I love these women, this sassy trio of honeys calling themselves Saffire. They sometimes gently poke and prod at societal ills and at other times, smash them with a hammer. Whatever they do, they always do it smiling.
But not for much longer, as they’re retiring, performing their last concert Nov. 9â€”after 22 years. While that might sound like a short career for a blues group, these gals started as middle-agers.
I’ve interviewed Ann Rabson (the piano player, on the right) and Gaye Adegbalola (the Grace Jones-looking leader of the group, who flashes her gospel roots with her powerful voice and plays rhythm guitar). Listening to their music, Saffire might come off as brash and uncompromising, but talking to them one-on-one, they’re refreshingly approachable.
On stage, Saffire talks nasty, giggling at the same jokes night after night as if they’d just thought them up in the van en route to the gig. By design, Gaye’s raunchy show staples like “Silver Beaver” and “Bitch With a Bad Attitude,” or Andra’s feature song “Lightning (In These Thunder Thighs)” crack up the women and embarrass the men they dragged to the show.
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What I most like about Saffire is their humble attitude off the stage and the way they make huge efforts to perform authentic blues in the mold of the masters. Blues isn’t just a means to an act for Saffire; it’s their way of paying homage to Bessie Smith, Big Mama Thornton, and Koko Taylor, all of which Gaye references in her singing style at one point or another. They’re students of the blues, and you get the idea the roots are just as important as the fully flowered songs.
When you talk toÂ Annâ€”who plays a pretty mean boogie-woogie piano for a guitar player who first picked up blues keyboards at 35, clearly working very hard at itâ€”she kinda “oh pshaws” away her abilities. Andra Faye’s upright bass might be taller than she is, but her singing and playing anchors the band and gives Saffire its trademark acoustic sound. Andra also tosses in some country flair, and has been known to go off on an occasional Patsy Cline tangent during the show.
In the old blues tradition, they sing political songs (notice I didn’t say politically correct songs, heh) and can put up two solid hours of nonstop entertainment with their schtick. Up and down the east coast, the NPR-loving, ex-folkie coffeehouse crowd loved them, but as blues musicians and as overall performers, their act suits audiences of any color or political bent wherever they goâ€”except maybe the straightest-laced Glenn Beck fans, who probably were pretty put off by the whole Saffire phenomenon.
Saffire’s a one of a kind, an American original. Part blues, part folk, part vaudeville. All good. Thanks for keeping it real, ladies. We salute you.