My first public gig came at the age of 4 during one of those interminabe pre-kindergarten Sunday School classes. Musty old maps of Nazareth lined the walls, and I vaguely remember dust motes floating lazily in the stuffy morning air. Kool-aid and cookies were probably at least 15 minutes away, and I was considering using the blunt-tipped scissors to make tiny little decorative cuts in my pink and black plaid taffeta pinnafore to pass the time. Mrs. Crosley's quavery voice broke my reverie...."Now," she was saying sweetly,"Would any of you children like to recite a poem or sing a song for the rest of the class before we have refreshments?" Singing? Hey, that was my specialty. My hand shot up. She called on a couple of other kids first, and they did, I don't know, probably something like "Jesus Loves Me." Then it was my turn. I raced to the front and launched enthusiastically into all five verses of "Cigareets & Whiskey and Wild Wild Women." Although the performance was undeniably creative, I heard later that the reviews were somewhat mixed.
Undaunted, I leapt into classical piano lessons at age 6. Eight years of slogging through John Thompson, and I never made it out of Book IV. I once overheard my mother commenting that spending the money for lessons was a little like pounding sand down a rat hole. Whatever that means. She was from Nebraska.
(The recitals were terrifying since I never actually learned to READ music and was always pretty much faking the classical stuff. I often blacked out just at the most crucial moments, and realize in retrospect that those were probably just early out-of-body experiences.)
As for my home
environment.....Both sides of my family were very musical, and I grew
up with everybody singing harmony to all the old cornball songs. I
remember my mother often pleading, "Come on now, SOMEbody has to
sacrifice and sing melody." Dad would occasionally leap up in the
middle of dinner and run to the piano thinking he had finally figured
out the chords to the bridge of "The Stars & Stripes Forever,"
but he never did. We
played the full orchestral version at his memorial service, and some of
Dad's old friends said it was "the best damn funeral they'd ever been
My ukelele playing was a big hit throughout grade school, and by Jr. High I had my own girl singing group, the "Lollipoppers." Our main song was (I want you to get the irony here) "Lollipop" by the Chordettes. I inherited an old tenor banjo, and High School saw the emergence of "The Queenston Quartet." (We sang Kingston Trio songs.) In the meantime I sang alto in a madrigal group and did gigs as the girl torch singer with the swing-era big band. (Those guys actually did read music.) Then the REAL folk craze hit and I bought a black turtleneck, black tights, and an olive drab courdoroy jumper which I wore for 2 years straight while strumming guitar and learning early Bob Dylan, Peter-Paul-and-Mary, and Joan Baez songs. I dreamed of myself with long blonde silky hair swinging soulfully, wailing out protest songs, but unfortunately I always looked a little too much like Kinky Friedman to really pull it off. So, realizing I might as well optimize my assets, I switched to wearing tight Levi's and velvet, and began singing the blues instead.
The first summer out of high school I got a gig at the "Gilded Garter" in Central City Colorado for an impressive $100 a week, and sang & played piano10 hours a day to rumpled mid-western tourists. The material? Cornball songs out of an old fake book. (This is where careful good breeding and early-childhood experience pays off.) Caught up in the old-west spirit, somebody was always buying a round of drinks for the House Band which consisted of me, my cousin Gary and an ever-changing human medley of skid-row musicians. Since I was under-age and could only order coke, the consequences of my over-indulgence were pretty much confined to 1) a fairly consistant sugar buzz and 2) a subsequent dental bill that rivaled the National Debt.
Back in college I started sneaking into jazz clubs........On Monday nights business was usually slow enough that they let me sit in with the house trio. I wore heavy eye make-up, memorized old Tony Bennett records, and said "like" and "man" a lot. Tuesday mornings I had an standing 8 o'clock classical voice lesson which was a room in hell for my teacher because not only did I still usually have dark circles under my eyes (from the mascara,) but I was always throwing my head back, reaching for the notes with my shoulder, and swooping the notes like Billy Holliday. Finally realizing that trying to change my DNA was hopeless, my instructor made a secret deal with me: She would excuse me from class for the remainder of the semester and give me an A if I would just never darken her sanctuary of German Lieder with my presence again. It was a classic win/win situation. We shook on it, and I was finally HOME FREE.
(To be continued......OK, take a break and go do something useful. But just know that part II is Coming Soon........."What I Can Remember of the 60's and 70s")