NEW YORK (Reuters) - It has taken more than three decades, but singer-songwriter Joan Armatrading has finally made it to No. 1 at age 56, thanks to her first foray into the blues.
Armatrading became a star in 1976 when her third album spawned the hit “Love and Affection,” but she never topped a U.S. chart until her new CD “Into the Blues” hit No. 1 on the Billboard and iTunes blues charts.
The success comes as no surprise to her.
“I started this tour in England on February 13 and on May 9, I got the news the album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard charts. But from the start of the tour, I told the audience every night that it was going to be No. 1. I just knew it,” Armatrading said in an interview.
Born on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts before emigrating to Britain as a child in 1958, she put out albums in 1972 and 1975 before gaining attention with the self-titled “Joan Armatrading” in 1976.
But if she were starting now, she would not expect the same luxury from a record company.
“Probably today, record companies would not wait for your third album to be a breakthrough,” she said. “Back in the 1970s, record companies looked at an artist and saw potential and knew it doesn’t always come to fruition on day two.”
Armatrading is known for her complex and interesting musical arrangements, which often defy categories.
Longtime fans know her for such lilting songs as “Willow” and “Show Some Emotion.” Her new album takes its inspiration from Chicago-style blues icon Muddy Waters and has won warm reviews by critics.
But she is no tortured songwriter, saying she waits for inspiration before writing anything, does not write songs for long stretches and then knocks out new compositions in 10 minutes or so.
Between tours and writing binges, she rarely picks up a guitar — and she never practices.
“If I practiced the guitar, I’d be absolutely brilliant,” she said with a laugh.
While young musicians now increasingly get their start by posting songs on MySpace and YouTube, Armatrading began in an old-fashioned talent contest.
“I came in second, oddly enough to a guy who was playing a saw,” she said.
Yet while YouTube and MySpace help new acts get noticed, some things remain the same, she said.
“People think all they have to do is record the song, put it on MySpace and become a huge star. But you still need to have the talent and be good enough to get people keeping coming back,” she said. “And if you really want to be big, you will still need some help.”
Armatrading has managed to keep her personal life private over her long career. She reveals little about herself beyond saying she does not drink or smoke, attends few parties and never uses curse words.
“You need a private life,” she said. “Why on earth would I want to divulge my private life to everybody?”
But despite her closely guarded privacy, she said she loves reading tabloids, especially for coverage of the exploits of jailed socialite Paris Hilton.
“I love the comedy of it. Sometimes it’s a little too cruel but it is very funny,” she said, becoming animated while talking about Hilton’s jail sentence, which she said “seems excessive.”
“But at the same time, maybe...,” she says, trailing off into a deep laugh.