News, music, movies & restaurants from the editors of the Silicon Valley's #1 weekly newspaper.
Serving San Jose, Palo Alto, Los Gatos, Campbell, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Fremont & nearby cities.

July 25-31, 2007

home | north bay bohemian index | music & nightlife | preview

Lady Sings the Blues

Janiva Magness has got the right

By Gabe Meline

The last single Frank Sinatra recorded for Capitol Records was "I've Got a Right to Sing the Blues," which is a fairly laughable boast considering that at the time, in 1962, Sinatra was the country's highest-paid entertainer. Contrast that against the life of 50-year-old grandmother and blues singer Janiva Magness, whose childhood was spent bouncing around Detroit foster homes after suicide took both of her parents, and Sinatra's sentiment seems downright insulting.

At 16, Magness was an emancipated minor struggling with chemical dependencies and giving her child up for adoption, but she had also discovered what would be her eventual salvation. While hitchhiking across Minneapolis one winter's night, she wound up at a bar, paid $2 to get in, and watched Otis Rush transform her life forever. "He just blew my mind," Magness says. "He made me feel things I didn't know what to do with. It opened up some other place in me, like letting oxygen into a sealed crypt for the first time." Thoroughly baptized, Magness poured her whole soul into becoming the strong, sultry singer she is today; the record shows she took the blows and did it her way.

Magness is a featured attraction at this year's Sonoma County Blues Festival, which also boasts John Lee Hooker Jr., Michael Burks, Volker Strifler and David Jacobs-Strain. The cherry on this already rich sundae is Patrick Sweany, whose appearance earlier this year at a KRSH 95.9-FM listener's party was the talk of the town, and whose new album, Every Hour Is a Dollar Gone, is his best work yet. Aided by the fuzzed-out '70s approach of the Black Keys' Dan Auerbach at the production controls (and at the apparent source of Sweany's songwriting inspiration), Sweany is rawer and earthier than ever. Is it too late to put in a request for a Sweany/Strifler duet of all Willie Dixon songs?

The Sonoma County Blues Festival sizzles on Saturday, July 28, in the Redwood Theater at the Sonoma County Fair, 1350 Bennett Valley Road, Santa Rosa. The festival is free with $7 adult fair admission; getting there early and staking out a spot is recommended. 2pm to 9pm. For more information, see

Send a letter to the editor about this story.