If you hear a Dana Abbott song or catch a performance and find it familiar, don’t be surprised. It’s supposed to sound and feel that way.
Presented with a scenario in which she’d be called on stage by any act to perform any song, the well-traveled writer, player and performer knew instantly where she’d go with it. And though the dream’s specifics haven’t yet occurred in reality, she’ll still getting ready for when they do.
“It would have to be with Tina Turner,” she said.
“I’d love to be called up on stage with her to do the Phil Spector-orchestrated version of ‘River Deep – Mountain High.’ It’s such a powerful piece. That, and I am highly influenced by Tina. I’ve studied her closely and try to pull from her powerful performances in my own way.”
Similar to her hero, the California-born Abbott got her start as a youngster in church and was allowed into the choir at age 4 because of both a laser-like focus on the group’s conductor and her upbringing with a grandmother who was a tap dancer and parents who loved to sing.
Soon after, she happened upon an episode of the old Star Search television show and, presto… a diva-in-training was born.
“I proclaimed I wanted to be a singer-star,” she said. “I’ve been told I would sing to strangers about my day. I still haven’t changed, apparently.”
Her main accessory at first was a piano and she retained an identity as a classical pianist through her teenage years after a relocation to Burlington, Vt.
But a guitar became a more prevalent work tool as time passed.
Ironically, both the playing and songwriting skills that propel her big-city on-stage persona these days were developed amid far more anonymous circumstances with just her and her small-town headphones.
“The need to play came from a variety of things, but I’m pretty sure it’s in my DNA for starters,” she said. “It was my escape, sitting in my room playing guitar, singing some crappy lyrics I had just made up. I listened to T-Bone Walker, Koko Taylor, Led Zeppelin and Big Mama Thornton and fell in love with blues.”
While the playlist might have changed over time, the desire to perform never waned.
“I would sit on the stoop of Muddy Waters, a local coffee shop, and play,” Abbott said. “I’d give the money I’d make away to the homeless folks. A sweet man that lived in a shelter nearby, who was battling cancer, would play on the stoop and teach me how to project my voice – telling me to aim for the people across the street.”
Armed with that advice and an eclectic variety of musical tastes, Abbott moved to Chicago as an 18-year-old to further develop her musical self. She spent time on the south, west and north sides of the city and described the time as a “perfect fix for a country bumpkin” before heading to New Orleans just a few months before the Hurricane Katrina disaster in 2005.
Her typical Big Easy itinerary includes multiple shows per week at Cafe Negril on Frenchmen Street, along with weekend performances at the Balcony Music Club in the French Quarter.
She’s appeared in episodes of the New Orleans-centric TV shows “‘Treme” and “Big Easy Brides” and was a season three contestant on NBC’s “The Voice,” prompting celebrity judge Adam Levine of Maroon 5 to label her as “amazing and unique.”
Abbott plays rhythm guitar and sings, in front of a performing band includes saxophonist Dom Grillo, trumpet player Kevin Lurkins, keyboardist Dave Brisson, drummer Adam Baumol, bassist Scott Jackson and guitarist Jordan Gonzalez.
“Abbott’s songs were dark, rippling and atmospheric,” said Times-Picayune reviewer Cathy Hughes, “like taking the time to study the patterns of light on the Mississippi River at night.”
Her website – DanaAbbottBand.com – characterizes the band as a “modern R&B extravaganza.” And if given her choice, its namesake would leave each paying customer with the same sort of distinct impression that her favorites have left on her.
“I want to make sure you leave with the feeling of being buzzed, alive and on the prowl,” said Abbott, whose ideal go-to show would be Led Zeppelin in Belfast, Northern Ireland in the intimacy of Ulster Hall. “I want you to feel connected to some undercurrent that opens you up. You tell your friends you saw a show that made your soul ache and your hips shake. I want people to truly feel something and to have a church-like experience that makes you move and be moved.”
If the words of Cincinnati-based magazine reviewer Erin Payne are indicative, she’s doing exactly that.
“I just can’t get enough. More, more, more,” Payne wrote. “Each performance is a beautiful expression of the human spirit. She reaches her truth with each song, each breath exhalation of feeling, so powerful, speaking the language of the soul directly to the soul.”