Call it an anointing of sorts.
In 2012, EG Kight was sitting in her customary pew at the Nazarene Church in Dublin, Georgia, when some song lyrics, unlike any in the hymnal in her lap, began unspooling in her mind. “I didn’t have anything in my pocketbook to write on, and I was wishing the sermon would wind down before I forgot them,” she says, with a laugh. “But the preacher kept on preachin’. I finally drove home fast and started scribbling.”
Kight crafted those inspired words into the song “Misunderstood.”
At the time, the prolific singer-songwriter, who is 59 now, had not jotted a single verse in a year. A near-fatal bout with meningitis and encephalitis, most likely from a mosquito bite, had impaired many of her cognitive abilities. “I couldn’t even write my own name,” she says. “I would stare at my guitar and think, ‘What is that?’ I couldn’t remember basic chords. It was scary.”
Since that revelation at church, though, her cup runneth over, she says.
“My music is coming from a different place, a deeper well now,” Kight explains. “I feel it more intensely in every note and every word.”
Thus did Kight, a “hot-mama blues act,” known as “the Georgia Songbird,” bring some Sunday-morning sunshine to her smoky Saturday-night sensibility. “Misunderstood” appears on her latest album, A New Day, which nods knowingly at the down-and-out themes of the blues, but balms them with encouraging words and some B-3 Hammond organ, in its jumping, jubilee-gospel mode. The overall message is summed up on the track “Don’t Give Up.”
“This album is a miracle to me,” Kight says. “I’ve heard from cancer and transplant patients who say it gives them hope.”
Kight recorded the album at Muscadine Studios in Macon with Paul Hornsby, a keyboard artist and sound wizard in the genesis of Southern Rock at Capricorn Records. “I would describe EG’s vocals as lush – extremely rich, wine-flavored and lush,” he says, “and her last two releases show that she’s getting more and more sophisticated in both her phrasing and her songwriting. You can hear the soul-crafting at work in their wisdom.”
“A New Day” debuted at No. 9 on the Living Blues chart, which Kight has been cresting for awhile, in a lengthy career informed by the sounds of her Georgia upbringing. The initials stand for “Eugenia Gail.” Most people of a certain age in Dublin, where she grew up, still call her “Gail.” “I was named for my Daddy, Eugene, who was named for Eugene Talmadge,” she says, referring to the populist governor. Kight’s grandmother played guitar and piano, while her mother sang gospel and her uncle anchored several bands. “We’re an extremely musical family and an extremely Southern one,” she says, in a speaking voice that is as every bit as small-town modest as her contralto is sultry and insinuating. Note how she pronounces the word “Lord” – it’s “Lawd!”
Kight’s petite frame carries a big voice for belting – what old-timers would admiringly call “little but loud.” She started playing guitar when she was four. “I always had a doll in one hand and a guitar in the other,” she says. When someone broke her heart at 16, Kight, who then was bopping to Elvis and The Beatles, wrote her first song and reveled in the catharsis. “I started making money for my music as a teen-ager, playing for beauty pageants and civic groups,” she says.
Kight ran a daycare center called Miss Songbird’s Treehouse while she honed her chops on weekend, making in-roads in country music and appearing regularly on the Ralph Emery Show. “I kept getting more gigs,” she says, “so I decided to pursue my dream full time.”
In the mid-1990s, Kight heard Koko Taylor’s work for the first time and switched from country to blues, with a leonine growl. She sought out her idol at a Chattanooga gig, and the two became fast friends, recording together and sharing material, until the Chicago diva’s death in 2009. “I called her my ‘blues mama,’” says Kight, who recently became a similar kind of mentor to Lisa Biales. “Lisa and I play together as the ‘Peach-Pickin’ Mamas,’” she says.
Kight enjoys stretching her range as an artist, adding a jazzy clarinet here, some earthy funk there, across half a dozen albums. She received the Georgia Music Legend award in 2013. Today, she lives on a farm that has been in her family for four generations, where she tends a small herd of goats and practices photography. A New Day is worth obtaining for its playful album art alone – shots of her wryly shepherding her clowning goats, and one in particular, “Sippie,” a nanny named for Sippie Wallace, poised at a microphone as if about to sing. Kight titled it “Baaad to the Bone.”
“A sense of humor can get you through some hard times,” she says. “Just like music. Music, comical-acting goats, laughter, friends, and the Good Lawd – they helped me heal.”