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Lorrie Hayes, lead singer in the Marquette, Michigan-based Flat Broke Blues Band, is a Superior Woman. As a child, Hayes made a deal with God, and she has been singing the Blues ever since.
By Dale Hemmila
When Lorrie Hayes is singing the Blues, she is in a happy place.
That is understandable because Hayes is the lead singer of the Marquette, Michigan-based Flat Broke Blues Band, one of the more prolific, and longest lasting, live entertainment bands in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
And while she hasn’t been singing the Blues all the time, Hayes has been performing most of her life.
“Music has driven my life,” she said recently from her office at the screen printing shop she owns in Marquette. “My first solo was at age five. At about seven, I made a deal with God: ‘If I can be a singer, I will let people know about you.’”
As a youngster, she would sing with her mother, who regularly performed at weddings and funerals.
“I sang with her every day,” she said. “That helped me develop a vibrato, and it made my voice somewhat more sophisticated.”
In addition to helping her mother rehearse, there was also some fantasy time.
“I sang with a hair brush (as a mic),” she said with a laugh. “And I had a lip-sync group at about (age) 10 called ‘The Paulettes.’ We had dance moves and were inspired by TV shows. And I watched music from Elvis and the Stones. Whether (or not) I believed I would have a music career, it was my love—I just did it.”
Though music was her passion, she took a more practical route and studied art in college, eventually earning a master of fine arts degree in art education at Northern Michigan University in Marquette.
“I wanted to be educated,” Hayes said of her choice of studies, “and I loved art. It was between art and music.”
And while art is still a big part of her life, it is music where Hayes has made a more significant mark.
That began with singing, over a long period of time, with different groups, beginning in her early 20s, before the Flat Broke Blues Band came along.
With a couple of decades of performing experience behind her, Hayes and her bandmates performed their first gig in 2001 as a benefit for the American Red Cross following the 9/11 attacks in New York City.
The band probably didn’t realize it at the time, but they would still be making music nearly two decades later.
“That, my friend, is unheard of,” Hayes said. Given her previous experience, she would know that there are challenges to keeping a band together.
“We all have lives, homes, children,” she explained. “Sometimes the motivation isn’t the same.”
So what has kept the current group of five together for 18 years?
“It’s an equal partnership,” she said. “We are (like) five CEOs sitting down at the table figuring things out. We all take possession, and have an equal work load, and equal reimbursement. It’s like a family. We respect each other, we know each other well. There are marriages that don’t last this long. This is very rewarding. ”
Just as with marriages and other relationships, it helps to keep things exciting and fresh, and a large part of the way the Flat Broke Blues Band does that can be found in the way they approach their creative process together.
“What has helped (us) is writing music and doing our own CDs,” she said, adding that more than half of the music they play is written by the band members.
And in the end, it is all about the music they like to play and where they play it.
“I like to sing songs that are telling stories, something I’ve experienced,” she said. “You get more emotion from that. It’s not making perfect music; it’s how we make you feel. We just want to make you feel good.”
The band is in high demand throughout the Upper Peninsula, and they will play nearly any venue.
“We love festivals,” Hayes said. “Private parties, we’re always trying out different bars. Most towns have a music series, and we like to play those.”
And for Hayes, the thrill of performing never goes away.
“It’s an excitement,” she said. “If we have a Friday night gig, I start getting revved up on Wednesday.”
Along with vocals, she is also known for her play on the harmonica. Self-taught, the turns she takes on the harmonica add to the special sound of the band.
“It’s not a common thing that a woman plays the harmonica,” she said. “(But) having that adds to the authenticity of the Blues. (The band) hasn’t told me to stop yet, so I must be doing okay.”
That authentic sound has been captured so far on two CDs, and she said the band is planning to put together another one soon. The band’s music can be found online at the CDBaby website store.
Looking back on the deal she made with God as a youngster, Hayes said it feels like it worked out pretty well.
“I’m so blessed, I’m so lucky,” Hayes said. “Whenever new doors open and new opportunities come, I always feel it’s God’s direction, and that he has his hand on me continually. I still pray for his help and I get it. It was a lovely deal from a once lovely child, but it has been working for a long time. And I’m grateful.”
That deal is going to have to last a lot longer because Hayes is not planning to quit singing anytime soon.
“When I leave this earth, there’s going to be some gigs on the calendar.” she predicted. “Someone’s going to have to call and say ‘Lorrie’s not going to make it.’”
For more information about the band, visit their website: Flat Broke Blues Band