Get To Know 'Em...
By: Gina Kay Singerhouse
(This article was printed in the September / October 2016 issue of Strictly Country Magazine.)
Along the dusty road called life, one can encounter many different obstacles and bumps in the road. Some people receive blessings while others endure misfortunes. Each of us weather the storms and welcome the calm there after.
As we walk our individual paths through life, we gather and collect all that we learn. Many storms cause scars that can be seen by others. Some scars we hide, for it is our way to handle and resolve them. Others we show with great pride, as we are reminded that we weathered the storm and emerge stronger than before.
All of our roads are not paved in gold, but dust that collects upon our souls. As we walk our road, we meet many people. Some we cast aside as they are of no value to us. Others we welcome with open arms, as they walk along side us. Some we help and others we let them help us.
Music is much like life. Life is music and music emulates life. Much like life, musicians come and go. Some musicians stand beneath the spotlight absorbing all the glory while others stand in the background waiting their turn.
Today the spotlight has found Bluegrass artist Rebekah Long. Long is no stranger to Bluegrass music as she spent time touring with Little Roy Lewis and Valerie Smith & Liberty Pike. Rebekah is also the older twin of Bluegrass entertainer Lizzy Long.
"I was born first, I'm the oldest twin. I always tell it 'It's God's way of flattering me with a copy of myself!'" laughs Rebekah.
Long was raised on a farm in Lincolnton, Georgia. At an early age she learned the value of hard work. On the flip side she also learned the value of good music.
"My granddaddy was a musician and his half brother, Uncle Jimmy, were musicians in the local county band. So they would play all the old school houses and saw dust floors for the square dances and stuff." shares Long. "There was always a guitar around. I can't think of a day that there was never a guitar around. I say that was a big influence...we grew up in the same county as Little Roy Lewis and The Lewis family and all them. About the time we were maybe seven, eight... somewhere around there, Little Roy started coming to the house. We used to hold these big jam sessions on Thanksgiving night. He started coming out to those, when we were about seven or eight. Lizzy really hit it off with him, 'cause she just really took on to the fiddle and the banjo. I played guitar, so I was there too. I'd say that was a real driving force...how could you not ignore Little Roy Lewis? He is just a big kid himself, so that was just even more fun for us! We were all just a bunch of kids playing music, so that was good!"
At the age of sixteen; Rebekah, Lizzy and their brother were placed in foster care. The hows and whys are not important. What is important, is the relationships that emerged due to this storm in their lives.
Rebekah emerged from this storm to graduate from the Glenville State College as one of the first students to earn a BA in Bluegrass Music. She also earned a BA in Music Education. As Lizzy hit the stage, Rebekah was working behind the scenes as a recording engineer, graphic designer, video editor as well as continuing her own musical career while playing in various bands.
It was while she was working with the legendary Tom T. Hall and his wife Dixie that Rebekah met Bluegrass artist Donna Ulisse. Long was helping Dixie find female Bluegrass artists to help in The Daughters of Bluegrass project when she happened upon Ulisse. Rebekah and Donna hit it off as if they were long lost sisters. Since then, Long has been touring on and off with Donna.
Nonetheless, now the spot light has found Rebekah Long.
Recently, Rebekah released her debut solo album Here I Am.
"I've actually been working towards putting a solo album out for probably four five years at this point. I now tell everybody it was artist development." laughs Long. "I've always been a side person in the Bluegrass world. I love to do it, but I wanted to be more of the girl out front. I wanted my time in the light, I guess. I finally got brave enough to say...I want people to hear me now."
Rebekah's album consists of thirteen well recorded songs that include five cover songs. These songs include Merle Haggard's "The Fightin' Side of Me," Faron Young's "Unmitigated Gall" that was written by Mel Tills, Cheryl Wheeler's "I Know This Town," and Tom T. Hall's penned song "I Washed My Face In The Morning Dew" that was recorded by Bobby Bare, Del Reeves and also Don Gibson. The final cover is of "Somebody's Knockin'" that was made famous by Terri Gibbs in 1981. It's Long's bluegrass version of this famous song that brings a new life to it.
If you set aside all of the covers and get to the heart and soul of this album, you will find one extraordinary album. Rebekah and Donna team up as co-writers in several of the remaining songs. Long also includes several songs written by Ulisse.
Rebekah and Donna emerge as a powerhouse of songwriters as each of them compliment each other. They are the yin and yang that is needed in songwriting. In person Donna is down home honest, but as an entertainer she is quite the opposite as she often sings up beat songs. Where as Rebekah in person is fun with a some what mischievous mentality, but as an entertainer she is quite comfortable singing the heartfelt ballads.
This album grabs you right away as it opens with a delicate and honest song in "Ain't Life Sweet." Rebekah draws from her simple childhood of living on a farm in this natural song about growing up in the country. This is the first of two songs that will hit our list of Top Songs of 2016 while earning a nomination for the Spirit Award's Song of The Year Award.
The album continues with the haunting song of "Hairpin Hattie."
"I was going through a tough stage in life and I was purging some past life experiences, I guess you would say." shares Long. "I told Donna I heard a lady singing in like a very mountainy tone where she had the audience hum the note. I can't think of her name. But she had 'em sing on the note and they hummed the whole time as a drone and then she sang over that in a very mountainy drawl. I was like this is awesome! I think that if we could write something like this... this is where I went off track and made up the story about a ghost...one of my favorite songs of all time is 'These Old Bones' by Dolly Parton. It's about a woman who is clairvoyant. She's considered to be a witch, but she's not a witch, kind of thing. So I wanted to include...I love horror movies. I love scary stuff. I love a good scare, anything that creates a fear. I hate to say creates a fear...but I like creating an emotion."
Rebekah draws on many emotions in her song "He's Never Coming Back Again."
"I had a best friend...my high school best friend...growing up best friend was killed in a motorcycle accident in September of 2009 and it just laid me. So I would say that this song probably...is the other one that means a lot to me." shares Long.
Rebekah contains the rare ability to draw from her most inner emotions to bring a song to life to the point that it touches your soul. She does so with her heartfelt ballad "Nellie Mae." A song that pays tribute to those who walk with us, especially when we need someone.
"I was put in foster care at sixteen, me and Lizzy both were. I don't usually talk about all that, but I will tell you that we were in foster care." tells Rebekah. "So, I've had a lot of people...women in my life and men, obviously. So, I don't think of Nellie Mae as just a woman. I think it covers both men and women who have been a strong influence in my life. Nellie Mae is Tom T. and Dixie, is Doc, is my foster mother Jeanie and other people, you know. I think the reason people can relate to that song so well is because everybody has somebody that they have looked up too in life and in most cases has been there for them. So I think that strikes a chord with a lot of folks."
Throughout the album, Rebekah pays tribute in one way or another to all the people whom have touched her life. She pays tribute to her late friend and mentor Dixie Hall in a fun ditty called "Sweet Miss Dixie Dean."
Long captures the essence of the Virginia mountains and family life in her song "The Maple Tree And Me." Throughout this light hearted and gentle ballad, she utilizes a vast array of metaphors to convey her message.
If you really want to get to know Rebekah Long, just listen to the title cut. Written by Donna Ulisse, this one truly captures what kind of person Ms. Long is with it's gentle melody that is performed with an acoustic guitar. This song is the one song that truly showcases Rebekah's boundless vocal capabilities.
"Donna wrote that the night before my last day in the studio." shares Rebekah. "That night, on the ride home...driving her back to her house, we had like this little life talk, whatever. Just talking about things... for her to woke up at 3 A.M. and write that and call me at 5 A.M. to learn it...I think the song says a lot about who and how I am and I think she nailed it pretty good with that..."
Ironically, the album closes with the second and final song to hit our list of Top Songs of 2016 and has earned a nomination for the Spirit Award's Song of The Year Award. Written by Donna Ulisse and Dennis Duff, "December" contains a haunting fiddle accompaniment that captures the Western Virginia mountain feel as the lyrics convey the emotions one goes through after the lost of a loved one.
Throughout the entire album you can feel the Georgia and West Virginia influences, especially in Rebekah's vocals. It is Long's vocals that stand out amongst the rest of the female artists in Bluegrass. In nearly each of the songs, she is backed by the vocal stylings of Donna Ulisse and Rick Stanley to create masterpieces of music.
"I think as an artist, a person... singing or what not... should be able to manifest these emotions in people in any given time. If you're able to make somebody cry with one song then laugh with the next song, then send them crying again...then you're doing your job right. You know what you're doing! I try to keep that in mind. I like a good story song, obviously." explains Rebekah.
What makes a person a great singer and song writer? It's their ability to draw from their own life's experiences to create, to sing and to convey the message of a song that will prompt a long forgotten memory of the listener's past.
The road that Rebekah Long has been traveling on has led her through mountains and valleys. She has endured so much in her life, but with this endurance comes strength. She is backed by a life long love for Bluegrass, that was installed in her at an early age. It's the respect, honor and integrity of Bluegrass that she takes with her as she performs.
One thing that is for sure, the team of Rebekah Long and Donna Ulisse is one to watch. For together they are an emerging powerhouse that commands your attention.
Each of us is given at least one chance in our lives to stand out amongst the rest. Some are fortunate enough to receive more chances than others.
When the planets align and the stars shine down to beckon us to jump on board, we must take the plunge with total faith that life will turn out good. Now is the time for Rebekah Long to be in the spot light...
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