Lindsay Beaver plays the kind of rhythm & blues that does more than echo the first howls of early rock n’ roll. Standing behind an austere drum kit, tattooed and defiant, the Nova Scotia native embodies an attitude and power that might’ve gotten her noticed in any musical hub throughout North America, but Lindsay and her band the 24th Street Wailers coalesced in the clubs of Toronto, Canada before embarking on national tours with the likes of Jimmie Vaughan. After five albums with the Wailers, a move to the musical Mecca of Austin, TX, and a near devastating relationship, Lindsay Beaver emerged tougher than the rest with an album under her own name and a new band that’s proven resilient and ultra-capable. Lindsay, guitarist Brad Stivers, and bassist Josh Williams are the best of blues and rock ‘n roll worlds showcasing that real music never goes out of style.
AI-The first time that I heard “Too Cold To Cry”… When [Alligator Records] released that single, at the time, I did not realize that you were a drummer– and I thought that it sounded like something out of Imperial or Liberty Records sometime in the late ’40s, early ’50s, something with Earl Palmer on it. And then all of a sudden I find out, not only are you a drummer but you’re a big Earl Palmer fan. What got you behind the kit to begin with?
LB- Well, I guess it sort of happened by accident. I sang my whole life. It wasn’t ’til I was in my late teens that I started thinkin’ maybe I could do it in front of people. I started a band, and I had people coming over to rehearse. It was a jazz group. We did a lot of standards and stuff, and I was also in a couple of other things. People would come over to rehearse, and there’d be no drum kit– and my basement stairs are really narrow and small. So my Dad, for Christmas when I was about eighteen or nineteen, bought me a drum kit for people to rehearse on, and I ended up really liking it. I started playing it myself. It was just sitting downstairs, and I started playing it– and I kinda took to it pretty quick. And then all this stuff I’d been learning as a singer, I started learning on drums.
Did I read that you were going to these blues jams up there in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where you’re from?
Yep! A couple of months in, I started to get more comfortable with it, and I knew there was a jam in town– but again, I wasn’t really the most outgoing person at that age. I’m still really not. But my friends had said, “Why don’t you go down to the Sunday jam?” So I did– and I didn’t tell ’em I sang… probably for about a year because I didn’t want them to forget that I played drums. I wanted to learn how to play drums. And so I did, I went every week, and I was terrible for the first little while and then eventually I started to get it (laughs). ‘Cause they gave me the right records, you know? Like those guys, there’s kind of a really killer little community of blues players in Halifax that are all really good. And you know, when you leave your hometown and you go back, you think, “Okay, is it going to be as good as I thought?” And it really is! Every time I go home I’m like, “Man, I was lucky to have these guys!”
What were some of the records they were throwin’ your way?
Oh, just like all of the early Pee Wee Crayton and T-Bone Walker… Just like classic recordings– B.B. King, you know? Early, early, early guys… Everything pre-1975. They didn’t give me Johnny Winter or Stevie Ray Vaughan, they gave me like the O.G.s! That was really integral. I went to jazz school a couple of years later on drums but really, I think those jams did more for me than anything ever did. ‘Cause it was just the right records to hear. I came from listening to hip hop and R&B and neo-soul to going backwards once I went to the jam and started getting into blues and gospel and stuff.
Tell me about the 24th Street Wailers. You put that band together in Toronto, right?
Yeah, I eventually left Halifax, moved to Toronto to go to music school there. As much as I like jazz– and as a singer, I really love it– and as a drummer I like it, but it wasn’t my favorite thing. Especially, the modern jazz stuff. I’m not really into the odd meter and all that, so I was kinda lookin’ for bandmates… Basically, to start a blues band with. And then for about four years, the band had a pretty static line up, and they were all from music school. Eventually, we lost a guitar player, and then it started to get to a point where people were… You know, they hit their late twenties, and they start wondering if this is what they want to do with their lives? And then you start finding out who the lifers are (laughs)! Which kind of pushed me to move to Austin because everybody here’s a lifer!
Speaking of Austin– and you mentioned Stevie Ray Vaughan earlier– tell me about Jimmie Vaughan… Because you ended up runnin’ into him in Canada– and wasn’t he the one suggested that Austin was the place for you to be?
Yeah, him and his bass player at the time (Billy Horton)– ’cause [Billy Horton] recorded like all of Nick Curran’s records, and he played with him. I had just kinda gotten into Nick Curran around that time– and it all sort of happened at the right time. I was doing some shows with Jimmie in Canada, and we got one show in this weird little town in Ontario– and Jimmie liked the band! We got to be friends, and his guitar tech and I stayed in touch, and the bass player and I stayed in touch. The whole band just kinda dug what we were doing– which is similar to what I do now, but it’s a little bit more traditional this record. Probably, you know, as traditional as I’ll get. But Jimmie basically was like, “You should spend some time in Austin. You’d probably really like it.” Then I got down here and I didn’t leave! Because I’d never really been anywhere where they played the stuff that I was listening to, you know? Everybody here has really deep knowledge. I shouldn’t say everybody, but there’s a lot of people who have a pretty deep knowledge of roots music and especially like the Fabulous Thunderbirds… Those guys took all those Excello records, all that stuff and made them cool for that era of time– and it never really left here. People play Lazy Lester songs here, they play, you know, good shuffles. I mean, I’ve never been anywhere like it. I couldn’t leave after that.
What led you into Alligator Records and the making of Tough As Love?
Again, sort of an accident. I think sometimes when you lack a lot of confidence, you need people to shove you in the direction you need to get. I went through a pretty rough time. The band split up. I was married to the bass player… It ended terribly…
I would never have guessed from all those heartbreak songs on the record.
Yeah. And it’s all true. I mean, “Too Cold To Cry” is my life for a while with that relationship, and it was pretty traumatic. It’s good now, you know, a year and a half later. I can look back and go, “Okay, thank God I’m not living that life anymore– but at the time it was pretty rough. So I didn’t know what I was gonna do… My band had essentially split, and the guy that I had played music with on the road my whole career was gone… Even if it was a very miserable, very Ike & Tina thing, I still didn’t know how to do anything by myself. So then I nearly quit! I went home to Nova Scotia, kinda sat with my dad and talked every night, and he kinda talked me down off the ledge. I had a tour booked to Spain, and I wasn’t sure I could do it. ‘Cause again, I wasn’t really confident– or I didn’t really know how to be alone, you know? But I went, and I ended up kinda getting a rebirth there. I was 5,000 miles away from everything, and I started to remember why I liked playing again. So in that time, Brad Stivers became a pretty heavy mainstay in my band and then eventually we ended up together. At the time he kind of pulled me out of this, and he was the one that said, “You know, you’ve got this demo you recorded, why don’t you send it to Alligator?” I said, “No way. I’m too weird for them. They’re very straight-up traditional blues, and they won’t be into it.” And Bruce [Iglauer, head of Alligator Records], as everyone knows, is very… succinct when it comes to how he feels about stuff, and I just really didn’t want to get that rejection letter (laughs)! So I didn’t want to send it to him. Brad really was just like, “I think you should.” So I thought, “Oh, what do I have to lose?” So I sent it, and he ended up loving it. He loved the demo, and then he said, “If you can recreate this energy in a proper recorded setting then I think you’ll do well.” They weren’t 100% right away, but they put me in the studio. They said basically, “If this comes out as good as the demo does then we’re in.” And thankfully it did.
You brought up Brad Stivers– he’s out with you right now playing guitar? Or has been with you. And that’s him on a lot of those great leads on the record? Levon Helm always said he had the best seat in the house. Is that how it feels for you sometimes?
I love that! Yes, and I’m gonna tell [Brad] that, actually! S–t, I never even thought of that… Yes, that is exactly how it feels. I think he is one of the best guitar players I’ve ever heard, and I think he’s easily the best guitar player I’ve ever had in any of my bands– and he’s only 27, you know?
Oh, you’re kidding?
Yeah, I know, right? And in his own right, he’s a great singer too! I think he’s going to put a new record out this year. Basically, when I was going through guitar players in the Wailers, he wanted the gig, and I kept saying no because we were sort of oil and water sometimes. He was the first one that called [after the Wailers split], and he was the first one that was really there for me– even though we hadn’t talked in six months, you know? So even aside from the music, there’s a heavy personal bond there. So yeah… I have him sing a couple songs a show, and I usually will have to make sure I program it properly so that he doesn’t make me look bad (laughs)!
Knowing how deep and how personal that material is– is it like reliving it every night?
Some of them, yeah. Some of them are really hard. “Too Cold To Cry”, which of course is everyone’s favorite, is hard because it’s very, very directly about my relationship. Some nights, I’m like, “Eh, I don’t wanna think about this today!” Some nights, I’m like, “Look at where I came from and look at how hard that was– and here I am!” From where I was then to now is nuts. It’s crazy what having the right people in your life can do for you. And also having the wrong ones! I really lost myself, I mean really lost myself, to not, you know, know how to drive or not be able to take care of myself in any real capacity– and to not have any confidence left either. I’m still dealing with it, honestly. I talked to Bruce about this is the other day! I gotta whole bunch new songs because I’m eager to… I know the record only came out like six or seven months ago, but some of those songs I’ve been playing for a long time with the Wailers. So I’m looking forward to– even though it won’t be for another six, seven months– to go in and start recording something new. So even though I’ll continue to play some of those, I’m not living in them so much. And to be fair, [Bruce] and Stuart [Sullivan] that recorded the record warned me of this. But at the time, you can only write what you’re thinking, what you know.
I don’t think that you’ve even touched the amount of mileage that you’re going to be able to get off of Tough As Love… But you have been writing the songs, and you will be ready to get into the studio at some point in time in the future?
Yeah. Bruce likes to have about a year and a half between records, which I think is good. I think that’s solid. I write a lot. This record is sort of unusual for me because I am used to having so many originals on a record. It’s got more originals than covers, but I would generally have one cover and the rest would be originals. So I’m eager, and I’ve got some stuff that’s really cool, you know? Like content that I’ve not talked about before, you know, just kind of branching out in the way I’m writing and the things I’m writing about.
Stylistically, going in a different direction somewhat?
Yeah, some of it. I love blues, but I listened to a lot of neo-soul. The three things I listened to the most are blues, soul, and rock n’ roll– like good rock n’ roll, you know? So I want to try to find a way to bridge the gap between the three. Something like what the Detroit Cobras did, but with musicians that are studied. And I like them, but they went a little too punk rock for me sometimes. I’d like to find a way to keep the musicianship– but again, I love them. They’re one of my favorite bands, but we’re not the garage rock musician kind– but I’d like that edge to be there. I also want to keep the things I like and try to find our own way through that.
You get to hit the rockabilly type festivals. Of course, you’re doing the blues and the jazz festivals. What’s your take on the Americana genre? Does it feel like a good place to be?
I don’t know what to call myself. People always ask– and I, honestly, will tailor that answer depending on who I talk to and why I’m talking to them. Because sometimes when you say, you know, “I listen to a lot of punk rock”, then you freak out the blues musicians. Conversely, if you’re talkin’ to a rockabilly person– some not all– and you say, “Hey, I play a lot of stuff like Howlin’ Wolf or like blues stuff,” they go, “Aaaa…”, and they get freaked out. So I think that Americana is good in the sense that I don’t think anyone gives a s–t what you really call yourself. I think they’re just glad that the music sounds good. I did a show with JD McPherson like three weeks ago… I had his first record, and it was very, you know, traditional– sort of rockabilly meets early rock n’ roll. And the stuff he’s doing now is not. I think it’s awesome. He actually collaborated with one of my favorite musicians, Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age– because they’re my favorite rock band. I heard it in the songwriting, and he found this really cool way… As soon as he started playing, I was like, “God, that sounds like Queens of the Stone Age– but it also sounds like him!” And then it turns out he was doing some writing with them. This is what’s cool about him kind of falling under an Americana umbrella is that he can do that. He can stretch out a little bit more than if you call yourself a traditional artist of any genre. I am really trying to find a way to make it clear that I’m not one or the other– and I think Americana, might be the way to do that. You look at Jason Isbell, who’s in that family too. Again, he’s not really country, he’s not really singer-songwriter. He’s something else. And I think all those people are something else or falling under that umbrella because I don’t know what else to call us. Any of us, you know?