EG Kight is the first to admit that the title track of her latest album, It’s Hot In Here, was inspired—at least initially—by a hormonal moment.
“I was in Rochester, N.Y.,” she remembers. “They were having one of the worst icy snow storms they’d had in many years. My manager, she’s bundled up with thick coats on and I’m not just perspiring, but sweating. I looked over at her and I said, ‘Is it me, or is it hot in here?’ I just got the title from the hot flash.”
With her frequent co-writer Tom Horner, Kight turned that idea into a playful R&B number about a different sort of heat altogether—lovers’ attraction. The fact that it started with a hot flash suggests something about her age, but that’s hardly the most significant thing about the song. (By her own admission, she’d hit 40 by the mid-1990s when she moved from singing country music to blues, and it’s not so difficult to count forward from there.)
“It’s Hot In Here” embodies everything that drew Kight to the blues in the first place. On the recording—the second track on her sixth overall album and her first for New York-based M.C. Records—she revels in sensual pleasure, delivering a string of temperature-related double entendres and attacking the word “hot” with a guttural growl over a flaring B-3 riff.
“I was writing some country, but when I jumped into the blues, the blues gave me a freedom of writing that I hadn’t experienced before,” Kight explains. (As a country performer she went by “Gail Kight,” until realizing “there were six ‘Gail’ singers.” EG is short for Eugenia Gail, after former Georgia governor Eugene Talmadge.) “[The blues] gives musicians—and me as a singer—the freedom to play what we feel at that given time. [You can play] more explosive solos and you can do more vocally.”
Kight’s not far off. Relatively few current female performers in mainstream country—with the possible exception of Miranda Lambert—are known for treating raw subject matter in an unvarnished way, and Nashville has seldom welcomed R&B inflections creeping into country. But female blues singers like Koko Taylor—whose Queen of the Blues album was revelatory for Kight in the early ’90s—tend not to shy away from full-bodied delivery of racy themes.
“I’d never heard of Koko Taylor,” Kight relates. “I finally found a cassette tape and put it on and the song ‘Evil’ came on, and I thought, ‘Gosh, who is this woman?’ And, boy, she was making me feel everything she was saying. And I just had a feeling I had never felt before with music.”
‘It’s just how you do it’
Kight’s entrée to blues came through devouring every Taylor recording she could get her hands on (even imports and rare Chess vinyl). She introduced a few Taylor covers into her country-leaning live act; combine all that with the fact that Kight is a lifelong resident of Dublin, Ga. (“I still live on land that belonged to my great-grandfather”), and her songs are often unique in their juxtaposition of electric Chicago blues sounds and Southern themes. “Pass the Plate,” on Kight’s new album, is a case in point: It’s a rollicking, urban-sounding boogie energized with bright layers of guitar, piano and horns, but the song’s lyrics describe a Southern fried chicken dinner on the church grounds.
Kight’s combination of capable songwriting and guitar playing with her warm, drawling, often brassy vibrato further sets her apart from her female blues peers, who may specialize in one or two of the above, but rarely all three. Kight writes or co-writes the bulk of her own material (Taylor’s even recorded a few of her songs) and—as Kight’s 2006 solo acoustic album, (Live and) Naked, proves—she can hold her own with both syncopated rhythm-playing and punchy solos.
Kight’s career and set lists are a bridge between country and R&B, and more besides. Nowhere has she illustrated that more clearly—and amusingly—than a brief between-song demonstration on (Live and) Naked. She does a little comparison of how Hank Williams and Ray Charles each sang “Your Cheatin’ Heart.” “Now, see, it’s all the same—it’s just how you do it,” she quips, before further driving the point home with her imitation of Tina Turner doing “Stand By Your Man.”
“I still, even at this point, haven’t really given up all of my country,” Kight says. “I still throw one in sometimes, because that’s such a big part of my life and it’s who I am.” The same goes for vintage vocal pop. During her albums and live shows, she’ll make it a point to include pop standards or similar originals. “I got to thinking about it, and a lot of people do old pop standard albums, but hardly anybody ever writes that kind of song anymore.”
Years of working as a resort singer acclimated Kight to tackling a wide range of material. “I may have an older tour bus group coming to Jekyll Island that wants to hear ‘Stardust,’ ‘Georgia On My Mind,’” she recalls of her resort days. “So I learned a whole bunch of those type songs, which I dearly love to this day. Then I may have a group of people that’s rowdy country. Then the next night I may have somebody wanting Top 40. I had to learn all that. I even experimented a little bit with Dixieland jazz. All of those musics, I think, made my style what it is now.”
Still, it’s the loose, cathartic emotion of blues that’s added the most spark to Kight’s output, “It’s Hot In Here” included.
“What I’m trying to do with my music,” she says, “is make people feel the way I felt when I heard Koko Taylor sing.”