“She’s very Southern,” understates her guitar player, Ken Wynn.
In the 1970s, her buddies nicknamed her the “Georgia Songbird,” which since has been shortened to just “Bird.” Kight has spent more than 25 years as a road-tested, old-school ax slinger, vocalist and songwriter, working in the groove between country blues and the Chicago sound. Her voice can veer from crisp, whisky-smooth phrasing to barrelhouse belting, punctuated with the occasional growl, drawing the inevitable comparisons with Bonnie Raitt. It was legend Koko Taylor, though, who was Kight’s mentor and patron until her death in 2009.
“One afternoon I’d been stuck in Atlanta traffic for quite a long time,” she says. “When we started moving again, at a pretty good pace, my phone rang. I knew I shouldn’t answer it, going so fast down the interstate, but it was Koko Taylor! She said she was getting ready to record one of my songs and wanted to make sure she was singing it right, so she started singing to me over the phone.
“When she got through, she said, ‘Is the way I’m singing it OK?’ I answered, ‘Do you know that you could sing ‘My Dog has Fleas’ and I would love it?’ We both laughed, and sure enough, that song landed on her next album. What an incredible honor, to have a song on both of her last two albums.”
Kight is no stranger to accolades. She received the Georgia Music Legend award in 2013, and when she appeared on Garrison Keillor’s “Prairie Home Companion,” its website was assailed by so many hits it had to shut down.
Based in her hometown of Dublin, Kight is touring to promote her latest album and a children’s book. “The Trio Sessions,” which she started in 2019 and then put on hold during the pandemic, was released to cicada-like buzz, debuting in the top 15 on the blues and roots charts and landing on the Top 40 Blues albums of 2021. It also racked up nominations for Best Acoustic Album by both the Blues Foundation and Blues Blast Magazine among other honors.
“She is honest and true and completely unique,” says blues critic Donald Wilcock, who has followed her since the 1990s. “Willie Dixon, a majordomo, said the blues is truth, and no one better defines its truth than EG.”
For “The Trio Sessions,” her ninth album, Kight and “the boys,” as she affectionately calls Wynn and longtime drummer Gary Porter, sat in a circle in the same room instead of in isolated recording stations.
“When we’re sitting near each other, we feel more connected and feed off of each other in the moment,” she says. “We’ve played together so long that we can read one another and feel where the other one is going. Collaborating is as natural as breathing. I believe it comes off as more of a ‘live’ feel.’”
The resulting harmonies showcase the band’s easy, sibling-like chemistry.
“The way EG is on stage” — warm, folksy, earthy — “is the way she is 24/7,” says Porter, whom Kight has, for some reason known only to her, nicknamed “Spoog.” “There’s nothing put-on with her. She’s as real as they come.”
The album features mostly originals, including one she co-wrote with Johnny Neel of the Allman Brothers Band. If these songs have a through-line, it is the traditional blues lament of rocky relationships: the trouble with a “hard-headed man”; the sweet freedom of leaving a toxic union; and the metaphorical vow never to touch a hot stove again. (Fans have started to holler requests for the “stove song.”) She also covers some standards: “Evil” by Willie Dixon; Robert Johnson’s “Come on in my Kitchen”; and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.”
Standing 5-foot-4, Eugenia Gail Kight, with feathered hair and a no-bull tomboy vibe, is a compact dynamo born in a year she’d rather not disclose. She has never taken formal music lessons, but she grew up steeped in her family’s tuneful influences, and, as is the case with most Southern arts, antics in church played a role early on.
“My mama was offered a contract to go out on the road singing gospel music when I was a baby but turned it down to be a wife and mother,” Kight recalls. “When I was around 3 years old, she took me with her to practice with her church trio. While I was sitting there listening to them, I started harmonizing, and the pianist noticed and asked me if I would sing a special song the next morning in church.
“So the next day I sang ‘He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands,’ and when I finished, I bowed to the audience. Mama said she knew in that moment that I’d be an entertainer.” Her Uncle Jimmy, who had a rock band, gave her a guitar when she was 4, and her grandmother taught her some chords. Soon enough, Kight was obsessively noodling around, channeling youthful angst into lyrics.
Credit: Bonnie R. Gehling
Credit: Bonnie R. Gehling
“I never wanted to put the guitar down,” she says. “It was bigger than me, and I wore out a path dragging it to grandma’s house every day.” (Nowadays, she prefers a smaller, scaled-down Taylor.)
Her first song? “‘I Really Do Love You,’ and not long after that I wrote ‘Alone Too Long.’ These songs came from a heartbreak I had as a teenager in love, and they’re about when my best friend stole my guy away from me. But I should thank them because they really started something great.”
She originally planned a more practical career path.
“After high school I was just getting ready to start studying in the medical field, because I always loved science and wanted to be a lab technician,” she says. “But that’s when I got a call to go to Nashville to record some music. That kind of opportunity was kind of unheard of back then, and I jumped at the chance — and haven’t looked back.”
She began opening for George Jones, Merle Haggard and Jerry Lee Lewis. “This Southern songbird has as much Patsy Cline and Merle Haggard in her as she does her blues mentor Koko Taylor, and that makes her songs about a life lived with bumps in the road a form of medicine that’s smooth and effective,” writes Wilcock.
The first time she heard Taylor wail “Evil,” though, “it was a life-changing moment. It just tickled me to death. I knew I wanted to feel as deeply as she did. That’s when I started singing those blues songs, and they became more popular than my country act.” So Kight made the switch — less twang, more moan.
When she is not gigging or recording, she enjoys a pastoral life on land that has been in her family for four generations. It is home to 11 goats, one of which is disabled.
“I had a pet goat when I was around 10 years old that walked around everywhere with me, and I would even bring her in the house to watch television. I would dress her up with beads and a hat and folks would come from near and far to take our picture.” Bored during the pandemic and unable to livestream because of a slow internet connection, she wrote a charming children’s book: “Things I Learned from a Goat” (BookBaby, $19.99), filled with photos of her “kids” accompanied by her homespun wisdom. “Goats are comical, and they remind me of the circle of life,” she says. “Besides, the goats are better-lookin’ than any of the men in Laurens County!”
(The elusiveness of a good man is one of the single lady’s recurring themes, onstage and off.)
Now, though, Kight is back in the studio, “cooking up a new stew,” no doubt seasoned generously with long-simmering ham hocks.
“I don’t think I chose the blues,” she says. “The blues chose me.”
EG Kight. 8 p.m. May 20. $33. Randy Wood Pickin’ Parlor, 1304 U.S. 80, Bloomingdale. 912- 748-1930, randywoodmusic.com. For more on EG Kight, go to EGKight.com.