Mary Bridget Davies has the blues in her blood. Even before she was born, her mom dated Greg Allman, of The Allman Brothers fame, and ended up marrying the lead singer of Labyrinth, a blues rock band from Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland is where Mary Bridget Davies is from, and ever since she was a kid, she remembers being lulled to sleep with songs like Janis Joplin’s “Summertime.”
“Sometimes my mom sings when she speaks,” Mary Bridget told ZACH. “When Mom was younger, her mom always told her ‘no singing’ and ‘no dancing,’ so now every holiday we turn on records and sing and dance.”
“My first memory of Janis Joplin was listening to her Cheap Thrills album, jumping up and down on a green corduroy couch to ‘Piece of My Heart.’” At the end of the song, Mary Bridget was screaming along with it, even though she didn’t know any of the words. With two older sisters and an older brother, none of whom are terribly musically inclined, Mary Bridget always had music in her life. She recalls a VHS tape of her very first dance recital in the basement of Cleveland’s City Hall where she refused to stop dancing, and literally fell to the ground after a far-too-long routine.
“But everyone clapped at the end,” Mary Bridget recalls. “I got up, waved and walked off stage.”
Mary Bridget Davies had no formal training as a singer. She always thought she’d end up dancing. In fact, Mary Bridget specialized in hip hop dance when everyone tried to push her into ballet, jazz and tap.
It wasn’t until a dance recital at Baldwin-Wallace College when she was 15 years old that Mary Bridget had ever tried singing in public — “and it was at a dance recital, not a singing competition.” There was an open slot for a vocals performance, and she sang “Twilight Time” by The Platters. “I won first place, and got the ‘most entertaining’ award … it was funny, to win for singing at a dance competition.”
“Karaoke blew up when I was in high school.” Mary Bridget had toyed around with singing a bit at parties and social events, but in Nov. 2000 her parents encouraged her to go to a blues jam in Cleveland where she thought she was just going to listen. Instead, she turned on the music to Perci Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone to Love” and sang her heart out. “I was hired by my first band that night.”
Her band, The Blues Explosion, took her to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, which was sponsored by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, later that year. Mary Bridget suddenly found herself in the midst of legendary artists like B.B. King, Mavis Staples, Hubert Sumlin and even the president of Alligator Records, Bruce Iglauer. “The cool thing about the blues community,” Mary Bridget said, “is that nobody’s uppity.”
On the same bill with Leon Russell, Delbert McClinton, Renee Russo and Buddy Guy, Mary Bridget Davies and her band met up with Vasti Jackson, a blues guitarist, who told them that the band’s name didn’t reflect their music. “You’re more than a blues singer,” he said, “the band should carry your name.” Mary Bridget made the switch with a bit of trepidation and became a member of a Cleveland improv group called “Something Dada.”
“Something Dada made me smarter, faster and funnier, and really helped with my stage presence — though I’ve never been a stranger to the stage,” Mary Bridget Davies said.
Her experiences with the improv group and as the front of a increasingly successful band encouraged her to record an album when the musical Love, Janis entered concurrently entered her life. “I saw Andra Mitrovich in Love, Janis in 2001 during a tour at The Village Gate on Bleker Street in New York.”
“Andra blew me away; I thought it was amazing.”
Mary Bridget emailed Sam Andrews, of Big Brother and the Holding Company fame, and found out the band had a gig in Hamilton, Ohio at Angel’s Saloon that same week. “I got to meet the whole band, and was asked to sing Bobby McGee onstage.” Mary Bridget gave Sam a distorted tape of a show she and her band had done the night before and he told her he’d stay in touch.
Sure enough, five years later, Mary Bridget Davies ran across a flier for a contest called “The Search for the Pearl: The New Janis Joplin.” Whoever won the competition got to front Big Brother and the Holding Company, so Mary Bridget immediately emailed Sam Andrews. Sam told her that the competition was in its infancy, but mentioned that Love, Janis is having auditions and would be coming to Cleveland.
The night before they were set to arrive for auditions at the Cleveland Playhouse Square, Sam called Mary Bridget and told her he needed two guitar players and a trumpet player for the auditions and the show. She turned him on to Ben Nieves, the guitarist from her band, her cousin Mark McGuire, who was a rhythm guitarist, and her friend Christine Jackson to play trumpet. But at the front of Mary Bridget’s mind was still that she hadn’t landed the role and still had to audition, even though her friends had already gotten the job.
“It was an open cattle call,” Mary Bridget said, “girls showed up and thought it was just a musical, so I was feeling pretty confident but still had to wait a couple of days for my audition.”
Her audition came, they called her back, but Randy Myler, the show’s director couldn’t be there because he had thrown his back out playing basketball that week. From 100+ girls at the first round of auditions to 3 on the final day, Mary Bridget Davies walked back up the stairs at the Cleveland Playhouse Square with her nerves taking hold of her as she listened to children rehearsing for A Christmas Carol — and Randy had finally made it to hear the final candidates.
Randy asked her what Janis Joplin songs Mary Bridget knew, and she sang “Piece of My Heart.” “He thought it was good, but said I smiled to much,” she said.
“You’re an actor, you have to act,” Randy said.
Mary Bridget tried not to smile, and she was cast in the touring production, which opened Dec. 14, 2005 at the Louisville Actors Theatre. “We had only rehearsed for about three weeks beforehand,” Mary Bridget said, “Randy never even saw me sing until 6 months later when we played in Aspen, Colorado.”
Mary Bridget Davies is now rounding out her final weekend in Love, Janis at ZACH Theatre, and she’s got a surprise in her future, “But I can’t say what because I don’t want to jinx myself.” Jinxed or not, we’ll be sad to see her go. Tickets to her final shows are available online or through the box office, (512) 476-0541, x1.