Born in New York and raised in Hollywood, the Rev. Shawn Amos grew up on the outer edge of musical fame. His father, Wally Amos, was a bigtime booking agent for Motown stars and others before founding the Famous Amos chocolate chip cookie company.
His mother, Shirley Ellis, sang and recorded under the stage name Shirl-ee May in the ’60s, although her son never knew it until after her death in 2003. Two years later, he recorded an album tribute to her titled “Thank You, Shirl-ee May.”
After spending the early part his of career on screenwriting and film production, Shawn Amos. now 50, turned to producing records, eventually making his own albums starting with ‘In Between” in 2002.
After the first few albums, Amos settled comfortably into a blues groove, and that’s the sound he’ll bring Feb. 16 to the Mystic Theatre in Petaluma, the same day that his sixth album, “The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down,” will be released. He took time recently to talk by phone from his Los Angeles home about his life and his music.
Q: You had two show business parents. How did they meet?
A: My dad was an agent with the William Morris Agency. He was actually the first black agent in the business, and he booked all the Motown acts, and the Animals and Solomon Burke. Then he became a personal talent manager and after that he started the Famous Amos cookie company. My mom was a nightclub singer. They met because he was scouting her. She was trying for a contract with Mercury Records and she hadn’t recorded commercially yet. He got a tip on her and went out to see her perform at a nightclub in Atlantic City.
Q: How old were you when they divorced?
A: I was young, like 7. I have very few memories of them together.
Q: How did they influence your music?
A: My father used to take me to work with him a lot, going to nightclubs and sound stages. My early to exposure to music was seeing people work at it. It wasn’t like being at a concert in the first few rows. It was seeing people try to figure out how to get a horn part right, or do the 20th vocal take for a record. I saw it was a job. People had to work hard to get it right. It made realize early on that you’ve got to love the work. I got that from my dad.
Q: And what did you learn from your mother?
A: I didn’t know about my mom’s singing life until after she died. She committed suicide in 2003. I feel like I’m continuing the work she didn’t finish. Vocally, we’re worlds apart, and stylistically we’re worlds apart. Genetically, I guess I’ve got what she had. I love to sing and perform.
Q: How would you describe her singing style?
A: You can find a couple of her recordings, and I’ve got a bunch of her recordings. She had this little-girl, mousy kind of voice. Her songs had almost a country-style flavor to them. In some respects, she more influenced my earlier stuff, before I got into the blues. In my earlier work, I was really committed to the Americana genre, when there weren’t a lot of black voices in that genre. There still aren’t a ton. I saw myself aligned with her in that regard. But blues, for her, was a little too rough and rowdy.