"There was a lot of pot-smoking going on at the listen-backs": Gráinne Duffy on the Californian vibes of new album Dirt Woman Blues

Gráinne Duffy studio portrait
(Image credit: Rob Blackham)

Gráinne Duffy’s scalding guitar solos and her roots on the Ulster blues circuit ensured early (and lazy) comparisons with Rory Gallagher. But the Irish singer-songwriter has since plotted her own course, and this year’s album Dirt Woman Blues, her fifth, is infused with the soulful Southern Californian vibes that flowed through sessions in San Diego.


Walter Trout once said that finishing an album feels like giving birth

[Amused but shocked] He doesn’t know! It’s nothing like giving birth! He should try that experience! This is a lot more cathartic. You get all these emotions and feelings off your chest. 

How did the sessions go down? 

It was a strange one, because we went to San Diego after the pandemic. On the way over, I was thinking: “Jeez, are we ready to go into the studio?” and on the plane I was still writing the lyrics. So it went down to the wire. But it was a brilliant experience. As well as Paul [Sherry, guitarist/husband], I got to work with some of my favourite players: Marc Ford from The Black Crowes, and JJ Johnson, Elijah Ford, Jimmy Hoyson, Sam Goldsmith, John Ginty and Peter Levin. It was a dream team and the songs flew down. There was a lot of pot-smoking going on at the listen-backs, too, because it’s legal over there. 

How would you describe the musical vibe of the new album? 

We had a few pre-production meetings where we talked about a Free or Bad Company feel. But California has touched the sound of this record. Fleetwood Mac with Peter Green is probably still my favourite music. But following on from that, I delved deep into their American sound, and that period with Christine McVie and Stevie Nicks. People always say: “Oh, Rory Gallagher”. Yeah, I love Rory, and I listened to a lot of Rory when I was growing up. But I don’t hear myself like Rory, y’know?

What is a ‘dirt woman’, exactly? 

I recently did a PhD in old blues, and I was really taken by the early blueswomen, everyone from Memphis Minnie to Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Many of them were equally brilliant – like, Freddie King’s mother taught him to play guitar – but they were often left at home. So Dirt Woman Blues is the idea of a woman left behind on a farm, up a dirt track. These women were often a contradiction: they were really soft, but you wouldn’t mess with them. It was like: “I’ll be with you for ever, but if you take another lover there’ll be a snake in your bed tonight”. And then they’d cry at the funeral as well. 

Do you think AI could ever replace human songwriters? 

I’m scared of all that. The whole idea of writing a song is being in touch with your deepest emotions. The thing that separates us from robots is our emotional intelligence. I think if robots can replace that, then our day is done, unfortunately. 

Aren’t you named after a figure from Irish mythology? 

Yes. Gráinne was a pirate queen. I think she wanted some other woman’s husband, and basically went and took him. Do we have anything in common? I don’t think I’m quite as fearsome. I might sit down and have a conversation quicker than I’d chop somebody’s head off

Henry Yates

Henry Yates has been a freelance journalist since 2002 and written about music for titles including The Guardian, The Telegraph, NME, Classic Rock, Guitarist, Total Guitar and Metal Hammer. He is the author of Walter Trout's official biography, Rescued From Reality, a music pundit on Times Radio and BBC TV, and an interviewer who has spoken to Brian May, Jimmy Page, Ozzy Osbourne, Ronnie Wood, Dave Grohl, Marilyn Manson, Kiefer Sutherland and many more.