Heavy Load: Beth Hart answers heavy questions for heavy rockers

Beth Hart

Beth Hart began singing blues, jazz and soul in South Central LA clubs when she was 15. Her childhood was traumatised by a violent robbery at her family home, which triggered a bipolar condition and drink and drug addictions. But with the help of loyal husband Scott Guetzkow and collaborators including Joe Bonamassa, Jeff Beck and Slash, she has carved out a formidable blues career. At 45, her addictions and illness are in remission, and age has lent her perspective. “I’ve come full circle to when I was a really little girl,” she tells Classic Rock. “I have some of that original innocence again.”

Do you believe in God?

Oh yeah. For example, I’m working on my newest solo record, and usually when I’m at my most creative is when my confidence is at its worst. And when I’m really doubtful of myself, I gravitate to God. Because if my faith can’t be in me, then it can be in him. Whereas when I’m feeling confident, it’s like: “‘Yeah, thanks, God. I’m having a great day. I’ll take it from here.”

Do you get stage fright?

I get world fright. Going to the market or buying clothes, or anywhere, my husband’s got to go with me. One of the things that makes me so anxious is that I think people are thinking I’m weird, or not right. I’ve had that since I was a kid. When I’m on stage and my mind is doing well it’s a safe environment, and I feel really good up there.

Is there a time on a drug that you’re grateful for?

There were some times when it was just a party, you’d numb yourself out and you’d have fun. When I was really, really young I’d take off at the weekends. I’d dress in my mom’s clothes and I’d use my older sister Susan’s ID, and go out to bars and try to hook up with guys – and I was only eleven, twelve years old. I don’t know how much fun I was having. I was looking for love so bad.

When I look back on it now, the only time I was having fun was when I wasn’t using drugs and alcohol and I was making music and I was focused and disciplined. When I would paint, that would be fun. When I would go to Lake Tahoe with my best friend Ron, that would be fun. But the drugs I took are so evil. It steals your soul. Especially if you have mental health issues.

What do you paint?

I actually painted a really large piece yesterday. It’s a picture of a little street in Nice, late at night, and it’s lit up gold from the lampposts, and it’s old and the buildings kind of turn in on themselves, like they’re making a bridge over you, but you can see the sky. And I did a Mariachi Mexican skeleton playing a violin the other day, with cactuses and bougainvillea.

You sang with Jeff Beck in front of President Obama at the Kennedy Center Honors for Buddy Guy in 2012. How did that feel?

You know the most amazing thing about it all, man? I walked out there and I felt so at home, like I belonged, and I felt so proud and thankful. And I could see Aretha Franklin, and I could see Led Zeppelin, and I saw Yo-Yo Ma, who I’d been the biggest fan of when I was a cellist as a little girl. And I’m so thankful that I wasn’t nervous, because I never missed any of it.

Where do you stand politically?

I’m not real schooled in politics. But when I go to Europe, what I notice is that people tend to get along, and have more manners. They don’t have guns everywhere, and not anyone can get on every single drug they want from their doctor. I adore my country, because it’s where I’m from and it’s really beautiful, but we’re basically teenagers on drugs with guns. So I feel like, give us a break, and hopefully we’ll evolve.

What’s the meaning of life?

I think we’re here to love and create and enjoy and be grateful and just smell and breathe in the oxygen and be aware of the moment. It’s not so important to do, do, do; it’s already been done. The Earth is here, the universe is here. And it would be nice if we could just enjoy it a bit more. It really is all a miracle.

On Good Day To Cry you sing: ‘It’s a good day to die.’ How would you like to go?

My husband’s eleven years older than me, and my manager’s twenty-two years older, and I don’t want to live without them, and I don’t want them to be hurt if I die. So I want us all to die at the same time, one night in our sleep, when we’ve all hung out and played cards, and we’re really, really old. But I have to say I don’t believe in death at all. And I don’t believe in heaven either – that sounds very boring. I think that we just change form. So I like the idea of, when I die, maybe I’m a gust of wind, that rolls through some child’s hair that’s playing on the beach. Maybe there’s a soul in every possible thing, and maybe we get to be that forever. That’s my idea of heaven.

What would you like to be written on your tombstone?

No tombstone. I want a big old ditch, because I definitely want to be buried, I do not want to be burned. Throw me in with no box, no sheet. I want all the little animals to eat my flesh up, because I won’t be there.

Beth Hart plays the UK and Ireland from April 10. Her new album with Joe Bonamassa, Black Coffee, is released on January 26.

Beth Hart and Joe Bonamassa launch sultry cover of the classic Black Coffee

Nick Hasted

Nick Hasted writes about film, music, books and comics for Classic Rock, The Independent, Uncut, Jazzwise and The Arts Desk. He has published three books: The Dark Story of Eminem (2002), You Really Got Me: The Story of The Kinks (2011), and Jack White: How He Built An Empire From The Blues (2016).