Phoebe Snow is an avid fan as well as a class act

from the Philadelphia Inquirer
By Jack Lloyd

With singer-songwriter Phoebe Snow, it isn't simply a case of admiring certain other performers. Snow is an unabashed fan.

I waited 20 years for the chance to say 'Hi, B.B., I'm Phoebe.'"

"Last night I had the great pleasure of seeing B.B. King at the Blue Note in New York," Snow said earlier this week from her home in Fort Lee, N.J., before this weekend's engagement at Trump Plaza. "I was so excited. Finally a friend said, 'Go ahead. Go on up and introduce yourself.' So I did, and B.B. said, 'Let me give you a big hug,' and I told him that would be quite all right. I was actually crying. I waited 20 years for the chance to say 'Hi, B.B., I'm Phoebe.' "

It didn't take Snow long to suggest that they arrange to work a few dates together. She does that all the time with performers she is fond of.

I'll say, 'Let's work together, let's work together."

"I'll say, 'Let's work together, let's work together,' " she said. "I'll call someone up and say, 'Let's sing together.' And I guess they're thinking, 'Who is this lady?' "

Snow, of course, has more than a few of her own fans, many of whom first noticed her in 1972 when her Shelter Records debut album was released, producing the hit single "Poetry Man." But getting to that point was a rather long, traumatic ride for Snow, a Manhattan native who did the bulk of her growing up in Teaneck, N.J,, where her family moved when she was 4.

It was a house that was almost constantly filled with an eclectic blend of musical sounds -- Delta blues, folk, classical, Broadway show tunes and rock-and-roll. And Snow -- back then she was Phoebe Laub -- absorbed much of it, although the personal demons she battled might well have prevented her from eventually surfacing as a highly acclaimed performer and songwriter.

"People complained because they couldn't hear me. Well, that's certainly not a problem now."

"I started taking guitar lessons when I was 13," Snow said. "I was pretty awkward with it for a long time. I couldn't even hold it properly. I would sit it on my lap. But I started getting better, and that's really what I thought I would be doing -- playing guitar. I never gave any thought to singing. Not for a long time. And then when I did start singing, I would be doing it through clenched teeth. People complained because they couldn't hear me. Well, that's certainly not a problem now."

Even after Snow began making the open-mike nights at clubs in and around New York, proudly hauling her Martin 00018 acoustic guitar from place to place, she had her doubts.

"I had become a New York streetwise kid, but I was also kind of vulnerable," she said. "I had poor self-esteem, a poor self-image. No matter how many flattering things would be said about me, if a critic said I sucked, I would think, well, I guess I suck. . . . And, let's face it, I got mixed reviews at home.

"My mom was a dancer. She performed with Martha Graham and a lot of other companies. There would be these wonderful dancers, these gods of dance, famous people around the house, and I didn't know. I just thought of them as people my mom hung out with. Mom also brought folk music into the house. She knew Woody Guthrie, and that was a big influence on me -- especially my guitar playing. The Delta blues was a big influence.

"My father came from a vaudeville sensibility. His father was a comedian, and my father, I guess, was a frustrated comic."

"They wanted me to do an album of blues covers."

Snow did make it in a big way, in spite of everything. It happened when Dino Airali of Shelter Records caught her at the Bitter End one night and took her into the studio for that first album. She was 22, "maybe 23" at the time.

Snow's latest album, I Can't Complain, is scheduled for release next month on the House of Blues label (distributed by Polygram). Unlike most of her previous releases, this one will not contain a single Snow song.

"They wanted me to do an album of blues covers," she said. "So we have a collection of these great old tunes. There's so many of them out there, though. You finish a project like that and then you think of three or four more you wish you had included.

"I've been kind of hoarding my own songs for the next album, which isn't that far off. I went through a period where I wasn't writing as much as I had done, but I've been doing more writing in the last year or so."

And wouldn't it be great if she could get B.B. King to sing a duet or two, and sit in on guitar for that album?