By Patricia Guthrie
Special to The Record
Stevie Nicks, Janis Joplin, Bonnie Rait.
These are just a few of the famous performers that Janie Cribbs has been compared to throughout her long singing career.
She’s flattered, yes, but Janie Cribbs is truly one of a kind — a soulful blues singer with blonde hair who was born in California, raised in Ireland and ended up on Whidbey Island by following her equally creative siblings.
Since 1999, Janie Cribbs has been a steady musical presence up and down Whidbey Island from Oak Harbor to Langley, playing at bars, wineries, festivals, fundraisers and other events.
“I’ve never tried to be anyone but me,” said Cribbs, looking out from the deck of her Freeland home she shares with Joe Reggiatore, her partner in love and lyrics.
Standing all of 5-feet tall to Reggiatore’s 6-feet, 2 inches, the two equalize in size on stage with the help of mics, amps and footwear.
Perennially dressed in black with glimmers of shimmering silver and gold and ever-changing hues of wire-rimmed glasses, Cribbs’ towering voice and high-stepping black boots boost her tiny stature ever upward.
On stage, Cribbs seems akin to the warning on the side mirrors of cars: Objects in the mirror are closer — and larger — than they appear.
This summer, Cribbs and her band seem to be everywhere — Celebrate America, Whidbey Island Fair, Bluesberry Festival, Goosefoot Bayview Street Dance. Janie Cribbs and The T.Rust Band, together since 2014, includes Cribbs on vocals, Reggiatore on acoustic and electric guitar, Dave Willis on bass and banjo, and Kevin Holden playing drums and percussion.
The music is described as “original roots, blues and sultry soul.”
The T.Rust band is scheduled to appear 7-8 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31, at the Oak Harbor Music Festival.
The band’s second CD released last year, “Queen of Fire,” has garnered rave reviews.
Cribbs describes the songs, written by her and Reggiatore, as a “tribute to women everywhere who have experienced the struggle and strife of being a strong woman through the ages.”
Eric Schuurman of Rootstime Blues Magazine wrote, “Janie Cribbs And The T.Rust Band deliver a strong and well-crafted CD. The relaxed atmosphere, the musical variation and depth they put down deserves our attention.”
The title track, “Queen of Fire,” is dedicated to female singers — Etta James, KoKo Taylor, Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples and Janis Joplin — and music pioneers such as Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Big Mama Thornton, whose contributions faded with time.
Tharpe, a widely popular gospel singer, songwriter and electric guitar player in the 1930s and 1940s, has been called the founding mother of rock who gave rock’s founding fathers — Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard, Elvis Presley — the idea. Thornton, a rhythm-and-blues singer, songwriter of the 1950s, is also considered a female architect of rock ’n’ roll, famous for first recording “Hound Dog.”
Cribbs credits tarot cards for the CD’s title and theme.
“I kept drawing this tarot card, Queen of Fire. I thought, ‘I need to write a song ‘Queen of Fire,’” she said.
She started thinking of all the female singers she admired and knew that their paths had not been easy.
“Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin both struggled against an industry that was male-dominated,” Cribbs said. “So I wrote verses about them. They stood tall, singing their hearts out, telling their stories with voices filled with fire.
“I wrote it for all women,” Cribbs continued. “I want to tell women, it is our birthright and our duty to be a Queen of Fire.”
The Cribbs sisters and brothers were all inspired and encouraged to pursue the arts by their mother Annie Cribbs, an English professor at a California college, who also eventually moved to South Whidbey.
She died last October at age 95.
Annie Cribbs not only raised her family of five on her own but decided to move them all to Sligo, Ireland, in 1966 for one year so she could pursue her doctorate on William Butler Yeats.
They stayed 15 years; she never got her Ph.D. Instead, she opened a small restaurant and turned a 100-year-stone house with no running water into a neighborhood destination.
“Mom was an incredible cook,” Janie Cribbs said. “She taught us all. She wanted us to be able to get a job anywhere in the world.”
As the sunset’s evening palate of colors streaked above, Cribbs reflected on why her entire family, one by one, moved to this long, skinny pile of rocks in Puget Sound.
“Whidbey is an island like Ireland is an island. It’s the same latitude as Ireland, really green and surrounded by water. All of us had those elements in Ireland that we missed terribly.”
Sisters Keke and Buffy are accomplished artists of many forms, including reverse painting, ceramics, glass mosaics, furniture, printing and indigo fiber. Janie’s trademark is deeply toned owls painted on faded wood. Brother Robbie is a sound engineer and owns Sound Trap Studios in Langley. He’s recorded six CDs that Janie has produced over two decades. Youngest sibling George, who died in 2014, was an actor, set designer and artist.
“Art supplies and music were our teachers and friends growing up,” Janie, the middle child of the Cribbs clan, recalled. “There are no doctors or lawyers in this family.”
• For schedule and information on Janie Cribbs and The T.Rust Band: www.janiecribbs.com