by Len Lear
I was listening to music on Pandora.com recently, which I do almost every day. I signed on to “The Blues” and was enjoying the videos of Etta James, Buddy Guy, BB King, John Lee Hooker, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Albert Collins, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Son House and so many other greats, mostly now deceased, when up pops a song called “Last Love Song” by a young white woman named ZZ Ward whom I had never heard of. It blew me away. I thought, “Wow! Where did she come from?”
So of course I Googled her name (isn’t Google unbelievable?), and lo and behold, this 29-year-old blues musician is not from the Mississippi Delta, the soul of the blues, or Memphis or Chicago or the Louisiana bayou or the places where blues musicians are supposed to be from.
No, this young, white, attractive female who looks more like a pop star for screaming female teenyboppers than a down-and-dirty gravelly blues musician was born one or two thousand miles away from the blues capitals of America in — are you ready for this? — Abington, Pennsylvania.
“Oh, my God,” I thought. “Almost a local angle. Close enough to Chestnut Hill for me to pursue an interview with ZZ Ward, who, as it turns out, is currently on a 30-city tour and will he headlining a show on Sunday, Sept. 20, 7:30 p.m., at Union Transfer, a concert hall at 1024 Spring Garden St. that can seat up to 1,000 people.
Over the last several weeks I and two other people at the Local have all written messages to ZZ Ward’s Facebook page requesting an interview for the Local. (There is no way to contact her through her website.) And a freelancer tried the same thing on Twitter. No response to any of us. I wanted very much to find out how a girl from Abington became a popular blues singer now touring the country as a headline act and has even been an opening act for Eric Clapton.
Since I was not able to get her answer to that or any other question, however, I will print what I have been to find out about this dynamite young singer on the internet.
Ward, born Zsuzsanna Eva Ward on June 2, 1986, was quoted on one music website as saying, “I was born in Abington, Pennsylvania, and raised in Oregon in a small town called Roseburg. I grew up listening to my dad write and sing the blues and started performing with him in his blues bands when I was a kid.
“I fell in love with the sincerity of Etta (James), the soul of Muddy (Waters) and the power of Big Mama (Thornton). When I got older, I started writing hooks for and performing with local rappers.” Ward recalls the first song she sang was “an Albert King track called ‘As the Years Go Passing By’.”
After moving to Los Angeles, Ward released her debut EP, “Criminal,” on May 8, 2012. Her first album, “Til the Casket Drops,” was released on Oct. 16, 2012. “Put The Gun Down”, her first single, broke into the Top 10 on the AAA radio chart Feb. 3, 2013, staying there for 10 weeks. And then there was that short tour with Eric Clapton.
Ward performed her first single from the album, “Put The Gun Down,” on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on Nov. 1, 2012, and Conan O’Brian on Jan. 10, 2013. In March 2013, The New York Times wrote of Ward, “Her energy evokes Tina Turner’s, her chops Aretha Franklin’s and her soul Etta James.”
She performed “365 Days,” another of her own compositions, on the Sept. 3, 2013, episode of The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and on the Jan. 30, 2014, episode of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Her music has also been placed in the feature films, “Veronica Mars” and “We’re the Millers.”
A music reviewer from philamonjaro, a music studio in Chicago, wrote that Ward’s “far-reaching style and strong vocalizations are often reminiscent of Janis Joplin and Amy Winehouse (two of her key influences)…
“Keep a watch out for this up and coming singer, guitarist songwriter. Some have described her as ‘back porch blues meets hip hop.’ You might have heard her first hit ‘Put the Gun Down’…This top 10 breaking single is a great in-yer-face, four-on-the-floor rockin’ blues stomp. Her performance is the same, a full court press of driving blues/rock music…Rooted in a modern blues sound, all roads point to her place amongst the pantheon of rock and blues greats.”