Halfway through our interview, Beth Hart starts to cry. We have wandered on to the topic of the recently deceased Amy Winehouse, and it proves too close to the bone for the 39-year-old singer. It’s an awkward moment, and unexpected, given Hart’s stage presence as the warrior princess with the tar-and-sawdust battle-cry.
“That’s the lady I put on,” she explains. “She’s the tough, strong, don’t-fuck-with-me girl. Who I really am is just the opposite: really sensitive. I think I created her so I could survive in this world.”
Hart is certainly a survivor. The ‘peg’ for our interview is _Don’t Explain, her soul-rock covers album with Joe Bonamassa. But her back story spirals from a strung-out childhood, redemption in 90s TV talent show Star Search_, a solo deal with Atlantic Records, and a run of soul-drenched albums driven by her dovetailing passions for Led Zeppelin and Etta James – and of course, Hart’s voice. “I never considered myself much of a singer,” she says, inexplicably.
There were always problems, though, and by the new millennium Hart was falling apart. All credit to her roadie-turned-husband, Scott Guetzkow. “He saw my drug problems, me starving myself,” she recalls, “and he didn’t take off, even when I lost my deal, hurt my family and scared everybody away. I didn’t want to go to rehab, and I’d been kicked out of my place, and I was having seizures, and Scott laid his body down on top of me and started to cry. It was at that moment that I thought: ‘I have a life that I have to take the fucking reins of’.
“Until that night, I didn’t care if I died,” she concedes. “But then it was like, ‘I’m gonna fight back’. I went into rehab next day, and the week before I married Scott, in 2001, was the last time I took my drug of choice, which was Klonopin [a trade name of clonazepam, a sedative]. I’d just gotten out of jail. We went down to Vegas and got married.” All of which makes her partnership with the soft-spoken Bonamassa an unlikely match.
“I’m so high-strung, he’s the opposite,” Hart cackles. “He’d been working on a record in Greece, and one night he couldn’t sleep, so he got up and listened to the Rolling Stones’ _Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out! _and the acts that were opening up, like Ike And Tina Turner. Next morning, he calls up [producer] Kevin Shirley and says: “What do you think of doing a soul covers album – me and Beth Hart?‘.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she beams of their hook-up. “I brought both of the Etta James songs, _Chocolate Jesus by Tom Waits, and Aretha Franklin’s Ain’t No Way_. We recorded the album in four days. With Joe I felt like I could fly.”
In short, Beth Hart is in a good place.
“There was tough stuff, but shit happens,” she shrugs. “I have my ups and downs.”
This was first published in Classic Rock issue 164.