Singing the blues since the 1980s, songwriter, singer and electric guitar player Cathy Ponton King still gets ideas for songs at unexpected moments.
She might be talking to someone and suddenly a phrase will resonate in her head.
“You never know when you'll hear some beautiful expression,” she says. “I can't stop the ideas, they're constantly coming. I'll grab my guitar and start thinking, 'Should it be rockin' blues or slow blues or a ballad?'”
King and her band will perform some of the songs from her latest album, “Crux,” on Saturday at the BlackRock Center for the Arts in Germantown.
Her third, the album is dedicated to the friendships she has had over the years, including one with keyboardist Bill Starks, whom she's known for more than 20 years.
Also performing will be Bruce Swaim on sax, Andy Rutherford on guitar, John Previti on bass guitar and Antoine Sanfuentes on drums.
“The blues give me a lump of clay, and I make my own sculpture out of it,” says King, who started her career singing Irish songs as a child at family gatherings.
A broadcasting major, she graduated from the University of Maryland in the late 1970s and got a part-time job with ABC doing radio interviews with the likes of rockabilly musician Carl Perkins, rock and roll singers Jan and Dean and TV personality Mr. Rogers.
She also worked as the news director for WLMD radio station in Laurel while continuing to sing and play the guitar, taking a particular interest in the blues.
It was then that she got to know the members of the Nighthawks band, which opened for Muddy Waters at the Cellar Door in Washington, D.C.
Guitarist Jimmy Thackery invited her backstage, where she had a rare chance to talk to Waters about his music.
A Mississippi native who moved to Chicago, Waters amplified the guitar, revolutionizing British blues in the 1960s.
After the Laurel radio station was sold, King decided to hit the road with her own traveling band the Rhythm Masters, which focused on Chicago blues, and she also began to write some of her music.
But within a few years, she stopped touring after meeting and marrying Jeff King, who owned a recording studio in Falls Church, Va.
With her husband's help, she released her first album, “Lovin' You Right” in 1993, followed by “Undertow” in 2007, which he also produced.
King is quick to credit the gifts of her fellow musicians whom she has worked with over the years, as well as her husband, who produced her three CDs.
“”I feel humbled by them, giving the talent for my songs and creating the songs,” she says in an email. “And Jeff, for taking the recordings and making them beautiful with his arrangements.”
At the concert Saturday, King says she expects to sing songs from all three albums, as well as some of Muddy Waters' songs, such as “That's All Right” and “Goin' to Main Street.”
“I pepper my set with ... tributes to them,” she says about her reverence for the blues greats.
One of the songs from “Crux,” “I'm Just a Woman,” has a rockabilly beat and tells the story of a woman who “pours her heart out way too much” to her friends.
Another is an upbeat zydeco song, “I Want You To Be Happy,” which King wrote in response to someone who had sent negative vibes her way. King says she wanted to counter it with something positive, and listening to zydeco, a mix of Cajun music and blues, “It's impossible to be in a bad mood.”
Also on the album is “Sugarface,” a song set to a “funky Memphis beat” that King says evolved from a term of endearment that her younger sister had used with her children. King thought about it again while searching for her own daughter's face in a large crowd and feeling so glad to have found her.
“Sugarface,” in fact, has become a draw for mothers who come to hear King sing it at the Harp and Fiddle on Cordell Avenue in Bethesda. She first knew the place when it was called Psychedelly in the 1980s, and now sings the blues at the venue about every six weeks.
“They all get up and dance,” King laughs. “A lot of the moms have adopted it as their anthem.”
In addition to the constant inspiration from the world around her, King says one of the reasons she continues to sing and perform is because she enjoys the feedback from the audience, which includes longtime friends and fans.
“The performance part is fun,” she says. “I'm a people person. A lot of loves comes back to me.”