Born and raised in Northern California, Heidi Newfield grew up on a Quarter Horse ranch and by her early teens already knew that she would be pursuing a career in country music. She is most well known for fronting the band “Trick Pony” with whom she recorded three albums and released multiple charting singles, gaining a reputation as not only a talented writer but a fantastic entertainer thanks to her stage presence, big voice and mean guitar and harmonica playing.
There are collaborations and co-writes with some of the best in the business, including Chris Stapleton, Leslie Satcher, Jim Lauderdale and Jon Randall, with Heidi having writing credits on all but two of the fourteen tracks. She brings her musical stamp to all of them, including a standout track she didn’t write, “Blues Is My Business”, which was most famously recorded by the late great Etta James. The song’s co-writer Kevin Bowe explains, “I’ve heard many, many versions… but no one owns this song like Heidi Newfield. Her combination of big-hearted soul and an even bigger middle finger gave this song exactly what it wanted”.
We caught up with Heidi in the run up to the album release to ask her a bit more about her career and the new project…
LH Hello Heidi and thanks for your time in what must be busy period for you! While I’m going to focus my questions around your upcoming album, first I just wanted to ask how you are finding it being a solo artist these days having been a band member in the past? I would imagine there are pros and cons to both!
HN I must say it’s quite refreshing and I truly love being a solo artist. I will never stop being grateful for the foundation we laid while working with Trick Pony. There was some wonderful experiences wrapped up in those 10 years! The dues we paid, the lessons we learned, the miles we traveled, and then getting to see and feel the fruits of our labor begin to come to reality… but, like most things, it was good while it lasted and once we began to go different ways creatively… I don’t think any of us were having as much fun together. It was time for a change. Stepping out on my own has been the most fulfilling and exciting journey, so far. The creative freedom and the direction I’m going now is right where I want to be. I can take all this experience and put it to great use!
LH The new album is described in the press release as “Americana” (I guess we all need a box to put things in!) but the tracks showcase so many of the genres you love and which inspire your music… I am sure the release will have wide appeal. Do you enjoy having the artistic freedom to record whatever you like without the restraints the industry can often dictate?
HN I really do! I think there is a HUGE audience that is looking for authenticity and honesty in their music, no matter whether its Country, Blues, Soul, or somewhere in the singer/songwriter category. We are all searching for the truth… and not being shackled to a certain genre or held to a certain type of framework, is emancipation at it’s finest. I try to make sure things flow and feel good… that they have a commonality or thread woven through but where every song is not the same. I listen to this record and I can’t wait to hear what comes next…
LH I see you have had a hand in writing the majority of the fourteen tracks, are they all recent writes specifically for this project or did you delve into your back catalogue for songs that for whatever reason hadn’t yet been recorded?
HN The majority of these songs were written within a year of cutting this record… and specifically FOR it… but I do have a handful of songs that I had written back in 2008-2012 that I had saved because I was excited about cutting them when they would fit just the right project. They were kind of ‘gems’ that I had been holding on to.
It’s made for an extremely diverse body of work… but somehow it all made sense. I also found 2 outside songs that couldn’t BE more different from one another, but I had to record them on this project. The Blues Is My Business (with Delbert McClinton) and Whitley’s Tombstone (with Randy Houser and Mickey Raphael) I couldn’t be happier with how this album came out, from the song choices to the final mixes. It really pops out of the speakers and it doesn’t sound like anyone else, which makes me elated.
LH I love that more artists, females in particular, are involved in the production side of things these days. How are you enjoying that element, and how did you chose Jim “Moose” Brown as your co-producer for the project?
HN Being in the producers chair felt quite natural on this record. I have produced a gazillion high end demo’s, so this was just taking that experience to another level. I have loved every minute of it! I have been friends with Jim “Moose” Brown for years… he’s played on so many of my songs… all the way back to the Trick Pony days. He’s such a big hearted guy. So easy to collaborate with, and he has something extra special… in that he is steeped in traditional Country music, so he loves the instrumentation and the purities that go into cutting a real country song, BUT… he’s equally steeped in great rock n roll, rhythm and blues, soul, and funk being raised up in Detroit MI and spending so much time Muscle Schoals and as the band leader for Bob Seger and The Silver Bullet Band for 16 years. He has such a diverse sense of creativity and knowledge in all kinds of music. I grew up much the same way… loving traditional country, but with an ear and heart for the blues, rock n roll, soul, jazz, and bluegrass. Good music is good music. I think Moose was the perfect guy to co produce this record with. I just adore him.
LH I’m guessing from listening that there were at least a few tracks recorded live… was it as much fun in the studio as it sounds on the album?
HN You guessed right! We kept everything including a lot of the tracking vocals, which caught a certain feeling, emotion, and timing. We wanted this record to be REAL, not to sound polished, perfect, and canned. I love those records where you know it sounded magical…you were literally transported to the studio on the cutting room floor. THAT is the coolest feeling. I get goose bumps just thinking about it
LH From songwriting idea to fully finished track… which part of the process do you enjoy the most? And the least?
HN I love it all. Truly. Watching an ‘idea’ or a simple melody become a fully realized song… and then to take it into the studio and hear what we come up with musically… sometimes discussing the arrangement and sometimes just letting it go where ever it goes naturally… it’s a magical process.
LH Your fantastic trademark harmonica playing naturally features on a fair few tracks, when and why did you decide to learn to play? Did any particular player inspire you?
HN The harp has been a part of my life since I first heard my Grandfather Clarence Wright play it when I was a tiny tot. I thought it was the most lonesome sound in the world. I picked up a few Hohner harps and started listening to my favorite records, paying extra close attention to the harmonica parts. In the beginning, it was Charlie McCoy, Mickey Raphael, and Jelly Roll Johnson… and then I found the Blues. I was mesmerized by Lil Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Howlin Wolf. I loved The Stones, The John Mayall Band, Kim Williams, Jimmy Hall, and so many more. I kind of loved the fact that not very many women were playing harmonica. Now, I want to help be an ambassidor for the instrument and turn kids onto it. It’s a wonderful addition to any type of music. There is a LOT of harp throughout this record, but that’s just a natural part of my sound. I wouldn’t be me without it.
LH There are some incredible guests on the album, too… Randy Hauser, Jim Lauderdale and Chris Stapleton included… how did you decide which artists would be particularly suited to a certain song? Did you have them in mind as you were writing?
HN I was so thrilled to have Delbert McClinton, Jim Lauderdale, and Randy Houser come in and join me on duets… and Mickey Raphael and Kenny Vaughan join me as guest musicians, as well as some heavy hitters join me in the writing room like Chris Stapleton, Leslie, Satcher, Jim “Moose” Brown, and Al Anderson… just to name a few. Once we cut the songs… they dictated who I reached out to regarding collaborations. It was pure joy being in the studio with my friends and getting to see the songs go to a whole new level with each addition.
LH Like most artists, you have been live streaming in recent months while actual shows are put on hold. How are your new songs being received by your fans, and are there any they seem to be connecting with in particular?
HN I have been streaming A LOT and have found it to be a wonderful way to stay connected to my audience, as well as growing a new audience. I’ve gradually been playing more and more of the 14 song LP and I have to say, its ALL been so well received. I’m loving reading everyones responses to certain songs… depending on what they are going through at any given time… each song hits you differently and tells a different story. So, if they are sad and lonely or grieving someone, they love “When Heaven Falls” or “Whitley’s Tombstone” or “Three Things”… If they are feeling like partying and rocking out, they are totally into “Blues Is My Business”, “Bring This House Down”, or “I Could Fall for You”. There’s really a song for every emotion on this album.
LH And when you can get back out on the road again, and international travel is an option, will you be heading over to see us here in the UK?
HN OMG YES!!! I want to do a UK tour badly!! I have many followers from there on socials and it seems to be growing, so I’d very much like to come bring the band and do about 3 weeks there… and then keep coming back and growing my music and brand so I’m nice and familiar to you all. I truly miss playing live music more than I can express. It’s like part of me is missing by not being able to play in front of a live audience. This pandemic has made us artists and entertainers appreciate that aspect of the process like never before!! You must come see a show or five when I finally get over there… and hang out!
LH Just try to stop me!
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