Interview by Robert Urban for GAY GUITARISTS WORLDWIDE
One of America's leading forces in women's music, as well as an icon among lesbian singer/songwriters, JAMIE ANDERSON is also an accomplished performing, recording and teaching guitarist. In what just might be the most travelled career in the world of glbt live music performance, Jamie has tourned nationally since 1987, accompanying herself on guitar as she plays & sings her award-winning blend of acoustic folk/pop in virtually every state in the U.S.
Also known for her disarming comedy, outspoken glbt rights advocacy and flare for exotic dancing, Jamie's engaging onstage presence is instantly recognizable to her music fans everywhere. This beloved musician is an Outmusic "Out Musician of the Year" OMA Award winner; and has performed on the main stage of the National Women’s Music Festival, the Kerrville Folk Festival and at the National March on Washington.
When Jamie isn't touring, she's taught songwriting, guitar and other classes at Duke University, arts centers, privately in Durham and at festivals all over the country. She has a chapter in Songwriting and the Guitar, a book that also includes Paul Simon, The Indigo Girls, Joni Mitchell and others. Jamie is a freelance writer whose articles and CD reviews have appeared in Acoustic Guitar, SingOut! and more. In her spare time - she must have a clone -- Jamie is director for Women in Harmony, an annual music camp in the mountains near Asheville, NC.
- What brand/model/year instrument(s) do you record and play out with?
Larrivee acoustic. I bought it used so I know almost nothing about it. There's no model number written inside. I called the Larrivee people but they couldn't even tell me what it was without a photo. I suspect it's one of their older models since the tag says it was made in Victoria, Canada - their shop is now in Vancouver and has been for a few years. It was in great shape when I found it - looked like someone bought it and put it in a closet. I has happy to bring it out. It's got a warm sound and great intonation. Every luthier I've taken it to says it's a great guitar.
- What brand/model/year amps & effects do u use?
No amps or effects. I have an LR Baggs pickup/mike inside the Larrivee. Nice clean sound. I run it through whatever PA I'm using for my voice.- Who are your main influences as an instrumentalist? Which artists? Which bands? Instrumentalist?
Patty Larkin, Al Petteway, Joni Mitchell and Joan Armatrading. The two Joans because they introduced me to open tunings. Cheryl Wheeler calls open tunings gifts from the songwriting gods and I agree one hundred percent. Patty Larkin has experience in a lot of different styles - she's played in rock bands, in a Celtic style, you can hear some jazz in her playing too. I love that she's so well-rounded. Her style is confident and melodic. I even bought one of her instructional tapes - only made it through the first couple of songs. Wow, what a work out.
Al Petteway is a guitar god, for sure. His playing is so tasteful. He's not afraid of space - he'll pound out a flurry of notes when he needs it but he can also play with lots of silence and really settle into the song. I have one of his instructional tapes too. After learning one of his Celtic instrumentals in DADGAD, I was inspired to write an instrumental of my own in that tuning. I'm influenced by a lot of contemporary folk singer-songwriters. It may not be their whole style I want to learn but I'll hear them play a cool lick or in a new tuning and I'll think, hey I wanna try that.
Which artists/bands were your favorites in your youth?
I'm probably gonna regret saying this in such a public way but in high school I was the biggest John Denver fan on the planet. He introduced me to bluegrass, solid songwriting and artists like John Prine and Steve Goodman (because he covered their songs). To redeem my coolness I've gotta say that I was also way into Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young as well as Cat Stevens, Carly Simon and Jim Croce. Wait, was Croce cool? Oh well. In the late seventies I discovered women's music and artists like Meg Christian and Alix Dobkin.
- How many different kinds of stringed/fretted instruments do u play? (e.g. - guitars, banjos, madolins, basses, etc) Do you play any other instruments?
I'm a beginning mandolin player and am having great fun learning bluegrass stuff. My buddy (and monster on the mando) Kara Barnard has been a great influence. I also play lap dulcimer and I own a banjo - heck, some day I may learn more than three chords.
- Do you play/compose/record only your own original music?
Mostly. I've performed and recorded a couple of covers - most notably "Much Better View of the Moon" by Karen Taylor-Good and George Wurzbach. Great tune. I often play other people's work at home. It's fun and it sometimes kicks my songwriting muse into gear.
Do you do any other work in music - e.g. teaching, recording session work, hired gun, producing, etc?
I teach guitar and songwriting. I also run a music camp for women, Women in Harmony. This year is our fourth year.
Does your playing appear on recordings of any other artists?
No, unless you count the tambourine I played on a Wishing Chair album. :)
- Is there a particular favorite solo or part you played on a recording, or a certain piece of composed music you wrote, that you feel represents your finest work?
In general, I'm proud of my versatility. My latest album has several contemplative pieces in open tunings (including "Emily," the instrumental I mentioned earlier), a jazz piece, some fun bluegrass and a couple of upbeat pop/folk numbers.
- Can you relate any special feelings or experiences about being a glbt player in the mostly straight music world... especially regarding your formative/learning years on your instrument?
Women's community gave me coffeehouses, festivals and bars that were my training ground for performance. It really helped for building my confidence as a performer. I heard a lot of amazing women guitar players in those venues too. When I started playing at straight folk venues it was a bit of a jolt. All of a sudden I was getting comments from bookers like "our audience will be afraid of you," "you'll draw the wrong kind of crowd" ... even had one guy screaming that I was a "f***ing lesbian. It didn't deter me, it just made me more determined to perform because I knew there'd always be a community out there for me.
- Any special thoughts on your instrument, and what it's meant to you in your life?
I learned to play in high school. After I graduated, there was a short while when I rarely played. It was a tough time for me for several reasons and when I picked up my guitar again, my life got so much better. Part of the reason was because it brought music back into who I was - definitely good for anyone, I don't care if you sing like Charlotte Church or a bad American Idol contestant. And also because I discovered women's music and a whole community of like-minded women to play for and with.
- For a glbt player - how does the overall music scene differ today from years ago? How have trans players/performers/singers evolved in recent years?
I'm playing many more straight venues and house concerts. The big women's music scene I could plug into when I started touring in the late 80's is mostly gone. I've discovered organizations like OutMusic and met more gay male and transgendered musicians.
- Any advice for young glbt players?
What I'd tell any player - practice. A lot of shorter practice sessions are always better than one long one (although those aren't bad either). Every musician started where you are. No one leaps out of the womb with a guitar in their hands.
Now there's an image that oughta make every mother flinch. And if you're feeling like the only queer guitarist who plays , know that that isn't true. We're definitely out here.
- What are your current and future musical projects?
My most recent album is "A Promise of Light." It was produced by Kiya Heartwood of Wishing Chair and features some fabulous players including Kara Barnard on guitar, banjo and mandolin. My music camp Women in Harmony is happening in July. I'm very excited about this - it's like Girl Scout camp only you can have sex at night. Yeah, yeah, you'll all want to tell me about your GS days which were clearly more exciting than mine. All women are welcome at this one, btw, it's not just for lesbians. We do lots of singing and if you play an instrument, there are workshops in guitar, drum and mandolin. Woman in Harmony I've been touring with my new album and I'll continue teaching. It's a big musical world out there and I'm thrilled to be a part of it.
for more info on Jamie visit www.jamieanderson.com
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