Lady Plays the Blues

Lady Plays the Blues

Vienna songwriter and guitarist will perform at the State Theatre on Friday.

When Vienna resident Cathy Ponton King recalls her earliest musical influences, she thinks about her Irish grandmother, Margaret Coakley. Growing up in Hyattsville, Md., King would go to the parties her grandmother would host to raise money for the church. At some point at the parties, the adults would turn the record player off and start singing ballads from the Old Country well into the night.

Music "just came naturally to me because it was so prevalent in my upbringing," King said.

King will perform with her band at the State Theatre in Falls Church this Friday. A blues band with a rock ‘n' roll and swing sound, The Cathy Ponton King Band will perform original songs, many of them written by King herself. The band will open on Friday for Jimmy Thackery, a renowned blues musician.

"We're blues with a bass, as a starting base," said King. "A lot of strong ballads, and a lot of swing."

Playing at the State Theatre is one more performance in a long history of shows. When King was 10, she begged her parents for a guitar. She was inspired by rock figures Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell.

"It was my life's quest," King said of the instrument.

In college at the University of Maryland, King, a journalism major, worked at the college radio station and befriended other campus musicians.

One of her friends was in a blues band called The Nighthawks, and one night, when the band was playing at the Cellar Door club in Georgetown, King met Muddy Waters, a blues icon and one of her greatest influences.

"Just think of how lucky I was to rub shoulders with him," said King.

While developing her musicianship, King also delved into songwriting, which she saw as an extension of her music to another level.

The blues are "so broad a genre," said King, remarking that blues can branch off into rhythm and blues, blues, and rock. "It suited me better because it gave me songwriting capability."

After graduating from college, King worked at ABC News for three years during the day while playing clubs at night. Sometimes she would finish a gig and instead of going home, she would go to the office for two hours of sleep until her workday began at 5:30 a.m.

When someone offered her the opportunity to tour with the band The Rhythm Masters, she quit her job and toured with the band, traveling up and down the East Coast and in the South.

"I could never put the musical part of me on the back burner. It was always forcing its way out," King said.

With her home base in Bethesda, King toured for several years. In 1984, she moved to Vienna with her husband, Jeff King, a producer, and continued to play the blues. She limited herself to local gigs once she gave birth to her daughter, Carianne.

King formed another band, and the current roster includes members Jim Robeson on bass, Mike Lessin on guitar, Bob Berberich on drums and Bill Starks on keyboard. They have cut one recording and are working on another one, and they have played at local venues such as the Ram’s Head Tavern, the Bluebird Blues Festival and Madam's Organ.

"Everybody in the band works, and we all are parents," King said.

King expects to be singing the blues for years, from this Friday onward.

"There are always slings and arrows. The bottom line is I get to sing and make people happy," King said.