An Interview with Sista Monica Parker
by: Casey Pukl
If I had to sum up Sista Monica in a few words, I’d have to go with, “Seasoned Pro.” There is absolutely nothing that the “Lioness of the Blues” can’t accomplish as she has proven time and time again. She’s just released her 11th album in 20 years titled Living in the Danger Zone, and has been nominated for a prestigious Blues Award. It would seem as though she’d been doing this forever. However, read on to learn about Sista Monica’s first career, and who actually inspired her to pursue her musical aspirations. I think you’ll be just as surprised an amused as I was!
CP: Let’s get right into it— tell me about the new album “Living in the Danger Zone”!
SMP: Well, the album really covers the full range of emotions in a love affair that goes from pure bliss to totally in love to having problems and then finally realizing that you can’t make it anymore. And then you break up, but you don’t really break up, you just kind of prolong the agony of the break up (laughs).
CP: (Laughs) Oh, haven’t we all been there!
SMP: Oh yes. That’s living in the danger zone for sure!
CP: Absolutely, but I’m just glad to hear you can do that with a little funk too.
SMP: That’s right! Always got to have a little.
CP: Is this album something that for you has been a lifetime in the making, or was this more spurred by recent events?
SMP: It really has been recent experiences that have culminated in all the songs that just came out of me. This is the 11th CD of mine that I’ve written songs for and produced, and this one just feels really true to the bone. It’s true to the topic; it’s current. If you have an opportunity to listen, you’ll hear me talking about blues, but not in an old-school way, but more of a contemporary way. You know, I’m talking about my lover texting somebody else while I’m sitting there at the movie theater, you know. It’s that kind of modern thing.
CP: You wrote the majority of the songs on the album, right?
SMP: Yes, there are 14 songs, and I’ve written 12 of them. They’re just born out of my own experiences.
CP: Tell me a little bit about your writing process. Do you have any particular style or method you like to use, or do you let them just come and hit you?
SMP: It’s very interesting— I’ve really found that it has varied as I’ve matured as a writer, the process has changed. What I find myself doing is really becoming more of a vessel and listening to what my inner spirit and inner soul is saying about issues that are going on in my life. Most of the time I’m in my car, so I may be writing in my car. But the full song will come. All of the instrumentation will come, and the sound of the song will come so that I can eloquently tell my band what I want to hear when we get in the studio.
There was one song on the CD, “Let Me Moan”, that I wrote in my house, in my kitchen. I was talking to my ex, well, I was talking to myself, but I was talking to my ex who wasn’t there and just saying, ‘If you’re not gonna do right by me, then leave me alone and let me moan! I can be better alone on my own!’ You know, I was doing that kind of thing. And so when they come, I just kind of stop for a minute and listen to where they’re coming from, where I could be coming from, and see if those are real, true emotions. That’s where I write from.
CP: With all of the material you write, it must be tough to weed through and pick the songs that are going to make it onto the record. How do you know when it’s going to be “the song”?
SMP: I always start the album thinking as a producer with a concept. The concept for this CD was about being in love and breaking up and losing that— feeling the heartbreak of the loss. So, I knew early on that was going to be the concept. This was a nine year relationship where I anticipated being with that person for the rest of my life. We had some really good intimacy, but you can’t just live on intimacy alone, you know what I’m saying? (Laughs).
CP: (Laughs) But if only we could, huh?
SMP: Oh, there’s so much more. But I really know when the CD is over when I’ve said everything I wanted to say about a particular topic.
SMP: (Laughs) I know, I know, I KNOW! I was in the Marine Corps back in San Diego from 1977 up until 1980. And I always sang; I sang since I was a young girl at seven years old through Gary, Indiana and Chicago, IL. But I didn’t have any sense that I would be singing professionally! I used to go to concerts. I went to lots of concerts, but I never imagined I could be sharing the stages with people like B.B. King, Gladys Knight, The Temptations, Mavis Staples, you know? So when those opportunities started coming to me, it was really just about me trying to be prepared. I was just trying to be bold enough to stand on stage in front of thousands of people and sing my heart out. Now I’ve had enough of those experiences to know that this is what I’m supposed to be doing. But I actually did start in the USMC San Diego. I was a sergeant in the Marine Corps and a recruiter in the Marine Corps. Most of my tour of duty was going back and forth between Chicago and Gary, Indiana and visiting colleges to recruit women and men for the Marine Corps.
CP: So following that, you went on to own your own engineering and IT company, right?
SMP: Because I was a recruiter, I went on from the Marine Corps to start my own engineering and technical IT recruiting firm. I started my own firm finding computer science and engineering professionals for major corporations back in the Midwest. Companies like Rockwell, McDonalds, Sears, and all of those companies that just needed IT professionals, that was what I did.
And then after that, it was just a fluke! I relocated to the Bay Area after I considered going back to San Diego, but the Bay Area was just a really intriguing place to me at the time in terms of Silicon Valley, and so I stayed in the Bay Area. One day, my neighbor at that time was actually M.C. Hammer.
CP: (Loses it completely) What?? You’re kidding me!
SMP: Seriously, M.C. Hammer. He was literally in the same apartment complex, across the street from where I lived. He wasn’t very popular at that time, and neither was I— I wasn’t even singing then outside of church! But three years later, I was in my bed at 11 o’clock at night, and I saw the Arsenio Hall Show, and M.C. Hammer was on there singing a song called, “Can’t Touch This”. And I’m like ‘Wait a minute! If he can do this, then I can certainly do this!” (Laughs)
CP: Absolutely! So was that when it just clicked for you?
SMP: I think that was definitely when it clicked. I went out and bought a microphone, carpeted my garage, put an ad in the paper, and went to different places and recruited musicians, the best ones I thought I could find, to put a band together.
And then, after doing the band thing for a few years, my musical director now, who has been with me since then and ever since, said, ‘You know, you can’t just play clubs forever. You need to make a CD to be successful!’ And I’m like, ‘A CD?’ But it’s the next level, and as soon as I did the CD I was getting calls to go to Holland and Spain and Italy, Mexico, Canada— I had no clue that all of that was going to happen!
CP: Sometimes that’s probably the best way for those things to happen, right?
SMP: (Laughs) Yeah! It is! My first CD was called “Get Out My Way”, and they just started coming. I just kept writing, and then every other year or so, I’d do another CD. So now, here I am going into my 20th year, and here’s my 11th CD. What can I say?
CP: It’s a great place to be!
SMP: Sure is.
CP: Now let’s go back a little bit— you’ve been through a lot, especially in the last ten years. I know you were diagnosed with a very rare form of cancer, right?
SMP: Yes, I was actually given three months to live back in 2003 after 21 days of touring in Holland. The doctor said you know, you do this or you won’t make it. I was like, “Seriously?”
I was diagnosed with Synovial Sarcoma, which is a cancer that attaches itself to your tendons, ligaments, and those types of things. It was under my right arm. So I went through two years of chemo and radiation, and of course lost all of my hair, but a lot of that time I still stayed on the gigs! Most people, if I could, they’d let me sing.
I went through a really tough patch there for about 2 years, but then since 2005, I’ve been well. I’ve passed all of my scans, my health is good, I feel great, and I’m still singing. All I can say is Glory Hallelujah!
CP: Absolutely! Congratulations! I know we’re all very grateful for your health! I know it certainly makes for some heavy writing material as well.
SMP: Yeah, it certainly made me even more aware of the importance of life and staying true to what’s real for you, and really finding my purpose as a singer. I’m happy about that.
CP: For sure, and then of course, you came out swinging with “Can’t Keep A Good Woman Down”…
SMP: (Laughs) Oh yeah! That got a lot of traction.
CP: I think that it was just so good to see something that awesome and powerful come out of your experience.
SMP: Thank you, that’s very true.
CP: And then now, jumping ahead, you’re nominated for a Blues Award this year for Best Soul Blues Female Artist of the Year!
SMP: That’s right! I’m so honored to get that recognition. It’s an incredibly high recognition, the Blues Foundation is the largest blues organization in the world, and there are five women out of the entire world nominated for that award this year, and I’m proud to be one of them!
SMP: Thank you! All I can say is, ‘Thank you, Jesus!’ (Laughs).
CP: (Laughs) Now can you tell us when the Blues Awards are this year?
SMP: The awards are on May 10th, 2012, and people can go online at www.blues.org and see my name there, and vote for me!
CP: I’ll make sure to pass that along! Now what are you most looking forward to about coming to Anthology?
SMP: A couple of friends of mine have played there and said it’s a really nice room, and I actually know your buyer over there, so I just reached out to him. Everyone said you guys have a really high end sound system, great ambiance, and a really professional team of people working there. I’m expecting a lot of old friends as well as some new ones to come on out, and I’m really looking forward to it. Oh, and I heard the food was incredible.
CP: Whoever told you that was dead on. Can’t beat the food.
Special thanks to Sista Monica Parker for her time, and for cracking me up throughout the entire interview. Be sure to check out her official website at: www.sistamonica.com! As always, I’ve got a soulful Spotify playlist for you of Sista Monica jams, and event details are listed below!