I studied dance and piano as a kid. I began to experiment with songwriting before I was ten. I studied guitars in the Montgomery Ward catalog, and dreamed that I would have one someday. When my friend came over to my house one day at the onset of the folk music revival in the early 1960's I could hardly contain myself. Having no idea how it was played, I remember just playing through the open strings again and again to hear the sound!
For my thirteenth birthday, my grandmother took me to the local music shop to buy my first guitar. I will never forget. It was a Suzuki-- The very same company that made the motorcycles. the body was made of cheap wood and the fretboard was soft and rough, but I was in heaven, and I learned to play chords immediately upon taking it out of the case that day!
It was only a matter of weeks thereafter when I found it was easier to form pretty chords and play melodies within them if I tuned the strings to pitches of my own choosing. i experimented endlessly and played covers and originals in my own way.
My adolescence was marked by the isolation that comes with a rural address. I had severe acne, was skinny, and flat-chested to boot. My thick, blindingly red hair was unruly, and I was painfully shy as a result. My guitar was my friend. My solace. And my obsession.
Two girlfriends and I began putting our musical ideas together to form my first band, "The Young Pretenders." I think the name belonged to a famous legitimate band, but we used the name all the same. We played for local community functions, with my mother as our booking agent. I have to give her credit! She would haggle on the phone to get us paid properly. We were pretty happy to come home with $10.00 to share among the three of us, I can tell you. I saved the money to buy a more proper guitar, a sunburst Epiphone.
Before I left home for college to study classical voice, the little trio had won a number of contests, from the Dutchess County Fair talent show, to regional honors in a national contest for teen musicians. At college I continued to earn money as a musician, and played at a number of coffeehouse venues, including the now historic "Cafe Lena" in Albany, New York.
My playing and writing improved over the years. I've had many guitars since the old Suzuki-- my very favorite at the time of writing this, my Jumbo Rainsong acoustic guitar. Mine is the model designed by David Wilcox, which he recommended to me. The instrument itself is rigged in mysterious ways, and I experiment with strings to further enhance the sound I call my own.
I never studied the guitar, save a college elective which proved to be utterly baffling, and from which I took away practically nothing. My playing is still so quirky I have difficulty defining in basic musical terms exactly what it is I play. The best way for people to learn how to play my songs is to take a workshop I've offered for nearly ten years which I call "The Organic Guitar." I strive to encourage my students to play the guitar as I learned. That is to break every rule there is, and to delve into the beauty of sound and expression that the instrument has to offer when left to itself!
I never multi-track my guitarwork in my recordings. I can always reproduce the sounds on my recordings live. My open tunings allow for playing leads and accompaniments at once. I don't use picks. I don't have artificial nails. My own are pretty strong, and when one happens to break, I used alternate fingerings to reproduce the sounds. I managed to tour around playing bluegrass for a while and pulled off rhythm guitar without the traditional flat pick by developing a sort of claw hammer style with the top surface of my nails striking the strings head on, combined with a lot of wrist action and a strong thumb pluck.
I love capos, and have many of them! I use them alone or in combinations. I have devised so many combinations of tunings and hardware that I have to make an effort to write the descriptions down as I am writing a new song, so I won't forget any details.
I have had to learn to work around some physical handicaps down through the years... I suffered from Reink's Edema, a swelling of the vocal chords, and had to take a year of therapy to speak and sing normally after the onset of the condition. My voice is not the same. I have more color and expressiveness now as a result of a roughness and the dropping of my low range. My last four albums are post injury, and I am in as good a form as I have ever been!
A few years ago I tore two ligaments that attach my left thumb to the rest of that hand! I didn't immediately realize the seriousness of the injury until sat down to play piano for the church choir I direct after taking a serious fall down a flight of stairs in the building. It was almost amusing how my thumb sort of flopped around freely... I thought it was a matter of a simple dislocation, but learned that I would face many weeks in a hard cast with a large pin holding things together inside. Again expert physical therapy restored me, and after months I was able to play gently for short periods on the ultra light set of strings I'd made by using the high set of the doubled strings of an ultra light guage twelve string guitar set. The advise of some of my guitar playing friends was well appreciated.
All in all, my bouts with wondering when or if I would regain use of the tools of my musical expression gave me the opportunity to consider developing alternate methods of musical production. I wrote some of my most favorite compositions out of working around handicaps!
I am sixty-four years old at the time of this writing. My music appeals to baby boomers, of course, but I find that other generations find some of it appealing as well. I have had the fortune of having my music well promoted and well received by radio stations around the globe. I have scored at the very top of the folk music charts (if you can believe that there actually ARE folk music charts! I refer here to Folk DJ List.)
I call myself a singer-songwriter with a strong acoustic sound which bends as much toward americana folk style as it does to light jazz. When you listen to my songs you may find that one can be very different from the next. I pride myself in this. The thread that runs through them is the sounds of the combination of my voice and guitar as one instrument.
I write my songs about anything that strikes my fancy really. I don't work it too hard. If a groove and a lyric don't come in a matter of minutes I know the song won't keep me interested long enough to finish it. In over fifty years of writing, I can only say I've written as many good songs. One good song a year is alright with me. I don't put out the ones that don't pass inspection. When I co-write, it is with someone who's ideas are a good fit. Daniel Pagdon is by far the best fit ever, and I credit him with opening my scopes to subject matter and rhythms that I doubt I'd have easily, or ever come up with on my own.
My husband of forty-one years, Matt Finley, appears on tracks of all of my albums. He is primarily a composer and player of Latin jazz, but he adapts well to my styles, and in addition to adding a little spice to my albums, he occasionally plays gigs with me too. Listening to his music over the decades is responsible, I'm sure, for the voicings and movement of many of the chord progressions found in my work.
My three kids, all grown now, are in some manner all excellent musicians. They grew up hearing all kinds of (sometimes loud) sounds in our home, and seem to have turned out pretty well in spite of it! My youngest daughter has played with my husband's band, and often shows up at performances of mine, reinforcing that the musical environment we offered is appreciated in the original form.
Most of the songs I have recorded are very sparsely produced in keeping with the live sound. Each song has a unique story to tell. Many of the songs contain musical sounds that closely resemble some image in the lyric-- train whistles, street sounds, sounds of nature, and sounds that evoke a fleeting spiritual event.
To sum up, my most avid wish for myself is to continue to learn and invent ways to express what is in my heart and soul. For my audience, my wish is that the music be a source of joy, comfort, and inspiration.