Friday, March 16, 2007
Philly Native Tours with David, Records New CD
By DAMON C. WILLIAMS
GAIL ANN Dorsey has made it from West Philly to some of the world's brightest stages thanks to talent, determination...and a little stardust.
Ziggy Stardust, that is.
As she tells it, her main gig - playing bass guitar for rock legend David Bowie - is an artistic thrill.
"July will mark nine years as part of [Bowie's touring] band," Dorsey said in a recent interview. "He's a wonderful person. Not demanding, and he gives us a lot of freedom.
"But the band is really excellent at what they do...[Bowie] hardly says a word. It's amazing how he picks his band."
And then there's the release of a new CD of her own songs, "I Used to Be," her "first studio album in 11 years."
"I was trying to come off the road, do a record for myself," said Dorsey, who lives in Woodstock, N.Y. "I am a person that needs to concentrate on one thing...especially when it comes to writing and performing my own music."
Dorsey, 41, has been doing just that since her 1988 debut album, "The Corporate World."
Before that, though, film was a passion for her. Dorsey left Philadelphia at 17 for the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, Calif., after earning a full scholarship on the strength of her short films and screenplays.
But Dorsey preferred music to film, and she moved to New York City in 1982 to pursue a solo musical career.
That decision has paid off handsomely for Dorsey, a self-taught musician.
"I definitely feel I've proven myself now...It's been about 20 years working in the industry," she said. "At first, people thought of me as more of a novelty, but I used that to work to my advantage.
"I was fortunate to be blessed with the gift to play music. I think it worked because people were going, 'Wow, look a woman who could play the bass well, play music well.' But it has always been a man's world."
That didn't stop Dorsey from leaping onto London's music stage in 1983, nor from landing her first paying job, as a vocalist in the Charlie Watts Big Band.
"I had a determination that I could not accept the fact that I would do anything else [besides music]...There was a thread that was very much me, that I did have my own style and character," she said. "I have to do this. Anything else would destroy my soul."
Dorsey, who considers Nathan East and Charles Mingus among her favorite bassists, crafted her latest set to be just as timeless as the ones she listens to.
"I discovered a lot of things about myself" while making this new CD, Dorsey said. "From the beginning, where I got started, to where I am now. What this record ended up being is a collection of songs I had already written. I almost forgot about them in a way.
"So I picked the 10 songs I always wanted to release at some point. It was a process for me, to complete an album no matter what, to break myself out of the cycle" of just performing and not having an album out.
There was a decade-plus gap between albums for Dorsey, but she performed on a number of recordings with Bowie and the band in that time. She can be heard on Bowie's 1997 album "Earthling," as well as on cuts by the Indigo Girls, Dar Williams, Tears For Fears, Gang of Four and others.
"I have been very lucky...I know many [musicians] who are technically far better than me, but they don't work or get to the top," Dorsey said. "To play with big artists, a lot of people could not do it, or had to take another job."
"I was very focused on what I wanted."
Dorsey says she has good memories of her hometown. She even closes out her new CD with a soaring, heartfelt ode, "Philadelphia."
"No doubt the soul sound of Philly influenced me...There's still great artists coming out of Philly," Dorsey said. "People think of Philly, and they think music.
"In the '70s as a teen, there couldn't be a better place to be exposed to music, even in West Philly. Everyone had their guitar on the their porch. There's such a great musical backdrop for growing up there."
So, will the locals be able to see Dorsey any time soon?
"We'll be finished with a one-year tour in July, and then [Bowie] will take a break," Dorsey said. "I'll then headline my own shows, and I do hope to come to Philly, perform at the Tin Angel, perhaps."
Source: The Philadelphia Inquirer