Sedona, Arizona

Blues Violinist Charms Sedona Audiences

Music legend John Marshall gives good
grades to Heather Hardy, Sam Taylor

Sedona, Arizona

Hips swinging, eyes closed, that attractive young woman in a black-velvet cocktail dress looked like she was wrestling a tiny pack of demons imprisoned on her shoulder.

She teased them into screams of ecstasy then turned them into tears. Around her the band played on, weaving a throbbing web of jamming, rocking, downright-dirty blues.

Heather Hardy has been playing blues violin with the Sam Taylor Band for a year and a half. She started fiddling for quarters in the streets of New York City a decade ago where she mastered the art of improvisation with other musicians. But life in the streets taught her more than music. It taught her the blues.

After flirting with fame in a punk rock band, Hardy found her once sought-after talents a hostage to a drug addiction she picked up on the streets.

When she escaped she found Sam, blues-master of vocals and guitar.

Taylor has had a few hard knocks of his own in a career that repeatedly brought him to the precipice of fame yet somehow kept him from the plunge. He's written songs for Elvis, played with Otis Redding, worked with Etta James and Maxine Brown and vocally coached Rickie Lee Jones, to literally name just a few.

"I went and heard him play and I freaked because he was so amazing," Hardy said. "He's been behind a lot of people we all know, but he's never gotten the recognition he deserves. If I could help make him a B. B. King - that's a goal."

Taylor's latest band is the best yet, according to him and Hardy. Certainly the crowds who return nightly to hear the rocking bluesters at Sedona's West 89th Niteclub are enthused by the ensemble.

Thursday, one of Taylor's buddies showed up at the club to jam: John Mayall, blues mentor to Eric Clapton, and a veritable legend in the music world.

With Hardy at his side, Mayall exultantly pounded the keyboards, letting the music animate his hands, face and body in an electric performance. The rest of the band lit up as though Mayall's energy had visited the Holy Spirit upon them.

"He was really excited," Hardy said. "He was really listening to what was happening with us. It didn't feel like it was John Mayall when we were playing. He was just another artist up there singing his heart out."

During the jam, Mayall would look at Hardy, nod his head in appreciation, then cue the audience to applaud the inspired violinist.

Of course Hardy didn't see him do it. She had her eyes closed.

"Absolutely brilliant," Mayall said of her after the concert.

Mayall's words are encouraging because Hardy wants to play with the greats, especially Bonnie Rait. But until the band hit the big time, Hardy and the rest of the band are stuck in Tucson paying their dues.

"I miss being in a big city where you're getting your ass off kicked all the time by somebody better," said Hardy, who believes the small-town scene sedates a performer's competitive drive.

But she passionately loves the violin. "It's very expressive. The way you hold it you can really dance with instrument, literally and spiritually. I'm like a gypsy, and I couldn't carry my piano with me. I can always have my violin, pull it out and play. It's a magical instrument."

Indeed, Hardy's expressive voice on violin makes the delicate instrument sound like a musical Shakespeare and the unsubtle guitar a rambling boor in comparison.

As a woman who has spent most of her professional life in a man's world, Hardy's manner and language exude a masculine confidence, a quality that obviously serves her well with the "guys."

"Honestly, I thing I've met some of the greatest men in the world. Not a girl, but as a peer. I get to know them as artists-as a brother," she said.

After spending weeks with the boys, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes, Hardy says she makes a conscious effort to seek female companionship. "Last week I spent a day hanging with a chick trying on dresses. I played great that night, I felt so balanced."

In Tucson, Hardy has even started an all-women blues band. Laughingly she admitted that the women are so used to playing with their male counterparts that "we all act like a bunch of dudes."

Hardy's biggest goal now is to succeed with the Sam Taylor Band and let that be a launching point for the rest of the her career.

Thankfully, blues rock is popular again, so the timing is right and more importantly Taylor is healthy again after recovering from triple bypass surgery last year.

"The band is jelled and now everybody is in the right frame of mind and dedicated," Hardy said. "Sam's a fighter. He's got way more than nine lives. It's pretty much a miracle what he's doing. Somehow he always comes up singing. That's another reason why we really want to be part of it."

The Sam Taylor Band will appear this weekend at West 89 St. Niteclub in Sedona, Friday and Saturday night, before returning to Tucson.

Other band members are Ed Delucia on guitar, Mike Nordberg on bass and drummer Paul Elia.