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Baby Blues

A Call From Above: Santa Cruz's Sista Monica was chosen by the gods to preach the gospel of the blues.

Sista Monica is young and on the way

By Traci Hukill

SISTA MONICA'S FEET are tired. Maybe it's because she just finished a 40-hour work week capped by four hours a night in a San Jose studio working on her new CD before playing Mother's in San Luis Obispo yesterday and a gig in Santa Rosa this morning. Could just be that thinking about her upcoming schedule--which includes a tour of Hawaii this month, a Parisian gospel festival in May, a June opening for the Temptations, and a tour this summer with Taj Mahal and George Clinton--makes those little dogs bark.

Then again, maybe it's the giant strides her career has taken since Sista Monica started singing the blues four short years ago that are so hard on those weary stockinged feet. At any rate, the shoes--spiffy little patent-leather numbers with gold buckles--are off and Monica Parker is ready to talk.

"The true story about how I got started is that I was watching MC Hammer one night on Arsenio Hall," chuckles the singer, whose smile and laughter light up the room. "I used to live in Fremont, and he lived in the same neighborhood, so we were just everyday common folks, right? Now this guy is sitting with Arsenio Hall--I can't believe it!--so I said, 'You know what? If he can do that, then I can do that.' "

A band and several free Louden Nelson Center gigs later, Sista Monica landed a slot at Emi's for that first break. Back then her act was mostly R&B with a side helping of gospel, thanks to 14 years of hanging with that celestial muse. She might have hit the Aretha track or headed down Queen Latifah's hip-hop route, but in 1993 the Monterey Blues Festival delivered the message from above: The blues gods wanted Sista Monica to themselves.

In spite of a dazzling bill featuring B.B. King and the Neville Brothers, along with established Monterey talents like Barbara Morrison, it was Sista Monica who appeared in full color on the cover of the morning Monterey County Herald that Sunday in '93.

"It was a clear signal to me that people really enjoyed my music," she says of the moment she decided to follow the blues brick road. Besides, the blues felt natural to gospel-raised Monica. "I just think that the blues is an art form of music that always stays real close to the truth," she says. "And because of that it feels a lot like gospel. Robbie McGee said it best when he said, 'Blues is truth.' "

Not Hard to Handle

ONCE SISTA MONICA made the decision, she devoted herself to the blues with such natural ability that the 1995 self-produced Get Out My Way wound up on the dean's list of the blues industry, the Hard Report. That's "Hard" as in "hard to get on," because the report chronicles only the top 25 blues albums in the country. Sista Monica and her band made it to number 11.

Not bad for a three-year-old act.

Sista Monica is quick to point out that she's a mere babe in the blues-lady woods and modestly sidesteps the inevitable comparisons to Koko Taylor and Etta James. "Compared to most in the blues-women marketplace, I'm fairly young. Koko Taylor, Katie Webster, Etta James--they're all in their low 60s, mid-to-late 50s. Then there are very few in-between people, like Ruth Brown. Then you have those like me and Lady Bianca and Barbara Morrison. ... I still see myself carrying a baton for people who are in that market," grins youngster Monica, who just celebrated her 40th birthday while on tour in Maui.

On the other hand, she didn't just spring up with the last rain. "I've had enough life experiences that I can capture what I'm feeling and put it into musical form," she concedes, alluding to that most fertile soil for blues blossoms: love gone wrong. Songs of wrongdoing and bones-to-pick flourish all over her forthcoming album, which, in a significant departure from Get Out My Way, consists mostly of original tunes and tighter, shinier playing.

Sista Monica even works in a couple of R&B boogies, keeps her trademark gospel number, and is considering adding a truly blessed instrumental take on "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone" to the imminent release.

The disc's uncontested dazzler, blasting past even the funky "Put Your Shoe on the Other Foot" and the bittersweet ballad "I'm Unhappy You're Unhappy With Me," is "Stop Talkin' Bout Me Stalkin' You," a rocking blues item featuring Guitar Shorty that will lodge itself in your brainpan and make you dance in the grocery store.

The CD is not due out until this summer, but Santa Cruz gets treated to a preview when Sista Monica throws her birthday party this Saturday at the Catalyst. Things aren't easy on a new star, and especially on a new star's feet, but we know this one will keep shining and walkin' that walk.

Sista Monica celebrates her 40th birthday Saturday (9:30pm) at the Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets cost $12.50/$10. For more info, call 423-1336.

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From the May 2-8, 1996 issue of Metro Santa Cruz

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