OutWest Concert Series | Judy Coder, Songcatcher
OutWest Concert Series
Judy Coder, Songcatcher
OutWest Boutique & Cultural Center
Old Town Newhall, Santa Clarita, CA
July 2, 2011
When my husband and I married, I was a classical musician. I taught elementary music in the public schools. But it was only a matter of time before Terry’s father roped me into singing in the Elmont Opry. It’s a bi-annual country music show sponsored by the suburban Methodist church where my father-in-law Jim served as pastor for many years. The show is patterned after TV’s Hee Haw of the 1970s, and has been selling out crowds for nearly 40 years. Jim’s nearly always been the emcee (except for that one time he missed so he could officiate at our wedding on Opry weekend), and he’s always looking for new talent.
Even though I always said I didn’t like country music, Jim asked me to sing in the Opry, so I did. After probably my 3rd Opry, the stage band’s banjo player, Larry Dimmitt, invited me to come out to the State Historical Museum and hear the bluegrass band he was in. I didn’t know a thing about bluegrass, either, but I went, sat in and sang a couple, and before I knew it, I was a member of the Shyster Mountain Boys (a bunch of lawyers), who changed the name to Shyster Mountain Gang to be more inclusive. Yep, in just a few steps I’d joined a gang.
A couple of Oprys later, Jim said it had been some time since the Opry had had a good yodeler, and they used to have such GOOD yodelers; he said he thought I out to try yodeling, because he thought I’d be good at it. I’m sure I was quite rude each time I said, “I don’t think so, Jim,” but he’s just one of those people who just won’t take No for an answer. Eventually, I caved. The song I chose was Patsy Montana’s “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart”. That was November of 1998.
Larry liked my yodeling, so we started including it in bluegrass shows with the Shysters. When Larry sent an audition tape of a December ’98 Shyster performance for a festival in Pineville, MO, I didn’t know he’d included a recording of me yodeling. But he did tell me there was a yodeling contest as a part of the festival. I said something like ” … good. I’d like a chance to hear other people yodel. I only know one yodeling song … ” When we heard back from the festival officials, Larry said they wanted to be sure I planned to enter the yodeling contest.
So we traveled in June of 1999 to the Patsy Montana Festival in Pineville, MO. On the way there, I asked, ” … now what’s the name of this festival again? And who is Patsy Montana?” That weekend, I became the 1999 Patsy Montana National Yodeling Champion. I went to Fan Fair in Nashville, signed autographs and sang with Riders In The Sky; went to Gene Autry, OK, sang with Riders In The Sky and presented them with the Patsy Montana Pioneer Award; traveled, sang, traveled and sang. Everywhere I went, people asked me if I had any recordings for sale. So I made one: “A Tribute to Patsy Montana”, and it features songs written, sung, recorded and inspired by Patsy Montana, the first female recording artist in any genre to have a million-seller, “I Want to Be a Cowboy’s Sweetheart (1936). It was released on Patsy’s birthday, October 30, 2000.
I quit teaching, and hit the road. I traveled, sang, released another CD, won the Western Music Association International Yodeling Championship, and traveled and sang.
Toward the end of 2002, I got some invitations for gigs that were more suited for bands. The first was an outdoor festival, and all the other acts were bands. I knew that in that setting, folks would not be interested in the one-woman Judy Coder show. I needed help. What I needed was the Sons of the Pioneers.
Stan Tichenor had served as a substitute sometimes with the Shysters. I really liked his guitar work and vocals. I asked him to join me, and I wondered if maybe he might know a good bass player. He said, “Yeah, Phil Thompson. You want me to call him?” Wow. It was that easy. Phil’s son Chance joined us on banjo, and we had fun. A few months later, we played at the Elmont church’s ice cream social, and really turned some heads.
We began to think of ourselves as a band. I knew for a western sound I needed to replace that banjo with a fiddle. I also knew that on stage, Stan, Phil and I were stiff. We would need the fiddle player to be our comic relief. We were hired to play some local chuckwagon suppers, and we really needed that fiddle. But we didn’t find him right off.
Fortunately, Jim and Dorothy Coder are always looking out for me. Dorothy called one day, and said, “I don’t know if I should be telling you this or not, but…. I hear Alan Lawton is between bands.” Really? Alan Lawton was a local talent. Terry and I spent our first date dancing to the music of the Alan Lawton Band. He could play anything.
When Alan Lawton joined Judy Coder and Pride of the Prairie, it’s like everything just dropped into place. It was perfect. What’s really funny about it is that Alan Lawton is a quiet man, and never says a word on stage. (What, never? Well, hardly ever.) He’s so calm, he brought out the lunatic in the rest of us. It was a perfect blend in every way. So together, we played and sang, and played, and sang. We traveled the country, cut three award-winning CDs, and won two harmony awards from the WMA. We sang at Silver Dollar City, sang for BBC-TV in a Tattoo Bar, sang for the troops on RFD-TV, and sang with the Topeka Symphony. It was the greatest musical experience of my life.
After 5 years, the band closed down. We were going in different directions. We still meet for supper and a jam about once a month, and once in a while, we share the stage. But for the most part, I was back to solo.
There are advantages to traveling light with a solo career, but I did miss the harmony. Talking with my husband and daughter one day, Terry suggested I consider a cowgirl band. Well, of course. I’d had that in the back of my mind since I first won the Patsy Montana award back in 1999. But what cowgirl did I know who I’d really want to play music with? I’d always drawn a blank. Until Terry suggested Diane Gillenwater.
Oh, yeah. Why didn’t I think of Diane? She plays fiddle in Pastense. But all musicians worth their salt are constantly busy with performances, and the only way to know if they’re interested in playing for you is to go ahead and ask. So I asked. All three of these talented women play in other acoustic bands, but they want to play western music, too. Turns out, all of us are really cowgirls at heart. All of them play multiple instruments, and all three sing harmony.
I’m having a ball, making music. It’s all I ever really wanted to do. I still sing classically, and sing jazz. I write more music than I ever have before. I run my own business. I’m a professional musician. I tour Europe as a solo artist and come home to support music in my home town. And all because Jim Coder said I should yodel.
Who’d a-thunk it?