Mindi Abair: Game Changer

Trish Richardson By

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Jacobs began the Boneshakers in 1996, with vocalist Atkinson. The name was given to them, albeit unintentionally, by vocal powerhouse Bonnie Raitt. The Boneshakers have worked with Lyle Lovett, Don Was and Raitt, among others.

According to Abair, "I've always been a fan of his band, the Boneshakers. It's been kind of a little family. I've have known these guys for so long and we've each had our own little worlds that we fit very neatly into. We come cheer each other on. And we play with each other, moonlight with each other. But I love the fact that after so many years of being friends and being fans of each other that we can come together and really make music together again on a regular basis. Fuse those two worlds in a really fun way! It really, really works so well and it's just fun."

Jacobs recalls, "I met Mindi about 1991, when I was working with guitarist Oliver Leiber at The Mint. I always say I knew Mindi before the hair and make-up!"

The guitarist continues, "She could play. You could tell. Oliver told me, this chick can really play, you have to check it out. And when she came around, I said, 'You sure she's a girl?' She was just so shy. Her jacket was all buttoned up. She was just trying to fit in with the guys."

Besides her fashion sense, what are the greatest changes that Jacobs has seen in Abair over the years? "I think she is more freer," says Jacobs. "She is getting to be more of that girl that I first met. More free. More letting it go. I think especially with the Boneshaker aspect, I saw it at Jazz Alley. She was playing her ass off!"

Jacobs continues, 'Let's Straighten It Out' is a song that, with the Boneshakers, I usually take the solo. [At Jazz Alley] I let her have it, especially after hearing her do it in rehearsal. It was perfect for her because it opens up a whole new door of her playing, that sort of old school R & B saxophone. And she's got that.

"Vocally, she's starting to push it out there more because she's not trying to be like, well, I don't want to scare the wine drinkers at the table if I push the rock element too hard. She is just letting it fly, you know?

"We did 'Summertime' and she wanted to see something happen. She said how can we take it and make it more dangerous? And that's where she is changing—she wants to be something more dangerous."

Abair coming more into her own is allowing those around her to be more free with their own playing. According to Jacobs, "Our drummer, Third, [Frank 'Third' Richardson] was talking about how something is different. Yeah, the something different is that I am playing with Mindi and the Boneshakers, which is more me . So now I not trying to be this 'jazz' guy, I am just letting it fly. I am just letting me be me. We are helping each other out."

Jacobs muses, "I think we all get affected by it. You put a record out and it's in a genre. How much do you have to be in that genre before you offend somebody or scare them off? But I always told her, you have to stick to your guns. Your real fans will accept you. I always wanted her to do what she thought was best, not what the market calls for. I believe in her. I've always believed in Mindi."

"[The collaboration] was a fluke," Jacobs continues. "Last year, we played at the Hyatt Newport and played on what they call the second stage. Mindi played the night before, sort of a record release for Wild Heart and I sat in on a couple of songs. So the next day the promoter asked if we could have a guest, and I said Mindi's here, Mindi can be my guest. There was not even a lot of rehearsing, it was just 'Mindi's going to come.' The band knows a lot of Mindi's songs, so we will make it like a Boneshaker/Mindi show."

Once they rehearsed together, the potential that the group could reach together became clear to both them and the audience. Jacobs recalls, "We saw what could really go. After the Hyatt, her manager, Bud Harner, called me and asked if I would collaborate with her." Jacobs' response? "Of course. But Sweet Pea had to be a part of it because he is the Boneshakers. Sweet Pea loved it. Sweet Pea loves Mindi, he just thinks she's amazing. And he's a tough sell. If he doesn't think you're real, he doesn't buy it."

What about the Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers collaboration most appealed to Jacobs? "It's just the soulful aspect. She has a soul and rock thing. I grew up playing in horn bands. And I was used to that. I've always been attracted to horn players. But she was different in the sense that her aspect was definitely from the R&B/rock perspective, as opposed to the jazz perspective. And that was what attracted me to her right off."

How have the fans responded to this new marriage? According to Abair, "The audiences have been eating it up, just screaming and yelling. It's becoming a kind of raucous, blues, rock show." Jacobs simply says, "You've got the legend of Sweet Pea and you've got Mindi. How can you go wrong?"



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