Debbie Bond's voice and music reflect a remarkably diverse background and array of interests. She's resided in Europe and played in Africa, combined being a singer/songwriter with other activities including being a house painter. Her powerful, engaging and soulful sound has equal amounts of jazz and R&B influence. Bond's compositions have the narrative flair and realistic edge emblematic of country's best sagas.
But she's dedicated much of her professional life to keeping the blues alive, both as a participant and an activist. It's in that capacity that Bond is making her first trip to Nashville this weekend, as both a performer and recipient of honors at the annual Marion James Musicians Aid Society Blues and Jazz Awards.
Others in the lineup with James and local legend James "Nick" Nixon include the Valentines, Regi Wooten, Clarence Dobbins, Jackie Wilson and Gil Gann, Phase 6 and Johnny Kantreed. The event gets underway at 4 p.n. at Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie Bar.
"I've heard so much about Nashville and I'm extremely honored to be recognized by someone like Marion James, who's done so much for musicians and who has such a tradition in the music," Bond said. "I don't know why I've never played there, but I'm really excited about it."
Bond's a vital part of the Alabama blues scene, having spent more than three decades there. Currently based in Tuscaloosa, Bond's Alabama Blues Project, which she co-founded in 1995, is a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting and preserving the state's extensive legacy in the musician. She cites the late Johnny Shines as not only a mentor and influence, but a prime motivator in getting her involved in the quest to further publicize and recognize blues musicians.
"He was such a fine player and gentleman," Bond recalls. "But he was never viewed as the great player he should have been except by those who really knew the inside story of the blues, knew how long he'd been around and the people he had worked with. He was the person who kept telling me how important it was that these stories be told, and this history preserved. I learned so much from him."
Bond played with Shines from 1981 until his death in 1992. About five years later she was among the featured artists on the live release Alabama Blues Showcase, issued by the Alabama Blues Society. Besides later forming her own band and being a headliner at numerous domestic and international festivals, she'd work alongside other outstanding Alabama blues greats like James Peterson, Jerry "Boogie" McCain, Sam Lay, and most importantly, Willie King.
She was second guitarist with King and part of his band the Liberators from 2003 until 2009. Bond's intense, crisp accompaniment and support can be prominently heard on King's final two releases. The group was a popular attraction at such events as the Highway 61 Blues, Sunflower and Juke Joint Festivals in Mississippi, and appeared annually at multiple European festivals.
During her time in King's band Bond also met the person she calls "my musical and life partner," keyboardist and harmonica player Rick Asherson. King served as best man at their wedding, In addition to the vital experience Bond gained with King, she bolstered her educational resume during the early 2000s. She earned an MA in American Studies with special emphasis on the blues in 2002, and that year received a joint Alabama/Georgia State Council on the Arts Apprenticeship award. That led to a collaboration with guitarist Eddie Kirkland and the start of another fruitful professional and personal relationship. The two performed together and did several Blues in the Schools programs until his death in 2011.
While still involved in blues education and activism, Bond's now putting renewed focus on her own music. Her 2011 release Hearts Are Wild earned rave reviews in several places, with such tunes as "You're The Kind of Trouble" and "Falling" showcasing her stirring leads and solid guitar playing. However, the disc offers plenty of stylistic and thematic variety. Top selections include the jazz-tinged arrangement and sensibility of "Drama Mama," a splendid cover of Aretha Franklin's soul classic "Baby I Love You," and "My Time's" pointed refrains regarding the impact of social media.
"The blues underlines everything I do, but my voice and style do range over the map," Bond said. "You can hear elements of jazz, soul, maybe even some country at times, as well as the blues. But the blues is such a vital part of my life that it will always be the dominant strain in terms of my music."
"I've kind of taken a cue from artists like Bonnie Raitt and Maria Muldaur," Bond added. "They've been able to branch out into the Americana field, but they're retained a connection to the blues, and that's what I've tried to do as well. I don't know if I would consider myself an Americana artist necessarily, but I'm glad there's a field out there that works for singer/songwriters like me."
"I truly feel when people are exposed to the blues, have a chance to hear the many different styles and can really get into it, most of them will really enjoy it," Bond concluded. "That's why it is so important for me that the music continue to be supported, and it's why I take such pride in being recognized by Marion James, who has been an inspiration to so many and has always worked hard to support the musicians and the blues."
The Nashville Blues and Jazz Awards will be presented at 4 p.m. Sunday at Bourbon Street Blues & Boogie Bar, 220 Printers Alley.