Singer Sandy Atkinson: Her True Love of Music

I recently had the great honor of catching up with the very talented Sandy Atkinson over freshly made sangria and tapas at a hip basement bar in downtown St. Petersburg, Florida.

The singer encompasses many musical genres such as blues, rock, soul, folk and even jazz, making her hard to categorize but delightful to listen to.  Atkinson’s smoky and sultry vocals captivate the soul.  Beautifully dynamic, this amazing singer offers something for every type, no matter their style.

Atkinson, originally from the Appalachian foothills in South Carolina, also known as The Piedmont, began singing back when she was only five-years-old.  She started out at school and church events.  Raised with a strong gospel influence, Atkinson participated in tent singings.  At fourteen, her mother presented her with a guitar, and it wasn’t long after that Atkinson began songwriting.  From that moment, the young singer’s love of music escalated.

In 1988, Atkinson performed a song, along with some of her friends, at a local festival.  The head of the venue, also a club owner, heard her voice and asked if she could play at his club on a Friday night.  For years to follow, Atkinson did indeed perform at the club and at the festival, thus gaining the highly esteemed reputation of a songwriter and gifted blues singer.

Wanting to explore the option of singing as a career, Atkinson decided to spend a summer in Maine, near Portland.  The gig, held at a resort called Camp Ellis, was a great way of allowing Atkinson to expand upon her musical abilities.

Then, in 1994, the singer moved to Florida and it was at this juncture that her life changed.  Atkinson fell in love with the “Sunshine State” after visitng her sister.  The warm climate also proved to be quite inviting.  Many great musicians in Florida began recognizing Atkinson’s great musical talents and encouraged her to further her career.

In 1995, Atkinson released her first CD, which was self-titled.  The CD featured ten original songs and was performed with Little Juke and 1 Nite Stand, a band which Atkinson put together and named.  Little Juke performed as the lead guitarist.  The CD received outstanding reviews from critics, and earned airtime on many radio stations around the nation, Australia and Europe.

Four years later, Atkinson’s second CD came out.  It also got much praise and played on blues shows all over the world.  Why Baby Why was produced by Tampa Bay’s Blues Godfather, Rock Bottom.  Rock achieved great popularity as a bluesman, especially in Europe.  He was also a tremendous help to Atkinson over the years, mentoring her with her musical career.  “I learned about the business from him.  He was always there to help others.  Rock believed it was important to give something back, like with a charity,” stated Atkinson.  In 2001, Rock died of a heart attack.  On Sept. 25th, Atkinson will play in Rock’s honor at Skipper’s Smokehouse in Tampa, marking the 10 year anniversary of his death.

Atkinson’s third CD, Million Dollar Baby, emerged in 2001 and featured guitarist Tomcat Blake; it had twelve more original songs on it.

In 2005, From There to Here was released, which included a compilation of Atkinson’s songs from her first three CD’s along with five new selections.  There would be twenty-two songs in total.

Atkinson’s fifth CD debuted in 2010, featuring a collection of her studio sessions and a live recording from a show at The Palladium Theatre in St. Petersburg.  This CD was the first to be recorded with Atkinson’s band, The True Loves, named after her first true love- music.

There is no doubt that Atkinson has come far since her early days singing at church events and small town festivals.  In addition to her CDs, Atkinson served as the committee chairperson for the Suncoast Blues Society’s “Blues in the School” program, which Rock Bottom was initially asked to be head of.  Rock booked the first session, but sadly passed away before he was able to participate. Atkinson took over for Rock and acted as chairperson from 2001-2005 in order to develop the project.  Atkinson was excited to tell me about some of her experiences while on this very special committee.  “I went to this fourth grade class in Clearwater.  I  showed the kids how the guitar works and talked about who Rock {Bottom} was.  I played a song by Rock, too.  I also sang, “Hound Dog” to them, by Big Mama Thornton.  I let them all touch the guitar.  I tried to think ahead of time what could I write for a group of kids about the blues; something thye could relate to at that age and still be entertaining.  I came up with ‘I Lost My Homework’,” Atkinson chuckled.  The singer still occasionally visits schools and does sessions.  The Suncoast Blues Society established a scholarship fund in Rock’s name for children that want to study music.  The schlolarship is awarded annually.

This fall, on October 9th, Atkinson will be performing at a benefit concert to raise awareness for Autism.  The event will take place at The Beach Theatre in St. Pete Beach.  Atkinson and her band, The True Loves will be performing along with a line-up of other amazing Tampa Bay musicians.  Tom Bell, Gale Trippsmith, Ronny Elliott, and the Black Honkeys will all take stage that Sunday from 1-6 pm.  Bobby Collins will be heading the event.  Collins is an advocate for Autism, and took over for Wendy Wrucha, a former speech pathologist who worked at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.  Wrucha died unexpectedly when she contracted menigitis in March of this year.  The speech pathologist helped Autistic children and was an avid supporter for finding a cure.  She worked hard at raising funds and even ran in the 2010 NYC marathon, where she personally was able to bring in $2600 in sponsorship.  Bobby Collins, a friend of Wrucha’s, along with a few others, took over for her after her passing.  Collins heads the local Autism chapter now, and is very excited for his October concert.  Because of Collins and his friends, Autism Speaks in the Tampa Bay area proudly lives on.  The concert will be sponsored by TBT (Tampa Bay Times) and will be hosted by Marvelous Marvin; it would have certainly made Wrucha proud.  For more information, please go to www.wendyswarriors.org and AutismSpeaks.org.  Tickets for the concert are $7.00.

Atkinson plays some pretty amazing venues, that’s for sure.  “I love performing at Tobacco Road in Miami, as well as Skipper’s Smokehouse in Tampa, the National Women in Blues Fest in North Carolina, Dunedin Wines and Brew, the Naples Jazz Fest and Ribfest here in St. Petersburg,” Atkinson stated.  In addition to performing in the U.S., the singer has traveled to Norway, where she enjoying performing at the Muddy Waters Blues Fest in Oslo.  And if she had a choice of where she would love to one day perform, the answer was an easy one for Atkinson.  “The Chicago Blues Fest would be amazing,” the singer said smiling.

Atkinson is not necessarily considered to be a traditional blues singer.  With musical influenes ranging from Etta James and Elvis to Janis Joplin and Big Mama Thornton, Atkinson has complexity.  She doesn’t fit into a classic mold, and that is a good thing.  Her voice is raw, intriguing and magical.  I get a strong Joplin vibe from Atkinson, which makes sense considering she listened to the famous singer’s albums many times over when younger.  “When I was a kid, I would take a radio into my bedroom.  I listened to many different singers and types of music; it was never just one kind of genre,” explained Atkinson.

The singer also contributes her great love of music variety to her parents, especially her mother.  “She was an influence to me and a huge Elvis fan,” confided Atkinson.

There is plenty of heart and soul in Atkinson’s music.  “For me, words and music come together.  It’s a feeling I get.  Mood defies the style; it’s what I feel at the moment,” states the singer.  “One time I went to Key West with my sister.  While there I saw a bumper sticker which read, ‘A woman’s place is in control.”  Atkinson took a sip from her glass of sangria and laughed.  For the bluesy singer and songwriter, the moment does indeed defy her music.  Passionate, soulful and strong is what describes Atkinson best.  In fact, the singer showcases her personality with her very own t-shirt and tank top logo:  “When the blues reach down and try to steal your soul, it takes a bitch to rock and roll.”  Clever and humorously written, these are words to live by especially in the music world.

With so many other strong and talented female singers out there in the industry, if given the opportunity to meet one of them, who would Atkinson choose?  “I would love to meet Bonnie Raitt.  I hear very good things about her and who she is as a person,” explained the singer.

For Atkinson, life is pretty darn good.  Getting to perform on stage and being able to entertain audiences is a dream come true.  Yet, the singer still can wish for more.  “In music, I would love to be known one day as a writer.  Songwriting is such an important contribution.

With her caring and passionate soul, Atkinson decided to write a song about the BP oil spill disaster.  “To me that was an outrageous, irresponsible incident,” stated the singer.  “I wrote the song, ‘Greed and Lust,’ also known as ‘The Gulf is Crying.'”  The song was featured on Atkinson’s last CD, and is also on a site with songs from other artists sponsored by Blues Revue Magazine.  For more information go to http://bluesrevue.com/2010/blues-for-the-gulf-compilation-available/.

Atkinson is currently working on a Christmas CD, along with a compilation album, which will feature the “best of’s.”  Duke Robelard, who has won many awards in his career, including being nominated for the Grammys, is recording one of her songs, along with a female artist he is promoting.  In addition, Atkinson has started a children’s book titled, “I Lost My Homework,” stemming form her days educating children on the blues.

And perhaps a few of those fourth graders may one day wish to follow in Atkinson’s footsteps.  For those who aspire to be musicians, the singer has some helpful advice.  “Take groups of CD’s, all different kinds, and listen to various songs.  Pick about ten different ones that you like.  Dynamics are important; learn to stretch your voice.  Also, work with other musicians and learn from them.  In addition, try an open mike as this gives great opportunity for feedback, which allows for growth.  And don’t get discouraged, as with this kind of economy there are more bands than gigs.  People always want to be entertained and hear music.  I say, if it’s part of your soul, feed it,” Atkinson spoke proudly.

The wonderfully skilled singer and songwriter has worked hard over the years and knows just what it takes to be successful.  Yet, for Atkinson, music is not just a job; it’s a way of life and who she is as an individual.  “Music is fun and it is my refuge,” confided Atkinson.  “It will always be my first true love, no matter what happens.”

 

For more information on Sandy Atkinson, please visit her website at:

sandyatkinson.net

-or-

www.triviamusicart.com

Atkinson’s CD’s are available for purchase at:

Reverb Nation at reverbnation.com

iTunes

Amazon.com

Daddy Kool Records at daddykool.com

Comments

  1. Great article on a truly gifted artist and amazing human being!

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