WALLA WALLA — A big name in local blues music won its first major award earlier this month when the Inland Empire Blues Society bestowed “Nasty Habits & Dirty Little Secrets,” the new CD by Coyote Kings with Mush, as Best Blues Album of the Year.
Coyote Kings guitarist, vocalist and song writer Robin Barrett said he was pleased with the band’s win, but added he doesn’t plan to start any major tours soon, despite the weather.
“I am currently content to have the Northwest be my playground,” Barrett said during a Saturday morning phone interview, while the temperature outside was in the mid-20s.
“You know if somebody in Miami wants us to play and they have a lot of money, I sure would give it a lot of thought. But I am pretty happy here in the Northwest.”
In recent years, the Coyote Kings have earned several nominations by the Spokane-based Blues Society, including best band.
This month’s win was a first for the band and Barrett.
“You know, I thought we had a pretty good chance with this CD. With the best band award, anyone from Spokane is going to have the best advantage. But with the album award it is more about being the best blues in the region,” Barrett said.
Adding to Coyote Kings’ winning advantage was the powerful voice of Michelle “Mush” Morgan, who gave all the credit back to Barrett, who is also the band’s manager.
“All I have to do is show up and sing. I have not had to do any of the business of running the band,” Morgan said.
Morgan started singing with the Coyote Kings in 2007. Since then, her collaborative work with the band has grown.
And in this year’s award-winning CD, seven of the 11 songs feature Morgan’s lyrical, right-on-pitch style of singing.
Being able to belt it out and stay on key is something she learned to do through years of vocal training in both opera and classical jazz.
“I never chose to do the blues. I just kept ending up in blues bands. And I keep ending up in blues bands,” Morgan added.
At 14, she trained to perform for operas, which requires singers to be able to fill a music hall with the sound of their voices without microphones.
When she went to college, Morgan switched to studying classic jazz.
Over the years she has sung with a number of professional bands in various genres that range from classic rock covers to experimental fusion.
But Morgan, who got her “Mush” nickname in college, has always had a strong liking for classic Motown.
Still, after 30 years of singing in different styles, it was the blues that earned her her first award.
“I was surprised. I got to work the next day and opened Facebook and there were congratulations,” said Morgan, whose day job is copy editing and designing pages at the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin.
Both Morgan and Barrett are quick to point out that the award is for the entire band, which includes drummer Curtis “Rocket” Johnson and Kit Kuhlmann on bass guitar.
Barrett also sings lead male vocals on three songs from “Nasty Habits & Dirty Little Secrets,” and is the writer of all 11 songs.
“It is kind of hard as a song writer to write songs for a woman and be a guy,” Barrett said.
“I just kind of have to write with her in mind, to write with the idea that this is going to have a woman singing it.”
As a lead guitarist, Barrett doesn’t think much of his own licks.
“I am not a really super player. I know five licks,” he joked. “I think of myself as a taste player more than a spark and pop player. So anytime anyone compliments me on my guitar I am really surprised.”
Similar to Morgan’s blues singing, Barrett didn’t intend to be a lead guitarist.
In 1977 he started playing rhythm guitar for the Tukanon Band until the group broke up in the early 1990s.
Then, in one of his transitional bands that followed, his role switched from rhythm to lead when the regular lead guitarist unexpectedly put Barrett in the spotlight during a live performance.
“The first time we played he said, ‘Take it Rob,’ and ever since then I have been a lead guitar player,” Barrett said.
“I am no Stevie Ray Vaughan. I am not a fast player. So I have to know where to put things so they sound good and they move the song along.”
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.