For this week’s show I sat down with singer, musician and KUTX DJ, Elizabeth McQueen. Elizabeth talked to me about what it was like touring with an iconic Texas Swing band, about her experience singing a duet with Willie Nelson for a Grammy Nominated album, how motherhood might have changed her career focus, but not her creative prowess, and how projecting Prince videos on her dress during a live performance fulfilled a longtime dream.
Born in Little Rock and raised in Columbia, Maryland, Elizabeth McQueen settled in Austin in 2000 and quickly became a favorite among music fans by fronting her own band, The Firebrands, and making name for herself as one of the music city’s most infectious voices. Known for her beautiful and timeless vocal style and buoyant and joyous live shows, she was named by The Austin Chronicle as a young musician to watch after only one year in the music city. Of her 2003 SXSW performance The Austin Chronicle’s Jerry Renshaw said: “ What Elizabeth McQueen is doing these days is a far cry from Patsy Cline, Connie Smith, and Kitty Wells and certainly miles away from the crop of Nashville angels. In a marketplace that’s saturated with traditional female country singers, that difference, along with her charm, talent, and attitude, may be just what she needs to really stand out.”
And stand out she did.
Two CDs followed and the national and international praise began to flow in. No Depression Magazine called her “Unassuming, self-assured, and a splendid interpreter.” Those albums, the country-tinged The Fresh Up Club, and the pub rock trib Happy Doing What We’re Doing, made many an Austin Top 10 list, yet it wasn’t until she joined forces with Ray Benson and Asleep At The Wheel that her fortune began to take off.
In 2004 McQueen was cast in Benson’s stage play “A Ride With Bob” and soon after was offered the job as female vocalist and rhythm guitar player for Ray’s band. Since that time, she traveled over a million miles through 20 countries and played over a thousand gigs with the band. From the dance halls of Texas to Radio City Music Hall to the Kennedy Center, from the The ACL Festival to Jazz Fest to Prairie Home Companion, McQueen has impressed audiences around the world with her crystal clear voice from another time. A voice that in many ways seemed custom made for Asleep at the Wheel. “Not everyone has the right voice for this kind of music,” says Benson, “she fit right in and added a component to the music that can’t be measured.”
A particularly special moment during this time for Elizabeth was her duet with Willie Nelson on 2009’s Grammy-nominated Willie And The Wheel. That song, “Sitting on Top of the World” not only garnered praise from critics, (The Washington Post called it a “standout moment”) but performing the song one of the most intense live experiences of McQueen’s career. “Singing with Willie Nelson was a lesson in openness and artistry,” she says, “He looked directly into my eyes every night, and I realized that the key to a great performance is that connection, that willingness to open yourself up to an audience, another band member, everyone.”
McQueen is now looking to the future. After eight years of life on the road (five of which we’re spent traveling with her two children) she has left Asleep At The Wheel and in early 2014 released The Laziest Remix EP: a collaborative re-envisioning of her The Laziest Girl In Town CD done as a partnership with the St Louis-based Brothers Lazaroff. This work saw her delving more into the world of electronic/dance/art rock and has since led to the debut of her new trio, EMQ. It is with this new group where she plans to explore her retro-futuristic vision and bring a whole new direction to her music. She can also be found DJing on public radio’s KUTX, and as the host of the This Song podcast.
Produced by: Vickie Howell
Edited & Mixed by: Dave Campbell
Music Provided by: Explosions in the Sky
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