By Kelly Baughman
Elaine Petty’s heroes may all wear cowboy hats, but with her God-given talent, silky yet gravelly voice, and big personality, it’s easy to see that she can command any stage she steps on with ease. She’s an outlaw when she’s feeling country, she’s soft when she’s feeling emotional, and she’s always true to herself and her music. That’s what makes her a must see among musicians here on the Gulf Coast.
The Mobile native was born with music in her blood, although it wasn’t until a fateful Christmas gift from her parents changed her world.
“I got my first guitar for Christmas when I was nine years old. From that moment, I never put it down. It went everywhere with me,” Petty said.
After taking just 13 lessons, Petty had gotten the hang of her new found friend and continued working on her music daily on her own.
“I was the kid who only cared about music. I wasn’t very good at talking or expressing myself in front of others with words, so when I had to take a speech class in school, I sang ‘Feliz Navidad’ with my guitar for my presentation. I was comfortable being me behind the guitar,” she said. “Having it with me always helped.”
As she continued her education in school, she continued to work on her craft as a musician, playing parties and starting various bands with classmates.
“I knew music was what I wanted to pursue, but there were definitely some times when I got off track with my sound,” Petty said. She recalls a time in the 80s when she formed a band that she said was really into “headbands, punk hair, and high-tops”.
“It was the 80s and I was really into Tina Turner and Bryan Adams and what they were doing at the time. It’s funny now, but we were serious about it,” Petty laughed. But it wasn’t long until her country roots called her back home.
“I grew up listening to the greats of outlaw country. My Dad had this Johnny Cash album that I memorized and probably played so much I wore it out. Waylon Jennings, Dwight Yoakum, those were my favorites,” she said. Even though the legendary men of country influenced her personal sound, Petty said it was the great women of country that guided her on her way to the stage.
“Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and Lucinda Williams were big influences for me. Not only were they going toe to toe in a predominantly male genre, they were storytellers. Their songs spoke to my heart and made me want to write songs of my own,” Petty said.
Petty says that those influences can be heard in her original songs like ‘Nanny’s House’ and ‘Little Country Town’. “I think it’s a magical thing when you can express such deep personal emotion into the words of a song. It’s even more magical when you can get an audience to feel that emotion with you just by listening to the words of your story,” said Petty.
In 1999, Petty helped others through the power of music once again when shared her soul in a song after being diagnosed with breast cancer. “I was asked to write a song for the American Cancer Society’s “Relay For Life”. The song was called ‘A Little You, A Little Me’, and it was included on their “Inspiration” CD. That was really special because I wanted others to know that you’re not alone in this fight. It was my way of being able to express my emotions with those that I knew could relate to how I was feeling,” she said.
To Petty, that’s what music is all about. Connecting with others on the deepest emotional level in good times and in bad.
Now, cancer free, Petty is spending her time writing more original music while she performs nightly all over the area. “I love writing songs, and I even wrote one about what seems to be the story of my life called ‘I Must Have Been A Jukebox’, because coming up as a musician I tried to learn every song anyone ever requested. I guess I did pretty well, because I’m known as “the human jukebox”,” Petty laughed about her ample repertoire.
And although she calls her guitar her best friend, Petty says she can’t say the same for the stage. “People may not know this about me, but I’m really shy. I’ve had stage freight my whole life. To this day, every time I get on stage, I’m super nervous,” Petty said.
Watching her perform, you’d never know it. Petty commands attention with her powerful voice and confident stage presence. “I’m lucky to live in a place that is so accommodating to musicians and songwriters. Local businesses and residents here are very supportive of the musicians and that certainly helps my confidence. It makes what we do worth it,” Petty added.
Petty remains one of the Gulf Coast’s most coveted acts, and you can find her at the Flora-Bama every Monday, The Daiquiri Bar at the Wharf on Tuesdays, Sassy Bass in Ft. Morgan, Delta Blue in Gulf Shores on Friday, and various others like Behind the Pines, and Big Beach Brewing Company, just to name a few.
To see a full list of Elaine Petty’s upcoming shows, visit www.perdidokeylive.com or her Elaine Petty Facebook page.
And while Petty said there are many different directions life could have taken her, she wouldn’t change a thing about being a musician. “I feel so blessed to be able to wake up every day and do what I love in a town that embraces a little bit of a different lifestyle. Music has always been my first love, and being able to make a living doing that is truly the key to my happiness.”