Michele Lundeen, the “Queen of Steam”, is a versatile singer-songwriter who has been compared to the likes of Etta James and Bonnie Bramlett. Some even call her a cross between Bonnie Raitt and Janis Joplin. But how did the career of this powerful Southern California-based songstress begin?
Lundeen grew up in Oakland, California, where “music was always the centerpiece and staff of life” for her. She says: “My mom had a varied collection of albums like Harry Belafonte, The Righteous Brothers, Ray Charles, Mahalia Jackson and African and Hawaiian Island sounds. Then I heard Aretha and Tina Turner and I was really taken in.” adding that she was “influenced by that commanding, Gospel/Soul sound.”
Music held significance to her. It held an importance to her that did not dissipate. Years passed and she eventually found herself beginning “a singing career while balancing (the) duties of a young, working mother.”
In 1998, Lundeen formed her own San Diego-based band named Michele Lundeen & Blues Streak. She then further established herself as a veteran of the club, concert and festival circuit in both Northern Nevada and Southern California. She was sharing stages with numerous other artists including: John Lee Hooker, Elvin Bishop, Savoy Brown and Queen Ida. Soon she had garnered a solid regional fan base.
In 2000 she scored the title of San Diego Blues Challenge Winner and played in the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN the following year.
Three years later (2004) Lundeen released her debut disc Song Inside Me. She was backed by her root unit of co-producer Johnny “V” Vernazza (guitar), Austin Delone (keys), Steve Evans (bass) and Gary "Smacky" Silva (drums and percussion). She is also occasionally assisted by other artists including Tom Poole (trumpet), Dave Stone (sax), Charles Burton (guitar), Tim Cash (bass), Ric Lee (drums) and Ben Moore (Hammond B3).
The twelve track release opens on “Blues Is A Feeling”. This is not a cover of the Lightnin' Hopkins song but the first example of Lundeen’s songwriting abilities on an album of electric blues, funk, jazz, R&B and rock. It features Aristotle Georgio on harmonica.
The second selection is the often praised titular track “Song Inside Me”. This too is a Lundeen original complete with a dirty, down-home style blues beat. This is a blatant example of what she is all about as a performer and perhaps even as a person.
The next number is “Voodoo Man”. Here Lundeen offers up her first adaptation of another artist’s material. It’s an effective cover that has a definite swamp blues feel to it and was written by Lavelle White.
“All Day Blues” follows. This is another Lundeen original. (If her original tunes sound familiar that is only because she is capable of writing new blues material that remains true to the regiment of traditional blues.) This stand-out track is highlighted by the work of Roy Rogers on slide guitar.
While upon first glance at the CD cover one might think “Free at Last” was Lundeen’s take on a spiritual. It is not. It is one of the nine original compositions here. It’s a fan favorite featuring Sue Palmer on the piano.
The sixth selection, “You're Gonna Make Me Cry”, is a soulful cover of the O.V. Wright soul song from the 1960s. She gives it its deserved depth and brings in Vernelle Anders and Gail Muldrow to provide background vocals. It’s followed by her own “I'm Still Laughing” which speaks to the idea of life’s struggles. (In this business one certainly does need to understand the concept of perseverance.)
“Critic’s Choice” goes to Lundeen’s “No Money No Honey”. It’s a sexy albeit sad song that stands as one of the best on the CD. While her songs generally have a ring of sincerity it is difficult to imagine a sexy songstress like Lundeen is singing an auto biographical bit here. Perhaps it reflects an off period of her social life. Ah well, downbeat moments in life make for some of the best blues songs. (If it's still an issue, maybe you need to play Rancho Cucamonga real soon, Michele.) Ed Early fills it out on trombone.
Also included here is “Starting All Over” which is yet another example of her tuneful talents as both singer and songwriter. (In 2008 it would be included on the compilation Best Of Southland Blues Band Volume 1.) It is quickly followed by the last cover cut—her version of the B.B. King-Jules Taub blues classic “(Darlin') I Know You Love Me”. Her female vocals on this male-written song give it a new perspective. Dave Stone is introduced on sax.
“Qualify My Love” allows Lundeen to demonstrate her vocal range as well. The closing cut, “I Need a Dog”, is a fun, blues rock piece that is initially surprising but works quite well in the mix. The release was even nominated as one of the 2005 San Diego Music Award's "Best Blues Albums".
In fact, Lundeen is regularly nominated in the “Best Blues” category in the San Diego Music Awards (including this year). Lundeen, also an editor for the internationally distributed Blues Festival Guide, is involved in the Blues Lovers United of San Diego (BLUSD) “Blues in the Schools” workshop programs and has appeared in a segment on San Diego TV "Insider".
Her interest in blues music is real and she states: “I'm honestly moved by my experiences enough to shout them from the rooftops. Singing is a release. I'm telling/singing my story from my heart . . . my soul . . . I feel it, I believe it, and I know that the people can relate . . . I hand over my honest emotions to the audience.”
Overall, the disc is a musical mélange of musical genres. Lundeen is able not only to craft contemporary blues-tinged tunes but to be both the blues belter complete with growl as well as the sexy soft songstress. Indeed, one thing is certain, once you hear Michele Lundeen’s Song Inside Me you cannot help but agree that the “Blues Is A Feeling”.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.