Full Bio

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Cathy Lemons was born August 13, 1958 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. She would move 15 times before the age of 13 before settling in Dallas, TX. Some of her travels took her as a child to exotic places such as Entebbe, Uganda, East Africa and Kingston, Jamaica. In 1971, her mother finally settled down for good in Dallas, Texas. The South and Texas is known for its great blues talent--"It's a place of harsh extremes, a place of sudden change--even in the weather--where people tell it just like it is," says Cathy. "You have to be tough just to survive the Texas heat--110 degrees 6 to 7 months out of the year." Commenting on what the blue scene was like in Texas when she was growing up, she says, "It was a great place for blues . I had a chance to see many fine talents in their early stages of development like Anson Funderburgh, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Lou Anne Barton. The blues scene was very small--lots of great gossip--very few secrets. Texas players were more into what I consider to be real blues people--not a mish mash of rock and roll, no top 40 blues bands. No. The musicians I knew back then were studied blues artists. They knew their stuff--Magic Sam, Lowell Fulson, Freddie King, B.B. King, Little Walter, you name it-- and they knew it and loved it. In Dallas and the surrounding towns, there were not many clubs to play --and many of us were just struggling so hard to make a dime. So, Texas musicians tended to really stick together back then. There weren't too many free-lance type players. You made a band--and you worked with only that band. I liked it that way. California players fail to see their greatest weakness--which is in my opinion, not enough knowledge of blues roots music and not enough respect for what a band is--when you work together as a whole for the greater good of that whole. If you let ego get in the way, the music somehow dies. Music is about giving. Plus out here every sideman wants to be a singer. most sidemen should never sing. That's why they are side men first--because they are not good singers."

In her early twenties Cathy often sat in and sang with Anson Funderburgh and Darrell Nulisch at a tiny, little match box club called Poor David's in Dallas. When she first heard blues played live, she knew that was what she wanted to do. In 1980, there were very few women singing blues in Dallas--very few anywhere period. So, when Cathy started out , she was playing a man's game all the way. Cathy says, "When I first started singing blues--male musicians said I could never do it--they said I didn't have the voice or feel for it--that I should stick to folk or swing music which was what I had been singing. Somehow I knew that blues was for me, and I didn't listen to them. Blues hit me in my gut. I was drawn to the words and that sexy figure eight sound in the drums--reminds me of a woman's walk--hell blues is made for a woman. When I started out, I went out and bought every record I could find of the greats and I learned those songs. And then I went around and sat in and started getting jobs with bands. I will never forget this one bass player--Daryll Strehli--back in Dallas, who said I couldn't sing no blues. Well--I went to this club he was playing in a couple years after he hadn't seen or heard me sing--and I sat in and stole that show all night long. When it was over, Darryll came up to me and said he was dead wrong--and he apologized--said I sounded great! I shocked him--and it made me feel so good--like I had come full circle."

Cathy says of her first blues band: "When I was 23 I tried out for a band called "Killer and the Show Cats"--it was a band filled with psychiatrists! I sang "Stormy Monday" and they loved it and hired me on the spot! They needed to replace their woman singer--Bobby who was more Holiday Inn than blues. Apparently she thought she was a stripper and a singer and was doing wild things during her performances like throwing her underwear around! I guess the guys had had enough! Hilarious! I remember the drummer was a shrink and so was one of the lead guitar players. I still remember the lead guy doing the Chuck Berry duck walk--it was probably the worst duck walk ever done in history! His face would turn all white and he would stick his neck out and wiggle it back and forth. He looked like a sick duck all right--walking to the doctah! CALL THE DOCTAH! The bass player was Rene Martinez, a great guy who always encouraged me to sing. He used to say "Cathy you have a natural born talent." Rene was Stevie Ray Vaughan's guitar tech and knew him quite well. It was Rene and Pat, a commercial artist and the other lead guitarist in my band that introduced me to Anson Funderburg and then Stevie Ray Vaughan. Rene Martinez played on the recording I made with Anson Funderburg a few years later. "Killer and the Show Cats" had a gig every Saturday night in Dallas, and I remember coming off that stage sweating from head to toe. I also remember Pat, the other guitarist, sometimes throwing me over his shoulder to get me out of the club and into a car. I used to wear these really, really, high heels and when I would drink too much, I would start to stagger. Those were wild days and I was young--what can I say--I was having a ball! I used to get all dressed up in glitter, satin and low cut velvet blouses. and just party it up. Sometimes we would go to El Taxco in this run down Spanish neighborhood in East Dallas and meet Anson and his boys there after gigs. We'd sit at one giant table and watch the Mexican gangsters roll in--all this at 4:00 in the morning! What a great time we all had!"

By this time Cathy was now performing regularly in favorite Dallas blues clubs and sharing the stage with such luminaries of the '80's Texas blues scene as Stevie Ray Vaughan, Anson Funderburgh, Mark Polluck, Robin Syler, and others. In 1983, She put together a band with David Watson, Anson Funderburgh's x-drummer who was also Doyle Bramhall's nephew (Doyle Bramhall was Stevie Ray Vaughan's mentor). Cathy with David's encouragement made a fine studio recording with Anson Funderburgh on guitar (8 cuts), Robin Syler on guitar on 1 cut, Freddy Faro on drums, Doug Rynack on piano, and Rene Martinez on bass. There were 8 songs on that recording. Cathy had just turned 24 years old and she sounded like an already mature artist who knew how to choose a great song and deliver all the rights vocal punches. You can here those songs if your go to Reverbnation: http://www.reverbnation.com/cathylemons

Cathy has a rebellious streak, and back then often explored the darker side of life-- ran with what could be termed a dangerous crowd--and eventually had to leave Texas--yes--with "sirens blazing." She struggled with a serious drug addiction off and on for many years. Here are some comments she made regarding this subject: "When you are addicted to the serious stuff--you see things--the addiction takes you to places people don't usually go--and you learn about life in a very real way. A snap judgment can literally mean life or death--one false step, and you can end up in St James Infirmary. I learned about human nature--and I learned not to judge a person's moral choices. I have met great, smart intelligent people on drugs and bad people straight as boards and with lots of money--who are just horrible human beings. We all just do the best we can in this life. But what I learned these last few years from 30 years of therapy and a few years of Yoga and meditation is that we can accept and even become gently intimate with our darker side until we realize that we have choices--always. We can actually come to a place of co-existence with that little demon--use it as energy--place it in the music or in writing. I am almost the ONLY person left standing from the bad old days--most of the people I knew are now dead--bought a one way ticket. Very very heavy price to pay. I am very happy to be here on this planet and I fully intend to conjure my powers for the good.

In November of 1986 Cathy arrived on the Bay Area Blues scene and began working with harp player/singer Mark Hummell and blues guitarist extraordinaire Paris Slim. She even had a chance to open up and later hang out with Paul Butterfield in 1987 (http://cathylemons.blogspot.com/2012/06/night-with-paul-butterfield.html). During those early San Francisco years Cathy attracted the attention of blues legend and star John Lee Hooker and soon became the opening singer for his Coast to Coast Blues Machine, performing along side with some of the best bluesmen in the business: John Hammond, Elvin Bishop, Pine Tops Perkins, and of course John Lee Hooker, himself. Hooker was trying to get Cathy a record deal with Virgin Records at that time. She was working on songs that Hooker's friend and organ player Deacon Jones wrote. However, no real quality recording was ever made, and Virgin didn't bite the bait. "I over dubbed over Buddy Miles singing Deacon's songs, and all them songs were in the damn wrong key. Hooker was cheap---what can I say!"

Cathy also says of John Lee Hooker: "I learned so much from him. When we were on the road I took care of him. He could not read or write, so I would help him order his food, read signs in the airport, hotels, stuff like that. He was very proud. Once I offered to teach him how to read, but he would have no part of that! John was very sharp and he knew the value of a dollar--and man, could he count that money! He also believed in people. I remember he was the one who got Elvin Bishop with the Rosebud agency. He knew he was having a hard time, and he wanted to help get him back on track. A lot of times, I felt bad for John, though. Now that he is gone, I still feel bad. People were always trying to get something from him. He would let them hustle him--just out of love for the person. He'd look for the good not the bad. But I think it wears you down. John at heart was a sweet and kind person. He was always encouraging to me. He said "Cathy--you a rrr rolling stone." And lord, back in those days I sure was, staying in hotel rooms in the Tenderloin or at his home in Redwood City, struggling with my demons. The last time I spoke with John, I said, "Aren't you proud of me John? I come through all right and I'm still singing!" He said, "I am proud of you--you come a la la long way, Cathy." And he meant it. To me he was one of the greatest blues singers that ever lived, and it was a great honor to have known him, may he rest in peace."

Cathy Lemons eventually wanted to headline her own band. She knew she would have to take the harder road, so she pulled out of the Coast to Coast Blues Machine with John Lee Hooker and went back to live in San Francisco. She met with some hard times there but eventually met up with a very brilliant San Francisco based guitarist, Dave Workman who was originally a Columbus, Ohio blues star. Cathy says of Dave, "Oh he loves blues! He is very versatile and has played with many a blues great including Koko Taylor and Albert Collins. I played with him off and on for almost seven years and we really had a good sound. We made a couple of demos that I recently listened too, and they were really quite good." During the Lemons/Workman band years Cathy started to get her life together. She went back to school to study first at City College in 1990 and then San Francisco State University where she graduated magna cum laude in 1995 with a BA in English Literature. Her father, a retired English professor wanted her to try teaching at the university level, but Cathy just couldn't give up the music: "I loved the academic world and learning, but when I had to make a career decision, I could not give up my music. That was around the time I started seeing Johnny Ace, a bass player that woud be my musical partner for 17 years. Although I knew John since 1987, I always loved John as a person. We always had a wonderful connection. After I graduated from college, we teamed up in 1995 and started playing together regularly." From 1995 to 2012, Cathy Lemons with her bass playing partner Johnny Ace, worked with some of the finest musicians on the scene: Ron Thompson, Paris Slim, Steve Freund, David Maxwell, Paul Oscher, Danny Carron (guitarist for Charles Brown), Rusty Zinn, Anthony Paule, Johnny Talbot (guitarist for Bobbie "Blue" Bland) , and Steve Freund. Cathy Lemons and Johnny Ace recorded their first CD "Dark Road" on The Saloon Recordings label in late 2000 and received fabulous reviews from the most important national blues rags. Their run as a blues team culminated in 2010 when they put out their CD "Lemonace" on the national label Vizztone. Their careers initially took a boost from the CD as it reached # 3 on the "BB King's Bluesville Picks" on XM Sirius in June of 2010. "Lemonace" also received rave reviews and even though the team played some festivals and did a bit of touring, the relationship between the two talented musicians came to an end in February of 2012.

Cathy Lemons says of the breakup: "There is no harder thing on earth than to live and work with your lover--no harder thing. And if the two of you are strong personalities with different ways of sustaining creative worlds--well--it's even harder. I desperately needed to branch out on my own and make my own decisions as to who I played with, where, and how often. I wanted to see what I could do on my own--especially as a songwriter. When you write you need time alone. More than anything else you have to be able to hear your own thoughts--you need a full creative space to work in. I will always consider the years with Ace great, productive, and fun years; but I wanted to find out who I was--as an artist--no chains--no compromises."

After the break with Ace. Cathy Lemons for a year went back to work with her old partner from the '90's, Dave Workman, and did some fine performances all over the Bay Area. They played The Great American Music Hall and also competed in the International Blues Challenge (IBC's).

However in September of 2012, Cathy made a final break out on her own: "Sometimes it takes years before you understand what you need to develop as an artist--years. All the years of listening and learning at some point has to become yours. I have always written songs and "Lemonace" was filled with many of my compositions, but something magical happened to me when I got out on my own in February of 2012. At the age of 53 suddenly the tunes were just coming into my head one after another--all I had to do was dictate. I don't play an instrument , so I needed to find musicians that I could write with. Dave Workman started to help me write songs during the year we worked together: "I Am Going to try" and "Troubled Man." But I was looking to stretch out of the blues box even more. I started looking for players that could back me in a way where my voice was the real focal point. And where some cool, dissonant, and creative sounds could carry me into more of an almost countryish style thing. Above and beyond all things, I have been looking for subtely--and I found it."

Cathy Lemons also started a blog, "Blue Stories" which has become well-known in blues circles for its honesty. She writes about what she went through as an addict years ago and she tells some harrowing tales about the streets.

Here is what she has to say on her blog: "You know I once had an English teacher when I was earning my BA in English lit back in the mid 1990's that told me never to qualify my work. This teacher told me that I was supposed to let the work speak for itself. And if people were offended--shook up--shocked up--well--then maybe, just maybe, it meant the writing has some real punch in it. When I started blogging about some of the things I went through as an addict primarily in the late 1980's and early '90's, I was terrified that people would stop speaking to me--that men especially would judge me for having been an addict and a prostitute. And even though I have been in serious thereapy for years to help me with the addiction issues and the trauma, and even though I have not touched a hard drug in many a moon, it still was an act of real guts for me to put myself out there on the world wide web like that. After I wrote some of those first stories, I remember being depressed for days because it took me back to a hard, hard time. I am the only addict I know now that survived those bad old days--with the exception of two gentleman. All the women I knew are now dead--met their ends in terrible violent ways . So much potential gone to waste. So much senseless suffering. So I thought I'd lay it bare. No matter the cost. And to my surprise I discovered that most people in the blues world are not only empatheric to what I have written--but they are MOVED. So manty of my readers have reached out to me to tell me to keep writing. And I will. Every time I get worried about the fall out from the brutal honesty, I hear Ray Charles in my head and he says smacking his hand down on the piano, 'I'm gonna be who I am and I don't give a damn if you like it or you don't.' Well that's how I feel about this blog of mine. It's about speaking out for the dead--the ones that didn't make it--and it's a form of acitivism, too. To say out loud 'This is what I see. This is what I survived. This is what I know to be true! And look--I am still human.' It's my way of saying to people that suffer that transfiguration and transformation is possible. Writing songs and this blog are part of me wanting also to heal people and move people. If I am not doing that, I am not worth a damn as an artist."

Cathy Lemons' CD "Black Crow," released in 2014 on Vizztone received rave reviews. Blues Music Magazine says Lemons "packs a formidable punch of Texas soul and down and dirty blues." The album made Downbeat's "Winners Pick" with a 4 star rating, and England's Blues Matters ranked it in their "Top 10" for "Best Bluies CD's of 2014."

Since 2013 Cathy Lemons has formed a new band with her partner Phil Berkowitz called The Lucky Losers. Cathy and Phil breathe new life into American songwriting tradition and the vanishing art of duet singing. Bill Wilson of Reflections in Blue declares “Not since the pairing of Johnny Cash and June Carter has the music world seen a duet that is this well suited for one another.” The stark contrast between Lemons’ velvet voice with gritty edge and Berkowitz’ elegant tenor makes for an electrifying performance night after night.

Their first album, “A Winning Hand” received international attention from critics and is listed as one of the “Top 50 Blues Albums of 2015.” Their second album, “In Any Town,” again received high praise from critics and made the “Top Independent Blues Albums of 2016” list from Making a Scene and several critic’s “Top 10” picks. The album peaked at #6 on Living Blues, #2 on "Top 50 Albums/ California/All Genres," and #3 on "Top Blues Rock Albums" with The Roots Music Report. They have been nominated for “Best Traditional Album / 2015,” “Best Contemporary Album /2016” and “Best Harmonica Player/ 2016” by Blues 411. Critics from Rolling Stone to Living Blues have given this songwriting/singing team a huge thumbs up.

Cathy Lemons contuinues to produce shows. "Against The Odds! Songwriters Showcase with Karen Lovely, Lisa Mann, The Lucky Losers, and Ben Rice" will be at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco on July 6 2017. So stay tuned!!!