Green in the blues: Young Joplin singer earns national respect

Jan. 3—Keeping a band together is hard work for most high school students. For Alyssa Galvan, it involves international communication.

Galvan, the singer, lives in Joplin, while other members live in Chicago and as far away as France. While web conferencing might work just fine for a business meeting, latency and bandwidth create secondslong time gaps that make playing music together impossible.

No problem, she said. The band will be ready for a gig this month in Memphis, during an international blues festival held in the historic halls of Beale Street.

"It's definitely hard. Right now we're practicing our parts so that we know the songs and will be able to play them," Galvan said. "It's all about putting trust in each other."

The band is only part of a growing list of performances and projects for the 17-year-old blues artist. She has become a regular performer at eateries and nightclubs across the region, and across Northwest Arkansas, and last year released "Alyssa," an album of her music, on Spotify.

She recently performed for the first time at George's Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville, Arkansas, and played during last year's International Blues Challenge as a performer in its youth showcase, playing in front of blues enthusiasts from all over the world.

Galvan has played guitar since she was 11. An interest in '70s punk pop such as Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Patty Smith and Lou Reed pushed her into performing. Her first gig was played at the former Dead Cow Saloon in Carterville when she was 13.

But because she also loves folk artists such as Woody Guthrie, she was easily drawn to blues played by artists such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Blind Willie McTell. The interest drove her singing voice — a soaring, intense voice that she bends as easily as her guitar strings, and that draws comparisons to Janis Joplin — as well as her guitar style, picking up the syncopated Piedmont style of playing favored by southeastern blues artists.

"I really loved the stories behind the blues," Galvan said. "I always heard about having 'the blues,' but learning what that actually was — the old artists were primarily Black, and this was their outlet, writing songs of pain, what they were going through and how life was treating them."

About her instrument

One of the guitars she plays is a National Duolian steel resonator guitar made in 1933. She calls it the crown jewel of her collection of almost a dozen guitars. She knows a lot about the instrument, including how its construction helps it produce much more sound than a normal guitar and how it is optimal for slide techniques.

But she is even more enchanted by what she doesn't know about her guitar.

"When you look closely at the neck, there is so much wear," Galvan said. "Who played this guitar? I love the way it feels and looks, and the history of it."

Diving into the blues at a young age has already given her exposure to people who don't take her seriously, delivering old jokes about how can someone so young really understand the blues, she said. But she has also found listeners and fans among people who take the blues, and its role in American music, very seriously.

Galvan's artistry and performance have earned support from fellow blues enthusiasts who put their money where their mind is. The Blues Society of the Ozarks sponsored Galvan's performance at last year's International Blues Challenge, and is doing so again for 2023's festival, set for Jan. 24-28.

The same group also sponsored Galvan to perform at the Pinetop Perkins Homecoming event, a blues festival held in Clarksville, Mississippi, named for the legendary pianist in the Muddy Waters Band. Galvan was one of several youth performers who played at the Ground Zero Blues Club, owned by actor Morgan Freeman.

It was at that festival where she first met and played alongside guitarist Valentin Vasseur, bassist Mateo Perfetti, harmonica player "Mighty" Michael Avi and drummer Paige O'Rourke — her bandmates.

Together they have formed what they call International Crossroads Project. They will get to play together again Jan. 27, during the International Blues Challenge's Youth Showcase.

A chance meeting

Galvan said the group was put together during the Pinetop Perkins festival by chance.

"The event was like a weeklong summer camp, and we all played together," Galvan said. "We worked really well. ... Everyone else could talk to each other, and no one walked over each other."

Despite living in different areas, the band has figured out how to keep making music. It has released two songs on YouTube, assembled by everyone recording their parts by themselves, then editing them together. "I Don't Know What You've Got," a rendition of a song made famous by Little Richard, was performed and released by the band last week.

Galvan said the band is raising money to record an album, play again at the 2023 Pinetop Perkins festival and go on a European tour.

Those goals are only a few that Galvan has set for the next five years — as well as the rest of her life. Already focused on building a musical career, she aims to play in a variety of places, from a church in Portland, Oregon, filled with pipe organs to the Ann Arbor club where Iggy Pop played his first show.

Even though she has performed for years, it was that stage in Clarksville last year that made up her mind.

"Looking out over this massive crowd, one of the biggest stages, that was the moment I knew I want to do this for the rest of my life," Galvan said. "I can't imagine doing anything else."