Sure, places like San Clemente and Dana Point aren't exactly the Nashville of the West Coast. But sit in on one of Tricia Freeman's gigs at The Sun Dried Tomato Cafe or the Sawdust Art Festival, and those cowboy boots you wore to the show will feel more than comfortable. Whether it's strumming country ballads, gritty delta blues or a track from her recently-released album Everyone Can See, Freeman's world-traveled twang and stage presence is the mark of someone who can sing a Johnny Cash song like "I Been Everywhere" and actually mean it. This weekend, she and her band are taking on one of the anticipated down-home festivals of the summer, the third installment of The Real Blues Festival at Malone's in Santa Ana. We caught up with Freeman on the phone to discuss new songs inspired by old memories and her upbringing, carving a niche in South County and falling back on her experience as a pig farmer's daughter.
OC Weekly (Nate Jackson): What tends to inform your style as a blues artist?
Tricia Freeman: When it comes to my style, it's all about what the lyrics are. There's so many different styles of blues--I have a lot of country in me, kind of Patsy Cline, Bonnie Raitt and older stuff from the '40s. I just write whatever comes into my head and the songs really write themselves.
The title track of your latest album "Everyone Can See" has an older, roots music vibe to it. What do you think brought that sound out of you in that particular instance?
To be honest with you, I'd written the song around a ukelele. My mom, who just passed away recently, took me to Hawaii about 15 years ago. We had a blast and went to three different islands and we ended up on Kawai and I told her I'd always wanted to try the ukelele because of the great, subtle sound and she says 'Let's go get you one,' and I was like 'Nah it's gotta be a nicer one because I wanna record with it so don't worry about it.' And she ended up buying me this beautiful, $500 ukelele. And then of course it sat around for all these years until I started writing some new songs. And when I was writing that song I wanted to use that instrument because I like the single, quarter not strum and the simplicity. I had this amazing producer Richard Bredice and the amazing guitarist K.K. Martin and they took this simple strum thing and made it as cool as it is now, they built on it while keeping that simplicity and my mom before she passed away and I was like, 'hey mom, there's your ukelele.'
You've lived in SoCal for a while now, but how much Kansas culture still creeps into your songwriting?
I was brought up in Kansas and Texas and I went from a doctors daughter in Kansas to a pig farmer's daughter down in Texas when I was younger. My dad was a doctor in Kansas and my my parents had four kids, got married and divorced twice and we all ended up moving down to Texas to live with my moms parents and she ended up marrying her high school sweetheart who was a pig farmer. I raised hogsI've kind of grown up with all aspects of life from total country to blues and hillbilly. When I came to California, I hadn't been doing any music of my own at first so all the stuff I wrote was inspired from that early point in my life.
You tend to play a lot in South County which might not be the first place people would think to look for blues and country. Was it harder to get a following in that area?
Actually, they love me down there. I don't stick in one genre, and I live to perform--I'm just a live performer. Making those folks happy down there makes my day. If they ask for a song down at one of my regular gigs, I'll do it, I'll even fake it for 'em, I hate to fake it but I'll do it sometimes just to keep 'em happy. And the way my voice is, I can pretty much sing anything.
You've also performed in Europe quite a bit at various gigs and festivals, any place in particular that has a lot of love for a touring, American blues artist?
I loved Germany. We played Frankfurt at some international tattoo convention, and we also went through all these small towns playing pubs. And people absolutely love you. To have an American over there playing for them, they can't do enough for ya. It's always about the audience, no matter how big.
What can we expect for the set at the Real Blues Festival?
I have a 45-minute set at 3p.m. and a couple covers most people don't really ever hear so I'm gonna do some of those and I hop to really just keep the place going. There's gonna be a lot of great artists coming through there and I wanna be the top one.
Tricia Freeman performs at The Real Blues Festival of Orange County at Malone's Bar and Grill, 604 E. Dyer, Santa Ana. Su. Aug. 26, 3 p.m. (goes from 12p.m. to 10p.m.) $20. All ages.