House Blend | Episode 10B: Katy Moffatt
ABOUT THE ARTIST
The most memorable American roots music — be it western, country, folk, rock or the blues — is always informed by a simple fact of life: you live and you learn. Just ask Katy Moffatt. Or better yet, listen to her sing, be it a song from her own prolific pen or a choice cut from a favorite songwriter. It’s clear that Katy sings and writes with the voice of hard-won authority. As BAM observes, “She doesn’t just hit the notes and get the words right, Moffatt evokes the emotions behind the tunes and meaning between the lines.”
“Fewer Things.” newly released on Zeppelin Records, is a third addition to the luminous canon of unique acoustic collaborations between Katy and Andrew Hardin which include the revered Walkin’ on the Moon (1989) and 1998’s Angel Town (“Anyone unaffected should check their pulse” – Mojo). Produced by Hardin, “Fewer Things” is a collection of 11 songs. There are five originals, two of which were written by Katy and Tom Russell. Other gems from favored writers include previously undiscovered songs from John Hiatt, Pat McLaughlin, and Jeff Rymes (of The Lonesome Strangers), as well as muscular contributions by Stephen Bruton and Nick Lowe.
Andrew Hardin says, “‘Fewer Things’ is the most satisfying to me of the recordings Katy and I have done together. This CD features some of the most expressive singing I’ve ever heard from her and some of the most interesting interplay between vocalist and guitar accompaniment. A spontaneity comes through that is real and exciting; the push and pull of two musicians interacting is gratifying to re-experience with each listen.”
This is no faint praise given the spectrum of her rich history.
Debuting in 1976 with Katy on Columbia Records, Moffatt has continued to grow and expand her own artistry so effectively that November 2002 saw the reissue of her first two Columbia albums on compact disc. In 2008, she participated by special invitation in a star-studded tribute to Les Paul presented by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Hers is a career marked by consistent critical acclaim, industry appreciation (a 1985 Academy of Country Music nomination as Best New Female Vocalist), movie appearances (Billy Jack, Hard Country and The Thing Called Love), songs covered (by talents such as Hoyt Axton and Janie Fricke), and an album that outsold Garth Brooks on the U.K. country charts (The Greatest Show on Earth a.k.a. The Evangeline Hotel, which stayed on those charts for six months).
But then again, Katy Moffatt has been learning her lessons well ever since she first became enthralled with music as a child growing up in Fort Worth. Captivated by Broadway show tunes, the Beatles and Motown, she was an avid listener to Top 40 radio and says, “I used to come home from school, have dinner, go to bed, and set the alarm for midnight. Then I’d get up and do my homework and listen to the radio. It was my favorite time — I could be alone with the music.” This she recalls in Midnight Radio, the title song of her lauded second Watermelon Records release, which was preceded by the Gavin Americana Chart success Hearts Gone Wild.
By high school, she was absorbing Tom Rush, Judy Collins and Leonard Cohen (whose ‘Dress Rehearsal Rag,’ Katy says, “made me want to perform”.) Later, Tracy Nelson and Ella Fitzgerald, (whose version of the Cole Porter gem, ‘Miss Otis Regrets’ would later inspire Katy’s brilliant acoustic adaptation of the song on 1998’s Angel Town) became vocal touchstones for Moffatt, who recalls that “as soon as I started performing, I knew this was what I wanted to do. But there weren’t many places for a young girl like me to perform.” Early gigs included a small Ft. Worth coffeehouse, an old folks home (where her audience included Willie Nelson’s grandmother), and a Neiman-Marcus fashion show with a then-trendy folk music theme. During her college years in Santa Fe, she fronted blues and jugband groups, starred in her “one and only musical” (The Fantastiks), and was cast as a folksinger in Billy Jack. After college, she spent time in Austin opening shows for the likes of Jerry Jeff Walker and Willis Alan Ramsey before landing in Denver, where she was eventually discovered by Columbia Records.
Her two Columbia albums Katy (produced by Billy Sherrill) and Kissin’ in the California Sun won rave notices from Rolling Stone and Newsweek, but the ever eclectic Moffatt found herself caught in the crossfire between country and pop divisions of a large corporate record company. “I started six albums, finished three, and two were released,” she recalls. “I often had marvelous opportunities and no way to maximize them.”
A move to California in 1979 landed her within a burgeoning community of like-minded country rockers, and after recording another unreleased album (whose three single releases earned her the ACM nomination), Moffatt appeared on the groundbreaking A Town South of Bakersfield compilation amid kindred spirits such as Dwight Yoakum and Rosie Flores. Three new film offers had her cast as a singing performer in Hard Country (with Michael Martin Murphey), Honeymoon in Vegas, and Peter Bogdanovitch’s The Thing Called Love. Sessions with Steve Berlin of Los Lobos yielded the album Child Bride, whose European release spurred Moffatt’s growing popularity on the Continent. After meeting Tom Russell and his guitar playing side kick Andrew Hardin at the Kerrville Music Festival in Texas, she began an ongoing songwriting relationship with Russell, and recorded Walkin’ On The Moon with Hardin, her first US album release in over a decade (on Philo/ Rounder in 1989), and hailed as “substantive in both its emotions and its ideas” by the San Jose Mercury News. Rounder followed it with the Stateside issue of Child Bride (“American songs delivered with full-throttled passion,” noted The Washington Post) in 1990; The Greatest Show on Earth in 1993 (“One ‘Greatest Show’ well worth catching,” said The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) prompted legal action by the Ringling Brothers circus, predicating a name change to The Evangeline Hotel , but by now Moffatt had reclaimed her place as one of America’s most honest and affecting singer-songwriters. As the Detroit News and Free Press notes of Moffatt’s songs, they “provide stirring, poignant and incisive glimpses into the lives of the long-suffering everyman and woman who once populated Springsteen’s scenarios — except with a dusty Southwest spirit.”
On her 1999 Hightone Records album, Loose Diamond, Katy teamed with labelmate and Grammy winner Dave Alvin as her producer for the first time. Together, they crafted a collection of songs to convey all the power and soul in her voice in a direction clearly aimed at a roots country audience. In recent years, Moffatt has been able to enjoy a career that’s become as broad as her varied interests. In early 1996, Rounder issued Sleepless Nights, her collaboration with traditional singer Kate Brislin, and later that year she was heard duetting with the legendary Country Dick Montana on his posthumously released solo album, The Devil Lied To Me (Rolling Stone magazine called her participation, a “vocal star turn.”) She also contributed a track to the acclaimed songwriters’ tribute to Merle Haggard, Tulare Dust; did time in The Pleasure Barons with Montana, Dave Alvin, Mojo Nixon, and John Doe; and in 1992 released Dance Me Outside, an album of duets, with her brother, Nashville songwriter Hugh Moffatt.
Katy’s 2001 adventurous foray into the Western music genre yielded Cowboy Girl (Western Jubilee Records) and found Moffatt traveling an old and dusty trail, one perhaps more deeply rooted in her than any she had traveled before. In the words of poet Paul Zarzyski, “… she sticks to each note, spurrin’ pretty out into the purple sage and leaving us listeners dazzled by the soulful vistas across which her voice ranges with ease, with grace, with a gritty musical savvy that turns us into believers.”
After some 30 years of solo performances from New York to Vancouver, from London to the Blue Mountains of Australia, Katy delivered her first live solo offering. Up Close and Personal, released by Fuel / UMVD Records in 2005, is yet another very special collection of music in answer to an expressed desire of aficionados the world over.
Now, with “Fewer Things” — her third acoustic collaboration with guitarist/producer Andrew Hardin — Katy continues her unique path, cutting through to a place where the honesty, power, and purity of her sound reside and flourish like a wild rose.
ABOUT THE HOST
“House Blend” host, writer and co-producer Stephen K. Peeples is a Grammy-nominated record producer (“Monterey International Pop Festival,” 1992), award-winning radio writer-producer (“The Lost Lennon Tapes,” 1988-1990) and veteran record company executive (Capitol, Elektra/Asylum, Rhino). A Canyon Country resident since early 1988, Peeples wrote about the SCV music scene for The Signal newspaper in 2004-2006 and was Managing Editor of the My Santa Clarita community website in 2006-2007. He was The Signal’s Online Editor and social media manager from October 2007 to May 2011. In 2009 he was honored when The-Signal.com was named “Best Website” by the California Newspaper Publishers Association. A jazz and rock drummer since he was 12, Peeples was a member of the underground West L.A. garage band Peaking Duck from 1977-2008. In 2010, he co-founded the SCV-based jazz quartet RainTree.©2010 SCVTV