Ashley Cleveland: The raunchy-voiced rock singer with a serious spiritual message

Sunday 1st December 1991

Her debut album 'Big Town' on Atlantic Records has already won ASHLEY CLEVELAND a great deal of critical acclaim. America's ACM Journal spoke to the talented 'new' singer/ songwriter.

Ashley Cleveland
Ashley Cleveland

I spoke with Gerald Fast of Spin 180, and he mentioned you'd written a few songs that Steve Camp has used. Russ Taff, Rick Elias...a few others too.

"I wrote one song for Steve, actually I wrote it for myself but Steve recorded it, called 'Threshing Floor.' Also Etta James just recorded one of my songs, which I'm thoroughly delighted with. I worked on one of her records and think very highly of her. A lot of people over-record for their album, though, so I don't know if it will make the record. All of the publishers that I have worked with since moving to Nashville six-and-a-half years ago held back what would be considered the bulk of my material and did not pitch it to mainstream artists. The hope was that I would ultimately have a record deal and be able to record them myself. Also, Billy Sprague recorded one of my songs. I did a lot of co-writing also. Russ Taff recorded a song that I co-wrote called, 'He Came Through."

Is your background gospel then, with a little blues and rock?

"My background is not gospel... My musical background is really folk. I always liked soul music too. I guess that would fall under the heading of gospel. In my twenties, I attended an all-black church in California, simply for the passion of their worship... and I was tired of the conservative Presbyterian service. Rhythm and Blues - I came to the blues later. Now I naturally feel things on the blues side."

Your release 'Big Town', then, really captures your folk, blues, with a little rock mixed in and represents where you've been and where you're going?

"I think I couldn't have put it better myself."

Is there a song that is really close to your heart? Something that really speaks to where you are, where you're going, or something that's really influenced your life?

Are you getting airplay at the national level?

"Willie' did well in the North-east and the South-east. It did well in Canada and pockets in the Western US too. The second single, 'I Could Learn To Love You', just came out Friday so they're just gearing up for the push on it. The record is moving along very steadily. As far as Christian radio stations go, the jury is still out?"

"With Christian radio you need distribution by a Christian record label and my record label doesn't want to do that right now. They just want to get me established through the regular system."

Stand on its own two feet in the real world...

"Yeah. I've heard from alternative Christian radio stations. Or Christian radio stations with alternative hours.
That's where the record is getting played."

Any plans for you to pursue music festivals like Greenbelt, Flevo, or Cornerstone?

"I would certainly love to participate in that if I were asked. I don't know if there are any plans to pursue that. I played the Newport Folk Festival (which is a blast) a couple of years, and the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival a few times. My record isn't being carried in Christian bookstores, it's only in regular record stores."

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