NEW PORT RICHEY — In a small, dimly lit room with wood-paneled walls and a glittery popcorn ceiling, Julie Black steps up to the mike and sings the words of a song that has yet to be named.
Tonight, it's just her in the studio, her loose blond curls hanging free, minus the trademark broad-rimmed, black hat of her on-stage persona. With slow taps to her right thigh, she beats out her accompaniment, then closes her eyes and falls into the zone, crooning about the wet streets of Tampa.
The song is one of hundreds, more likely thousands, that she has written over the years.
"Everything is worth writing about," she said. "Personal experiences, dreams, real life circumstances, things I see in the news, a story someone told me and things that I dream about.
"It's nothing for me to write 10 songs a day. It's almost like I have a radio going on in my head that never stops. When I wake up, I have songs in my head. When I'm dreaming, I have songs in my head."
Black grew up poor in a strict household in rural Illinois. She lost her dad at age 2. She found comfort in music.
"To the rest of the world, I was a shy child, but at home I would sing about everything," Black said.
One day she came across an old Solomon Burke 45 record at a thrift store and fell in love with the A side cut, Cry to Me. Next came an old Ray Charles' album. She was hooked.
Black was 13 when the family moved to Seminole to care for her aging grandmother, who became a profound and encouraging influence.
Her voice has blossomed into a sexy rasp, a bluesy vibrato familiar to those who have seen Black, now in her late 30s, play venues in Tampa Bay.
"I love her music," said New Port Richey Realtor Chuck Grey who, with Gary Gann, coordinates music for the annual Chasco Fiesta and the Cotee River Bike Fest. "She has an unbelievable voice — such a powerful, soulful voice."
Bob Langford, owner of Tub's Music Studio in New Port Richey where Black records, happened upon the singer some years back while capping a night on the town.
"I was coming home from somewhere and I saw her and I thought, 'Wow, this girl is fabulous,' " he said. Langford, 70, should know. The former background and jingle singer had carved a career in the recording industry working on albums for the likes of Deep Purple, the Atlanta Rhythm Section and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
He approached her about recording some covers. Black agreed, but brought some of her original songs to the session. She offered her songs, one by one, and Langford decided to record them.
Black's first CD was released in 2007 by Langford's indie label, BOJA records. Julie Black, Call Me Angel for the Blues, features band members Michael Johnn (keyboards), Frank Timpanelli (drums), Dave Eichenberger (guitarist) and Bill Spicuglia (bass), was named one of the Top 5 Contemporary Blues Albums of the Year by Blues Critic Radio. Black, who is also a painter and sculptor, created the cover artwork and included a thankful acknowledgement to Solomon Burke. After sending him a copy, Burke wrote back and the two enjoyed a written correspondence before his death in 2010.
Her second effort featured 15 new originals and was released in 2009. You Just Might Win made it to the Top 10 at B.B. Kings' Bluesville on XM /Sirius and earned stellar reviews in the 20th anniversary edition of Blues Revue Magazine.
Black is about halfway through recording 17 songs for the yet-to-be named third CD set for release in early 2013. She is also writing for other artists and recording a variety of cover songs. The first one is due out next month.
On top of her list ?
Cry for Me, of course.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Julie Black will perform from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. Sunday at the Florin/Roebig Cotee River Bike Fest. The original version of this article gave an incorrect time.