“When my mama sang when I was a baby, I responded to her. My grandma told her, ‘That’s your singer.’ Singing was always around. Singing came instinctively to me.
The women in my family were big Ella Fitzgerald fans. I remember hearing Ella and Nancy Wilson in my early years. I had trouble singing along with their melodies. Most of my career, I wanted to sing above my range. I’m a baritone, but I wish I was a tenor. That comes from listening to Ella and Nancy during my childhood.
I’m an ’80s baby. I remember listening to the radio and singing along with Michael Jackson, Tears for Fears and Hall & Oates. Boyz II Men made a big impression on me. In high school, our football team knew all the parts to Boyz II Men songs. Senior year at Archbishop Shaw High School, my English teacher, Mrs. Angeles Bates, gave us a journal to write in during class. I give her credit for my development as a writer. The journal writing helped me associate words with melodies. That year I also studied the vocals of B.B. King and fell in love with the blues.
It wasn’t until the ’90s that Smokey Robinson and the Temptations influenced me. I feel strongly rooted in soul music and vocalists like Teddy Pendergrass—smooth vocals with a wide range. I often sing songs like ‘My Girl’ and ‘The Tracks of My Tears.’
In college at LSU, I stumbled upon my New Orleans and Louisiana roots. My roommate in the dorm had a large file of old recordings. Lead Belly’s simple song structures made lyrics more powerful. Louis Armstrong instinctively calmed my soul. Dr. John and Fats Domino left their mark on my piano playing.
During college in Baton Rouge, I was exposed to really good music when I worked in places like M’s Fine and Mellow Café. I’d take my apron off at M’s, go sit in on the jazz sets and then go back to the kitchen and make pizza.
Now I’m learning more from my pops than I allowed myself to learn in earlier years. After my mother passed in April, being close with pops during the mourning process is powerful. My parents were married 42 years. My mama sang with a lot of people in the Quarter all through the 1970s. Pops was gigging in the Quarter, playing piano for a house band. My mother became the house band’s singer and that’s how they met.
I stay open to new influences and experiences in music. We are forever works-in-progress.”
Michael Liuzza plays at 6:30 p.m. Tuesdays at House of Blues and 6 p.m. Wednesdays at the House of Blues Foundation Room.