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Photograph by Bob Sekinger

Preview: Marcia Ball

Award-winning blues pianist Marcia Ball covers the North Bay

By Robert Feuer

Though Marcia Ball's long, dark hair has gone short and gray, she still favors skirts that allow her long legs to swing to the boogie-woogie beat of her piano. Ball may not act like it, but she is a superstar among blues and R&B aficionados. Along her musical path, which is now over 35 years long, she has picked up multiple Grammy nominations and Blues Music Awards. Rolling Stone magazine once praised her as a purveyor of "rollicking, good time blues and intimate, reflective balladry." She's performed on Austin City Limits, A Prairie Home Companion, NBC's Today Show at the White House and in Martin Scorsese's PBS series The Blues. She has played at virtually every major festival throughout the United States and Europe.

Ball was born in 1949 in Texas, but she grew up just over the border in Vinton, La., a town of 10 square blocks. She recalls going to an Irma Thomas performance at age 13, an event which helped turn her in the direction of the R&B, soul and blues she had already begun listening to on a radio station out of Beaumont, Texas.

Ball has gone through some changes on the way to her current style. In the late 1960s, she was a member of a psychedelic band called Gum; later, she sang progressive country music with Freda and the Firedogs. Fate stepped in while driving to San Francisco with her husband in 1970. Their car broke down in Austin, where she fell in love with the city that to this day remains her home base. During a recent phone call from Louisiana, Ball said that though her music is steeped in traditional styles, it is "alive and growing," noting that "I write about half my songs."

On her 2005 album, Live! Down the Road, Ball recorded the double entendre song, "Let Me Play with Your Poodle." People sent her pictures of their poodles. Her dog, an Australian shepherd named Sonny Boy Williamson III, was not amused.

Ball headlines Saturday, Aug. 25, at 4:45pm at the Bodega Seafood Art and Wine Festival, Watts Ranch, 16855 Bodega Ave., Bodega. (Unlike a visit to Ball's home, no dogs are allowed.) The fest continues on Sunday, Aug. 26, with Tom Rigney and Flambeau and Pride & Joy. Saturday, 10am to 6pm; Sunday, 10am to 5pm. $8–$12; under 12, free. 707.824.8717.

You can also catch Ball on Sunday, Aug. 26, at the Rancho Nicasio's weekly outdoor summer barbecue. On the Town Square, Nicasio. 4pm. $20. 415.662.2219.

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