Los Angeles native Beth Hart, a blues-styled rock singer and former street performer, made her debut in 1995 with Immortal, attracting attention for her raw, outspoken nature, gifted musicianship, emotion-filled live shows, and a voice compared to the likes of Janis Joplin. “Hart is the epitome of the natural woman,” wrote Chuck Taylor for the October 2, 1999, issue of Billboard magazine, “bawdy and funny, chatty and free-wheeling with her choice of spiced language. But that’s white bread compared to her onstage presence, where the tall, gaunt singer/songwriter struts and squalls out songs with the vim of Mick Jagger. . . At other times, she takes her place at the piano or center stage, where she sits without a shred of pretense, legs straddled over the sides of a chair, conjuring a voice so delicate and pained, you wonder if she’s going to cry—or if you will.”
Drawing reactions such as this from the moment she took the stage for amateur contests as a teen, Hart nonetheless experienced misgivings about the music business when her career finally took off. Eventually, touring the world over proved detrimental to her band, and Hart dropped out of sight for nearly four years, time spent soul-searching and dealing with problems through writing music. Then, ready to give her professional career a second chance, she resurfaced in 1999 with the acclaimed Screamin’ for My Supper, an album that saw Hart’s songwriting skills mature with vulnerable, honest tunes about facing life’s issues.
Born around 1972, Hart took up the piano at the age of four, studying classical composers such as Beethoven and Bach. As the years passed, however, her tastes grew to include noted rock acts of the day, namely Led Zeppelin and Rush, as well as legendary soul and blues artists, from Aretha Franklin and James Brown to Otis Redding, Billie Holiday, and Etta James. All of these musicians, and particularly James’ soulful voice, would greatly influence Hart’s own personal style. She explained, “It’s funny because my favorite male influences are classical guys like Beethoven or Bach,” as quoted by Ami Sheth in an interview for HITS magazine. “Those guys made some pretty sexy music, but the females are like the soul! Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Billie. . . Where does that come from? Etta James is definitely my favorite. I love her so much. She’s such a bad ass—she’s gotta be in her late 60’s and still tours all the time. She’s such a hard worker.”
Determined to work hard herself, Hart saw her creative vision begin to take shape by the time she reached her teens and enrolled at the Los Angeles High School for the Performing Arts for her tenth grade year as a vocal and cello major. Encouraged by a classmate, the young singer started honing her skills on stage, regularly performing during open mic nights at the Belly Room of the Comedy Store nightclub. And soon thereafter, feeling right at home in front of an audience, the seemingly natural entertainer was singing at local
For The Record…
Born c. 1972 in Los Angeles, CA. Education: Attended Los Angeles High School for the Performing Arts.
Released debut album, Immortal, toured worldwide and with Lollapalooza, 1995; released sophomore effort, Screamin’ for My Supper, performed in stage musical Love, Janis, headlined Hard Rock Café/VHl’s Save the Music tour, 1999.
Addresses: Record company —Atlantic Records, 9229 Sunset Blvd., Ste. 900, Los Angeles, CA 90069, phone: (310) 205–7450. E-mail— [email protected] Website— Beth Hart—Official Website: http://www.bethhart.com.
venues up to five nights per week. In addition, Hart entered various talent contests at local clubs as a solo act throughout the South Central Los Angeles area; more often than not, she brought home the grand prize for her captivating presence.
Seduced by the Stage
“When I’m up there and the crowd is right there with me, it’s like being breast-fed by my mother; like feeling so much love from the sexiest, most honest, kindest man; like the best drugs in the world; like God putting his hand on your back and loving you,” she told Taylor, describing her attraction to performing live. “It is the best.”
But while Hart was gaining valuable experience and making a name for herself on the club circuit, her performance as a student suffered. Staying out until all hours on school nights marred her attendance record, and officials, consequently, eventually asked the promising musician to leave. After this, Hart attended real estate school for a brief time, then decided to give up academics all together in order to devote her energies entirely to music.
By the summer of 1993, the aspiring songwriter had formed a loose-knit backing band and expanded her performance territory to include well-established, greater Los Angeles-area clubs like the Roxy, the Troubadour, and Club Lingerie. While working this circuit, Hart met her future collaborator, Tel Aviv-born bassist Tal Herzberg, a former member of Israel’s 17-piece Air Force Orchestra. Following his military service, Herzberg within two years had become the most-recorded bassist in Israel, contributing to more than 60 albums. And when he relocated to the United States in 1992, the experienced bassist immediately developed a reputation as one of the country’s top session players.
Intrigued by Hart’s raw, soulful style, Herzberg teamed with the young songwriter and also recruited guitarist Jimmy Khoury to join the group. Khoury, a native of Fall River, Massachusetts, had previously played with several bands in the Boston area, touring extensively up and down the East Coast before moving to Los Angeles. Despite the trio’s experience and individual talents, they opted to take a more subdued approach in working together, and rather than continuing to play within the local club scene—where Hart was already a recognized performer—they instead took their music to the streets.
Moving from smoke-filled Los Angeles night spots to the carnival-like atmosphere of Santa Monica’s Third Street Promenade, Hart and her new band rolled out a carpet, set up candles, and played to passersby and lucky crowds of people six night a week. Soon, word of these intimate street performances spread throughout the community, bringing Hart to the attention of 143 Records, who promptly signed the young songstress. “Beth isn’t just any artist. She is an unbelievably gifted singer/songwriter. She is the reason why many of us get in the business,” asserted 143 president Larry Frazin, as quoted by Carrie Bell in the July 3, 1999, issue of Billboard. “She is a throwback to the days of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan. And live she is completely electrifying.”
From the Street to the Studio
Upon securing a contract, Hart, along with her band that by now included drummer Sergio Gonzalez, who joined in early 1994, recorded her debut record for 143/Lava/Atlantic with distinguished producers Hugh Padgham (noted for his work with pop singer Phil Collins), Mike Clink (who previously worked with rockers Guns N’ Roses), and 143 founder David Foster. Released in 1995, Immortal made an instant impression, and the band embarked on a nine-month tour, performing in cities across the United States, on stage at Lollapalooza, as the opening act for the Scorpions in Germany, and as a headlining act at clubs in Denmark and South Africa.
However, Hart soon realized that evolving into the music business was not an easy task, for herself as well as for the other band members. “You assume when you get signed that the rest of your life will be a fantasy. Instead, I was a miserable bitch because we weren’t ready,” the singer admitted to Bell. “We had a buzz to live up to. I kept getting compared to people who I couldn’t live up to. Then, we shipped out on Lollapalooza, which was fun but stressful. . . . In the beginning it was great. But we hit the road and started fighting. It was such a heavy ride that the band needed time apart. I spent a good year and a half in a state of heavy depression. I got such a severe sense of failure.”
Witnessing her band fall apart after returning to Los Angeles, Hart dropped out of sight for a while to deal with the circumstances of her career. Traveling to Birmingham, Alabama, where she had met friends during the 1995 tour, Hart believed that here she could recuperate and focus on songwriting. “I didn’t want to face home, so I didn’t. I was partying a lot,” she recalled to Bell. “But eventually I realized lots of other people in the world have it worse than me and I could either kill myself or try again. In doing that, I was ready to try again, and a lot of songwriting came about.”
Hart’s period of contemplation and uncertainty lasted five months, after which time she returned to Los Angeles to resume her career and complete songs for a follow-up album. “Instead of thinking what I wanted to do, I did it. I wanted to have more balls,” she said to Bell. For what would become Screamin’ For My Supper, Hart first joined forces with producer Oliver Lieber (who also worked with the Corrs) to record a handful of new tunes, including “Delicious Surprise” and the autobiographical “L.A. Song (Out of This Town).” However, the songwriter wanted to produce some of the record as well—to add something of herself rather than rely solely on a producer to interpret her songs—and to this end teamed again with Herzberg, whose past studio experience proved invaluable.
A Producer and a Performer
Together, Hart and Herzberg booked time at a studio called the Sound Chamber in North Hollywood, reenlisted Khoury on guitar, and brought in new drummer Rocco Bidlovski. “We went in with the idea that we were going to listen to each other,” stated Hart, who produced 11 tracks with Herzberg for her sophomore effort, according to her official website. “This wasn’t about us being brilliant producers, because we ain’t. It was about going in and just letting it fly.” Unlike sessions for the first album, during which time Hart felt nervous, the studio experience the second time around was more relaxed. “I spruced up the studio with candles, rugs, and flowers,” she recalled to Bell. “We drank some wine and had a big party in there for three months. . . . I had a . . . good time, and I think it shows.”
Indeed, Screamin’ for My Supper, released in August of 1999, won rave reviews for Hart’s self-inspired songs about hope and enlightenment. “I wasn’t making an album for people to hear,” the songwriter admitted to Taylor. “I was more making an album to heal and talk about family, friends, God, the demons, my addictions, things that make me the happiest and things that make me the saddest. This was the first time in my life where I was willing to say just what I think and not worry so much about how people will judge me. At that point, I had nothing to lose, so why not tell the truth?” Learning to assert herself, not to mention collaborating with important tunesmiths such as Lanny Cordola, the Los Angeles-based songwriting team of Gregg Sutton and Bob Thiele, and New Jersey native Glen Burtnick (best remembered for writing Patti Smyth and Don Henley’s number one hit “Sometimes Love Just Ain’t Enough”), helped Hart evolve into a respected artist with Screamin’ for My Supper and to re-ignite her promising career.
After recording her second album, Hart broadened her creative interests and started preliminary work with filmmaker Richard Donner for a biopic about the late Janis Joplin; the young singer eventually declined to act in the film, deciding that movies were not the appropriate medium for her spontaneous artistic nature. However, when invited to audition for a stage musical entitled Love, Janis, Hart, who had been interested in stage acting since her childhood, jumped at the opportunity and subsequently landed her first theater role. “I auditioned for Janis’ sister, Laura, and the director, Randall Myler,” Hart recalled for her website. “The show is great because every single word of the show is by Janis. Nothing is written by anyone else. It’s all her interviews and all her letters to her family. I do some acting and sing all the songs, and another girl does the letters. It’s been great. We’ve been getting standing ovations every performance.”
Following the success of Love, Janis, Hart toured the United States and selected European cities with labelmate Edwin McCain. Then, beginning in October of 1999, Hart headlined the newly launched Hard Rock Café tour. The tour visited American cities where the restaurant/bar chain has franchises, including Los Angeles, New York City, Miami, Boston, and Chicago, with all proceeds benefiting VH1’s Save the Music program. The initiative works to improve the quality of education in public schools by restoring and supporting music programs. Supporters of Save the Music, including Hart herself, stress the importance of music participation for America’s youth. “If it weren’t for music programs when I was in school, I would definitely be in jail,” commented Hart, as quoted in an Atlantic Records press release.
With Hart’s popularity rising since the release of her second album, her role in Love, Janis, and headlining at Hard Rock Cafes across the country, many wondered if the singer would receive an invitation and/or accept the opportunity to perform with the all-female Lilith Fair concert series. “I don’t know,” she told Sheth. “I love a lot of the artists on it. I think Sheryl [Crow]’s got a really cool voice and she writes great radio songs. Sarah [McLachlan] is such a . . . talented female, it’s sick. All of them are, but it’s just a little light for me, to be honest with you. My favorite music is Godsmack and Tool. I’ll be going to Ozzfest. . . You won’t see me at Lilith.”
Immortal, 143/Lava/Atlantic, 1995.
Screamin’ for My Supper, 143/Lava/Atlantic, 1999.
Billboard, July 3,1999, p. 15; July 19,1999; October 2,1999, p. 108.
Entertainment Weekly, September 10, 1999, p. 152.
HITS, August 1999.
Request, September 1999.
Songwriters Monthly, August 1999.
Spin, September 1999.
Beth Hart—Official Website, http://www.bethhart.com (April 10, 2000).
“Beth Hart,” Ultimate Band List, http://www.ubl.com/ubl_artist.asp?artistid=5533 (April 10, 2000).
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