Randa Lee: “Mistress Of The Blues” Making Her Mark On SoCal Blues Scene

Written by on July 26, 2012 in Interviews, July 26, 2012 - Comments Off on Randa Lee: “Mistress Of The Blues” Making Her Mark On SoCal Blues Scene

Randa Lee is a successful businessperson, onetime teacher, cancer survivor, and former front lady of “The Randa Lee Express,” a traditional country/new country/country blues touring band based in the Inland Empire that enjoyed a nice career run and charted with their album, “Back Road To Texas.” In the past Lee has toured Canada and Europe; as well as the Balkans as part of a USO/DOD tour, where she played for the United Nations Troops representing 51 countries.

Currently Lee  – who hosts a weekly Blues Jam every Sunday at Characters in Pomona – and her husband, musician Jeff Brent, are mixing and mastering their upcoming album release of original Blues, tentatively titled, “Treat Me Nice.”
All Access Magazine (AAM) spoke with Randa Lee (RL) recently.

Randa Lee

Here’s how it went.

AAM: Seems like you were born with music in your blood, since both your parents were musicians. Care to elaborate?

RL: We were surrounded by love and music growing up. Dad plays Boogie Woogie & Stride piano. Mom played classical claret. Grandpa played Spanish guitar. Some of my first memories are of the family gathered around the piano. We all danced and sang. As we got older I and my 3 younger sisters were offered lessons to help us play instruments of our choice, sing, dance and act. When the family gets together we still sing and  play music.

AAM: When do you recall first playing music?

RL: I can remember banging on Dad’s piano with one of my toys. I broke a couple of the keys….and they were ivory. Not the plastic keys we have now. I got a good lecture & learned to cherish musical instruments. At my first public performance I played washtub bass with my Dad on piano. It was my elementary school talent show. I didn’t win. But I did get my photo in the newspaper.

AAM: What style of music were you first drawn to, and why?

RL: Elvis. Dad sang and played a lot of Elvis. So blues & rock & roll. I learned to sing all of his tunes. Also show tunes. We saw “Sleeping Beauty” and I came home singing “I know you, I with you once upon a dream”. Every time we saw a movie with music I knew the words and melody to the tunes instantly! I still love the power of show tunes!

AAM: According to your bio. You toured for over a decade. Relate how that experience was? Randa Lee

RL: It was GREAT! It was hard! It was fun! I toured with my hubby and my sister, so I was not lonely. As a touring musician, you get invited to a lot places a tourist would not. Into people’s homes for dinner. You get to taste and sample all kinds things and share authentic cultural experiences. It was a wonderful way to see the good ol’ USA and beyond. Plus you don’t have a lot of distractions, so you can really concentrate on your music. I grew musically and vocally at a rate that would not have been possible at home. During this time, we also did a lot local radio and TV shows….including “The Tonight Show.”

AAM: Why did you end up getting into the television business?

RL: I had so much fun with the radio and TV shows that I studied and passed my FCC (Federal Communications Commission) exam while touring. When I came home I tried to get a job in radio. Because I had no experience, no one would hire me. So I went to college at as Telecommunications major. Within a couple of weeks, I Ianded a job at KVCR-Radio 99.1 (National Public Radio) and at KPRO hosting and engineering the all night show five days a week, “Randa Lee with Jazz & More.” The next semester I found myself working at KVCR-TV Channel 24 (Public Broadcasting Station). I started doing voice-overs, then make-up, character generator, floor director, technical director and I was hooked! I hosted, directed and/or produced many shows from local news, magazine, entertainment & sports. I have contributed, directed or produced nine shows nominated for a local Emmy. I’ve been an Emmy judge three times. Never won one.

AAM: Then you fell ill, and it looked like you would never play music again. Please elaborate on this.

RL: It’s been a long road. I am a head trauma survivor. It was pretty serious. I was never expected to be able to work or care for myself ever again. I was made a ward of the court. A lot of people have helped me re-learn music and computer skills. My best girlfriend, Pam Geil, started taking me out to sing karaoke and then to jam sessions. Rhonda, vocalist, bassist and jam session host, encouraged me to learn just “one song” on the bass and then another, etc. Then I met Jackie Ray Stout. Jack spent countless hours teaching me sing and play. Then he helped me form the “Randa Lee Express”. Just as things were going great I learned I had stage 3B breast cancer and was not expected to survive. I did. That was followed by complications that resulted in several more surgeries. I am tough…lol…I’m still here! These experiences have humbled me. I am kinder, gentler and much more patient with myself & others. I thank my family and my friends. I would not be who I am today without them.

AAM: Which brings us to the present. When did you decide to make a go of it, to play music once again?

RL: About 3 months ago. As soon as my health was back I had to! Music is my blood and my genes. There is an empty spot in my heart when I don’t play and sing.

AAM: You play the Blues. Why did you opt for that genre of music?

RL: I’ve been influenced by the blues since I can remember. Listening to Elvis and singing with my dad. The first songs I remember my Mom singing were “Fever” and  “Summertime.” Even when I have sang other genres, I’ve been told “don’t blues it up so much” (laughs). The first band I formed, “Zither,” embraced tunes by Led Zeppelin, Janis Joplin, Eric Clapton, Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, the Rolling Stones and the like ~ BLUES. The “Randa Lee Express” was country. But every single review referred to us a “country blues.” So I guess, deep down in my heart I have always been blues.

AAM: What’s it like climbing the ladder so to speak, as a working musician in today’s SoCal music scene?

RL: SoCal is wonderful! L.A., Orange County, San Diego, the Inland Empire, Palm Springs, the beach & mountain resorts, so many opportunities if you want to work for them. Alastair Greene invited me to sit in with his band at the Hollywood House of Blues a few weeks ago. I am the “house bassist” with Stoney & 420 Bluez Band at the Rainbow on Sunset Strip in Hollywood every other Wednesday. Papa J with the Orange County Blues Society and Lorey Maurer & Maile Anela Alday with the L.A. Blues Society have been very encouraging. Everyone has been very kind!

AAM: If you had a daughter or son that wanted to be a musician, what advice would you give them?

RL: Study music theory! Develop your ear. Really learn your instrument(s). Get a good education, even if it is in music. Also consider the artist management, recording, radio, television and teaching. The music industry can be fickle and is not always dependable, especially in a bad economy. Stay away from the drugs and booze. Enjoy the ride, but always strive to make a name for yourself. Go for it with all our heart or don’t waste your time!

AAM: Talk about the Orange County Blues Society event you’ll be performing at on August 16.

RL: This is going to be so fun. We went to the audition for the experience, to have fun and to give the best performance we could. The guys & I are so honored to be chosen to be part of this great concert! The event takes place on Thursday, August 16 at the Muckenthaler Events Center in Fullerton. Best to go to www.orangecountybluessociety.com for information. Our collection of blues tunes is extremely varied…so we should keep the audience on the edge of their seats as they anticipate our next tune. I’ll also be performing and interviewed live on Actors E Chat (on) September 27 at 10 a.m. (www.actorsentertainment.com).

AAM: How have your weekly jam sessions at Characters in Pomona been going?

RL: Great! Management and staff are behind us all the way. And SoCal musicians are so very supportive: coming, jamming and shining in this wonderful environment. I just love reading all positive comments and seeing the photos on Facebook. I could not ask for more.

AAM: Where do you see yourself and your music career five years from now?

RL: Having fun! Music has always been fun for me. I hope to be working of my third or fourth CD. Playing concerts, festivals and touring the USA, Canada, Europe & Asia. I want to see the world! When I’m at home in SoCal or Las Vegas I still want to play some of the local clubs and casinos. I’m trying to convince my sister, Rhonda Dawn, to join the musical team again. There is nothing like music & family!