A Life of Music
I've been thinking a lot about my music lately and all the different directions it's taken. This year, I finally got a band together again. I've been wanting this for quite a while but was picky about how to go about finding folks and who I wanted to work with. The long wait has definitely paid off. I love working with these guys. We all seem to be on the same page musically and creatively. We play rock & roots, which is really rock & roll with a couple of acoustic instruments. I've realized how much I depend on bass and drums to give me freedom to let loose and really sing. Singing is always what I do best and what I love the most. Much as I enjoy playing instruments now, I'd be just as happy just singing.
I've always sung, for as long as I can remember. My parents used to tell me that I sang before I spoke. I guess it took a while before I actually said words instead of singing them. I don't remember, but I don't think they would have made that up. It's not surprising when you look at my upbringing. My dad's family were all musical. One great-uncle, on his mother's side, was in vaudeville playing mostly a tenor banjo which I now own, another played organ and piano at silent movie houses and the rest all played classical piano and sang. My dad sang all the time at home. We sang in the car and many evenings after dinner, we would sit around the table singing songs. Even my mom, who was tone deaf, sang lullabies to me. I never minded the off notes. I just loved the music. My mother's best friend's parents were from Scotland and were also musical. They would stand me up on their dining room table and teach me Scottish songs. I've been immersed in music my whole life.
Growing up, the house was filled with the sounds of Big Band, blues, jazz and classical. Once in a while Mom would listen to somethiing smoother like Frank Sinatra, Perry Como and the like. Then came the 60s. Mom loved watching The Mike Douglas Show and sometimes Merv Griffin. Of course, we always watched Mitch Miller and sang along with Mitch, occasionally Lawrence Welk and always Ed Sullivan. I saw all the great rock, motown and funk bands of that era on TV. Mom especially loved James Brown, and we would dance up a storm when he was on. I can't remember a time when there wasn't some kind of music around. Then, there were family friends who played instruments and would come over and jam. Sterns Woodman could play any instrument and any song. My brother and I would try to trip him up, but as long as we could sing it to him, he could play it.
When I was 9-years old, I started taking piano lessons and continued through high school and my very brief time at college. At some point, our neighbor across the street heard me singing while I played the piano and insisted that my parents get me voice lessons. I sang mostly classical music and got gigs at churches and other similar venues. I even sang in a choir directed by Duke Ellington. I lived for singing. That was when I knew this would somehow be my vocation. Piano was a struggle for me, and still is, because my dad was very particular and never satisfied with my playing. He would sit with me while I put in the required hour and harrass me about not playing well enough, but he didn't get involved with my singing. I actually play the piano quite well, but rarely play because of all that old stuff that comes rushing up to the forefront. When I do play, I try to do it when no one is around to hear. I'm trying to be braver, but old feelings can be stubborn.
After taking voice lessons for a year or so, I asked my teacher if I could bring my own music to learn. He agreed to take some time at the end to work on mostly blues. He taught me to let go of any expectations and sing with no restraints and all feeling. Although the techniques I learned have served me well, that was the most important lesson I got from him. Suddenly, I could channel all of my hurts, and there were a lot, into my songs. Not only did it make me a better singer, it helped me survive the turmoil and abuse I suffered living at home and in school. I was always a shy person and scared of most people because of what I'd experienced. When I sing, everything else disappears. There is only me and my music.
When I met the man who would become my husband and give me his name, he didn't want me to sing with him because he said it threw him off, so I sang on my own until his sister heard me one day and changed that. We worked together for 20 years, writing and performing songs. We played folk-rock in clubs, coffeehouses and on the streets of San Francisco, Santa Cruz, California, Portland, Oregon and various other cities throughout our travels. When he and I split, I met another musican and jumped into the folk scene for the next 20 years. Ironically, his name was also Kavanaugh but spelled slightly differently, so we performed as Cavanaugh & Kavanaugh. This was a whole new world of music for me. I learned to play string instruments by backing up fiddle tunes, mostly Irish traditional and Old TIme. The chords changed so quickly, I had to really work to keep up, but I learned a lot. I learned to play guitar, mandolin and mountain dulcimer. It opened up a new way of thinking about my own music and colors how I play and the songs I write. Basically, music has been my whole life forever. I hope I can do it until the day I die.
Birds, a Video and an Upcoming Gig
I’ve been struck by how often the subject of birds has come up lately. My band, Dandelion Wine, has added “Bird Song” to our song list. I’ve always loved this Grateful Dead song and am enjoying singing it with a full band. Back in late September, we played at a benefit for the local bird sanctuary, The Berkshire Bird Paradise. The next week, I wrote a blog post about noticing that birds seem to be my spirit animal. Not long after that, knowing nothing about my blog post, the bass player in the band referred to me as “the bird lady of Petersburgh.” After our last gig at Foodstock 6, at The Rustic Barn Pub, we got a request for the song, “White Bird,” another song that I love but may not have thought of on my own. Now that there’s snow on the ground up here in the mountains, we’re feeding the birds again. I enjoy watching them so much! I’m not sure why this is important, or if it even is at all, but it’s always interesting to me when I notice synchronicity at work.
And speaking of synchronicity, I’ve also been reflecting on my band, how it came about and the band members. For years, I’ve been wanting another band and had been looking around hoping for a word-of-mouth kind of thing. One evening I went to a local Open Mic and met Shows Leary. I asked if he would be interested in being in a band, to which he replied yes. Meanwhile, a friend approached me offering himself and his partner to join a band as a “musicians for hire.” I decided to take them up on their offer, and the first incarnation of Dandelion Wine was born. Unfortunately, that didn’t last, but it did lead to other members joining. Now, Dandelion Wine consists of Shows Leary on bass, Wayne Chills on electric guitar and Tommy Love on drums. I couldn’t make these names up if I tried. How cool is that? I haven’t worked with a band since the early 90s and am having to remember how to lead. This group of musicians is wonderful to work with. They are flexible, love to jam and are patient with my learning curve. We are very pleased to have gotten a video from the Foodstock 6 gig and are looking forward to the next gig at The Rustic Barn Pub on December 21st.
I hope you enjoy the video and also hope it encourages you to come out to this next show.