Changing Perceptions

Big-haired hausfrau.

Big-mama biker chick.

Soulful chanteuse?

Shifting from horny housewife Peg Bundy on "Married … With Children" to ferocious gang matriarch Gemma Morrow on FX’s new "Sons of Anarchy" to the singer onstage at Friday’s free concert at the Henderson Events Plaza, Katey Sagal won’t be packaged into any one pop-culture commodity (even if Peg casts a sitcom shadow as big as her bouffant wig).

In an interview, the ex-Harlette (yes, she’s strutted with Bette Midler) talks about the personal nature of her songwriting, her shyness around Bob Dylan, and being pegged as Peg.

Question: An Entertainment Weekly music critic once described your delivery as "somewhere between Tina Turner’s pop soul and Bonnie Raitt’s tender R&B for 40-somethings." Would you call that accurate?

Answer: Oh, I like that! That’s probably apropos.

Q: What can people expect at your show?

A: I write music, so most of it is original music and I have a great band. I do talk, but I don’t tell jokes. Sometimes people get confused, they think, "Well, she’s funny on television." But I share a little bit about myself.

Q: What themes do you explore in your songs?

A: I’m always fascinated with the concept of growing up, becoming an adult. It’s still a startling thing to me, how life is never quite like what I thought it was going to be when I was a kid. I write about my family. It’s not your typical love songs, it’s more experiential.

Q: You’ve done two albums and sang on your former sitcom, "8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter." Despite that, are people still surprised when they discover this other talent?

A: People are surprised when I do anything other than be Peg Bundy — which is fine. I loved Peg Bundy. But it’s amazing how doing one thing on television for 11 years just carries you. I think sometimes people are shocked that I don’t have big red hair. Sometimes I’ve been a little frustrated by people’s lack of vision because they keep you there, but I lean toward it being a blessing. It gave me so many great opportunities. But when they see me in concert, I get surprised looks on people’s faces.

Q: Of your performance as a biker mama on "Sons of Anarchy," the Hollywood Reporter wrote that it’s now "impossible to imagine she ever played Peg Bundy." Is that a good sign for getting Peg to recede in the public’s mind?

A: Yes, it’s completely different. My husband (Kurt Sutter, co-executive producer of "The Shield") wrote it for me, and (the character) is a fiercely loyal mother to her children and her (motorcycle) club, and I’m kind of that way in life. Also, I have this recurring role on "Eli Stone," which is really fun, so perceptions are loosening up.

Q: In the early ’70s, you were a backup singer for Bob Dylan. What did you take away from that experience?

A: It was a very limited time I worked with him, only a couple of months. I learned that it’s important to speak up for yourself, because at the time I was so starstruck, I was only 18 years old, I could barely say anything to him. In retrospect, I think, "I should have talked, made my opinions clear."

Q: What did Bette Midler teach you?

A: How to work hard. I never worked so hard in my life. And I haven’t worked so hard since. She has an amazing work ethic. I went over all over the world with her, and I cannot tell you how many hotel lobbies I rehearsed in, because she would decide at the last minute that we would have to rehearse a number, that’s just how she worked. Even though it’s the same show every night, she was constantly perfecting it. Bette was such a consummate performer and my show is really not like a Bette show, not as theatrical as all that.

Q: Did any one singer specifically influence your style?

A: When I worked with Etta James — musically, that’s where my emphasis is. Etta was someone I was in awe of, musically.

Q: With roles in two TV series and giving more than 20 touring performances a year, is it tough to fit it all into your schedule?

A: It’s hard times right now, and the fact that I’m working doesn’t go lightly by me. I’m grateful.

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

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