March 4, 2017 – Valerie Carter was born on February 5, 1953 in Winterhaven, near Orlando, Florida.
Being an “army brat” she moved between many cities in her young years. Her first break in music came while living with her family in Tucson, where she joined a band fronted by Gretchen Ronstadt, sister of Linda Ronstadt.
Next she was off to New York City where she formed the folk band Howdy Moon. They headed to California, released a self-titled album in 1974 and regularly played at the West Hollywood rock club, the Troubadour.
In the early 1970s in Los Angeles, she became known as a songwriter, penning tunes such as Cook With Honey for Judy Collins and Love Needs a Heart for Jackson Browne, who was introduced to her by Lowell George of Little Feat fame.
And here I have to stop and make a confession.
Even though my entire long life has been in and around music, I had never heard about Valerie Rose Carter even though she played and wrote songs with James Taylor for a long time. She played and wrote songs with Jackson Browne for a long time. She was a beautiful muse with a voice that made Judy Collins cry when she sang her self-penned “Cooking with Honey” for her. She was uniquely talented in so many ways and she sang on hundreds of famous recordings. Jackson Browne wrote a tribute titled “That Girl Could Sing”, Steve Winwood wrote and recorded “Valerie” for her. She recorded with Linda Ronstadt, Don Henley, Lowell George and so many of the music makers that paved the road under my feet as my life has unfolded. I found a heart wrenchingly beautiful rendition of my favorite Van Morrison sing “Into the Mystic” she did with Country star Lyle Lovett. And I found myself wondering why I didn’t know the enigma that was Valerie Carter.
Maybe James Taylor on his website James-Taylor-Online sheds light on part of the answer below. Still I will have to continue learning more about this mesmerizing muse, if I want to better understand the place music as an expression of art took in our boomer generation’s lives, before it all turned corporate and relegated rock and roll to the niches of the civilization we once defined. Maybe that’s why I don’t even want to give a damn iota about the notation that Valerie Carter was convicted for drug possession in 2010, and had to undergo a law enforced treatment. How trivial would it would to let this stand as a determining factor next to the incredible artistic accomplishments this woman can look back on in a world where hundreds of thousands have been convicted of drug abuse over decades of witch hunting.
If you want to learn the facts about Valerie Carter’s considerable success as a solo performer, background vocalist and songwriter, don’t ask her. Oh, sure, she’ll tell you that she’s worked with James Taylor as a background singer dating back to 1975. She’ll probably admit that she’s recorded and toured over the years with a sparkling list of artists, among them Jackson Browne, Lowell George, Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles, to name but a few. If you ask, she might own up, rather reluctantly, to having written Judy Collins’s 1973 hit “Cook With Honey” and to her association as a songwriter with Browne, George and others. But Valerie Carter, who’s probably one of the most congenial — and modest — people you’ll ever meet, really prefers to direct attention away from herself. Refreshingly lacking an oversized ego in a business where divas are a dime a dozen, she marvels at how everything that’s happened professionally has been “completely mind-blowing” to her.
Valerie’s career began when she was a teenager, and success came early. With friends Jon Lind and Richard Hovey, she formed a group called Howdy Moon. The trio signed with A&M, which released their 1974 recording, Howdy Moon, produced by Lowell George (Little Feat). After Howdy Moon disbanded, Lowell George co-produced (with George Massenburg and Bob Irwin) Valerie’s first solo album, Just A Stone’s Throw Away (Columbia, 1977). Stone’s Throw featured an all-star line-up of supporting players, including George, Linda Ronstadt, Earth, Wind and Fire’s Maurice White, the Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian and singer Deniece Williams on backing vocals, Jackson Browne on piano and guitar, Toto’s Jeff Porcaro on drums, and Little Feat’s (and one-time James Taylor band member) Billy Payne on keyboards. The LP also contained three of Valerie’s compositions, two of which were written with Lowell George.
A similarly stellar set of musicians joined Valerie on Wild Child, her second album (Columbia, 1978, produced by James Newton Howard) including Jeff Porcaro again on drums, singer/songwriter David Lasley on background vocals, Steve Lukather on guitar, Jim Horn on horn, and Steve Porcaro on synthesizer. Wild Child featured five of Valerie’s songs (co-written with Newton Howard, Lukather, and Richard Bell).
In 1996, Valerie issued another solo recording, The Way It Is (Pony Canyon, produced by Mark Goldenberg and Eddie Offord), which featured backgrounds by James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Jackson Browne, Lyle Lovett, Phoebe Snow and her current fellow James Taylor backing vocalists David Lasley, Arnold McCuller and Kate Markowitz. The CD’s songs were equally impressive and included “Love Needs a Heart,” written by Valerie, Jackson Browne and Lowell George (a song that Browne performed on his Running on Empty record), and collaborations by Valerie with Goldenberg, Kevin Hunter, Tom Snow and Kathy Kurasch. Her last solo recording to date is Find A River (Pony Canyon, 1998), a superb five-song CD produced and arranged by Goldenberg.
Known for her powerfully soulful, smoky and sultry voice — with a range that switches from childlike innocence to a bluesy wail, often all in the same song — she has performed and/or recorded as a background singer with Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Don Henley, Nicolette Larson, Randy Newman, Neil Diamond, Aaron Neville, Diana Ross, Ringo Starr, Shawn Colvin, Glenn Frey, Jimmy Webb, Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Anne Murray, Christopher Cross, Eddie Money, Al Kooper, Hoyt Axton, and Jimmy Webb, among many others.
In 1975, Valerie met James Taylor through Lowell George, and she sang on Gorilla’s “Angry Blues” and In the Pocket’s “Family Man” and “Money Machine.” (That’s Valerie intoning the distinctive “money” in the middle of the latter song.) She has toured steadily with JT since 1990 and has also been featured on his last three albums (New Moon Shine, James Taylor Live and Hourglass).
Valerie’s tremendous musical talent was matched by her personal charm. Friendly and warm, easygoing, candid and blessed with a wry and gently self-deprecating sense of humor, she would make a great best friend.
Valerie Carter moved on to rock and roll heaven on March 4, 2017. She was taken by a heart attack at the age of 64.
“Valerie was an old soul and as deep as a well. Her voice came from her life and her life was a steep, rocky road,” Taylor wrote on Facebook. “We were the lucky ones, who worked and played with Valerie Carter over the long arc of her creative career; we got the best of her love.”
1999 Interview with Valerie Carter:
LAURA STEGMAN: Tell me how you got started as a singer and a musician.
VALERIE CARTER: I don’t really know, other than the fact that my high school years were kind of that “folky, outside agitator thang.” I didn’t really even know what some of the politics were about. My way of getting things out was just to sing it, so it started out pretty innocently. I wasn’t brought up as a singer. I wasn’t honed or taught or anything. As a matter of fact, I was pretty shy about it, so my parents didn’t really know — or neither did I — that’s what I wanted to do until I was about 18.
VC: Well, my teenage years were pretty strange. Probably everybody’s teenage years were pretty strange (laughs). I left home — my parents were frantic — and I went and stayed with my cousin in New York City. I grew up in the South in small towns, if you can even call them towns, and I’d never been to a big city in my life. I looked in the Village Voice for work, and I found this waitress-singer thing in the Village. I would do folk music sets with this Iranian guy, and in between I would serve meals while these belly dancers came out. I did that for about seven or eight months, and I learned how to write a little bit. Then I hitchhiked across country with some friends — because that’s what you did then — and we wound up in San Francisco and started playing coffeehouses.
LS: Did you just sing or did you play an instrument?
VC: I played the guitar. Really badly. Really lightly, and I sang very loudly.
LS: and VC: (laughter)
LS: You played stuff you wrote, or other people’s things?
VC: A little bit of each. I would do my own songs at places where I figured people were a little more looped.
LS: and VC: (laughter)
VC: Anyway, I lived in this really sweet, very nice little commune in Loginitas, California, and one of the members of that commune was Jon Lind. We had a little group called “Howdy Moon” about a million years ago. There were three of us, and we moved to Los Angeles and got a deal on A&M.
LS: What kind of music did Howdy Moon do?
VC: It was self-written, with really integral harmonies. It was very bizarre, honestly, and not that great, but pretty good for teenagers, I guess.
LS: So that must have been exciting to have had a record deal!
VC: It was very, very exciting. It might have been even a little “too much too soon” sort of thing, because it definitely blew my mind. We played the Troubadour in L.A. for our big showcase. It was great.
LS: What year was that?
VC: Probably ’74, I’m thinking.
LS: Wow, so that was the heyday of that sort of scene at the Troubadour.
VC: Yeah, absolutely. It’s amazing who could have been seeing us in those days! Then we recorded our album, and A&M just hated it. So we made the album again, and they released it. It was our first and our last record
LS: and VC: (laughter)
LS: And did you play anywhere other than Los Angeles?
VC: We did, but we literally hitchhiked to our gigs. There wasn’t much tour support, obviously. We slept on friends’ floors, and we would do a lot of colleges, so we would always get invited to sleep in various dorms. That was basically how we existed. And we did it for just the love of what we were doing, and because we were young, and because we could.
Then, Richard [Hovey, Howdy Moon’s third member] decided the music business wasn’t for him. Plus, I think we wanted to figure out what would happen if we were on our own. I think all three of us wanted to go our separate ways musically for just a little while. I’m sorry that we never reunited for something later on after we had learned a little about life and music.
LS: At this point in your life, did you know that you wanted to be a singer?
VC: Yeah, all indicators pointed in that direction quite strongly. I hadn’t taken a great deal of interest in school. Music came so naturally, and everything else in my life was a fight, and a real, real difficult struggle. One side of my brain is functioning — my music side — and the rest of me is trying to do the best I can. So I felt that from the biggest things — like God and all the wonderful things that kept snowballing and happening — to very small moments, they all pointed towards me really seeking a firm career. And yet, I was still learning. The whole thing was like learning on the job.
I owe a great deal of everything that happened to Jon [Lind] and to my manager, Bob Cavallo. He managed Laura Nyro, the Lovin’ Spoonful, Little Feat. He handled this “candy store” full of amazingly talented people, very nice people, who were very willing to help out somebody who obviously had some talent but wasn’t honed at all. Like Maurice White of Earth Wind & Fire, and just a really interesting conglomerate of people. They were all there for me, some in small ways that still were huge to me, and some in very large ways. They just gave a hundred percent of themselves so I could kind of find my way.
The connection with Little Feat was immediate. [Little Feat leader] Lowell [George], who was my mentor, introduced me to Jackson [Browne], and the three of us started writing together. We had a really good ride of writing and doing some records together, and that was a great thing for me. Lowell co-produced my first record.
LS: Did he put the band together for you?
VC: Well, what we did was — and I’ve never done it since in quite the same way with quite as much gusto — we had a “wish list” of anybody who was our idol on any instrument, and they played on that record. EVERYBODY, we just didn’t miss anybody. It’s an amazing bunch of people.
LS: Tell me about how you met Lowell.
VC: Well Lowell was [managed by] Bob Cavallo, he introduced us. And Lowell was always so curious about anybody and their music and what they were up to. And, honestly, I’ve looked back at some of the stuff I did, and I just had so much innocence and such a lack of understanding of who I was. And my voice is kind of small, you know, real shy, and I don’t even know why he took up his time with me. I really don’t know. I look back on it and think it was so incredibly brave of him. And if he saw something, I wasn’t aware of it.
I think part of what happened for me is that I felt like I was going to get “found out” back then. I was thinking, “I can’t really do this, but here I am and these people are so talented and wonderful, and I’m just sort of coasting on their heels.” But then I look back and I think, well why would they have worked with me, and I try to feel “validated” (laughs).
LS: But don’t you think everybody feels that way?
VC: I think so, I do. I think we all battle that in one way or another. But it kind of — I have to say — got the best of me for a little while. And then it was okay.
LS: So Just A Stone’s Throw Away was in 1977, and your second album, Wild Child, was in 1978. How were these records received? Did you tour and perform?
VC: The first one was really amazing. Out of all of them it got the most attention and landed me in the most interesting places. One of them was opening for the Eagles in Europe.
VC: I know, it was really a big time in my life. Too big probably. It just seemed like it kept happening very, very fast. I really didn’t know what I was doing. It felt great to be onstage, but, I’m telling you, I wasn’t up to it. I didn’t have it together enough to be doing those kinds of shows. But I also did little clubs and theatres which I enjoyed very much.
LS: I understand that you wrote the Judy Collins hit song “Cook with Honey.”
VC: Yeah (laughs modestly).
LS: That’s a really famous song!
VC: I know! (additional modest laughter.)
LS: Did you write it by yourself?
VC: I did. Two chords on the guitar. I wrote it while I was living in that commune.
LS: And how did it reach Judy Collins?
VC: Well, I went to a barbecue at her house on Fire Island, and we hit it off immediately. I didn’t tell her that I was an aspiring singer or anything, but at some point, we walked into her music room. And there were guitars hanging all over her wall, beautiful guitars, beautiful guitar straps, and pianos everywhere. And she was all full of light and kindness.
She sat down and played me a few things, and I was openly weeping. She asked if I knew anything, and I said, “Well, I know this one song.” And I’m sure my tongue was sort of hanging out as I was trying to play these two chords, which I could BARELY do. I got the song out, and I felt totally awkward and embarrassed. But when I looked up, SHE was weeping.
VC: It just completely shocked me, and I was so appreciative. That was a HUGE moment in my life. And I went away and thanked her for the most wonderful time. About six months went by, and she called and said, “Would you mind if I do your song?”
LS: Would you mind???
LS: and VC: (laughter)
VC: So there you go. And that’s what gave people the idea that I was a songwriter, by the way (laughs).
LS: You wrote “Love Needs a Heart” with Lowell and Jackson. What else did you write as a trio?
VC: Well not too much that got a lot of public interest or went on anybody else’s record. Mostly it was just a big learning process. There were bits and pieces [of songs] that to this day I still have some desire to work on. It’s just really hard to do. I miss Lowell so much all the time, still. [George passed away in 1979]. His family and I are very close, his wife is like a best friend, and his daughter is a wonderful, wonderful singer. So I feel close to him in some ways, and in other ways I just want him to show up with his guitar.
I’ve never been a great writer. I’ve always needed my friends to complete anything. But when I first started, I was literally hit over the head with the idea that I had to be a writer in order to be a singer, and so I tried to live up to it and I continue to do so. Sometimes it’s fruitful, and sometimes it’s a waste of your valuable time (laughs).
LS: Did you write any other songs that people would know?
VC: No, I think those two are it (laughs).
LS: Well that’s not bad.
VC: I’m not prolific like David [Lasley] (laughs).
LS: You sang with James Taylor on Gorilla (1975) and In the Pocket (1976) long before you started touring with him in 1990. How did you meet him?
VC: Lowell. Lowell just took me over to Amigo Studios, and there was James shooting hoops.
LS: Shooting hoops?
VC: There was a basketball net up in the studio. And we literally just dropped by to say hi, and the next thing I knew we were singing.
LS: You mean you just started singing for the album right there, just on the spur of the moment?
VC: Well he was in there, you know, for who knows how long doing this record.
LS: I just want to make sure I understand this. “Angry Blues,” the song from Gorilla that you and Lowell sang on, James just said, “Sing this”???
VC: Yeah, he said, “Check this one out.” So Lowell and I both sang.
LS: Like right there?
VC: Right there, right then. Yep. That’s how that happens. I really don’t like it when somebody sends me a tape, because I can’t be spontaneous. Other than for live shows where you have to know the lyrics, I’d rather not hear a song until it’s time to sing it.
LS: And then, more than 20 years later, you sang “Angry Blues” during James’ 1998 summer tour. Was that the first time you had sung it in a while?
VC: That’s right, it was the first time we’d ever done it live.
LS: Wow. I love the way that you did that, the way we could hear your voice.
VC: Yeah, yeah, it was great fun, I enjoyed it. There are not a lot of step-out parts for Kate [Markowitz] and me with James. So when there is one, we’re very, very excited.
LS: Going back to 1975, you recorded that song that one day?
VC: That seems right to me. James may remember it a different way, and I would have to ask him, but I know that as soon as Lowell and I got there, they just put that song up and we started.
LS: It had been recorded and you added the vocals?
VC: Right, right. Fortunately it had already been recorded. But I think Lowell said to him, “I want you to hear this voice,” or something like that. We sat down, and we sang in the studio for a minute with James on an acoustic.
LS: So ultimately that led to working with James again on In the Pocket. Did he call you for that?
VC: Yeah, it was very exciting. To be remembered in the slightest way was a beautiful thing.
LS: You really were clearly heard on “Money Machine.”
VC: Yeah, I know. And because of the sound of my voice, I kept getting booked in black clubs. I remember opening for Al Jarreau. I came in through the back door and they said, “Hold on! Hold on, who are you?” and I went, “Well, I’m Valerie,” and they went, “Huh???”
LS: and VC: (laughter)
LS: When you first met James Taylor, what was he like? What did you think of him?
VC: He was much more shy, and I was completely introverted, so the two of us were very nervous around one another. He and Lowell were very comfortable together, though, and I was comfortable with Lowell. But once we began singing together, we were all old friends. Give me something to sing, and I become my empowered self. I become the person who isn’t shy and isn’t a nervous wreck and just generally a screw up (laughs).
LS: I don’t think so…
VC: Well you know what I mean, not a screw-up in a big way, just in the little ways, the “two left feet” sort of thing.
LS: and VC: (laughter)
VC: James is probably one of the very few people I’ve worked with that I actually knew of when I was younger. I was completely a slave to the Sweet Baby James album. I was in high school when it came out, and I was totally in love with him. I remember coming home from school with my girlfriends, and we would sit around my bedroom and pass his picture around. Just pass it around and go, “Oh, what a babe!”
LS: and VC: (uproarious laughter)
VC: I mean it was the James Taylor poster time, everybody’s pillow was named James. I was SUCH a big fan! So meeting him and working with him was just as mind-blowing as everything else that’s ever happened in my career. Just completely mind-blowing.
LS: Let’s go back now to how you became a background singer vs. a solo artist. Tell me how you got into that.
VC: I got scared, and I got frustrated, and I got sad. I dropped out of the whole music thing for a while. I had personal difficulties with living here in Los Angeles, with a life of music. I was at an all-time low in my life, and I didn’t quite know what was going to happen. Eventually, I got some help. I took a really long time away from friends, away from anything I had ever known around here.
When I came back, I decided that I couldn’t handle trying go out and forge for a record deal and start all of that madness over right away. I was too delicate. But what I could do was sing, and that’s what I’ve always been happy doing. And I knew I could stand behind someone and let the spotlight shine somewhere else. I could at least express myself through the power of singing.
So I made a few phone calls to say, “I’m ready to come back.” I called Peter Asher [James Taylor’s manager at the time]. That was one of the first calls, and I didn’t expect anything to come of it. I didn’t expect anything to come of anything. I didn’t realize that people are as good as they were and as forgiving of someone who just kind of stepped away from them and from everything having to do with music. But friends rallied and really supported my wanting to come back.
LS: That’s how you ended up being one of James’ four singers [currently Valerie Carter, David Lasley, Kate Markowitz and Arnold McCuller]?
VC: Yeah. I literally called Peter and just put it out there. And it came right back. And I did the same with Jackson, and the same thing happened, but in a lesser way because Jackson just doesn’t tour as often as James. And it also happened with Linda [Ronstadt]. They really came through with open arms, and I’ve been nothing but grateful since the day it started.
LS: So, when you worked with James initially in 1975, and then you saw him again in 1990, clearly you must have been different.
VC: Yeah, we both were. But it was so amazing that from a great distance he had put together people who didn’t know one another into this band that would last this long. Kate and I had never met, and I don’t think Arnold and I had ever met.
LS: Had you met David?
VC: Oh yeah, David sang on my second record. Once again, my “wish list”! We did a song called “Trying to Get To You.” David did the PERFECT harmonies at the end with me, and we were laughing, we were rolling around on the studio floor. It was so much fun, it was just the greatest!
LS: So 1990 was pretty much the beginning of the current band, except for a few exceptions?
VC: Yeah, except for the two exceptions. (long pause.)
The first time I performed live with James was in Telluride, Colorado. A car picked me up to take me to the airport, and then it picked up Katie. That’s the first time we met. And we don’t know what to expect, we’re both very nervous. And obviously I’ve been really rusty and out of it for a long time. And also I had 50 songs to learn in less than 48 hours.
VC: It was intense, but I was so thrilled for the opportunity, and I knew all the songs backwards and forwards. So we get on the plane, and we have a very bumpy landing on that narrow airstrip in Telluride. And I look at Kate, and I say to her, “Ohhhh, my stomach, I don’t feel very good. I wish I had some Maalox.” And she says, “Tablets or liquid?” And I said, “We’re going to be really good friends.”
LS: and VC: (laughter)
VC: And we’ve been sharing stuff ever since, our clothes, our thoughts, the loneliness of being on the road, the joy of being on the road, the whole thing. We’ve become absolutely amazing friends.
And I remember that after that one show, there was a question as to who was going to get kept, because that show was the first test. So I was really very nervous about whether or not it was going to work out for me to go on and be with them for the rest of the summer. Finally I got word that I should show up for rehearsals, and I was very, very excited. And I remember during rehearsals that Peter Asher and Don Grolnick and James would all look at each other, and they would start laughing when we [four singers] started singing because it was just right. It was really right, the four voices couldn’t have been sweeter together. And we’ve just gotten closer and closer and become this very important family to one another over these years.
LS: You’re referring to the band as a whole?
VC: Yeah, all of us. And the losses that we’ve suffered, Don and Carlos, are things that are almost impossible to discuss, still. But, you know, we’ve had some amazingly great times and some of the worst times in our lives together, and it’s brought us really close. There’s no doubt in my mind that there’s nothing any one of us wouldn’t do for the other. Nothing. And it’s been proven time and time again.
LS: That’s so special!
VC: It is, it is. It’s unbelievable. I think that James has always been able to do that when he puts people together. It just works, it just works and I’m really so grateful that it’s been this long.
LS: New Moon Shine was the first album where you participated in the whole thing. Tell me something about that.
VC: Well, an album is pretty much finished by the time the background singers get to it. You’re not there to hear the lead vocal process. You’re not there to hear even the saxophone, or a special instrument or Yo Yo Ma or somebody wonderful. That’s happened long before the backgrounds were being thought of. But James is always the most special harmony writer, and his ideas are generally — almost without exception — the ones that we go with because they’re brilliant.
The process of putting it together and working it out is standing around a piano and just sort of going, “OK, let’s see what part I can reach,” and, “Which part is the sweetest part of my voice, what’s the sweetest part of your voice?”
We each just fill up the spaces as we go up the scale with as much emotion and the right vibe as we can. And you use the voices in just the right way to get an emotion across, so each voice carries a certain emotion. Just trying to get that all straightened out is really a hard day’s work. But it’s obviously very rewarding, and lots of fun, and exciting when it comes together and sounds beautiful. But it’s hard work, and we all give it everything we’ve got!
THE WAY IT IS AND FIND A RIVER
LS: On your own recordings, do you have any anecdotes about times when somebody that you looked up to or admired sang backgrounds for you?
VC: Not much, other than Lyle Lovett calling me “ma’am.”
LS: and VC: (laughter)
LS: He called you “ma’am”? Did you know him?
VC: Yeah, but not well. Actually, he just called me out of the blue one Christmas at my mom’s house, and my family was pretty excited because they answered the phone. And he said, “I’m a fan, and I just wanted to say hi.”
VC: It was pretty exciting!
LS: What had he been a fan of, your recordings?
VC: Yeah, that Stone’s Throw thing. It was very sweet, and from then on I vowed to meet him. So as soon as I had anything going on [recording], I could not wait to ask him. And he showed up, it was great!
LS: And James Taylor sang back up on The Way It Is. Was that the first time that he had sung backup for you on a record?
VC: Yeah, I guess that might have been.
LS: Was that odd or strange, or just very natural?
VC: No, it’s just natural to share music, very natural to share music. And he was so sweet, and so willing to do anything. I love my boss!!!
LS: and VC: (laughter)
LS: And your last recording was Find Me a River.
VC: That’s just a little — what do they call those things? — Extended Play. Five songs. It gave me a few bucks and made a few cents. It came out only in Japan. Mark Goldenberg produced that record. He’s an amazing, amazing guitar player, songwriter and producer who works with lots of artists, but he had been with Jackson for a long time, and that’s how we met.
VARIOUS AND SUNDRY
LS: Do you have a favorite song on any of the albums you’ve recorded with James?
VC: Well, pick any morose song, and that’s my favorite (laughs). Talk about love of maudlin things, that’s me! I actually want to start something at a nightclub, something you would do once a month, called “Dirge Night” where every writer comes in and does three or four of his most sad and depressing songs. And we’ll have candelabra, and gladiolus, and kind of a bizarre little theatre thing going on.
LS: Velvet… (laughs)
VC: Exactly, you got the vibe. So anybody happy shouldn’t come.
LS: and VC: (laughter)
LS: Or if you’re happy, we’ll fix that… that’s hilarious!
VC: So you just pick all the saddest, most tear-jerking songs, and those are my favorite. “Look Up From Your Life” just kills me. I see Don Grolnick’s face, and I just go somewhere. We all do, every time. I don’t care if we play that song 20 times a day instead of one time a day. It just always evokes the same emotion
LS: I like all of James’ pretty ballads, but I find that I start liking a lot of his “rocking out” songs more once I hear them live.
VC: James is very funky. And I’m really glad when he remembers how funky he is and does those songs, because the band gets off on something that’s grooving. And certainly the singers do, we all do. There’s so many beautiful ballads. There’s always probably more of those than there are the “up” songs, but that makes the “up” songs all that much more special.
LS: I loved his version of “Not Fade Away.”
VC: Yeah, that was so much fun! I get to actually play an instrument. I busted my thumb like about a million times using those claves. I’m terrible. And doing that in front of the symphonies was really hysterical. They were, like, “You have great command of the instrument.” Oh yeah, right.
LS: Did you say you did “Not Fade Away” on the 1994 symphony tour???
VC: Yeah, it was hysterical.
LS: I’ve heard “Steamroller” with a symphony but I can’t imagine “Not Fade Away.”
VC: We did it!
LS: Oh my gosh, that’s so funny. And the orchestra played too??
VC: James has such a great sense of humor, you’ve got to understand. I mean, it was fairly tongue in cheek.
LS: When you get ready to go on the road for a big tour, what do you do besides pack?
VC: That’s just what you really do, just sort of pack. I have a mail service that sends me my mail so I can pay my bills.
LS: So you still have to have a life while you’re on the road (laughs)?
VC: A little bit. But it’s not as complicated as living at home, because you’re not running around for your dry cleaning, you’re not going to the bank, you’re not doing all the stuff. That is a world that you leave behind. And for me, it’s like a summer camp for adults. And I look forward to it because I feel that being in charge of your own “ship,” as it were, is really more difficult than getting on that bus and having that “whoosh” of the piece of paper being slid under your door at night in your hotel telling you EXACTLY what’s going on the following day. I love that. It appeals to the child in me that doesn’t want to be responsible.
LS: Do you guys play practical jokes on the road on each other?
VC: From time to time. Not in the way that we’re even enlisting the help of the other members. But the last tour of the summer, I mean the last date, something strange always happens.
LS: Like what?
VC: Well, let’s see. Kate and I get a lot of flack for how may clothes we bring on the road, and shoes. So last summer, I think, we loaded up our entire side of the stage with all of our shoes. There was no place to walk, no place to be.
LS: and VC: (laughter)
LS: How many pairs do you bring?
VC: I don’t know, but between the two of us, we’re relentless. And then, there’s the days off when we go shopping. Imelda Marcos has nothing on us.
LS: and VC: (more uproarious laughter)
LS: Being the only two females on the tour… is everybody just “one of the guys”?
VC: Well it’s clear that we’re females, but it’s clear that every one of those guys is a big brother, and a family member. It’s always been like that. We’ve gotten to know people really well, including getting to know their children and their parents, and they’ve gotten to know my family.
I have a huge family, so as we edge towards the cities where they live, it gets more and more strange for me. And for James too, because my relatives are a little outgoing, and they practically run him down to get a hug. And it’s cute, but it’s really embarrassing. And at one point, I had 56 guests or something, and they actually gave me a little family room backstage. And they mauled James pretty good… he was really a doll about it. But on stage that night, he said, “I want everybody in the audience to turn around and look at the person next to you and just say ‘hi,’ because that’s one of Valerie’s relatives. Ohhhhh, the shame! The total shame!!!
LS: and VC: (laughter)
LS: What’s it like on the bus after a show?
VC: Well, there’s take-out food from God knows where. There’s a lot of down time on the road, and there’s always food. This band rehearses five minutes, eats for ten, rehearses for five, eats for fifteen. It’s just terrible, terrible temptation all the time.
We sort of sit around as we’re rolling down the road trying to at least get some of the grit and grime off before you climb into bed. And then we arrive at these really gorgeous hotels where people look absolutely fresh and stunning for their day in business suits, and they’re all shined and polished to the hilt. And here we come off the bus…
LS: All bedraggled?
VC: Yeah, there’s a quick (shielding her face), “Can I have my key?” And you kind of slither off to your room, and get a shower, and lay down for a couple of hours, and do it all over again.
LS: What are your plans for the future?
VC: I love collaborating. And I love harmonies and that sort of thing. I don’t think I’ve ever written more than two or three songs fully by myself. So, I would love to have a partner and am actually looking at doing just that in a far-away place called Nashville. I’m looking for a good duo situation, so I’m going to go down soon and see what happens.
I really like the writing community of Nashville. I like the way they get things done really quickly. You don’t leave songs hanging in pieces all over town with different people. There’s no piece of your heart here, and a piece over here. In L.A., I can’t even remember who I’ve started some songs with. I find that I have this one little piece of a song, and it might be a little gem. And I go, “Who has the other half of this? Where is it? How many years ago did we start it and say we were going to finish it tomorrow?” In Nashville, you get started on a song one day, and you literally wrap it up either the following morning or that night. I don’t know if I can write a good song that way, but my guess is that if I really apply myself to the Nashville “modus operandi,” maybe I can. And I’m curious to see what it will be like. I know the writers are spectacular. So I just want to try something different. You know, branch out a little bit. I’m all about taking risks right now.
LS: But you’re going to keep this house as your base? Because this place is so beautiful!
VC: Ohhh, thank you! This is the first time in my life in all the years I lived in Los Angeles that I’ve ever had roots, really. I love the birds in the yard. And the possibility of growing some of my own vegetables is really very exciting. I can’t believe how domestic I’m becoming!
LS: Well, let me see what else I can possibly ask to trouble you with. Is there anything I haven’t asked that you wanted to say?
VC: No, we’ve talked about the past, the present and the future. I feel like I’ve really talked a lot, for me (laughs). You caught me on a really talkative day. It was really nice to talk about everybody, so thank you for that opportunity, and it’s great to meet you.
LS: You too… thanks.