Picture this…a five year old with fiery curls that shadow the famous Bonnie Raitt, an artist this girl will one day come to be compared to, pulls out an old ukulele to serenade a family audience at her grandmother’s house with “Hello Dolly” – again and again.
The little girl grows up and buys her first record albums. Janis Joplin is a favorite. Later she sees Stevie Nicks in concert and is mesmerized by her sultry vocal delivery. These are the sounds that inspire a teenager’s passion for blues and R&B – music with grit and soul.
Mary Shaver has been singing all her life. She is first and foremost a blues artist influenced by the likes of Slim Harpo and Big Mama Thornton. She labels her own style as “Texas, Louisiana and Chicago Blues meets Memphis Soul,” and local critics and musicians have likened her powerful voice to all her idols. But her path as an artist has not been a particularly straight or smooth one.
Her twenties saw Mary’s music confined mostly to acoustic jam sessions with friends. (Remember, in addition to six-string guitar, this woman plays a mean ukulele.) Then, in 1989, Mary joined the rock/blues cover band One Thin Dime. They had a few original tunes and opened for some national acts. But as is often the case in the competitive music business, the band members each had day jobs and other interests. They never got around to recording and Mary grew restless.
Priority for her music had to be juggled with the bill-paying necessities and challenges of everyday life. Mary returned to school and now works full-time as a paralegal for a non-profit organization. Yet she has long had the inner awareness that recording was in her future. Her catalyst came in the form of personal maturation and family crisis as Mary’s fortieth birthday loomed and her mother was in a near fatal auto accident. In early 1998, Mary found herself making the difficult decision to leave One Thin Dime to create music on her own terms.
She had some savings. She had her talent and her voice. It was time to finally say “yes!” to her driving desire. Over the next 16 months of obtaining rights, gathering musicians and finalizing a varied play list of classic and less covered blues and R&B tunes, Mary, with the help of Nighthawks drummer Pete Ragusa as producer, assembled and cut her first disc, No Time Like Now. It was a long time coming, a labor of patience and love.
The release of her first album raised Mary’s profile on the DC music scene, and built a buzz around her live shows. Regular airplay of No Time on WPFW 89.3 FM, and Wammie nominations for best female blues vocalist followed, along with hard-earned respect from fellow musicians. Tapping this momentum, Mary gathered a group to include guitarist Keith Grimes and drummer Raice McLeod, both original players with the great Eva Cassidy. Since then, the Mary Shaver Band has had steady gigs at blues festivals and favorite local clubs.
The live album, recorded at Blues Alley, will be followed up with a studio CD where original songs of Mary’s take center stage. No Time Like Now was mostly cover tunes, and since then, Mary has focused on her songwriting – a crucial component to shaping her voice as an artist. Mary’s evolution is also evident in her broadened scope of genres – soul, R&B, hints of jazz – new directions first nurtured by Pete Ragusa, and later Keith, who introduced her to Stax Records material.
In the Fall of 2014 Mary decided to clear her musical plate and focus solely on learning to play electric rock guitar, focus on her songwriting and defining a new sound. The result is "Full Circle".
Music is an all consuming passion for Mary, evident in her hectic schedule. Mary can often be found belting out old-school blues with Dave Sherman (guitar) and Roger Edsall (harmonica), a pair she’s known since 1999. They are blues purists, whose emotionally raw rhythms draw out much of the very best in Mary’s vocals. Mary has also joined forces with local DC Blues bands like Bad Influence, Big Boy Little and Flatfoot Sam and the Educated Fool. She has also recorded and performed with Cindy Cain and Janine Wilson as Les Tomates Chaudes / The Hot Tomatoes, an all-girl blues power trio that delivers the goods on such classics as Etta James’ “I Prefer You.” And yes, it is a mystery where the hell she finds the time.
Born and raised in Prince George’s County, MD, Mary still calls the DC area home and has a special affection for local audiences and outdoor venues. To see her play live is to truly experience Mary’s music. With complete focus she becomes, in her own words, “entranced. All I know at that moment is what I’m singing.” For her growing following of fans, that moment sounds just perfect.