Valerie June: 5 Albums That Changed My Life

Valerie June: 5 Albums That Changed My Life

Memphis musician Valerie June came out with her latest record, The Order of Time, in March, a nostalgia-laced album that could have been released either today or fifty years ago today.

June grew up listening to gospel music, R&B and soul music, influences that make themselves known upon first listen to her eclectic sound. TIDAL spoke with June about some records that changed her life, a number of which were penned by equally formidable women.

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Van Morrison, Astral Weeks

I love it because, to me, it’s super spiritual. And I don’t even know if he intended for it to be, but… it is! It makes you want to dance; it’s very soulful. I keep going back to it year after year. I figure if a record keeps you going back year after year, then it’s probably one of the best.

I guess I was maybe fifteen when I first heard it. The way that I usually hear records is not that I hear the whole record; I hear the song, and then it catches me, and then I listen to the record. So ‘Sweet Thing’ was the first song I heard off the record, and I loved it so much that I decided I would purchase the record, and ‘Madame George’ and all the other songs on it just kind of grabbed me. So I can listen to it from start to finish without skipping.

A.A. Bondy, When the Devil’s Loose

‘A Slow Parade’ is my favorite song on the record. I’ve been listening to it since I moved to New York [seven years ago] because a friend gave it to me. I just escaped the world through listening to the songs. ‘A Slow Parade’ is a great song, and ‘Mightiest of Guns,’ really great song, excellent songwriting. Pretty much if you’re going to be on that label [Fat Possum], you have to be awesome. That’s all they do — awesome stuff.

Jessie Mae Hemphill, Feelin’ Good

One of my favorite female electric guitar players is Jessie Mae Hemphill from Sanatoria, Mississippi. She’s passed now; most of the people I love the most have passed. It’s sad, but it ends up happening that way.

[I first heard her when] I was living in Memphis and I was working at this cafe. And I opened up the paper and I saw this picture of this beautiful black woman with this electric guitar. And then I was like, ‘Oh God, she’s so gorgeous!’ So then after that I saw this next picture that had her with a pistol. And I was like, ‘This woman is so intense!’ And I was like ‘Who’s this black cowgirl?’

But what they were doing was raising money for her to be buried, because she played music all over the world, like a lot of artists from where I’m from, and was known for her art and her craft and stuff, but she didn’t make enough money to be able to afford a funeral. So the community of musicians raised enough so that she could be buried, and it was in the local paper.

So, that was around 2006, and after hearing her music I was just in shock that she wasn’t a multi-millionaire. I was like, ‘How in the world!’ But Feelin’ Good is a really great record of hers, and she’s just down-home. She played everything; she played drums, guitar, fiddle. She was from a musical family, and they all played everything.

Dolly Parton, Jolene

It’s the best record ever. The image of her on the cover alone is awesome. She looks like a businesswoman to me, but she’s a queen and she’s all about business so I understand that. So that’s kind of a favorite.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

She started rock & roll. She started it! But also, she was raised in the church, and so she grew up playing in the church. And as she got older, she toured all over Europe, the States, everywhere. She was one of the biggest gospel musicians known.

But the way she plays the guitar? It is gospel music… on rock & roll. She was self-taught, and she sang in the church through her whole life. She was born in Arkansas, but a lot of black people during the time around her age moved up to the North because they felt it was easier to get jobs, so her parents moved up to Chicago, and she was raised in the Chicago gospel scene, and from there she ended up becoming one of the biggest stars in her time. She was very wealthy at one point. Which was the opposite of Jessie May, who was somebody who didn’t really get any kind of monetary gain for her success of her music, but the music was her…

Sister Rosetta was, she was up there, you know? Penthouses and fancy coats and all kinds of cool stuff. But the intriguing thing about both of those women is that they rocked it, you know? They played that electric guitar and just ripped it.

(Photo credit: Dali Khammar)

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