Pennyblackmusic Presents: Johny Brown (Band of Holy Joy) - With Hector Gannet and Andy Thompson @The Water Rats, London, Saturday 25, May, 2024

Headlining are Johny Brown (Band of Holy Joy) With support from Hector Gannet And Andy Thompson
Hosted at the Water Rats London , Saturday 25th May, 2024. Doors open 7:30pm. First band on at 8:00pm; Admission £15 on the door or £12 in advance from We got Tickets
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Megon McDonough - Interview

  by Lisa Torem

published: 8 / 3 / 2024



Megon McDonough - Interview

intro

Lisa Torem speaks to one-woman musical institution Megon McDonough about her long career, from working with John Denver, Harry Chapin and John Prine, to her latest project doing jazz covers of the Burt Bacharach and Hal David songbook.

You would be hard-pressed to find a singer-songwriter-guitarist as self-possessed as “prairie girl” Megon McDonough. Name a form of entertainment and this Midwesterner has explored it, whether in Four Bitchin’ Babes (from 1990-2001), where levity, harmonies and progressive music merged; a solo act, such as her current run at a tony Chicago eatery with accompaniment by bassist Jon Paul, and accompaniment and solo performance by jazz pianist Fred Simon; as the star of the one-woman musical, Always…Patsy Cline; or as the originator of her own one-woman show, ‘An Interesting Bunch of Gals’, where she explored the colorful livelihoods of groundbreaking female artists, including Joni Mitchell, Edith Piaf and Billie Holiday. Through Megon’s multi-decade career, she has honed a number of skills that go beyond performance and songwriting. As an educator, she has been known to go the extra mile when it comes to sharing songwriting tips in her national workshops. Touring since her teens has left Megon with wise words about staying healthy on the road, from college campuses to international clubs. PB: Megon, you’re a native Midwesterner. Please tell us about your roots. MM: I was born and raised in Crystal Lake, Illinois. I was the seventh of nine kids, but we weren’t all home at once. My parents got married during the Depression and had three boys. Then, after 17 years of no pregnancies due to a tipped uterus, mom had a procedure to un-tip the tipped, and my parents had six more kids! I am a Prairie Girl through and through. I love the Plaines and find a lot of inspiration here in the Midwest (though I love the UK and Japan, too!). I ran away from home with my mother’s permission at 17 to Los Angeles to be in the music business. I lived in New York City for a few years, then when I was 27, I moved back to Chicago. No matter where I go, I seem to come back to the middle – most likely for grounding. They call it ‘the Heartland’ for a reason. Hmm, that’s a good song title. PB: You have been in the entertainment industry for years, as a solo performer, as well as with the ensemble, The Four Bitchin’ Babes (from 1990 to 2005.) Given your experiences, do you prefer collaborating on musical projects or working solo? MM: I love collaborations! The Babes was certainly a performing collaboration, but I always regretted that we didn’t write together. Collaborations are not for everyone. My first songwriting collaboration was with the great writer Thom Bishop (pen name Junior Burke). I learned so much from him and still do. He gave me a great title idea for a song, which was so generous. I teach songwriting, and around the fourth class we work on collaborating. It’s sometimes brave, and always intimate and vulnerable. Another regret I have is not spending more time in Nashville writing with others. It is a great process. I have two writing teachers: Arlene Malinowski, who helped me write my solo show, ‘How Ringo Saved Me From A Life In The Convent’, and Andrea Stople for songwriting. Both women are remarkable teachers. PB: You mentioned that at only 17, you moved to Los Angeles and subsequently toured with Harry Chapin and John Denver. What was it like leaving home that young and being on the road? MM: Well, honestly, if I had it to do all over again, I’d run it by a few people first. But I was headstrong and loved singing, songwriting and performing so much, and things at home were intense. My dad and older sister died suddenly in 1965 three months apart. By 1972, my mom was struggling so much to find a way to keep our home and us together. It seemed like an opportunity, maybe even a godsend. I’d even go as far as to say destiny. Things worked out for the most part, but truth be told, I was too young. PB: Did you learn anything about the craft of songwriting or the art of live performance from Harry Chapin and John Denver during that time? MM: I worked more with John than Harry. They were both very different performers. Harry was a New Yorker through and through, and so smart and present. John was a terrific performer and entertainer. Both were kind to me. John was even somewhat brotherly. He bought me my first smoothie and taught me the sun salutation at a sound check one day! What I learned from John – as well as from John Prine, whom I also performed with – was to be very professional, always be rehearsed. Know what you’re going to sing, what you’re going to say, and make it sound fresh every night. When we would do radio interviews, John [Denver] never had to think about what he was going to say. He was always very polished and prepared. He always seemed like he had a lot of joy when he sang, but he still wanted to make every show better. After each show, he would ask people: “What didn’t you like about the show?” and I thought it caught people off guard, but he was really interested in improving all the time and I took note of that. PB: Did you grow up in a musical home? Did you have formal voice and guitar lessons or are you self-taught? Do you have long-standing musical heroes? MM: Gosh, yes. There was always music, singing, dancing, expression. And hamming it up got us attention! I just parlayed it right into a career. Mom was a nightclub singer and toured with the USO in the ’40s. All my siblings are wildly talented and funny. My brother, Terry, is a jobbing musician in Lexington, Kentucky. He’s in about four different bands. He’s the guy who picks up an instrument and just starts playing it. Maddening and marvelous. We all have great ears. I am mostly self-taught, though I loved taking music theory years ago at community college. I got my first guitar when I was 11. I’d begged my parents every day for a guitar after seeing The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. When I saw it behind the Christmas tree after midnight Mass, I was in love. I played it incessantly. My best friend, Syd, taught me some chords before she moved away, and I got a copy of a great guitar book, The Folk Singers Guitar Guide by Pete Seeger. Later, I studied voice with Dr. Harvey Ringle at Roosevelt University, and I loved that. He told me one of the great secrets of life when he saw that I was placing my voice incorrectly and pushing hard. He wisely said: “You can’t make it happen, you have to let it happen.” PB: In regards to your current show, ‘Leap of Love: The Burt Bacharach Songbook’, which you are performing with jazz pianist Fred Simon and bassist Jon Paul, you are featuring songs by American songwriters Burt Bacharach and Hal David, plus a number of your originals. To that end, here are a number of questions: How long have you been working with Fred Simon and Jon Paul? How often did you rehearse for this tour? MM: I met Fred (whose birthday is the day before mine!) in the ’80’s at a wonderful recording studio in Evanston called Studio Media. I’m not kidding – everyone who worked there was the best of the best. We reconnected several years ago (pre-Covid) at The Music Institute, where I was teaching singing and songwriting on The Roots and Rock program, at an event. He was playing, I sat in for a couple of jazz standards, and bingo. Fred introduced me to Jon, who is not only a splendid musician, but is also in demand as part of an Earth Wind and Fire Tributosaurus show. We all connect with these songs because of the level of musical sophistication and melodies, which are just so much fun to sing and play. This music is so satisfying, and people love to sing along, which I encourage! PB: Considering that both David/Bacharach have created an extensive catalogue and so have you. How did you narrow down the set list? MM: What a terrific question, thank you. You know, this is where collaboration comes in! Fred really helped pick songs. In a way, we’ll be playing favourites. PB: Are there specific lyrics or themes from the Bacharach/David catalogue that you find relate to your life now, or that related to a specific time in your life? MM: Another great question. These songs make me so happy because they take me back to my childhood when I was about 10, 11 and 12-years-old, sitting in the basement listening to music (LPs) and 45s non-stop. I loved some of the singers that Burt Bacharach wrote for, without knowing he had written the songs at first. I loved Dusty Springfield and Dionne Warwick. ‘The Look of Love’ by Dusty Springfield was amazing, just the vibe and the cool saxophone. It was so groovy and so California, and it caught everyone’s attention. I loved Dionne Warwick’s singing. Then I started noticing, when I would read the album notes, they would always have the songwriters’ names after the title. When I realised he was the one who wrote her songs, I started paying attention. Even at that young age, I could appreciate how cool they were. PB: Given that their themes range from light-hearted to deeply introspective, which songs are the most gratifying to perform live, and why? MM: This might surprise people but I love performing ‘Close to You’ by The Carpenters. It lights me up every time I sing it. I think of Karen Carpenter every time, and thank her. She and Richard were way too hip for the room. Brilliant. ‘Alfie’ is probably my very favourite Bacharach/David song to sing. ‘God Give Me Strength’, which is the only song in the show whose lyrics are not Hal David’s but Elvis Costello’s, gets me every time. My favourite lyric of all time is: “What do you get when you kiss a guy? You get enough germs to catch pneumonia After ya’ do he’ll never phone ya,’ I’ll never fall in love again.” I mean C’MON! So good! PB: Regarding your songwriting process, what’s first: melody, lyrics, theme, chord changes? MM: Title first – or vibe of an idea. A line will come first, so lyrics are usually first, but not always. Sometimes I can be goofing around on the guitar in a different tuning or different capos and I’ll latch on to a riff and write to it. PB: Can you describe yourself or your philosophy of life in three words? MM: Be Loving Kindness PB: As a seasoned performer, do you have any tips for keeping one’s voice and body in good shape when touring? Do you have additional advice for new performers? MM: I love this question because I am passionate about coaching, mentoring, and helping. 1. Sing every day. 2. Strengthen your core 3. Mindfulness meditation is a terrific way to get in touch with the breath. The breath is KEY. If you have the breath, you’ll have the note. And of course, “Don’t make it happen – let it happen.” PB: Thank you. Photos by Suzanne Plunkett



Band Links:-
https://www.megonmcdonoughmusic.com/
https://www.facebook.com/MegonMcDonoughMusic


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Megon McDonough - Interview



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