‘Riverboat Queen’ Kathy Lamar has secret class act

By Trista di Genova
The China Post

Kathy Lamar doing what she does best. Photo: Reinhard Wagner
From Las Vegas to Taipei is a long road for the best R&B vocalist around. For the past six weeks, Kathy Lamar’s been rocking the boat — literally — as THE entertainment act on maiden voyages for the new Mark-Twain era, Mississippi-style Great River boat in Tamshui, Taipei County.

And what a fantastic opportunity it’s been for Taiwan, to welcome someone steeped in all the greatest traditions of classic jazz, rhythm and blues.

“Ella’s my favorite,” Lamar purrs reverently, naming a superb melange of others: Diana Washington, Phoebe Snow, Aretha Franklin, of course. And Sting. Gospel.

“It’s all seasoning in my pot of stew. Then I sing the stew,” she says.

You see, in her secret life Kathy Lamar has been running a class act at Sappho’s Thursday night Open Jam. After hours, she’s been defining the ambiance there, “providing the maximum,” as visiting French writer Philippe Adam recently described her performance.

Perched ravishingly on a stool over some white sauce and chips with me, Miss Lamar has the fine and bold spirit of Tina Turner, and a way of inspiring interest in her fine self — Indian, French and Blackfoot ancestry — “and I’m not being funny,” she claims.

But she’s seriously good. After hours at the Mirror Quartet gig last month, she outshined even a few well-known local divas — ever charming, of course, pretending she didn’t know the lyrics.

At first impression, Miss Lamar was the last one clapping, the most generous and appreciative listener in the joint. Another night at Sappho, the sizzling performance of David Chen (of The Muddy Basin Ramblers) and Irish harmonica player Conor Pranti made her reminisce:

“That’s exactly how I started out,” she said, “playing real, raw, uncut music, at the dark end of the street.”

In her teens in Grand Rapids, “I sang at folklore centers with a few musicians; just an acoustic guitar, maybe a mandolin.” They cut a CD, but “I never sang in public though — for money — until Las Vegas,” where she “went out for 2 weeks and stayed” in 1980, reuniting with long-time collaborator Tex Richardson.

“He asked me to sit in with him, and people would tip me to sing something — actually pay me to sing a song — or else I would’ve never had a clue.”

What brings her from Tinseltown to Taipei?

“To feel like this again, it’s nice. I’m inspired here. I’m not inspired at home. I like to listen to the young cats here, they play some serious jazz. They have inspiration, and so they have to keep playing; it’s their thing. In Las Vegas, they don’t act like they care anymore. For them, you have to do it; it’s a gig, it’s just a gig.” Compared to Taipei, she says the Vegas music scene “is not better. There’s something deeper than Las Vegas here in Taiwan. In Las Vegas, sure you have live entertainment like nowhere else; Frank Sinatra and such. But the talent is not so much anymore. It’s more corporate, too commercial. When the mob ran it, it was so much more fun.”

And her plans for a CD?

“It’s all up here,” she says, tapping her forehead. “I could go into a studio and do one, but you can record here at Sappho,” she shrugged, letting it slip that she’d like to record a CD before she leaves Taiwan tomorrow.

So her last after-hours appearance tonight at Sappho’s is a great opportunity for local musicians.

“I’ll probably get invited back in September,” she said. “I hope so. Something’s pulling me back. Guess the good lord wanted me to be here. All these people I’m meeting, they’re in my life for a reason.”

WHAT: After-hours bon voyage jam with visiting Las Vegas R&B singer Kathy Lamar
WHEN: Tonight, Saturday evening, July 14th
WHERE: Sappho de Base Lounge bar
WHERE: Anho Rd. Sect. 1, Lane 102, B-1
COST: No cover, only NT$300 min.

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