I sat down to talk with Pieta Brown and Bo Ramsey after the show they did in Mullany Theater at Ashford University in Clinton Iowa.
Billy Rose: Hi Pieta, I really enjoyed the show. Can I ask you a few questions?
Pieta Brown: Sure do you want to do it now or did you want me and Bo together?
Billy Rose: We can talk now and if Bo comes in he can join in if he wants to. Your music has elements of blues, country, folk and rock. It’s somewhat hard to classify. What do you consider your music to be and do you consider yourself a folk singer?
Pieta Brown: I guess I’ve always tried to stay outside of the categories a little bit. Not worry about them to much and I think growing up around music…a lot of kinds of music, I’ve always felt that music was music. I didn’t think about categories very much and that seems to come from something that’s outside rather than inside. I think a lot of musicians…great musicians that might have been categorized as blues or country or folk, I think especially on those categories and rock and roll, I think they draw an all of those different category. I mean rock came out of blues and country. So I guess I never tried to categorize myself and just try to stay true to the music I grew up with. I heard all those different sounds and I think any more, it’s not very often that you run into the people that have their own voice. so i always try to stay close to that. as far as being a folk singer, i would say yes. If I could pick one style that I write in that I perform in, it’s probably closest to that. Well maybe a blues singer (laughs) somewhere in there.
Billy Rose: Do you ever feel that you have been mislabeled?
Pieta Brown: No, I don’t worry about it to much. I think especially now with all the media, television, radio, computers…I don’t know how many real music lovers there are that dig down. I know what people like who are probably the ones that my music would connect with.
Billy Rose: I know what you mean about music is music. I have been on radio since ’87 and everything is categorized, and it drives me nuts. I just want to play good music no matter what they call it. That is what I do on Midwest Revue. I play all genres of music.
Let’s talk about your writing. Some of your songs are kind of dark and mysterious, and also poetic, do you write like that on purpose or does it just come out that way?
Pieta Brown: That just happens. One of the things I love about music is the mystery, both in the music and the writing. I think both of those things are just something that’s part of me. It’s not something I try to do, in fact, if anything I try to do the opposite when I can (laughs).
Billy Rose: What comes easier for you lyrics or melody?
Pieta Brown: It’s a pretty close match, I think. I rarely write a song without a guitar in my hand. I certainly write a lot of poems, ramblings in my notebook. But I certainly wouldn’t consider those songs.
Billy Rose: So you write poetry outside of your music?
Pieta Brown: Oh yeah. I consider them a different thing, a very separate place.
Billy Rose: Where do your ideas for songs come from?
Pieta Brown: All over the place.
Billy Rose: Just life in general then?
Pieta Brown: Yeah, I think most artists are just trying to respond to life. It’s just one way of dealing with life. That’s what artists are doing. When you hear something on the radio or hear a flash of something or have a vision in your mind or have a dream or a fantasy, any of those things.
Billy Rose: Who or what are your main influences in music?
Pieta Brown: Well I would have to go back to what I listen to the most. I listen to country blues. That always seems to come back, I might faze out for a little while. But not a week or two goes by that I don’t listen to Muddy Waters, Little Walter or Elizabeth Cotton, Memphis Minnie. Then there’s also…I grew up loving Loretta Lynn. More recently I’ve been real inspired by Neil Young. I didn’t hear him much growing up, at least not really listening the way I have been lately. He’s got a lot of neat stuff going on, I think. I just try to keep my ears open.
Billy Rose: Now that you are playing music. Do you find yourself listening to music differently than you did before you were performing?
Pieta Brown: Maybe a little bit. At first, but not so much any more. When I first started, I was just trying to learn. I was using other people as teachers, as guides. performing was not something that’s a natural gift for me. I feel comfortable being open with people with music. But entertaining is a whole different thing. People expect so much these days. But now I just listen to the music, I love music.
Billy Rose: If you were not making a living playing music, what would you be doing?
Pieta Brown: Oh, I don’t know (laughs)
Billy Rose: Well what do you do to relax to unwind, do you go fishing like your dad?
Pieta Brown: (laughs) No. I like fishing alright, but I don’t do it like he does. I like hanging out with my friends. I really like walking. And I do really like listening to music. Yeah, I like to hang out with my friends.
Billy Rose: What do you hope people get from your music?
Pieta Brown: Some kind of connection that goes beyond regular conversation.
Billy Rose: You seem to be playing guitar with more authority now than you were a few years ago, is that from hanging out with Bo?
Pieta Brown: Just from playing live. I think unlike a lot of people…when I fisrt started playing live I had only been playing guitar for less than a year. So I just put it all out there right away. It was very rudimental and raw, which has it’s own kind of power. I felt like if I could connect with a groove and I also felt like I didn’t have time to wait around ’til I was a good guitar player. I get impatient, I guess. So just started putting it all out there. ‘Cause what else can you do. It’s about the only thing you can do. I feel a lot more comfortable performing with a guitar now.
Billy Rose: Well that’s shows. You’ve played all across the country now, is there one region or area that you especially like to play maybe more than others?
Pieta Brown: Well I really like the Midwest. It’s home. The Southeast has some great places. There are little pockets all over. California, Texas, the Northeasten corridor. there’s some really good places in Philly and New York, and the Northwest. But I like the Midwest, ’cause there are some places were I really connect. There’s some down home enthusiasm for my music that I really appreciate.
Billy Rose: One final question. Is there any one person dead or alive, who helped move you in a certain direction musically? Someone you would like to say thanks to.
Pieta \Brown: I’d have to say Muddy Waters. as far as a being a teacher, that I would never meet. And then probably my family on the other side.
Billy Rose: I have a picture in my mind of you as a little kid. Sitting on your dad’s knee and a bunch of his friends sitting around the kitchen on a Sunday afternoon playing and singing songs. Sharing stories and just having a good old time. It must have been fun growing up with your dad and having his music and friends around all the time.
Pieta Brown: (laughs) Yeah, it was fun.
Billy Rose: Pieta thanks for talking to me.
Pieta Brown: Yeah thank you.