Shawntel Royale is about more than just the blues
From an early age, Shawn Waggoner loved to sing. At the age of 10, she found her first music love, Barbra Streisand.
“I used to practice singing like her. I made demo tapes (on 45s) and sent them to record companies. It was the ’70s, so there was no American Idol, or I would have done that.”
Waggoner is best known in Salida as the lead singer of Blue Recluse, but even more likely by her stage name, Shawntel Royale.
“I thought I needed a cool stage name like Pinetop Perkins or Memphis Minnie. I came up with ‘Shawntel Royale’ late one night at Kerbey Lane in Austin, Texas.”
Waggoner discovered the blues while attending the University of Northern Colorado. A Koko Taylor album got her hooked.
Waggoner’s goal became to hone that style of singing. She started performing live and sang in her boyfriend’s band, Electric Thunder Pigs. She also started a blues band “annoyingly called Bleu Chunx.” In that band they played a variety of traditional blues numbers and more modern tunes by musicians like Eric Clapton and Johnny Winter.
“Singing the blues is very challenging. I warm up vocally before every gig. You don’t sing Etta James without giving it 100 percent.”
In addition to daily warm-ups, Waggoner swears by a glass – or two – of red wine to help loosen the vocal cords.
“I know it’s suspicious sounding, but it really does work.”
After college, Waggoner started another band with standup bass player David Farrell; they called themselves The Tumblyweeds.
“Initially it was just me and David. He was looking for challenging material to bow his instrument. It was a perfect fit.”
The Tumblyweeds was created as a songwriting outlet for Waggoner. The name came from a song lyric she heard, “I’m a tumblyweed, baby, I tumble cuz I’m all alone.”
Waggoner said, “I heard that song and thought, that’s us.”
After college Waggoner moved to Austin for 10 years. While there she would travel back to Greeley to record with Farrell and they’d tour around Colorado and Austin. Five years into the band, they added a third member, Woody Myers. He plays acoustic guitar and lap steel.
The Tumblyweeds have produced five albums.
While living in Austin, Waggoner started the first version of Blue Recluse. Members of that band have changed with every move, but Waggoner – and singing blues covers – has stayed consistent.
The band, as it is currently known, includes Ernie Hatfield, Ernie Moss, Michael Twarogowski and Waggoner’s husband, Chris Hudson. Moss and Twarogowski are Greeley-based members.
“We took off quickly (in Salida) because there wasn’t a straight traditional blues band here. Also, it helps that there is a large population here that loves the blues, so it’s a combination of their want to hear it and our desire to play it that made (Blue Recluse) instantly successful.”
Waggoner said the plan for the band is to take the winter off to focus on writing original material for an album.
The band has two songs written so far, “Run Me Ragged” and “Close My Windows.”
Waggoner is in a third band, Fembot. It’s a rock band that pays tribute to the women of ’70s rock like Pat Benatar and Joan Jett. But Wagoner said she’d be interested in a fourth band, either ’80s dance music or ’70s soul.
When writing songs, Waggoner said it’s best “when you wake up and have dreamt the perfect song and you just write it down.”
The key is to write it down immediately upon first waking, she said. “I’ve lost some good ones because I tried to go back to sleep and remember it (later).”
Another method of songwriting she experimented with while in Texas was to get in her truck and just drive. When she’d pass through a town named for a woman like Dolores or Estelline, she would wonder about the original women and why the town was named for them.
She also has been known to write a poem about an inanimate object like a map or a boat.
Since 1987, Waggoner has been the editor of Glass Art Magazine. Aside from performing, it has been her only job. She works from home, writing, editing, interviewing and for the last four years, podcasting.
“Talking Out Your Glass” is a “Terry Gross-style” interview podcast. Waggoner said under the iTunes New and Noteworthy podcast category, hers is rated No. 1 under the art section.
“For sure a small-niche group, but it’s pretty impressive. It’s not just for glass people, it’s really fascinating.”
Waggoner said the conversations she has with glass artists, both for the podcast and the magazine, have been the inspiration for many songs.
One Swedish artist told Waggoner about a story that inspired some of her glass work. The folklore involved a woman named Carolina who slipped on ice and spent 34 years in a coma. When she woke up, everyone wanted to know what she saw. Carolina said she saw great darkness and blue men.
Waggoner wrote a song about being in a long-term coma.
“The aesthetic is not satisfied by the blues. The blues couldn’t touch it.”
Which makes it a good fit for The Tumblyweeds. Waggoner writes all the music for The Tumblyweeds, then gives the songs over to her band, and they arrange the instrumentation.
Waggoner’s favorite song she’s written is titled “Green Barn.”
“The song is about coming to terms with what you haven’t been able to achieve in life. It taps into the feeling like, ‘I can’t make this thing happen, now what do I do?’ That’s really hard.”
Another artist told Waggoner that one can’t fully understand happiness without looking at the other end. You need to experience sadness and desperation to feel love and happiness in balance. She took that to heart and enjoys exploring the range of darkness in her songwriting.
She doesn’t tend to write, as she referred to it, “happy sunshine songs.”
“It’s really important for people to know; Tumblyweeds is not the blues, it’s a new experience. Tumblyweeds is about lyrical content, it will not be blues at all.”
The Tumblyweeds will make their Salida SteamPlant debut Nov. 16.
To listen to Waggoner’s original music visit, www.shawnwaggoner.bandcamp.com.