By Candice Richardson
Special To The Seattle Medium
God made his decision so we spin another day/Whoever you believe, whoever makes you pray/Give thanks we still have time to make amends and get it right/It’s enough to make you wonder why so many hate and fight. – Paula Boggs, “Carnival of Miracles”
It’s a warm night in Seattle at the Nectar Lounge. On stage the Paula Boggs Band is setting up, and Paula Boggs’ signature bright smile flashing clearly from the darkened stage. The week before this show I had the opportunity to watch the band — Boggs on lead vocals and guitar, Jeff Volkman on bass, Sandy Greenbaum on drums, Tor Dietrichson on percussion, and Mark Chinen on guitar — in rehearsal. Boggs sat comfortably as the only African American female in the room leading the all-male multi-cultural band members through the list of songs she had written. I soon realized that be it an executive board room or sound stage, Starbucks Corporate offices or the Nectar Lounge, Boggs was a master of her environment, having learned early on how to not only adapt to any situational atmosphere, but to also make it her own.
“I don’t think I ever would have returned to music if I hadn’t worked at Starbucks or a company like it,” said Boggs. “Coffee is an emotional product. As a result Starbucks attracts hugely creative people. Music is central to the Starbucks story.”
Still, Boggs may not have stepped foot on the stage if it weren’t for a family tragedy. In July 2005, Bogg’s sister-in-law Julie Boggs, who was married to her brother Dallas, was killed in an automobile accident leaving behind their two year old, Jada. Boggs and her partner, Randee Fox, would subsequently become legal guardians of Jada, whose father remains very active in her life while residing in Eugene, OR.
“I was paralyzed for first 24 hours,” said Boggs. “Then music became a tool for grieving that caused me to pick up my guitar again.”
Boggs said she got re-acquainted with playing the guitar (a childhood activity) by taking lessons and then writing music. She followed up with a year long Songwriter’s Certificate course offered at the University of Washington’s Experimental College. The flexible schedule of the course – with classes being held one day a week for three hours – allowed Boggs to commit to the course while maintaining her full time job as the Executive Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary for the increasingly expanding coffee giant, Starbucks.
After completing the Songwriters Certificate course and encouraged to pursue her gift in music, Boggs made a resolution to perform one open mic a month for an entire year.
During that time she came into contact with musicians from the Seattle area and found a few more using social networks like MySpace. Soon The Paula Boggs Band was born.
“Paula was looking for a percussionist and she saw me on Myspace with a picture of me playing the congas. Then she noticed I was here in Seattle,” said Dietrichson who’s been playing for 40 years. “So she looked me up and wanted to rehearse. She had me meet her right across from Starbucks main headquarters building.
“I figure now, in retrospect, that there must have been some kind of fate with this whole adventure because she could have easily seen about 50 other percussionists on Myspace but she came across me,” he added.
For Chinen, it was more than just a common love of music that brought him together with Boggs when they met as concert-goers while vacationing in Hawaii six years ago. After they realized they were both from Seattle, and both lawyers, Boggs asked him to join the band when she found out he had over 30 years on the guitar. Once again as with her time at Starbucks, Boggs’ innate sense for acquiring talent was paying off in a big way.
“I like the wide range of music we do,” said Chinen. “We’re roughly the same generation. We appreciate the same styles, but at the same time she’s open to different music. We’re not stuck in one genre.”
Indeed, when Boggs takes the stage at the Nectar Lounge she introduces her music as Jazzy, Bluesy, Folk-Rock citing inspiration from Stevie Wonder, Miles Davis, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan; as well as a self-described musical “love child” of Neil Young and Tracy Chapman.
“The music I write today was influenced by this infusion of folk music and gospel from my mother’s church,” said Boggs. “I use a lot of minor chords [from my Catholic upbringing] to this day… I take risks with my own music and I’m inspired by other musicians who do the same.”
“Her songs are fairly intimate. She’s a good poet,” said Volkman. “The lyrics are personal and intimate and so are the songs. There’s a Joni Mitchell classic rock thing going on.”
Perhaps it’s the influence of the music Boggs’ listened to as a child and young adult, but what occurs as the Paula Boggs Band transitions through the first three songs at the Nectar from “Wait For You” to “Original Sin” to “Traces of You,” the listener is taken on a rich journey reminiscent of a swanky blue-lit lounge or the sunny poolside of a luxury hotel in the south of France before switching over to 60’s beatnik jazz as they launch into “Edith’s Coming Home,” and then the easy acoustic rock groove in “Motel 6.”
No matter the tone, The Paula Boggs Band plays visionary music. Both the lyrics and the instrumentation carry bold and clear messages – a direct extension of the spirit of the band’s female lead. As the sole songwriter, Paula Boggs places her personal stamp on each record. And throughout it all, there’s that smile.
“She’s so nice and so easy to work with. She’s a beautiful person,” said Greenbaum who’s been drumming with the band from the very beginning. “I like her writing. It’s poetry. It’s a story.”
And, as with everything she does, Boggs takes her musical story full tilt. Having completed the recording for her latest album, Carnival of Miracles, at Bear Creek and London Bridge Studios, Boggs’ has acquired some of the best of the best of musicians in the Northwest area to lend their talents to the project. Features include the Total Experience Gospel Choir on the title track “Carnival of Miracles,” with additional appearances throughout the album from the likes of jazz trumpeter Chris Littlefield, Rock N Roll Hall of Fame and former Santana drummer Michael Shrieve, virtuoso violinist Geoffrey Castle, composer Andrew Joslyn (recently of Macklemore fame) and former Tracy Chapman bassist Andy Stoller.
This month The Paula Boggs Band returns to the stage in Boggs’ former hometown of Austin, TX to play at Austin’s Musicians For Equal Opportunity (MEOW) Conference on October 26th and as headliners at The Belmont on Sunday, October 27th.
Through it all, from the unlikely soldier who was afraid of heights yet received her airborne certificate to the accidental lawyer who would go on to head the legal department of one of the most prolific international brands of our time, one thing is certain, amazing things have already happened for this relatively new singer/songwriter in the world of music. What’s next is anyone’s guess, but rest assured Paula Boggs will make it and on her own terms.
“The story of our people is filled with examples of people attempting to do this and that and getting slapped down,” said Boggs. “I’ve been very fortunate in life.”