by Rob Rushin | April 11, 2018
Fledglings: Kate Skene’s Soulshine
A young Floridian inspired by the music of Bonnie Bramlett, Eric Clapton and Susan Tedeschi rocks festivals across the nation
Tallahassee-bred Katie Skene, 24, is a singer-songwriter and guitarist making her mark on the blues and jam band scene. She couples stellar guitar chops with a rich voice that ranges from a throaty blues sound to clear high notes that ring like bells. With one superb solo record under her belt, From the River, Katie also plays with the recently minted jam band supergroup California Kind.
You’re based in Los Angeles. That’s a long way from Tallahassee.
KS: I went out to go to University of Southern California. They have an amazing popular music performance program. I ended up doing that four-year program and decided to stay. My plan was to move to Atlanta because I didn’t think LA was the right fit for a blues background. Then I was like, I’m here, I really want to give it a chance and give it my best shot. So I recorded From the River, and it ended up in the hands of the California Kind guys. It’s just been incredible. The timing was perfect and I got really lucky. But I’m hoping in April I can come home and go to the Wanee Music Festival and maybe set something up at the Bradfordville Blues Club.
Your vocal style covers a lot of ground, from Janis Joplin to Bonnie Raitt and Bonnie Bramlett. Who are some other heroes you draw inspiration from?
KS: Oh, thank you for the Bonnie Bramlett. My brother and I loved Delaney & Bonnie, and not enough people know about them. I really loved Clapton and B.B. King, and I was really into The Allman Brothers Band. Then I heard Susan Tedeschi, and I was like, I can do this, too. I started playing electric guitar pretty much because of her. A little later, I found Bessie Smith, and she just knocked my boots off. I couldn’t believe her voice. She was really the one, her and Otis Redding.
You take your history seriously. I’ve heard you play Mississippi Fred McDowell, John Hurt and Nina Simone. You didn’t hear that stuff on Top 40 radio.
KS: I was taking lessons from Mississippi James Stanton, who taught a lot of folks around Tallahassee. I’d bring him a song I wanted to learn, and he’d say, “Well, who wrote this? Who did it first, and who did it before that?” He really turned it into musicology. You don’t play something unless you know where it came from. You have to serve it.
From the River was a serious opening salvo. What do you have on tap as a follow-up?
KS: California Kind has recorded five songs. Two are being mixed right now. We’re probably going to release those as singles. We’ve got three more, new stuff I wrote that we really want to record. We have dates in March in Northern California and then out to Alaska to do a run up there. We’ll record between those dates. We’re going to do an album. I don’t know exactly how we’ll put it out. And then, well, we’ll just see where the road takes us.