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July 29, 2016

Interview: West Philly-born musician Gail Ann Dorsey

She’s played with Bowie, Stefani, Kravitz and so many more.

Music Gail Ann Dorsey
Carroll - Camden Rising Gail Ann Dorsey Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Gail Ann Dorsey played with Lenny Kravitz at the BB&T Pavilion in Camden, New Jersey, Thursday, July 28, 2016.

You never know where Gail Ann Dorsey is going to show up. The West Philly-born bassist and guitarist has toured and played with some of the biggest names in music — David Bowie, Tears for Fears, Gwen Stefani, Indigo Girls, Ani DiFranco — the list is crazy long. Thursday afternoon, I was delighted to see her up there as part of Lenny Kravitz’s band’s performance at the "Camden Rising" concert at BB&T Pavilion, providing thumping basslines on “Let Love Rule” and “Are You Gonna Go My Way.” Since PhillyVoice was the official media sponsor of the event, I had a backstage pass and was able to, as politely as possible, ambush Dorsey for an interview in a hallway. She graciously took some time out of packing up to talk to me.

You grew up in West Philly, right?

I'm from West Philly, yes — 61st, between Race and Vine. I left Philly when I was about 17. That was about, ooh, I don't even want to tell you how many years ago that was. It was 1980.

Why'd you leave?

Went to college. College in California, and then I went to New York and London, and I’ve been all over the place. But I haven't lived in Philly since 1980. I was born in 1962. My mother passed away about five years ago, so I don't come back that often. She was still in the house I grew up in, on 61st Street. I have a few siblings in the Jersey area, Stratford and Willingboro.

Were you always a bass player?

I started playing bass when I was 14, but I started on guitar when I was 9. But yeah, I was playing bass in Top 40 bands here in Philly when I was 14, 15, 16.

Any names you want to mention?

Oh, I wouldn't know, you know — they were local kids. We were all kids, and we played whatever was on Top 40 radio — Rolling Stones, Fleetwood Mac, all the stuff that was [on the radio] in the late ’70s. We played Sweet 16 parties and clubs and on the boats at Penn's Landing, stuff like that — in the summertime, when I was off school.

And this was the heyday of Gamble & Huff.

Absolutely, Gamble & Huff — they were in their prime at that point. The O'Jays and Teddy Pendergrass...

Did that make you, because you're from Philly, feel like you could go out there and —

To this day, I’m proud to be from Philly because of the music that's come from here. I think it's just as relevant as Motown and all the rest of it. ... But I think, actually, what made me feel like I could get out there in the world and be a guitar player was seeing Heart.

Oh yeah?

Yeah, it was when the Wilson sisters came along. I saw Ann and Nancy fronting a band and, like, rocking it out and being able to hang with the guys, and I thought, 'Yeah, you know, maybe there is hope for me.'

Do you remember where you saw them?

I saw them at the Tower Theater. And I saw them many times in other cities over the years. I still go and see them whenever I can.

And you played with Bowie for years.

I played with Bowie and — I played this venue with Gwen Stefani; I did the 'Sweet Escapes' tour and the 'Love Angel Music Baby' tour as well. But we played here — I remember it was her first son's first birthday and we had a party out the back of this very venue. And I think that was the last time I was here; it was quite a few years ago now.

What did you think of the crowd today?

I thought it was great. It was wonderful. It's a great cause. You know, I'm a Democrat. I was raised a Democrat. I've been a fan of Hillary [Clinton] all the time that I've known her in my lifetime. And really hope she wins. I think she'll do as decent a job as anybody else.

Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Lenny Kravitz performs at Thursday's 'Camden Rising' show at the BB&T Pavilion in Camden, New Jersey.

FULL DISCLOSURE: "Camden Rising" is being sponsored by George E. Norcross III, a member of the Democratic National Committee and the chairman of Camden’s Cooper University Healthcare and the MD Anderson Cancer Center at Cooper, and Susan McCue, the former chief of staff to Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid and co-founder of Senate Majority PAC, and features special guest Congressman Donald W. Norcross. is the official media sponsor of the event. Executive Director Lexie Norcross is the daughter of George E. Norcross III and niece of Congressman Donald W. Norcross.