SWEET ANGEL, MEMPHIS BLUES SOCIETY FEATURE STORY
(Originally published in the May 2015 MBS Newsletter)
As told to Mark E. Caldwell, MBS Newsletter Editor
Blues, soul singer and saxophonist Sweet Angel is a native of Memphis, TN. Although she's been a musician most of her life, she didn't start her professional music career until 2007. This is her story about becoming a professional musician.
She has two brothers and three sisters (her eldest sister passed in 1993). While growing up in Memphis, her father liked Gospel music and sang in the church choir and her mother liked
Blues music. While growing up in Memphis, she remembers the family listened to Blues music on WDIA radio on Saturday mornings. They listened to Gospel on WDIA as well. Her mom and dad had many Gospel and Blues 78 rpm records by musicians such as B.B. King, Bobby 'Blue' Bland, Ruth Brown and many others. The many Blues and Gospel records she heard at home and on WDIA provided the diverse musical background that helped her to later build her music career.
Sweet Angel remembers the first records she bought were by Anita Baker. The musician she adores more than any other though is Elvis Presley. She patterns a lot of her outfits and moves on stage after Elvis. She also admires Tina Turner and Bobby Rush. She looks up to the showmanship and stage presence these musicians projected to their audiences. Sweet Angel is the only member in her family that played an instrument. She went to Lincoln middle school and graduated from Oakhaven high school. In elementary school Sweet Angel took Orff Music; it was a required class for all students. The first instrument she played was xylophone. In middle school she joined the band and started to play the clarinet. In eight grade she played tenor saxophone when she joined the school jazz band and marching band. She switched to the saxophone from the clarinet because it was beautiful, shiny and loved the sound of it. She later started to play alto saxophone.
After high school she continued to practice and play her saxophone. She sometimes played at friends' weddings and other events. She never performed in any bands. During summer 1979, she was a hostess in the entertainment area at Libertyland. Andy Childs was as Elvis there. Towards the end of the season the show needed a replacement saxophone player; Sweet Angel stepped in and played saxophone for a few shows. This was a great opportunity for her and she cherished the opportunity to play her saxophone in the show. Sweet Angel said "I get goose bumps when I think back about performing at those shows". On occasion Sweet Angel's mom told her she couldn't see a woman playing saxophone professionally in a smoky bar. She didn't sing in church like her father. For a long time Sweet Angel thought about what her mom said and she didn't think about a music career.
In 2005 she met her husband Mike, they owned Mike's Place night club in downtown Memphis. She worked as the deejay at the club. On Thursdays she hosted Karaoke night. On nights when no one sang, Sweet Angel began to walk around the club and sing several songs she liked. After a while she noticed the patrons liked her singing. Mike told her "You need to take your act to the stage. There aren't a lot of female saxophone players out there, be different." Her music career was about to begin. Her first performance with a band was on stage at Mike's Place. “I didn't believe I could take this anywhere. I think, is this really me with a music career?" remarked Sweet Angel. Mike wrote a song titled ‘I must be crazy’. This became the first song Sweet Angel recorded. She can read music but now plays by ear. Sweet Angel said "A lot of people don't realize I'm a great country singer, but I can do country."
In 2007, she got her first band together and recorded her first record 'Another Man's Meat on the Plate' at Ecko Records. Sweet Angel recalled the story behind the title track song. "Mike is the cook in the family. One evening he cooked steaks or pork chops and I ended up with the larger piece of meat on my plate.” I said "You got another man's piece of meat on your plate." Mike said "That's a song!" Every moment can create a memory, and the memory can create a song for someone. The song 'Right Street, Wrong Way' was written from another experience Sweet Angel had while she was outside one day when woman pulled up in her car and asked for directions. The song title came from the conversation with the driver. Mike and Sweet Angel wrote all of the songs on the first record from experiences they had. While Sweet Angel was doing her deejay work at Mike's Place she started playing tracks from her record. This got the crowd used to her songs. Mike was good at getting Sweet Angel records on juke boxes at the local clubs and Sweet Angel was good at promoting her music online. This underground movement helped launch her music career. Sweet Angel has released five CDs
to-date. In 2012, she recorded and released her current record 'Mr. Wrong' and the first record on her independent record label (SA Records). All of her records were recorded at Ecko Records. She thoroughly rehearses her songs so she can get in the studio and record all of the tracks on the first take. She markets the records herself on CD Baby and iTunes. Sweet Angel now gets calls asking for traditional Blues music, which she likes. She's going to be transitioning her shows to include more traditional Blues music. She plays 'Wang, Dang Doodle' in her shows now. She's looking forward to playing more traditional Blues songs on her saxophone. More traditional Blues songs will be included on a future record. I asked Sweet Angel what records or musicians she like to listen to now. She said "To prepare myself for playing traditional songs I've been listening to traditional Blues musicians like Howlin' Wolf and Koko Taylor.
Several of her most requested songs from fans are 'I'd Rather Be By Myself Than Be Unhappy'; the song has become an anthem for fans, 'A Girl Like Me' and 'Blow That Thing'. She also performs a fan favorite 'Purple Rain'. She started performing the song because she initially didn't have a song of her own to showcase her saxophone playing. It's a song everyone is familiar with and she usually ends her shows with it.
In 2010 Sweet Angel received the ‘Blues R&B Vocalist National’ Award at the West Coast Hall of Fame show. In 2011, she received the ‘Rock The City’ Award from Dreamland Productions. In 2013 her song 'Soul Steppin' received the 'Jus Blues ‘Female Artist Song of the Year’ Award.
I asked Sweet Angel if she had an unforgettable moment in her career. She recalls opening a 2011 show for Keith Sweat in Monroe, LA. She received an 'out of the blue' phone call the show promoter. The promoter told her "There's a lot of female artists that would like to perform on Keith's show, and I could get any of them. But, Sweet Angel I want you to open the show.” At the time Sweet Angel hadn't been talking to any promoters associated with show. Every year since then she performs in Monroe, LA.
Sweet Angel is also seamstress. She makes some of the dramatic outfits she wears on stage. One year at her show in Monroe, LA a fan bought all three outfits she brought to and wore on stage. She also shares beauty tips with her daughter on the YouTube channel: Beauty by Sweet Angel.
Sweet Angel's favorite thing about Memphis is its history. When she travels out of town, and she tells her fans she's from Memphis, they expect to hear a lot about Elvis, Beale Street and Blues music. The fans say “Come on, give us some of that Memphis Blues." Memphis musicians are expected to deliver something different. She dislikes being cast in a box, she likes being diverse. If a promoter calls about an R&B show, she'll play R&B. If a promoter calls about a Blues show, she'll play Blues. If someone calls and asks to sing a song at a funeral, she can do that. Sweet Angel delivers the music that's called for. She likes to entertain the audience.
To learn more about Sweet Angel and her music:
- To buy music online: CDBaby & iTunes
- Sweet Angel Booking Contact, Mike Dobbins: (901) 338-9901 or (901) 246-7545
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Official Website: http://www.sweetangel.org
- YouTube Channel: http://www.youtube.com/SweetAngel11000
- Soundcloud: http://soundcloud.com/sweetangel-sweetangel-dobbins
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/SweetSaxAngel
- Facebook: https://facebook.com/sweetangelmusic
The interview for this story took place April 22, 2015.
©2015 Mark E. Caldwell, All rights reserved.