Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


SAFFIRE - The Uppity Blues Women

Saffire - The Uppity Blues Women are self-described very well. They are a vocal and instrumental trio of delightfully sassy ladies who take no prisoners: Gaye Adegbalola (b 21 March 1944, Fredericksburg VA) on guitar, harmonica, and vocals; Ann Rabson (b New York, grew up in Ohio) on piano, guitar, kazoo, and vocals; and Andra Faye (b 16 February 1959, Indianapolis IN) on fiddle, mandolin, acoustic bass, guitar, and vocals.

Adegbalola played flute in high school and was chosen for the All-State band three years straight. Growing up black in a place where segregation was practiced, she picketed and took part in sit-ins during the Civil Rights Era, then became a biochemical researcher, a bacteriologist and later an eighth-grade science teacher, for which she was honored as a Virginia Teacher of the Year in 1982. After hours, she and her father ran a theatre-arts group, mixing music, politics and theatre; her mother was a civil rights activist. Adegbalola began taking guitar lessons from Rabson in 1977 and devoted more of her time to solo performing; they formed a blues duo in 1984. In 1990 Adegbalola received a W.C. Handy Award for Song Of The Year for 'The Middle Age Boogie Blues'. She is the mother of industrial/gothic musician Juno Lumumba. Her solo albums are Bitter Sweet Blues on Alligator (1999) and Neo-Classic Blues on Hot Toddy Music (2004), with pianist, arranger and songwriter Roddy Barnes (b 1963, Blachard IA), who has had songs recorded by Adegbalola, Rabson, and Saffire.

Rabson was born in New York but grew up in Ohio in a musical family, falling in love with the blues as a child. She began studying guitar at 17, playing professionally a year later; she moved herself and her daughter to Fredericksburg in 1971, and a few years later began giving Adegbalola guitar lessons. Rabson had been a full-time professional musican, but in 1978 took a day job as a computer analyst; in the early 1980s Rabson and Adegbalola began to play gigs together, and the day her daughter graduated from college was the day Rabson quit the day job. She has released solo albums Shoutin' My Stuff on M.C. Records, Music Makin' Mama on Alligator, and In A Family Way on Emit Doog Music (2005), with several members of her family taking part: sister Mimi plays a mean fiddle. Rabson is also heard on CDs by Pinetop Perkins, Ani DiFranco, Noble 'Thin Man' Watts, and several others.

Andra Faye studied art and music since childhood, and pursued a career as a registered nurse. As a mandolinist she was influenced by Howard Armstrong and Rich DelGrosso, and sought out her fellow Hoosier, the legendary Yank Rachell. She met Rabson and Adegbalola at the Augusta Heritage Blues week in Elkins, West Virginia in 1987; when they asked Faye to sit in on the Broad Casting sessions, she was very nervous, but they had jammed with her and knew she was what they wanted. She joined the group full time in 1992 and soon became a remarkably proficient bass player. She also performs as Andra Faye and the Mighty Good Men with her husband Chris and Ken Phillips; their CD is called Walkin' Home To You.

The Uppity Blues Women have had more than a dozen nominations among them for Handy awards (since 2006 called Blues Music awards). Their albums as a trio include Middle Aged Blues (1990) on Saffire Records, the rest all on Alligator: Saffire - Uppity Blues Women (1990), Hot Flash (1991), Broad Casting (1992), Old, New, Borrowed & Blue (1994), Cleaning House (1996), Live & Uppity (1998, recorded at Wolftrap), Ain't Gonna Hush (2001), and Deluxe Edition (2006, a compilation of tracks from 1989-2001). Havin' The Last Word was due to be released early in 2009 on Alligator, the trio's last set, as they prepared to follow their separate careers.