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Blues Music Now! feature

A modern-day Janis Joplin — and much more

by Amelia Feathers

Lisa Mills

Though Janis Joplin was an icon in rock and roll music, she also had a very tumultuous personal life. Comparing Lisa Mills to Janis Joplin isn't a bad thing, but she wants the parallelism to remain with music. The comparison is inevitable anyway especially when Mills is performing with Joplin's former band, Big Brother and the Holding Company.

"I accept the comparison but at the same time I want to be free of that," Mills said.

Mills, 37, is a self-described "outgoing introvert." She has a strong Joplin-like voice. However, Mills is a blues singer who performs other types of music. For Mills the blues is more than just "alright." She likens the blues to eating chocolate and strawberry ice cream, a mix of flavors.

"My parents listened to country music all the time and I didn't like it. I guess it was the beat that turned me off. Country music just doesn't move me," she said. "Country music is like eating plain old vanilla ice cream."

Fresh from her German tour with Big Brother and the Holding Company, Mills is currently working on a new CD. Mills and the band played at the "Movement of the Hippies," a German miniature Woodstock, Mills said.

During one magical music moment at the German concert, Mills sang Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools." At the height of the performance, the band improvised, and segued to Joplin's version of "Summertime," exciting the crowd of 60,000 fans gathered in the drizzling rain.

"Besides being great musicians and walking music history books, they are very intelligent," Mills said of Big Brother and the Holding Company band members.

Mills noted Dave Getz is a professor of art with a master's degree. She described the band members as "purposeful, creative and just normal guys."

Through Big Brother member Sam Andrew and her own research, Mills isn't any longer as naive about Joplin. Mills knew Joplin was considered to be the "bad girl of rock and roll music." Not until she talked with band members and read books about the late singer did she realize, "I was ignorant about Janis." Mills said the band members thought Joplin was very intelligent and respected her.

Mills isn't just an accomplished blues singer; she is also a songwriter and guitarist. She grew up in Hattiesburg, Miss., where her early influences were Elvis Presley and Brenda Lee. She sang professionally for the first time when she was a teenager. The memorable performance was at a restaurant where her mother worked.

After getting serious about being a singer, she listened to Chaka Khan, Bonnie Raitt and Aretha Franklin and became more aware of blues music. Her music had to take a backseat for 15 years while she was a fulltime mother. She made a living singing locally, but mainly she wrote songs and listened to other artists. She established a fan base for her music as a solo artist and performing with The Evidence, The Mobeats and The Boogie Chillin'. Mills and The Boogie Chillin' were the opening act for Junior Wells, Christopher Cross and Leon Russell. Mills has also done some commercial jingles.

Lisa Mills The divorced mother of two recently earned a bachelor's of fine arts degree in sculpting. She is also licensed to teach art for kindergarten through twelfth grades in Mississippi.

Her recording studio work includes making demos for songwriters Jim Hurt and Rick Whaley. She recorded a live CD with just herself and an acoustic guitar. The CD is titled, "Blues and Ballads." One admiring fan has contributed to another Mills' recording project. She is recording in Florida. Currently her children are living with their father in Huntsville, Ala. as she tours and works on the new CD. The completed CD should be done in time for Mills to tour with Big Brother again.

Fans who would like to purchase her CDs can contact Mills by e-mail at millsbluz@aol.com.

"Being away from my kids is torturous, but it's only for a trial basis," Mills said. "I'm torn between my music and the familiarity and love of a mother. I have two loves in my life — my kids and music, it balances me."

A year ago, she traveled to Joplin's hometown, Port Arthur, Texas to headline at the annual Janis Joplin Birthday Bash.

"I felt a spiritual thing being in Janis' hometown," Mills said. "I connected with Janis and felt proud of the connection. The concert was my way to pay my respect and it was one of the best times I've had." Her new CD will have songs by established blues artists, Etta James, Lucinda Williams and Koko Taylor. She is recording some standard blues songs and some unfamiliar tunes. "Blues never go out of style, though sometimes it takes a while for people to discover it," she said. "Blues is timeless."

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