NORTH ADAMS -- Guitarist Mamie Minch carries the spirit of musicians like Mississippi John Hurt and Memphis Minnie in her playing and singing, but she's not trying to replicate the music she loves -- she just lets it flow through her and come out as her own thing.
Minch will play at Mass MoCA at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Minch began playing music at age 12, spurred into interest by her guitar-playing dad. She didn't take lessons, instead working to figure out songs from early blues records, like Mississippi John Hurt and Mance Lipscomb.
"I guess I was a bit of an odd kid," Minch said. "It's not like there was a big early blues scene in Delaware -- all three counties of it -- in the mid ‘90s. All my friends were listening to hardcore and ska and punk, and I loved that sort of thing, too."
Minch didn't begin to perform until she was in her 20s, and her playing style reflected the focus of her musical loves -- guitar-based blues from the early part of the 20th century, as interpreted through her own 1930s National guitar.
"I loved discovering these early recordings as a kid, Charley Patton, Memphis Minnie, tons of field recordings," she said. "Shanachie and Yazoo records were my favorites. I guess I really sort of fell in love with the idea that you could hear someone actually killing it, singing and playing an instrument in 1928, you know? My imagination was captured. I am still caught by the way that a great tune is
Minch's musical career has seen her perform on her own and with groups like the Roulette Sisters, who revived women's harmony styles, and performing alongside singers like Jolie Holland and Dayna Kurtz. Her musical pursuits also moved from just playing the music she heard and loved to creating her own. This presents its own challenges by walking a line between the music she loves and staying true to who she is, while at the same time not making it all sound like she's forcing a style on the new songs.
"You need both magic and dogged work to get something good," said Minch. "Most days I'm pretty hard on myself. I'm not trying to write in any particular style, for the most part -- I might set up obstacles for myself to work around, but I don't feel like I'm affecting a voice."
And though her musical language was taught to her by the blues players of almost 100 years ago, Minch hasn't shied away from change and moving forward with technology. She's picked up further influences along the way, and for her next album is moving more toward band arrangements -- she's recently been playing exclusively with a rhythm section, Konrad Meissner and Nate Landau, who will share the stage with her at the Mass MoCA show.
"I've recently started to play an electric guitar," Minch said. "That's right, I've gone modern, fast-forwarded all the way to 1959, when my Gibson 225 was made. There are a new bag of influences, for sure, but I do still love good driving blues, full voice singing, and a well written story song."
Minch's background in working with her hands doesn't end with playing guitar -- it also includes working on them, as head of repair for Retrofret Vintage Guitars in Brooklyn, which gives her a whole other relationship with her instrument.
"It's my full-time job, has been for five years," she said. "I work pretty exclusively on vintage guitars -- it's a dream. I still love the way they smell. I'm sort of a guitar pervert."
Minch went to school for printmaking, and is skilled at jewelry making and carpentry, so tactile pursuits are just as important to expressing herself as songwriting. Her debut CD was released as a limited edition handmade package. Minch says that one skill set is invaluable to teaching her about the other, and her DIY aesthetic is rooted in all her pursuits.
"Probably the biggest thing songwriting and guitar repair have in common is that they both require a great deal of patience," said Minch. "I learn more about that everyday."
Find Minch online at facebook.com/mamieminchmusic. Listen to her exclusive Spotify playlist, created by her especially for The Transcript arts blog, at blogs.thetranscript.com/arts/2013/03/05/playlist-mamie-minch.