The third great man in my life was Dick Kavanaugh. I met him a few years before my husband and I split up. Paul Cavanaugh and I had been fighting for years. A friend gifted us two tickets to a Dutch Apple Cruise for what should have been a lovely and romantic ride up and down the Hudson River together. After arguing for the entire half hour ride into Albany, we boarded the boat and went our separate ways, me to the rail to watch the scenery and him to the bar on the lower deck. A little while into the ride, he came up to me dragging a handsome man and saying, "Hey, Deb. I want you to meet my long lost brother, Dick Kavanaugh!" We all laughed at the coincidence of last names, and Paul returned to the bar, leaving Dick and I to enjoy the rest of the boat ride together. It turned out to be quite a romantic ride after all. Toward the end, we talked about our attraction to each other, but I was still married and committed to trying to make the marriage work. At the end of the ride, we sadly said goodbye. He soon moved out of the area, and I went on with my life, never giving him another thought.
Fast forward some years later, and I was on my own with a three-year old in tow. I'd left Paul and was living in Albany again. One evening, I called a friend to see if she would like to come over to jam. She said she would love to but had a friend coming over. He was also a musician, so she asked if she could bring him along. When you're jamming, the more the merrier, so of course I said yes. Surprisingly, it was Dick Kavanaugh, and the rest is history. The attraction had not waned, and we got together quickly as I was never much for hesitating. Though the similar names were awkward at times and raised some eyebrows, we soon took advantage and started performing as "Cavanaugh & Kavanaugh".
We started out playing music together for fun, and eventually performed together. Before I left Paul, I wasn't playing string instruments but knew I needed to learn guitar if I wanted to be able to perform on my own. I was just beginning when Dick came on the scene. He loved playing fiddle and wanted me to back him up. I learned to play guitar by accompanying his Irish and Old Time fiddle tunes. He didn't slow down for me, so it pushed me to keep up. Having been a musician my whole life, I learned quickly. A few years later, he handed me a mandolin during a road trip and asked me to play and sing for him. The mandolin was small enough to be in my lap in the front seat of the car, but I had never touched one before. "Just figure it out," he said. "You're smart." He told me what the strings were and, using my knowledge of music theory, I figured out a few chords. Soon, I was playing songs. Then he brought home a mountain dulcimer, and I learned that next.
I was doing shows pretty regularly now with a variety of instruments but didn't feel very confident and was still plagued with stage fright. I could always sing with confidence but couldn't talk to an audience. I was brutally shy, especially onstage and always had been. One night, we were playing a show to a full house in Schenectady. He turned to me and, into the microphone, asked me a question. I panicked. I could feel the sweat pouring down my back as I struggled to get out any sound at all. He kept looking me in the eyes and smiling until the rest of the room disappeared and I was able to answer him. Later I told him how furious I was at him for putting me on the spot like that. He listened, letting me vent, then chuckled and insisted that it had worked. I got through it unscathed and was quite eloquent. After that it got easier and easier. Many people remarked on how much they enjoyed our banter with each other and the audience. They said they felt as though they were sitting in our living room. Now, I work a crowd with ease, immensely enjoying telling my stories.
Although we didn't last as a couple, I am very grateful for all that he taught me. I now play multiple instruments and am a true entertainer, not just a singer. I immersed myself in the folk scene while with him and learned so much. The ironic thing about that is that Paul and I originally moved to this area because of the folk scene but never felt comfortable in it, diving into the world of rock & roll instead.
Dick also taught me and many others to embrace my feelings and not be afraid of them, no matter how uncomfortable they may be at the time. That's one reason I was able to succeed in my chosen music path. Now, all three of those men are gone. They left a lasting mark on me, making me a better and stronger person in spite of the hardships we endured together and the hurtful things that were said and done. There were good reasons why I left each of my partners, but I can't deny the things I learned from them and from those experiences. I'm sorry they're gone. I'd love to share this with them.
I met Paul Cavanaugh when I was 20, and he was 18. He swept me off my feet into the life of adventure that I'd always wanted. We hitchhiked across the country in January of 1975, eventually landing in San Francisco in a radical hippie commune. We were expecting a baby, so we moved on to Santa Cruz for a more stable and down-to-earth lifestyle. When our daughter was almost a year, we traveled back across the country with a friend and, although we had just planned a visit, we stayed in Connecticut for two years before making the cross-country trip again, this time with an almost 3-year old, two friends and as many of our worldly possessions as we could pack into that black Plymouth Valiant. This time, we ended up in Husum, Washington then to Zig Zag, Oregon and finally, Portland, Oregon in time to birth our second child.
After Mt. St. Helen's erupted in 1980, we moved to the coast of Oregon in Tillamook County where we hosted a weekly Open Mic. We had met through music and, though it took a while for him to accept me as a musical equal, we performed and wrote songs together almost from the beginning and had been performing weekly at Saturday Market in Portland for the entire time we lived there. Unfortunately, the economy in Oregon was not doing well. Unemployment was the rule, and we had to make a decision. Should we stay on the west coast, which was more radical and alternative than the culture we had left, or should we go home where we would have family around? Paul had already lost his father, and his mother was not well, so family won out in the end. We packed our children, our cat and all of our things, this time into a VW bus, and started the long journey home. It was a very long trek, taking 3 weeks to make it across the country. We only stopped when we broke down and when we worked for a few days at an herb farm in Pennsylvania to try to earn enough money to make it the rest of the way. We had already pawned a guitar in Wheeling, West Virginia to get enough gas money to get us to the job that awaited us. But, that is another (very entertaining) story. We settled in upstate New York in 1982, and I still live there, though I've moved quite a bit in the area.
We had the kind of life together that many people read about in novels and wonder if any of it could be true. Much of our experiences seem unreal now that I look back, but it all happened. We struggled together and we laughed together. We fought like cats and dogs and loved just as hard. We started out as children and became adults, growing up together but also growing apart. I had many wonderful adventures with Paul, but he and I were very wounded. It's always amazed me that we survived our childhoods full of violence and degradation and our drug and alcohol crazed teens and went on to become responsible adults. Many of our early friends never made it out alive. Paul was a very angry man, always needing someone to blame for his struggles, and I was also angry and feisty. I was not willing to put with much anymore. I never stopped loving this creative, funny genius, but I could no longer live with him. After I left, we became closer friends, and I often thought that maybe that was was meant to be all along. But then, we would never have had our three wonderful children and grandchildren. And, I would never take any of it back. He taught me to survive in a harsh world. He taught me to have faith that things would work out, no matter how hopeless things might seem. He was my lover and my best friend, and I still miss him terribly.
Please support your local musicians! We can't survive without you.