Vala was born in San Luis Obispo, California, in 1954 and has been singing Blues and R&B since age 15 (after hearing a recording of Bessie Smith). “It really struck me big time,” Cupp recalls.

She became fascinated by “the most macabre tunes.”

“The strong ones are a kick in the butt to sing, and they’re a strong emotional release. They are more colorful lyrically, give you more to work with when evoking a feeling.”

Vala toured with John Lee Hooker as his opening singer and duets partner for 14 years (1987 through 2001), and has shared the stage with such luminaries as Ry Cooder, Elvin Bishop, Big Brother and the Holding Co., Albert Collins, Charlie Musslewhite, Greg Allman, Kenneth Threadgill, Hiram Bullock, Coco Montoya, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Dale Watson, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Lydia Pense, Carlos Santana, Susan Tedeschi, Tommy Castro, Buddy Guy and Derek Trucks.

Vala died on Oct. 31, 2005, in her Austin home.