Shelley King’s interview appears in The Alternate Root magazine online

27 Aug

ShelleyKing

When Shelley King sings, her large almond-shaped eyes seem to look directly at members of her audience, delivering words that feel personal. She creates a spiritual-like connection that speaks volumes about the ways in which people live, love and relate to their environments.

Drawing on her rural Arkansas gospel, Americana and blues roots, King writes deeply felt song lyrics about relationships and personal experiences.

King’s new album, Building A Fire, recorded in Fort Collins, CO, Austin, TX and Muscle Shoals, AL, releases to stores on August 26. A blend of Texas and Louisiana musicians perform on the album with her.

The band that originated in New Orleans’, the Subdudes, returns to accompany her once again, following the success of their last collaboration in 2009, on King’s Welcome Home album.

Growing up in rural Arkansas, King began her musical education while singing in a little one-room church in Caddo Gap. After her parents divorced, King lived with her grandmother and attended church regularly.

“I joined the church and got baptized, full immersion, in the river. It was all real country, old rural,” she said.

“I was about 12 or 13 at the time and the church was a peaceful place. It was a place where I could sing and explore and develop my talent. It was where my friends were. We weren’t old enough to drive and there was no social scene in Caddo Gap. If you wanted to see your friends outside of school, you went to church. It was a good reason to get out of the house.”

King and her mother moved many times between Texas and Arkansas before King became a teenager. Stability wasn’t something they knew.

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“We moved around a bunch. She had several relationship breakups. It was pretty rocky,” she said.

King’s singing career not only changed her life, but it brought her parents back together again. Twelve years ago, her parents met up again at one of King’s gigs. She and her mother had remained close for years, but at the time, King’s father had only recently re-entered her life.

“He had been coming into my life more and more. Often he would show up at my shows in different places around the country. Finally, he told me one time ‘I’m going to come to one of your shows in Austin tonight.’ I just said ‘Ok.’ He didn’t live here at the time and I forgot my mother was going to be there,” King said.

“I decided not to tell her or she might not come. So he was here and she was here and I literally re-introduced them to each other. They started dating again and now they’re married again. They’ve been married for about eight years.”

After graduating high school in 1984, as one in a class of 38 students, King felt she had to leave home.

“As much as I loved Arkansas, because I grew up there, I really felt stifled. There was no opportunity for anything. All my friends were just graduating high school and having babies,” she said.

“I wanted to go somewhere and do something. I couldn’t see staying there. I knew I was going to have to go to college to get out of town; that was my big excuse. I wanted to go as far away as I could afford.”

She attended Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas and studied English and speech communications as part of a pre-law curriculum. She worked to pay for her tuition and books. After college she moved to Houston and took a job in outside sales while she began her music career.

“This is all I ever really wanted to do. I realized I didn’t want to be a lawyer. I didn’t care about that stuff, so I started thinking about more about my music,” she said.

While singing and playing music with different bands, King worked a day job as an outside sales person to pay her bills. Someone told her that she should move to Austin, so she packed up her bags and arrived here early in 1992.

“It just all started for me here. Although I had been singing my whole life and I had been writing songs and I had been playing in a band for a couple of years, I didn’t have a clue until I moved to Austin,” she said.

“When I got here I met all these great singer/songwriters and performers and musicians.”

King’s first night in town, she met Marcia Ball, who to this day remains a good friend and collaborator. At the time, Ball owned La Zona Rosa at 612 W. 4th Street. The intimate bar featured blues and jazz performances by local and touring musicians for several years before closing in 2012.

“One night, at Sarah Elizabeth Campbell’s weekly show at La Zona Rosa, I met everyone. Marcia Ball, Jimmie Dale Gilmore was there, Jimmy LaFave was there, David Rodriguez — Carrie Rodriguez’s dad, was there. Sharon Ely was there – I don’t think Joe was there, but Sharon was there. It was really a ‘who’s who of cool’ Austin, you know?” she said.

“I had no idea. A friend of mine had said ‘Hey, you should come out to this show with me tonight’ and I ended up sitting at a table with all these Austin icons. I was blown away. I thought ‘Oh my gosh; I found it, I found it.’”

King said it took a while for her to settle down in Austin.

“It took a while for me to get it together. I started playing little gigs around town. I was still developing my style, so I was playing some rock, jam band kind of thing. I was playing gigs on Sixth Street like the Black Cat Lounge and Steamboat,” she said. “Both of which are gone now.”

“I played the Austin Outhouse up on 38th (Street.) It was a different kind of thing that I was doing then, but I got really frustrated with the whole band thing and trying to keep a band together. When one person would quit and I’d feel like we needed to change our band name and write all new songs. It was just getting weird,” she said.

Tired of the drama often associated with playing in a band and their power struggles, King decided to focus on her songwriting.

“So I just took time off away from gigs and just tried to write songs. I wrote and wrote. I decided to get it together. I said ‘You know, I’m going to get a job, go to church, and buy a house. I’m gonna grow up.’ So, I went to church. They found out I could sing. They put me in the church band,” she said.

“The bass player of the church band said ‘Hey, let’s get together and jam outside of church.’ Before I knew it, I had another band and I wasn’t even planning on it. I was just like ‘What just happened?’”

King and her newly formed band began performing again in 1996 at coffee houses and small venues around town.

“You know, you can run, but you can’t hide,” she said. “They said ‘We’re going to play a gig, so book a gig.’ To just get started I played this open mic at a place on Congress called Shaggy’s.”

South Congress Café now stands at the former Shaggy’s location.

“I played the open mic and then the manager came up to me and said ‘Come here.’ He opened up his calendar and said ‘Let’s get you in here.’ At that point, I hadn’t even put out my first CD,” she said.

After a year and a half of playing various gigs around town and creating a following, King released her first CD in 1998. She recorded Call of My Heart, at Bismeaux Studios, owned by Ray Benson, bandleader for Asleep at the Wheel.

“It just became very evident that we needed to get that recording out to the public, because we became very popular,” King said.

She quit her job working as a rep for a flooring distributor June 1, 1998.

“It finally got to me at the last sales meeting when I realized I didn’t care. There were all those issues that everyone was bringing up about the work place and I kept thinking, ‘Man, I don’t care. I need to get back into the studio and finish this record.’ So on Monday morning, June 1, 1998 at 7 a.m., I got up my nerve and I quit. Or should I say, ‘I began’. It took a lot of courage because I wasn’t making a lot from my music yet. After I quit my job, I got into the studio and finished the CD and from there it all started taking off.”

King said that she has continued to write songs, to record them and to release them on her own label. Meanwhile, several other artists, including Price, have covered her songs, allowing King to earn additional sales royalties.

“When I was thinking about quitting my day job to sing and to write full time,” she said. “Toni was very encouraging. So just to thank her, I gave her my CD and she ended up covering two songs off that CD. That really helped because she’s super popular and it really helped a lot of people notice me and come to know me as a songwriter.”

One day in 2004 while driving through the Southwest, Lee Hazlewood heard King’s single, “Texas Blue Moon,” off her second album, The Highway, broadcast on the radio airwaves. Hazlewood thought the song would make a nice duet for an album he was recording with Nancy Sinatra. The two recorded it that same year and released it as a track off their Nancy & Lee 3 album.

King had the opportunity to meet Nancy and Lee when she was invited to attend Hazlewood’s 78th birthday party held in Las Vegas. He died of renal cancer six weeks later in Henderson, Nev. Aug. 4, 2007. Hazlewood had gained notoriety after writing Nancy Sinatra’s breakout hit, “These Boots are Made for Walkin’” among other songs for her and her famous father, Frank Sinatra, as well as for Duane Eddy and Dean Martin.

“I feel like I have really developed my style, my writing and everything in Austin. The bar is set high in Austin. You cannot be a lame songwriter and get away with it,” King said.

“I have traveled around and seen people in other places that people hold up as pretty good and I’m thinkin’ ‘Girl, you’d never make it Austin.’ You know? I think that it’s so wonderful that the talent is so good here because it makes us all so much better.”

Austin, known as “the live music capital of the world,” draws musicians who can sit-in to play a two-hour show with anybody, anytime, anywhere, and any genre.

“That’s just an awesome thing. Everybody can play a good live show,” she said. “We play so much that we hardly ever practice as a band — it’s a different thing here. When people come here who are not used to the way we roll, it’s pretty funny,” she said.

“I know Paul Oscher, Muddy Water’s harmonica player, who recently moved to town and who plays here in town now. He was saying recently how it’s so amazing that Austin musicians can just jump in and play with you even though they’ve never played with you before. Everybody does it and everybody can do it. He said, ‘I’m not like that.’ It’s a different thing here.”

For example, King’s bass player, Sarah Brown, scheduled six gigs over four days with six different bands before performing with her at Threadgill’s South along Riverside Drive July 23.

The live show at Threadgill’s also included King’s drummer/percussionist Perry Drake, together with lead guitarist Marvin Dykhuis. Everyone sang as well.

The band opened the double-billed show at 8 p.m., followed by Teresa James and the Rhythm Tramps at 9 p.m.

Several members in the audience raised their hands when King asked if any of them had followed her and James to Austin after seeing them perform together on-board the Delbert McClinton and Friends’ Sandy Beaches Cruise recently.

Other fans had seen King perform together with rhythm and blues singer/piano player Marcia Ball at the Broken Spoke four months earlier. Monte Warden, the singer/songwriter and bandleader for The Wagoneers, had hosted the “Behind the Songs” program recorded live at the Broken Spoke on March 31 with Ball and King, as well as Wonderland.

“Behind the Songs,” airs regularly on Austin’s alternative country radio station KOKE-FM, broadcast on channels 98.5, 99.3 or 105.3.

Over the years, King has regularly visited the Broken Spoke to eat chicken fried steak and to enjoy the music, but this spring’s event marked her first ever performance at the Broken Spoke.

“I loved it,” she said. “I never actually pursued a show there because my music leans more towards blues and sometimes I rock out. The Spoke’s much more the traditional country thing. I didn’t want to be something that I’m not, so I didn’t take my show there, but what a huge honor to play there and to play a songwriter’s show,” she said.

King particularly enjoyed Ball’s performance of the song, “Cowboy’s Sweetheart.” Broken Spoke owners, the much beloved James and Annetta White, danced a solo dance while Ball sang. The moment moved King to tears, she said.

“I was crying on stage,” she said, “it was so sentimental and sweet to see those two in each others arms swaying to Marcia’s yodels. I felt like I was witnessing a part of Austin music history as it happened. Very inspiring and powerful, the life we have all built around this music. The Broken Spoke is home to a lot of music and memories for many people. It’s a part of our lives here in Austin. As the city continues to grow and evolve, we are lucky to have this gem still hosting live music five nights a week.”

King and her band have several tours planned throughout the remaining months of the summer and through fall performing in Texas and Colorado and as far away as the East Coast. She will shoot a music video in Fort Collins, Colorado in September as well.

A consortium of female musicians, known as Texas Guitar Women, arose out of a friendship among King, Wonderland, Cashdollar, Brown, and drummer Lisa Pankratz. Occasionally, Ball joins the group as well, and together the six women have played numerous gigs nationwide including the acclaimed Rhythm & Roots Music Festival in Rhode Island and the “Women’s Night” showcase shows at Austin’s now, sadly defunct, Antone’s blues club.

The Alternate Root magazine online ran my story in their August 2014 issue at http://thealternateroot.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2592:sk-baf&catid=208:what-s-trending&Itemid=268

Listen to songs off her new album and read more about Shelly King at www.shelleyking.com

 

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One Response to “Shelley King’s interview appears in The Alternate Root magazine online”

  1. Pam Kromski (@redpekay) August 5, 2014 at 2:21 pm #

    Great article. I loved reading about Shelley’s life and how she became the amazing singer/songwriter she is. Looking forward to my copy of “Building A Fire” to arrive. I was so lucky that my sisters took me on Delbert’s Sandy Beaches Cruise to be introduced to fabulous women artists like Shelley, Marsha Ball and Teresa James. Looking forward to seeing them on SBC 21 on January 10, 2015!

    Like

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