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Lorijo Manley: Bio

Alex Haley once said, “Nobody can do for little children what grandparents do. Grandparents sort of sprinkle stardust over the lives of little children.” Those were operative words in the Rome, New York home where Lorijo Manley was growing up. In fact, the words were spiritually palpable, for Lorijo’s home had been the writing place from which Haley’s “Roots” began to emerge. There is a photo of little Lorijo, holding a guitar, and being held by Grandma, behind Mom and Sister, at the piano. “That’s me, always trying to keep up with the changes,” Lorijo reveals. “It was a family ritual.”

Lorijo’s AIRPLANE CD (2006, indie release/ Muddy Pause Music) achieved its title by way of her roots. And, yes, she is in flight. “I'm always reaching for higher and higher altitudes,” she proclaims. “The title, AIRPLANE, comes from a story my Grandmother told me, at the height of my struggle for a name for this CD. She reminded me that my first word was ‘airplane’ -- I learned it on a cross country car trip, as the planes flew overhead.”

Empathy is a keyword for Lorijo, who writes all lyrics and music of her songs. “If you don't have empathy,” she says, “you can only write about yourself. Max is a real person, Sara is real, my Grandfather is real. Their stories move me; I can enter their experiences, relate them to my own, and feel the overlap.” The discerning indie grapevine documents that Lorijo’s songs are also propelled by her unequivocal status as a premier American guitarist.

Max is the title character in her AIRPLANE track, “Mad Max:” “She came from everywhere/ She came from nowhere/ If not that blessed-damned road/ Then nothing owned her/ Traveling in states of confusion/ Only at home in her art/ She wore a funny, funny, funny hat/ ‘Cause sometimes sadness tore her apart/ Mad Max...” Max is locked away by the judgmental “Committee of They.” Stating her case like a defense attorney, Lorijo’s performance offers a kind of freedom for Max: “She's been put away by people who say she’s 'crazy,' in a place where, ironically, she won't be subject to the shoddy treatment that 'normal' folk dish out to her on the outside.” “Mad Max” utilizes tugging points of urgent reference: “And I remember this happening once before He cut his ear off/ ...before They turned that gas on/ ...They raised that cross high/ ...They spat on them and burned them with cigarette butts...” Lorijo says it’s “a song about the isolation and persecution of a personality that is misunderstood. When people act from their lower selves, they tend to hate what differs from their own worlds. I do believe that this human character flaw is behind racism, anti-Semitism, religious persecution, and the desperation of Van Gogh.”

Sara is the title character of “Sara (Dream Her & Weave Her),” from Lorijo’s CD, NAKED (2004, indie release/ Muddy Pause Music). “This song was easier to write, because I identified strongly with Sara.” Sara is a dreamer, “far beyond the norm/ ...Sara thought of that day when she’d see it clearer/ Why we all stress and struggle in that unknowing way/ She stood in the rain and watched those fur coats passing/ They were laughing at her shreds and her tattered gaze...”

Not surprisingly, Lorijo’s repertoire offers sundry songs about her Grandfather. Outstanding is “Grandfather’s Day” (on NAKED), in which the artist, with uncanny aplomb, jams an historic biography into a 6-minute hymn: “1929 selling apples just to survive/ ...Most of them starving.../ They pass him by/ Buy on the other side/ 1935 driving south to pick up his bride/ Stopped by a lawman and thrown in jail for nine days/ No reason why/ His lawyer son is still unborn/ So habeas corpus mute/ For a black man on the wrong side/ Of paradise in ‘35/ 1946 he buys a house and moves his family in/ The neighbors start complaining/ Scheming up a framing/ Circulating petitions/ Hundreds sign their names/ But still he remains...” She chronicles the family’s northern migration, her Grandfather’s Freedom Rides activism, the first-born Grandchild, Grandfather’s retirement. “He starts handing those stories to me/ And I laugh at some but I cry at more/ And I look up I notice he’s doing the same...” She takes to heart the “inheritance” of “fear and pain and anger and sorrow;” still, Lorijo offers “Love,” waiting in the wings. She calls the song’s in-concert longevity “amazing,” its performance “difficult:” a signature that “my audience believes in.”

The tradition of artistic integrity flowed through Lorijo’s energetic Mom. “She gave me my creative props, fueling my imagination at every turn,” Lorijo emphasizes. Props for her Mom weave through the lyrics of “Graveside” (on NAKED): “I bask in her oneness many steps behind/ Inspired by her solitude to be Me Myself I...” “My mother enrolled me in music lessons (piano, drums, guitar) and dance lessons (ballet and tap). That was on top of the reading programs at the library and Girl Scouts’ programs, to name a few!” Daughter continues, “The house had a piano, guitars, drum set, maracas, tambourine, thumb cymbals, juice harp, clackers, kalimba thumb piano, harmonica, and on and on. One of my grade school friends said, ‘Your house is like a hobbit house.’ Mom is a painter and natural interior designer. She worked every room into a recognizable theme, a unique warmth. She even made our Halloween costumes; the other parents would ask to borrow or rent them for office parties. She also gave us art projects. My favorite was the 4' x 3' Escher-like mosaic she drew with the names of all of our family members woven into the design. She put it on the front porch, where we colored it in.”

The Alex Haley story exemplifies a quintessential activism of Lorijo’s nurturers, as authentic patrons of the arts: “Alex was living in Greenwich Village. When his interview with Malcolm X was published in Playboy, he was commissioned to write the autobiography. After conducting the interviews in New York City, Alex told a friend, George Sims, that he needed a quiet place to write the book. George suggested the sleepy town of Rome, and he traveled upstate to secure apartments for himself and Alex. George looks white, though he is black, and was married to a white woman. He rented two apartments and moved in. When Alex arrived, the landlord sneered, ‘I didn't know you were black. I can't rent to you.’ With nowhere to go, Alex took up residence in a local shack, like a chicken coop. My Grandfather, who thought the hovel was barely fit for animals, told George’s parents he had just bought a two-family house, and there was room for Alex. Sight unseen, Alex rented the apartment. My mother, pregnant with me, moved in on the other side. Alex gave me a bassinet when I was born, and became a family friend. In our home, he completed ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X,’ and began ‘Roots.’”

Lorijo wrote another song for her Grandfather, “Seven Sea Ships” (two versions, available on AIRPLANE and NAKED). “It’s one of those songs that felt channeled.” Lorijo reports. “I wrote it years ago and thought it was corny. When he passed, I put it on the set list. The response was incredible, so I kept it in rotation. Playing this song is an experience of transcendence. Some moments remove themselves from the mundane and approach the divine -- I call these ‘velvet scenes.’ That’s what this song represents.”

On “Seven Sea Ships,” she plays a Yamaha classical acoustic-electric. Like Richie Havens, with whom she has shared the stage, an undeniable “sound of freedom” emanates from Lorijo’s guitar. But, hers is a younger, alternative style -- folk, funk and blues roots intact. NY’s OutWords magazine put it this way: "She makes magic through her music... channeling Jimi Hendrix through her fingers... spectacular." When asked about the recurrent Hendrix comparisons, she shrugs and says, “I think it’s the kinetic relationship we share with the guitar in live performance. I'm a stronger guitar player than singer. Both are instruments, voice and guitar, but the guitar responds to the stimulus that I give it -- whereas my vocals are influenced by emotions of the material, the atmosphere, distractions in the room... a million factors.”

AIRPLANE opens with “Too Late, Angel” (alternate version on NAKED), a la Carole King’s cathartic “It’s Too Late.” “I feel snarky when performing it live!” Lorijo smiles. She employs a Yamaha plug-in, recalling, “The second guitar I laid down later -- a Gibson Les Paul electric. For the vocals, I chose controlled emotion. To scream or shout would show that I really cared about the person and was really hurt, and that was the last thing I wanted to show, even though I did still care and I was still hurt.” The cut is soulful. Lorijo says soul music “is what happens when big voices step outside the gospel church and go secular. Heartfelt, down to earth.”

Opened by a truckin’ guitar/harmonica combo (Lorijo/Sal Carolei), she gets due respect from a swampy rhythm section on “Past Dues” (AIRPLANE). Her guitar work takes it to the greats. “I’m playing a Fender strat on this strut. It has a don’t-mess-with-me attitude that makes men cower and women sport wicked grins,” she laughs. “It’s funkier in the present day rendition. The genesis of this song comes from flipping a car and walking away with just a little blood on my hands. The rescue squad was amazed I survived. It's also about the music industry. (‘You gotta learn the leanings/ You better know the meanings...’) Actually, I flipped the car because I didn't know you're not supposed to turn on your brights in the fog.”

Lorijo plays piano on AIRPLANE’s “Driving by Midnight” (longer version on NAKED). She says, “Putting a little piano into this song was fun. I released an EP some years ago that featured a piano song, but I don't really consider myself a pianist. But, the piano will always be my first instrument and, as such, have its place in my heart. My Grandmother, 97 this year, was my piano teacher; she was everybody's piano teacher! Grandma says every job she's ever had is because of her music, and that that's what she wants to be remembered for. Her concert schedule used to be so crowded that Grandpa had to help organize it. She likes to put on what she calls ‘programs.’ Grandpa started studying those Thompson piano books under the tutelage of his wife. At recital time, he’d protest that his fingers were too big. I can still hear my Grandmother countering, ‘if your children can do it, you can do it!’ When he did indeed hit two keys instead of one with his working-man hands, he just mugged for the audience and did it again, until he got it right.”

“Driving by Midnight” has the feeling of triumph that is a lot like Lorijo. “Something lives in the dreaming/ Which I will never lose...” As Alex Haley said, “In my writing, as much as I could, I tried to find the good, and praise it.” Lorijo says, “My family taught me in word and action that nobody can steal your joy. My Aunt used to sing to me as a child: ‘You've got to accentuate the positive/ Eliminate the negative/ ...Don't mess with Mister In-Between...’ and she would sing James Brown's ‘I Feel Good!’ I don't believe in defeat. You do the best you can, always, and you never give up.”

Lorijo produced NAKED, and co-produced AIRPLANE with bassist Darrell Briscoe, founder of New York’s Two Galleries recording studio, with credits including Ari Hest, Paul McCartney, KRS-One and MTV. Lorijo handles vocals, guitars and piano. Drummer Stan Barley hails from the Chicago scene that has become a Lorijo staple; on smokin’ harp is new buddy Carolei.

She is an alternative-media darling. Richard Lynch, producer at Chicago’s WNUR-FM, states: "Lorijo Manley will blow you away with her 'humanistic funk rock' style. A premier vocalist and uniquely gifted guitarist..." WGN-Radio heralds “quite a crowd... salivating over her playing.” SubNation magazine (outlet for Chicago’s “happenings”) took note of Lorijo’s performance at a dozen clubs: “Something about her brings to mind a female Lenny Kravitz... huge stage presence... She plays the hell out of her guitar... and puts two tons of heart into her singing.” The Windy City Times said “Manley is concerned with broad human values. In the powerful ‘Whatcha Doin'?’ she praises those who have fought for causes, but also urges her audience to take stock of their personal values: ‘Up you mighty people/ You can accomplish what you will/ But I say what, whatcha doin'?’”

By Spring 2008, Lorijo has set up a sun-drenched resident-musician groove at Blue Heaven, Key West, FL. “How remarkable is she? Well, the nationally known and lauded guitarist/vocalist was once credited with channeling Jimi Hendrix...” (Key West Citizen). She’ll head home to New York City with tour stops in FL, VA, MD, NJ, PA, MA and NY, performing in clubs and festivals. She’s touring solo. “But sometimes,” she muses, “I feel alone onstage, kinda naked with no one to play off of, especially on the real band songs.” Her next goal is to work with musicians, producers and session players in Los Angeles.

As a kid, she bought the STAR WARS and SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER soundtracks. In high school, Lorijo started the “Theater Romps” dramatic workshops for children, and won an acting contest. She studied theatre at Northwestern, creating the University's first women's performance troupe, Astarte Mettle, which garnered Lorijo a TIME MAGAZINE COLLEGE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD. Over the next decade, she logged 3,000 live music performances, between New York and Chicago alone. Lorijo was an official performer at the Athlete's Village, 1996 Olympic Games, Atlanta. In 1998, her vocals were showcased in the Native American Music Awards theme music, on A&E. She has numerous television and radio appearance credits, including WBAI, New York City; WNUR and WGN, Chicago; WAMC/NPR, Albany; WUMB, Boston. In 2003, she won an arts grant to help produce NAKED. She “owns” Manhattan’s abundant, alternative club scene. You might catch her occasional show in the subways... What? Lorijo is devoted to her “markets,” from busking to touring in her vehicle, doubling as office HQ. These days, her music purchases lean toward Eva Cassidy’s SONGBIRD, Joni Mitchell’s SHINE, Arrested Development’s GREATEST HITS and Joan Armatrading’s WHATEVER'S FOR US. That vehicle is a 21-foot “cute lil majikal mystery van.”

- Karen Johnson, 2008




KJPR Publicity, Artist Relations
Karen Johnson
(career clients... Etta James, U2, Ringo Starr, Taj Mahal, Dennis Hopper, Kim Wilson, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Tony Bennett, Andy Summers, Keith Richards, Private Music, Warner Bros. Records, Stony Plain Records, Musicians For Life... )

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