my life from when I was a little kid. I would go down to the middle of the pasture and sing to the birds and rabbits and the man in the sky. When it came to the church I was a late bloomer and later in years my dad was called into the ministry and of course I would sing in church then. I used to sing in the choir where my dad was ministering, from about 1975 up until 1996 or somewhere like that. I still go to church and sing off and on but I’m not home that much now. The name of the church and choir was Jerusalem Lake Como Baptist Church in Bay Spring, Mississippi. It was a country church and we would have some good times in there. I’m not boasting or bragging but people would come from far to hear my younger sister and me sing. I lost my younger sister four years ago this coming October. She and her husband were out together and they were eating and she had a massive stroke, just like that. She wasn’t sick or on any medication or anything like that.
Moving on from gospel how did you develop an interest in blues and soul?
After my dad was deceased and I became divorced and everything, my brother, Del Pickens, took me to my first blues show in 2004 and after the show he asked me if I enjoyed myself and I sure did. I told him that I could do what those people on stage were doing and he just laughed, and I told him I was going to do it and that he was going to manage me for a while, which made him laugh even more. On that show was L. J. Echols, O. B. Buchana, Willie Clayton, the late Jackie Neal and the headliner was Denise LaSalle. And that’s when I got into the show, as I have always loved me some Denise LaSalle and I thought I could do that, as she was a great inspiration to me, and here I am.
My brother took me on and we did some local stuff and he took me to a CD release party in Meridian, Mississippi and there is where I met the band Total Control. The band leader was Leo Johnson and the band manager was William Day, and they asked my brother to bring me up to Memphis because they knew somebody that would do some recording for me. So we went to Memphis and met with William Day and he took us over to Morris J. Williams and he is working for ECKO Records, and John Ward and Morris took me and did my very first recording, a track called ‘Ms. Jody The New Freak In Town’. [Which later appeared on her first CD] After we finished the recording, we went over to ECKO Records studio and me, my brother Del, a good friend of ours we call him Big Robb, and one of my sisters Lillian who did some writing for me, we went to ECKO Records and he showed us around and introduced us to everybody and I got a very good feel about the place when I was there. So that’s how I got started, it was as simple as that. A lot of prayer went into it and one door after another has opened for me.
Did you do any recordings before ECKO?
No I didn’t and I guess ECKO saw a talent within me.
How easy or how difficult is it for a lady to break into the soul/ blues world?
It wasn’t a problem at all for me. A lot of people have asked me, have I had a background in the music or have I done background work for anybody else, but no I haven’t. Like I said, Morris J. Williams introduced us to everybody at ECKO Records and I went back and finished cutting my first CD ‘You’re My Angel’ there at ECKO. After I finished getting it cut, people were asking for it and I didn’t have the merchandise for them, so I called john Ward on the phone and told him who I was and he asked what he could do for me. So I told him that a lot of people are asking for a CD and I don’t have the merchandise so I need you to do whatever it is you need to do to get my CD out there for me. I told him, ‘As far as them selling, I am sure they will sell’. That’s how sure I was of everything, because I told you we had put a lot of effort and prayer into this and everything took off from there. I connected with ECKO in 2006, in January of that year, that’s when I signed with them and at the time of this interview I have now released a total of six CDs with the label.
Can you name them?
First was ‘You’re My Angel’ then ‘What You Gonna Do When The Rent Is Due’, ‘I Never Take A Day Off’’, ‘It’s A Ms. Jody Thing’, ‘Ms. Jody’s In The Streets Again’ and ‘Ms Jody’s Keeping It Real’. Even right now I feel I have just started, that’s how much I love it. It hasn’t got old or dull to me, I love it with a passion.
You have been getting some mainstream blues press coverage, an example being an article in Living Blues.
That was done by Lee Hildebrand and it was positive that it happened.
How has your career developed since signing with ECKO? Do they promote you? Are you able to get gigs?
Larry Chambers at ECKO helps promote me and he does a hell of a good job at it, and people that hear our music on the radio and the clubs and at festivals and things like that call into ECKO Records, if they don’t know me or my manager, and talk to Larry and then Larry calls me or my manager. We have been quite busy. The Lord has been good to me and the CDs have done very well and we have kept busy.
Do you play the clubs and those big soul/ blues festivals?
In the summer months we do a lot of those festivals and we do some of the nightclubs and big family reunions and stuff like that, and town festivals. And I have been in Los Angeles and they want me back. We have been to Reno, Nevada and did a festival there and we have been to Michigan. When I get my audience involved in my show and they feel me, oh God it’s so good!
Where is your main working area?
It’s all over the US and a lot in the southern states.
You write a lot of your own material and in collaboration with others like John Ward and Gerard Rayborn.
A lot of time I will call them both up and I give them a story and ask them to build a song up around the story, and as long as they can keep it real and I can relate to it and feel it, I can work with it. I have fun recording with John Ward. We have a lot of fun and I enjoy it. I’m a full time singer and I have a regular band that are out of Memphis and they are called Total Control, and they are a four piece band. I did a duet with O. B. Buchana called ‘We’ve Got A One Way Love’ and that was on one of his CDs and one of my CDs and it did pretty good. I did a duet with David Brinston called ‘You’ve Got Something I Want’ and O.B. and me also did this thing called ‘Energizer Bunny’ where O.B. comes in on the end of the CD where we have fun there on the end of the CD. They asked me to come in and do something with J. Blackfoot called ‘Not An Ordinary Pussycat’, and J. T. Watkins and I are getting ready to do one together.
Are the live shows you do mainly a weekend thing?
Yes, it’s mainly Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and every now and then we have a weekday gig. As an example, over the next few weekends I am in Munroe, Louisiana, then I fly out to Washington and then the next weekend on Friday I will be in Louisville, Mississippi, and then on Saturday in Greenville, Mississippi, and then on Sunday I will be in Alabama. I like a break in between the gigs to be with the kids and grandkids. With gigs, they don’t like to bring you in too soon to an area after you have played a gig there. They like it to be a hundred miles apart and sixty days apart from your last gig within that area. That seems to be the rules. ECKO Records have done everything and more I have asked of them, and Larry Chambers really promotes my CDs and Ms. Jody, and I am grateful to him for that.
Have any of the numbers you have recorded for ECKO become favourites with your audience that are constantly asked for?
Yes there are ‘ Your Dog’s About To Kill My Cat’ a lot of people ask for that and ‘I Never Take A Day Off Loving My Baby’ a lot of people ask for that. A lot of people ask for ‘Sugar Daddy’, ‘The Bop’, ‘It’s A Miss Jody Thing’, which is a line dance thing and if you go on YouTube you will see a lot of different organisations and groups of people are doing the ‘Ms. Jody Thing’, church people and all are doing it. It makes me feel really good.
Can you tell me about the track ‘Ms. Jody’s Keeping It Real’?
I have been asked by people is that real? and did it happen? and it is a real story. Matter of fact, the first person I talk about in the song is a lady who came up to me after the show and she asked to talk to me and asked me why does a man stay out all night long and hang with his buddies and neglect home and I’m doing all the things I am supposed to do for him. I asked her if she really wanted to know the truth and she said yes. It could be a possibility that that man just doesn’t want you any more and it could be a possibility that your man see something on the side that he wants to try out, because he thinks I could hit that but if I don’t like it I can always go back home, because I know how she feels about me and she ain’t going nowhere. I said to her that now you know the truth, you can either deal with it or leave it alone and get on with your life and keep it real. Like I told her that if you are in a relationship and you are not happy, get out. That really happened and that is the lyrics to the song. People come up to me all the time and talk about their problems.
How does creating such a song happen for you?
I look back over my life and some of the things that have happened in my life and that is happening at that time and just put it into lyrics, and like I said I will go to John Ward or Gerard Rayborn and give them the story and ask them to build a song around it and they deliver, and they keep it real for me. It makes me feel so good when my fans tell me that they can feel my songs and it makes me cry and they tell me how my songs have helped them with a bad situation. That touches my heart and that goes deep. A lady came up to me at one of my shows and told me that she did some of the things that she heard in my songs and now her husband is not running the streets anymore and that he is home with her. And that touches my heart and it is so personal for me.
What is your audience age range?
I have done some festivals where the kids were like four or five years old sitting on the step with me singing along with me. I do kid friendly shows and family shows, and I also do adult shows depending on what they ask of me. The promoter of the show would tell me what the audience would be and I adjust my show accordingly. With the kids I sit right along with them singing and they all give me hugs and kisses and it is very rewarding for me. I have a lot of teen fans and they hear my music from their parents who play my songs and blues and soul/ blues so they hear it too, and some of the tunes catch their attention so it’s not all rap stuff for them. Sometimes I get the chance to go to a nursing home in Bay Springs and I get to sing to the elders there and we do a gospel thing, not a blues thing, and that is so good for them and for me. It is such a wonderful thing for me. I love and enjoy what I do with a passion, I really do.
Mike Stephenson in Jackson, Mississippi, in June 2011. Photos: Mike Stephenson
Many thanks should go to singer J.T. Watkins, who lives within the Jackson area, for all his help in arranging the interview. / Jefferson #171