I’ve seen electric and acoustic Ann Klein shows, and I can’t understand why she's ever classified as a blues artist. She isn’t sure either.
“Although I definitely have some blues roots,” Klein says, “I describe it like this: If Lucinda Williams met up with Paul McCartney and Stevie Ray Vaughan and played pool together, you'd have an Ann Klein song.
“Sounds kind of lofty, and I'll never be as amazing as those artists, but, as songwriters, the Beatles and Lucinda were huge influences. As a guitarist, Stevie Ray changed everything for me. The thing about writing music is that I'm pretty comfortable with a lot of styles, which is why I loved writing the cues for use in TV and videos. I love everything, and that's probably a bad thing in terms of marketing, but that's who I am, and I can't fight it.”
A few decades ago, I was invited to a New York City club to see the Darlings, a Boston band inspired by Gram Parsons who were looking for exposure in the Big Apple. After watching the Darlings' set, I stayed for the next act. Ann Klein, whose name then was unfamiliar to me, took the stage with her band, and, within minutes, I was floored. Klein ripped through electric guitar solos that made me think of Jimi Hendrix, and I went home shaking my head over this woman’s axe-slinging prowess.
“Can I even remember those days?” Klein says today. “Jimi was not a direct influence. The Beatles were everything! I was more interested in writing cool songs. But when I heard Stevie Ray play, I was hooked and wanted to be able to incorporate that kind of playing into my whole thing. And I realized that kind of playing tapped into a fire and energy I didn't know I had in me. It helped me unleash my first CD, Driving You Insane, which got a lot of incredible press support and radio play. It was very aggressive. I don't know if I was shooting for anything — other than what just came out.”
Klein’s most recent CD, Tumbleweed Symphony, was released in July 2014 and, among other musicians, featured David Mansfield on Dobro and Eric “Roscoe” Ambel on guitar.
“I think I'm most proud of my vocal development on this CD,” says Klein, who has released five albums, beginning with 1996’s Driving You Insane. “I could sing okay, but I work with so many incredible singers — world-class singers like Laura Benanti and Tabitha Fair — that I was never really confident about it. Tabitha gave me a few pointers, and it helped immensely. And I got a lot of good feedback on the vocals, which have always been difficult for me. I also took my time on this one and really love the production, thanks to my producer and husband Tim Hatfield. I also feel proud of the writing. Lyrically, I feel this CD is more interesting, fun, and thoughtful. And, for the first time, I played mandolin on one of the tracks — and even a mandolin solo!”
Why eight years between Tumbleweed Symphony and her two 2006 albums, Hope Street Sessions and Live At The Lakeside Lounge?
“2006? Wow!” Klein exclaims. “That was 10 years ago. ... Well, I got married in 2007! I was starting to work more as a guitarist in town and had the opportunity to write some music for background use in TV shows. I was doing some house concerts solo — various things here and there. I was writing too, always writing. Then I hooked up with a band called the Harlem Parlour Music Club — an incredible project consisting of some serious heavy-hitter players, formed by producer/drummer extraordinaire Sammy Merendino. I just wanted to work with and learn from folks like that, folks who had amazing careers backing up the likes of Bob Dylan, Cyndi Lauper, and Shania Twain.
“We recorded two CDs," she adds, "and one was the best Christmas CD you'll ever hear. I was also involved in a project with Allison Cornell, called Al & Ann. Allison and I did duo gigs, did some recording, and started creating a little buzz. But it was hard to keep it going, because she lived in D.C. part of the time and spent a lot of time in California. I started working in the theater world and doing a little producing of other artists. So it didn't really occur to me to make another disc.
“Then, in 2013, I got a small grant from a very generous supporter of the arts, the Chengzong Foundation. And that's how Tumbleweed Symphony was born. It might have been longer if I hadn’t received that gift. After I finished, I toured in Europe, and, while I was there, my European promoter made it possible to record a bunch of blues covers, which has not been released. We're just waiting for the right opportunities to tour and release that one.”
What are the proudest and most significant moments of Klein’s career?
“Being on the cover of Billboard magazine!” she exclaims. “It was a small picture, but, hey, I made the cover.” The historic date was October 25, 1997.
Other proudest moments: touring in Europe for the first time; writing a song with Kate Pierson and hearing her sing it at a gig, and playing at a grand, historic venue this year — New York’s Lincoln Center — where she backed Todd Almond.
Another memorable time was playing lead guitar for Joan Osborne for more than six months in the early 1990s.
“I was subbing for her guitarist, Jack Petruzzelli [co-producer of Osborne’s 2014 album Love and Hate and a founding member of the Fab Faux],” Klein recalls. “It was good time in my career. ... She is such an incredible singer, and I learned a lot being on the road with her. But at that time, I was more interested in my own writing, and I probably should have been true to what I wanted for myself. It's hard to turn down cool opportunities, though. And that was a really cool opportunity. In fact, I'm not sure I would have been able to tour in Europe without my short stint with her.”
Like so many excellent musicians, Klein’s songwriting and musicianship have not reached a widespread audience.
“I definitely can't answer why that happened,” she says. “There are so many artists I know who are so much better than me who never made it either. I'm sure there are a million reasons. It's the nature of our business. For a long time, I thought my music should have reached a larger audience, but you can't live in a world of shoulds. There should be no shoulds. They say that being grateful is the best cure, and it is. I have earned a living as a musician. Do I want to do more? Yes. Should I have done better? Probably. But I have earned a living as a musician. I get to hang out with musicians and other artists. and be creative for a lot of different situations.
“On the days I don't work, I practice," she adds. "It's not so terrible. I have a lot of friends; my husband, who is a really gifted engineer/producer and songwriter; and Gibson, my dog. I have places to visit outside the city, and I’ve been able to travel because of music. I went to Saudi Arabia a few years ago. That's how I deal with it. I could have a lot worse problems.”
Klein says there are days when she thinks she should have been a lawyer or a computer programmer — or that she’s “completely delusional."
“I’ve had my ups and downs and anticipate that I will have more,” she adds. “ But, honestly, if I'm working, whether on my music or someone else's music, I'm pretty happy. It's when I'm not working that I start to go a little bananas. But, right now, I'm working. My fingers are crossed that the trend will continue. I'm feeling optimistic. And having Gibson, my dog, is just the best thing ever.”
Klein has taken a break from being a recording musician and is playing in Broadway show bands. “Broadway gigs have a lot of pluses,” she says. “Shows start on time, there's never any gear to deal with, the pay is consistent, and the musicians and singers are tremendous. I really had to up my skills to work in the theater. I've met so many amazing people playing in that world. Everyone I've worked with in the pit is super nice and super dedicated. Also, there's so many different kinds of music that you have to be able to play. To be honest, I never thought I would do Broadway shows.
“I was really lucky to meet Michael Aarons, who, when I met him, was the guitarist for Grease. He asked me to sub for him on Grease and a few other shows. He got me into it, and I'll be forever grateful. And that's the paying gig in New York City now. I've worked on Grease, 9 to 5, Everyday Rapture, Baby It's You, and Kinky Boots, plus a few off-Broadway things. I've also done Shakespeare in the Park for the last three years, playing guitar, mandolin, and banjo. That is an incredibly magical event. And I just finished an-off Broadway run of a play called Rock and Roll Refugee based on the life of Genya Ravan. If you don't know who she is, look her up. Incredible story, incredible career!”
Another artist who stands out in Klein’s mind is David Gray. She saw him perform last June at Radio City Music Hall in New York and says it was the best concert she ever attended.
“Rachael Yamagata, whom I have played with, opened, and she was fantastic. David Gray rocked. I was not expecting that. His recordings, which I like a lot, are pretty mellow, but his performance was much more aggressive. We had good seats, the sound was good, his voice was ridiculous, his band insane. I saw the Stones a few years ago, and that was definitely fantastic, but the David Gray show was much more intimate. I also saw Willie Nile at the Cutting Room [in New York] recently and loved it. Good vibes, high energy, great songs, great band.”
Last month, she also was floored by David Gilmour’s show at Madison Square Garden and met him backstage.
“David is probably the most passionate guitarist I have ever heard — unbelievable. He is the most passionate, because he really takes his time. Every note counts. He makes Slowhand Clapton seem like a speedster. You just can't help but feel him, and his singing also sounded great. It was definitely one of my favorite concerts ever, and the sound was amazing.”
Klein says the concert that most influenced her as a musician was a Fleetwood Mac show many years ago.
“I think it was in Hartford, Connecticut,” says Klein, who grew up in Weston, in southwestern Connecticut. “I was pretty young, so I couldn't tell you the exact date. Everything about that band really resonated with me: the variety of songwriters, the killer songs, Lindsey [Buckingham] and his guitar playing, and the fact that there were two women in the band was also very inspiring, especially Christine McVie. She was a player. Just all so stellar. That's what I wanted to be part of, and still do! Without the drugs and drama. Maybe not possible.”
What's next for Ann Klein as a musician — in the studio and live?
“I've been getting into production more with my husband, Tim, who just moved his studio, Cowboy Technical Services, from Williamsburg to Greenpoint [both in Brooklyn]. I produced a track for Tony award-winner Laura Benanti that we finished last month. [You can hear it here.] She is a well-known singer/actor with stellar credits on Broadway and on television. And a nice person to boot. That was a lot of fun, and I got to play bass on it, too.”
Klein and her husband also produced a track for a young Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter, Sarah Wise, and Klein has played with her in an acoustic trio.
“I'd love to work with more young singer-songwriters,” Klein says. “I can help them finish and produce their songs, and, in that way, my love of writing can flourish more. I'd love to keep writing cues for use in TV shows and videos as well. I think that I will keep working in the theater and that I will get more writing and production work here in New York City. But I wouldn't rule out making another CD and touring more. You never know what's around the corner in this business, and, if you have something to offer, doors do open.”