Interview with prodigiously artist Terry Garthwaite - reflects an awareness of the healing nature and joy of music

"The Blues is a wonderful, soul-stirring way to complain about the frustrations, injustices and pain of life."

Terry Garthwaite: Vibrational Of Healing

Terry Garthwaite is an internationally known singer, songwriter, composer, producer, and teacher. Her recording career dates back to the late 1960s when she and Toni Brown formed the rock group Joy of Cooking. She recorded several albums with the band, and then a dozen others by herself or in collaboration with other jazz and blues musicians. Terry has also produced recordings by other artists including Jasmine, Rosalie Sorrels, rhiannon, Nicholas- Glover & Wray, Hunter Davis, Robin Flower, and Ferron, whose Garthwaite-produced Shadows on a Dime was awarded four stars by Rolling Stone. In performance she has shared the stage with such artists as BB King, Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt, The Band, Allen Ginsberg, Santana, Rosalie Sorrels and writer Bobbie Hawkins at venues that include Carnegie Hall, the Joseph Papp Theater, the Hollywood Bowl, and Canadian Folk Festivals.                                Terry Garthwaite / Photo © by Irene Young

Terry's recent recordings and writing reflect an awareness of the healing nature of music. In 1992 she recorded her critically acclaimed Affirhythms - rhythmic affirmation chantsongs, and followed it in 2000 with Sacred Circles, songs of hope and heart.

In 2006, Terry began collaborating again with Toni Brown to put together a Joy of Cooking compilation. They pored through old tapes of live performances and studio forays--from their earliest beginnings in 1968--to find the best material with the best performances. The result is the double CD "Back to Your Heart", one disc of studio takes of never-released songs, and the other a live Berkeley concert from the early '70s. She's published a book, Joy of Sound - Explorations in Awareness Through Sound and Song, that includes vocal games/exercises and a CD of chants, as well as a couple of small books of Alliterhythms--pithy positive songs and sayings in alliteration. Most of her songs are available in her songbooks. Terry's music is an array of songs and sounds that encourages empowerment and delight, and radiates the healing nature of music. She currently leads vocal retreats, drum circles, and classes in singing together, playing with sound, and digging the musical garden.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the Blues mean to you?

The Blues is a wonderful, soul-stirring way to complain about the frustrations, injustices and pain of life. I’d much rather sing away my gloom—giving it a universal context—than grovel in it. The first songs I wrote were based on the Blues form. I found the more I sang, the more positive my outlook became so that my Blues—and my blues-- began to have happy endings.

Some of the guitar rhythms of the early blues players are irresistibly infectious and can lift the message into a happier zone. I was drawn to Slim Harpo and Sonny Terry for their joyous rhythms.

How do you describe Terry Garthwaite sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

The Joy of Cooking band was considered rock almost by default—because we had bass and drums and we plugged in. Our style was actually fairly eclectic. We were ultimately a mix of folk, jazz and blues, in rock (and hippie) clothing. But it worked because we each brought our own musical sensibility into the blend of the whole. What made our music different from other groups at the time was our experimental leanings, on top of a folk-blues base. 

My role in the band was not only singing lead and harmonies but being part of the rhythmic engine that drove the groove, and bringing in songs that let me ride the rhythm with scatting—like Mockingbird and Didjago.  My music philosophy is sharing the joy of song—lifting myself and my students or audience through rhythm and positive messages. Rhythm informs and infuses my music—through lyrics, melody, and guitar accompaniment. I’ve written short pieces based on drum rhythms as a teaching tool. My father wrote rhythmic children’s poems, leaving me a legacy of the rhythmic music of words.

In 1976 I had a child and my music gradually morphed into more soothing and quiet sounds—still often uptempo, sometimes playful and usually positive or empowering. I have a body of songs called Affirhythms—musical affirmations.

Around 1997 I had the opportunity to go to an introductory workshop on Sound Healing. I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to discover and experience more about the healing nature of sound—which I already felt--and wound up with a certificate in Vibrational Healing.

"Happiness is the ability to ride out the blues and find the joy within."

Are there any memories from Allen Ginsberg, and Joy of Cooking which you’d like to share with us?

Joy of Cooking played a 3-day festival in New York at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in 1969. Someone had seen our band play at a little outdoor gig in Berkeley and asked if we’d like to come open for The Band and Allen Ginsberg in New York. Sadly, I remember nothing of Ginsberg because The Band was my favorite group at the time and I was star-struck. I remember riding in the elevator with them and commenting on the cool shoes one of them was wearing. It’s those little things.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Music in the ‘60s-‘70s seemed more free-flowing and organic, less formulaic than today’s popular music—less pandering to what record companies thought would sell because it had sold in the past.  A&R company reps were open to new sounds in those decades. Our band was in the right place at the right time, playing in Berkeley and San Francisco. Today’s popular music is more synthesized and feels more homogeneous than the eclectic sounds of the ‘60s, when genres were crossing boundaries. 

My hopes for the future are that music and the arts are taken seriously and included as a part of school curriculum from the beginning; that women in music and the arts are appreciated as equal to men, and that the legacies we leave and what that means for future generations are not forgotten.

If you could change one thing in the world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Morphing oppression—the violence it brings and the fear that spawns it—into compassion and care.

Which memories from Wavy Gravy, BB King, Janis Joplin, The Band, and Santana, makes you smile?

Wavy Gravy (photo): I think I met Wavy Gravy through singer Kate Wolf.  I’ve appeared on the same stage with him, but not at the same time. I always like my brief encounters with him but never had much conversation. At least I’m not afraid of clowns.

Janis Joplin: People often compared me to Janis Joplin because of my raw singing style (“a diamond purposely in the rough”.) The big difference is I’m still alive and actually remember some of those times. Joy of Cooking opened a concert for Janis in Santa Clara. She had her own backstage room and barely looked at us, never mind said boo. I have some scribbled notes from that night. We shared a dressing room with the band Southwind. Janis “careens in complaining for sleep, screams through her set on stage; spills S. Comfort and gestures for more. Mic stands totter and fall at the swing of loose limbs. Hands pawing at her feet, the crowd is awed.” I remember watching her walk off toward the stage after we were done and feeling a deep sadness for this lonely icon drowning herself in alcohol and drugs. [it wasn’t long after this concert that she was found dead in her hotel room.] We watched her sing from backstage—a fireball of energy, exploding every song in cascades of fierce feelings.  One of a kind.

BB King: In L.A. we got to share the bill with mellow and sweet BB King at the Whiskey-a-go-go. My brother David, our band’s bass player, chatted with BB some backstage and thought he was cool.

The Band: It was the writing and the harmonies of The Band I loved the most—especially “The Weight”.

Santana: We did a few gigs with Santana—I think he always felt sublime playing and that feeling was infectious.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences? Which is the moment that you change your life?

When I was a senior in college I consciously chose to pursue music rather than go on to graduate school in Sociology. Then folks began appearing in my life that influenced that path.

Dick Oxtot:  In 1959, when I was in the UC Berkeley choir, traditional jazz musician Dick Oxtot contacted our director—Robert Commanday—looking for a singer for a folk trio. Bob told me about it, I auditioned for Dick—dragging my older brother along—and, voila, a trio was born. This lasted a few years, and then opened the door to singing with his Golden Age Jazz Band, where I could sing the blues and jazz I’d carried for years in a more traditional context.

Toni Brown: Through friends I met Toni Brown (photo). We had both been writing songs and began to experiment with harmonies and the inklings of a band. It didn’t take long to birth the Joy of Cooking. (I knew after seeing the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show that I wanted to be in a band.) Two of our early gigs made it clear our music resonated with audiences. Our first gig was at an Oakland art school The room was packed and they asked for encore after encore. The next sign was shortly after hat—singing for a high school audience with young boys swooning. We knew this must be right!

Sasha: The biggest life-changing experience was having a child. That changed the course, the tone of my music and why I make it, moving into a quieter and more participatory context—having not-so-much an audience as a gathering of shared song.

What were the reasons that made the 60s to be the center of artistic, social, spiritual searches and experiments?

The SF Bay Area was a hub of new music and writing in the ‘60s, and the cultures from which they grew—from beatniks through bohemians to hippies; from folk to rock—and I was in its midst. UC Berkeley was a natural gathering place for political discussion and demonstrations like the Free Speech Movement. LSD, pot, and new spiritual paths were available and opened windows for the creative spirit to fly. It was possible to leave the repressive ‘50s behind and look at life with new possibilities.

What does to be a female artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in art?

A woman playing the electric guitar was an endangered species in 1970. Almost threatened with extinction, except she wasn’t very distinct even before then. But Berkeley was a haven for endangered music, endangered musicians. It was a place to test your wings and find a way to fly.                Joy of Cooking / Photo © by Baron Wolman 

It wasn’t easy for women to be taken seriously as musicians in those days. My (male) drummer let me know there were guys who didn’t want to audition for our band or jam with us because there were women musicians in the band. Bonnie Raitt was probably one of the earliest women guitarists to make it big in the pop scene, and that was in 1990! Singer/songwriters Alice Stuart and Rory Block have been quietly making stellar recordings since the early ‘70s. But there weren’t any recorded women in rock in 1967 that we knew of when Toni and I started up the Joy of Cooking. Not that it would have mattered. Starting a rock band was a gradual and natural progression for each of us from the folk scene we’d been part of.

There were, though, women guitarists that I knew of who forged the path:  pioneering guitarist and singer Memphis Minnie, country matriarch Mother Maybelle Carter, guitarists Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Elizabeth Cotten, and Mary Ford. They led the way for women to follow, but it was a long and winding trail before we began showing up. When you read about the early women influential in rock or playing instruments in bands you’re not likely to hear these names. 

I was interviewed for Katherine Orloff’s Rock ‘n Roll Woman in the ‘70s, and noted how much easier it would be with more women in all facets of the business, including record-store owners, publicity agencies, rack jobbers, deejays, engineers, producers and of course record company executives. Can you imagine? We were lucky to have a woman publicist at Capitol (Liza Williams) who did a fantastic job with our debut album (Joy of Cooking) and was fun to work with.

Though some think Joy of Cooking was an all-female band, we in fact had only two women and 3 men in the band. I think the fact that the women in the band were the front players, the writers, the singers and played instruments in these days of male rock bands was so unusual that it cast an illusion. Young women today, in the new millennium, are incredulous that women leads in a rock band were unusual. But Time Magazine found it so anomalous they wrote an article about us in 1970. Women have been in music through history, but within rock they’ve finally been able to emerge as serious and articulate musicians/writers, speaking to and for a large audience.

Bill Graham was always supportive of the Joy of Cooking and put us in some shows at the Fillmore with some of our favorite song-oriented groups. One of the first was with headliners Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. There were four bands on the bill that night—three featuring powerful women vocalists. Along with our band were Lydia Pense with Cold Blood, and Barbara Mauritz with Lamb. All three bands were popular in the Bay Area and our audiences were used to seeing female-led bands. Janis Joplin had already made her mark. The show was a smashing success. Even so, critic Ralph Gleason of the SF Chronicle raved about the headliners and could only muster an “also-ran” comment about the opening acts.                                              Photo © by Irene Young

Radio stations in the ‘70s often had quotas for what they considered women’s music and The Joy fell into that category, that box. Why, I wonder? What if the recording was an instrumental and you couldn’t tell what gender it was performed by? Might the radio audience or the sponsors be offended? Is it not legitimate rock/blues/jazz if played by a woman? Or is it, rather, the sound of a woman’s voice could only be heard once an hour? What then of women DJs? I don’t begin to understand this phenomenon, but I experienced it.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you? Happiness is…

Like hot chocolate inside...smiling makes me feel happy, I like it! (from one of my Affirhythms)

I’ve been following The Voice on TV and find it often brings me to tears and laughter. Heart-rending stories and soaring voices, the antics of the coaches, and hopes for the future.

I laugh at wordplay and cry at a beautiful melody.

I recently co-produced an album for Willow Wray—once a backup singer in my band—who was able to sing her first solo CD in the studio just weeks before she died from the cancer that wracked her body. The recording was a miraculous process to witness, to be a part of—full of tears of sadness for her fading and tears of utter joy for her music and the fact that she could do it to the end.

Happiness is the ability to ride out the blues and find the joy within.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

My time machine would track down my grandchildren in about 50 years so I could spend a day catching up with their lives and the beings they’ve become. As my own grandmother wrote long ago—before I was born--“I wonder which of my little grandchildren will be the musician!”

And, by the way, I sang in Greece in 1959 with my UC Berkeley madrigal choir and loved being there.  I think I remember the audience hissing when they liked something, which of course is the opposite of what it means in America. Luckily someone told us the difference.

Terry Garthwaite - official website

Joy of Cooking / Photo © by Baron Wolman 

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