Blooming from the blues

Janiva Magness brings soulful blues to Canal Public House

By Miranda Brooks

Janiva Magness knows the blues, and has the voice to prove it. Singing since a teenager, and performing now for nearly forty years, Magness’ gained wisdom from life’s lessons continues to inspire a career that clearly chose her. On tour currently to promote her twelfth studio album, Magness and her band will perform at Canal Public House on March 16. The stop in Dayton is no coincidence as her guitarist, Zach Zunis, is a native—whose father once owned the infamous Sam’s Bar and Grill on Fifth Street.

Magness was born in Detroit and exposed to Motown at an early age. She also notes her father’s traditional country records as musical inspiration—Patsy Cline, Buck Owens and Hank Williams, to name a few. When asked about her draw to the blues genre, Magness says, “At the end of the day, it’s the only music that has ever truly made much sense to me.”

Magness’ family made a move to Minneapolis during her pre-adolescence, and it was there where her life changed drastically. She experienced the loss of both parents to suicide, and was shuffled extensively through the foster care system throughout her teenage years. By age seventeen she had given up a child of her own.

It makes sense that dealing with such loss would cause a gravitational pull towards some form of self-expression as a means to cope. Magness found company (and perhaps solace) with musicians and embedded herself in the local blues scene. It was later, in Arizona, where she would find surer footing as an established singer before calling Los Angeles home. Nonetheless, grief always seems to exist, even if in varying degrees.

“If we are fortunate, and given some level of grace around the loss, then our experience of the loss eventually changes,” Magness says. “And as it turns out, time is the biggest ally. But personal loss at that level is meant to change us, we are supposed to change. And it’s part of why it hurts so f–king bad.”

Her authenticity is undeniable, and knowing her back story only provides for more resonance (musically and personally) while highlighting her resilience. Winning over fans throughout the years, Magness took a giant leap in 2014 when she left the largest independent blues label to go out on her own with an all-originals record. She self-produced Original and released the album on her own label, Fathead Records. The themes for the record were steeped in the familiarity of life, love and loss. She proudly co-wrote five of the eleven songs, and received critical acclaim for her work.

“I got really lucky,” she says. “I jumped and I didn’t think I had a net. It turned out that, I learned, there is a safety net, and it’s called my fans. It was really profound.”

Her recent music crosses genres into Americana roots which allows her fan base to grow.

Despite streaming services and rapid-fire availability of music consumption, touring is still the underpinning profit of the current music industry. And her road-dog lifestyle seems to be paying off. Though working to piece together a puzzle that might allow for more time at home, Magness spent most of 2015 continuing to tour in support of Original while she launched a musical based on a memoir that’s been nearly three years in the making.

Taking another step forward, Magness merged with Blue Elan, a brand-new boutique blues label, for the distribution of her forthcoming album Love Wins Again, a collection co-produced with long-time collaborator Dave Darling. This time, Magness co-wrote seven of the eleven songs, and talked about being superstitious in regards to conceptualizing a specific theme for an album.

“I don’t want to go into the studio with a preconceived idea about what is supposed to happen,” she says.

Her goal is to be more “current-state” (albeit regardless of state) when it comes to the subconscious, underlying ideas that reveal themselves naturally while recording. With her very first albums being self-produced, and returning to the editor-in-chief role, it seems to be a full circumvention that has transpired for Magness. Though the editing process allows for full creative control, it certainly carries with it a bevy of responsibilities.

“I think it is really important to tell the truth,” Magness says. “I think it is really important to be critical. So, it’s a lot of freedom, yes, but it’s a lot of pressure, baby!”

Her performance in Dayton will act as an early preview for Love Wins Again—due out on April 8. Her band consists of two guitarists, a bassist and drummer. A highly requested song she recorded (and she wishes to God she’d written) called “You Were Never Mine” is definitely worth a listen. The show is sure to be full of soul, and what better way to experience the blues than straight from the source.

Janiva Magness will perform Wednesday, March 16 at Canal Public House, 308 E. First St. in Dayton. Doors open at 7 p.m. and music starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. This show is 18 and up. For more information or to purchase tickets, please visit janivamagness.com or canalpublichouse.com.

Reach DCP freelance writer Miranda Brooks at MirandaBrooks@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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Reach DCP freelance writer Miranda Brooks at MirandaBrooks@DaytonCityPaper.com

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