Texas singer-songwriter Terri Hendrix does things her own way. She started her own label, has a goat for a mascot (she once milked goats in exchange for guitar lessons) and abandoned an opera scholarship to pursue her own musical path.
A decade or so after her debut album, she’s released 10 other records, played nearly every folk festival imaginable and hosts “Life’s A Song,” a yearly workshop with Lloyd Maines.
Last week, from the main office of Wilory Records, she took some time to answer our questions.
Q: You’re out on the road again, what else is going on in your life musically?
A: Just working on a new record, and trying to ride the wave. I’ve run my own label since 1996 and every thing’s changing so quick. You know, newspapers to online papers, physical CDs to downloads, so just trying to stay fresh. Stay fresh musically and stay fresh with the business.
Q: What do you always take with you on tour?
A: I’ve come close to forgetting some important things, like my tuner and my volume pedal. I’ll usually pack several days before and look at it and make sure I’ve got everything.
Q: Do you have any favorite venues to play?
A: I’m playing two of my favorites – the Botanical Gardens in Wyoming, that’s award winning, I mean they have a garden for handicapped people, they did a garden for children, a community garden. It’s a historic type of place. It’s pretty amazing to be returning there because they have huge ideas and I’ve worked with them for the past several years and it’s been a real treat to see them have these huge ideas and then come back and play and see the ideas done, see them put to the ground and blooming.
And then Swallow Hill is so important to the community because they teach as well as having performances, it’s a great place to play.
Q: How do you come up with ideas for new songs?
A: Sometimes, you know, there was a song I wanted to write about the deregulation of radio. So I wrote down ‘deregulation of radio’ and I researched it and I ended up with “Monopoly.”
It depends what the topic is, if it’s politics it goes in one folder, if it’s about God it goes in another, if it’s about people it goes in another. I guess perhaps I’m a little bit shy on the love topic, I don’t have many love songs. But I just kind of categorize thoughts and try to work on them. A lot of things give me ideas, things people say, things I do.
Q: How has your music and style evolved over the years you’ve been performing, you started out in opera?
A: Yeah, I did. That was 1989, then I fell in love with American music and now I’m really influenced by world music as well. I think everything I listen to affects what I do which is why I’ve remained independent. Some of our songs, one song we have Spanish, another song we have Irish singing in Gaelic, some of it’s swing music, some of it’s kind of pop music, it kind of runs the gamut.
It’s evolved because I’ve become more relaxed about just letting the song dictate what style it’s going to be rather than worry so much about having a cohesive sound.
Q: Several of your songs have been recorded by other artists, is it hard to let go of a song you’ve written and hear it done by another artist?
A: Oh, no… I think that’s about the highest compliment I feel like I’ve been paid. If someone wants to sing one of my songs… because I record other people’s songs as well, and sometimes I’ll record someone else’s song and someone will listen to my record and be like, ‘Hey! I really like that song!’ and I’ll hook them up with the artist. When you write songs, I know for me personally, it’s just a real big honor. It’s not hard to let them go at all.
Q: What type of music do you listen to when you’re listening for yourself?
A: If I’m working in my office on the business end of things I’ll listen to electronic music – like Enigma or that rusty, ’80s electronic music. I’ll just be blatantly honest and say that I really like that stuff. Or Enya something that doesn’t have lyrics, if it has lyrics I’m going to be distracted and I won’t get my work done.
And if I’m taking a drive or on a road trip then I make mixes and it’s all over the map. My musical inbox has everything from bagpipes to rap.
Q: Is there anything you’ve always wanted to learn how to do?
A: I’m learning to play piano. I kind of know how to play, but I’ll be playing it live by December. And I really love harmonica, I’ve always loved it but I really want to get good. There’s a difference between playing a harmonica and really, really playing harmonica. I really want to play like Sonny Terry style. On the piano I want to play just simple, basic, melodic piano. I don’t want to feel like wailin’ on it… I’d like to learn how to really wail on harp harmonica but piano, I just want to be able to accompany myself.
I think it’s fun when you’re performing to have different instruments and textures and colors to add to the show. When I play with Lloyd Maines, we play mandolin, guitar, he plays dobro, and it makes the show more fun.
Q: If you could sit down with any songwriter and pick their brain for an hour, who would you choose?
A: Guy Clark. I’d really like to visit with him about songs. I’ve worked with him before but it’s never been appropriate to sit with him and talk to him about songs. Another one would be Paul Simon, and John Prine, because they’re masters.
And let’s go to women, because people will always mention the men but there’s women as well. There’s Lucinda Williams and Nanci Griffith. I’m friends with Eliza Gilkyson, so I have an opportunity to ask her but I’ve never really talked with her about her songwriting process but I really admire her songs. It’s kind of a long list.
Q: Is there anything people listening to your music need to know about you or the music before they come to the show?
A: Bring a friend! I’ve come to Colorado many times but in lots of ways, I come so infrequent and I’m an independent artist to the bone… I don’t have widespread commercial radio support so bring a friend come to the show. Vance Gilbert, he’s a fantastic artist – we’re sharing the show so we’ll play and then Vance will play. And I don’t know one person that’s not having a hard time with finances right now so this is going to be a fun night to just get away from it all and enjoy yourself.
Photo: Mary Keating Bruton