Via Chicago Sun Times:
BY SELENA FRAGASSI | FOR THE SUN-TIMES
Beth Hart never really got out of Los Angeles like she had intended on her 1999 hit “L.A. Song,” an autobiographical work about a “local girl with local scars” trying to find her way out of a spiral from addictions to alcohol and toxic people.
L.A. wasn’t necessarily a bad place. It helped her land a spot on “Star Search,” which she won in 1991 when she was 19 years old, and it linked her up with longtime manager David Wolff, who found Hart playing for scraps on the Third Street Promenade after she indulgently wasted away her prize money.
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Wolff helped the singer land on the roster at Atlantic Records, where she was poised to be the next Ricki Lee Jones or Tracy Chapman, with a talent for scribing confessional tales with a blues-rock bent — something she attributes to having both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Texas bluegrass in her bloodlines.
Yet L.A. was bad for feeding Hart’s addiction to drugs and alcohol, which also unmasked an undiagnosed bipolar disorder, something she has always been vocal about sharing.
“Maybe I’m just afraid that if I keep the secrets, they will find me and get me and I’ll be sick all over again, so I’ve decided to be open about it,” she says. Atlantic soon nixed Hart after the 1999 “Screamin’ For My Supper” album where “L.A. Song” appeared, which was really a blessing in disguise, she says. “They were so good to me, but I was so lost and so sick at that time. They gave me a gift by dropping me because I think maybe I could have died if I kept going in the direction I was going.”
With a support team of family, friends, doctors and husband Scott Guetzkow (her road manager), Hart sobered up and started working on a few modest releases from 2003 to 2010. At the same time, she secured collaborations with legendary harmonica player Toots Thielemans and guitarists Jeff Beck, Joe Bonamassa and Slash, and was cast as the lead in an Off-Broadway play about Janis Joplin.
With those influences, her music started shifting to focus on the blues, jazz and soul styles she grew up on but long evaded out of fear she couldn’t do the style justice. After Bonamassa persuaded her to work with him on the 2011 covers album “Don’t Explain,” Hart finally found her footing. They eventually toured Europe, where she gained a considerable following, but still Hart barely moved the needle in America until a 2012 appearance at the Kennedy Center Honors that changed everything. All eyes were on the singer as she joined Jeff Beck to pay tribute to designee Buddy Guy with a searing rendition of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind.” Guy had tears in his eyes. President Obama and the first lady led a standing ovation. Even fellow recipients Jimmy Page and Robert Plant were mesmerized.
“That was one of the greatest moments,” says Hart, who, in a subconscious ode, penned the lyric “I would rather die one hundred ways go, blind than watch you walk away”for a song on her latest album “Better Than Home,” out April 14, on which she went back to her roots after meeting a challenge by her producers.
“They missed my super personal stories, and I’m glad they encouraged me.”
Although writing nearly 60 songs that tapped into such strong emotions had her “close to the edge,” it also produced some incredible mementos, with tributes to her mother and husband and redemption songs for herself.
On the single “Might As Well Smile,” she sings of waking up “laughing the blues,” and on the pensive “St. Teresa,” a song inspired by the movie “Dead Man Walking,” she revisits the love and the music that eventually healed the wounds that had her scratching to get out of town long ago.
“I love the idea that when human beings fall and lose their way, they can still be seen behind their illness and loved anyway,” she says. “That gives me hope.”
Selena Fragassi is a local freelance writer.
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