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the mp3 way: Zola Moon and Her Experiences in Music
By Jon Newton,
(more articles from this author)
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There's been a lot of attention, lately, on web pages which are ostensibly acting in on- and offline musicians' interests but whose motivations and methods are somewhat questionable. But that's nothing new. Musicians have always been easy marks, especially when it comes to recordings.

Los Angeles blues singer Zola Moon thought she'd hit pay-dirt when she was approached, and quickly signed, by K**t Records. This wasn't the old K**t of the 50's which originally recorded BB King and, "all kinds of cool people," she says. That went dormant or defunct in the 60's or early 70's.

"But," Zola continues, "in the late 80's a booze swilling, cigar smoking, gambling, polyester-suit-wearing, bald-with-a-bad-comb-over, fat, greasy, ripoff con artist type guy, if there ever was one, somehow got the label and the rights to it AND its back catalogue AND at one point in time, ME. He released my second record and also sold it for distribution in Germany.

"But I've never made one cent off it and in the drawer of my desk I have, as a tender memory of him, the two rubber checks he wrote me and a rip-off contract where he retained ownership of the record. And he still sells it on the Internet.

"That was the day I turned from sweet and trusting to bitter and cynical."

These days, Zola's still singing the blues and she has other CD's, as well as a video, available on her web site at for which she DOES get the proceeds and which, she says, are far superior in every way to the late, but unlamented, K**T disc.

And although she'll never forget the experience, it's now joined a whole stream of others, good, bad and funny, which make up her story ...

... like the time she was on stage, loaded to the gills on OTC downers.

She could barely stand. But that was OK. Zola was still at school. And this was her first performance not just in front of the other kids, but ever.

"I was so nervous I took a bunch of my mother's sedatives to try to calm me down," she says. "Unfortunately, I took what turned out to be WAY too many. A real disaster. What the hell, the horn section was out of tune anyway."

That was 20 years ago and Zola - originally from the San Francisco Bay area - is still singing. But she's gone well beyond high school performances.

If performing unintentionally stoned in front of her school friends was Zola's worst experience, singing at the Playboy Jazz Festival was her most exciting and she's now one of the most respected Blues singers not only around LA, her home, but also across the States.

An amazing Blues harmonica player as well as a singer, she's appeared, or performed, with Albert Collins, Etta James, Elvin Bishop, Albert King, J.J. "Bad Boy" Jones, Big Mama Thornton, Al Kooper, William Clark, and Junior Wells, among a whole raft of others.

As the Los Angeles Daily News put it, "South Bay blues legend Zola Moon plays a wicked harp and belts the blues like she grew up on the Mississippi Delta."

If you doubt that, see her sing, and hear her play, on What's Left - a Real Audio video. Or go to her page and check out Meatgrinder. Or Camel Cash (heh). Or I Don't Think So, all Zola Moon originals and all on her great Earthquakes, Thunder and Smiling Lightning CD. Or go out and buy Almost Crazy with tracks such as Bad Dog Fight (deadly), Love with a Thug (deadly) and Rockabillie Billy (deadly). She could almost get by on the titles alone.

Performing live is one thing. Getting your work out in other media is another, and Zola isn't doing badly there either.

She sang the title song for the George Segal, JoBeth Williams movie Me, Myself and I, and was also heard in a couple of other spots during the film. But, "The movie soundtrack was released on IRS," she said, going on: "Two songs from my second CD (which my ex-record company owns and I have no control over - another music industry horror story) were placed in a Trimark picture starring Brad Dourif. I can't remember the title for the life of me. I have also had a number of songs in independent features in the last couple years. I had 2 songs in a movie called Sex, Lies, and Love.

"Most recently, I placed two songs in an independent feature called Buddha Heads, which seems to be generating some buzz, and I just placed a song in a new Lou Diamond Phillips movie called Knight Club that's in post production. There have been a couple other films along the way, but they were really small and, frankly, I've forgotten the titles."

In the meanwhile, Zola's been into the blues "right from the get-go." Blues isn't as mainstream as pop or rock, she said, continuing, "Even country western has always been more organized. But like country western, blues fans are loyal and passionate about the artists they support and are fans for life."

Her favourites are early Koko Taylor for women, and O. V. Wright for men. But it's a three-way tie for her absolute favourite singer - blues or anything else - with O. V. Wright, Tina Turner and Maria Callas as the finalists.

And she's a case ; ) I wondered if her somewhat sultry look had an edge to it - some humour. "Absolutely," she said. "I try to laugh at everything including myself, although I think I am a fairly sexy broad."

Yep. And that never hurt a lady blues singer.

Zola may be a heavy duty on-stage performer, but she's well aware that online music is here - and here to stay. "It's great," she told me. "The more the merrier so to speak. For the artists who aren't mainstream known yet, it's great. It gives artists tons more places to get their name and music out there. It's freedom."

But she has mixed feelings about Napster-type programs where listeners can download songs for free. "For the artists that are already famous and known, they're getting ripped off," she said. "But for people on the way up, it can be a great form of exposure."

What's it like living in LA, Land of Dark Brown Skies? "I live in a lower working class neighborhood in LA," she says, "BUT it's not too far from the beach and we get a little ocean breeze all the time so the air quality is pretty good."

Finally, if you're a blues singer looking for a little guidance from someone who went there and stayed, here are three pieces of advice from Zola:

1 - Sing with your heart.

2 - Develop a rhinoceros hide to take the ups and downs and the criticisms.

3 - Put the music first and hope the money follows.

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