Artist Q&A

@JamminJavaMei's Q&A With Tracy Grammer


Tracy Grammer toured for years with legendary folk songwriter Dave Carter. Dave died suddenly in July 2002. Coincidentally, they played their last show at Jammin Java a few days before. Tracy continues to tour solo and is here December 14.

Where and when was your first show?

My very first stage appearance was in 4th grade. I was the Modern Major General in "Pirates of Penzeance" and strutted about the stage in knickers that belonged to the boy I had a crush on at the time. Mom scored them for me. (Way to go, Mom.)  Other than that, my first appearance as a solo girl on stage with a guitar was in 1995 at the San Hsin High School in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. It was at the end of a 5-week ESL residency where I had been one of nine teachers. I stood in front of a single microphone on the auditorium stage and belted out "That's What Friends Are For" for about 100 weeping teenage Taiwanese girls, all singing along. Classic.

What band/artist would you consider to be your main influence?

Probably Mary Chapin Carpenter. I fell in love with the production values  of "Halley Came to Jackson." I studied the album SHOOTING STRAIGHT IN THE DARK intensively -- Chapin's vocal nuances, the writing, the harmonies, the use of guitars and especially the use of the violin... all of it. Did the same for C'MON C'MON. I went to her concerts by myself in college so that I wouldn't be bothered by someone talking to me during the show. She seemed fun, intelligent, and her work had integrity. It also had gravitas. Those albums have held up for me over the years; I still listen to them, still love them, still study them from time to time.

About three weeks before Dave Carter died, he and I were on tour in California, talking in the van about whether anything could ever break up our duo. Dave entertained this bizarre belief that Richard Shindell really wanted to work with me and was on the verge of stealing me away forever. He got this idea when we were all on the Joan Baez tour together and couldn't seem to shake it despite my reassurances and my passionate protestations.

"He's in love with you. They all are!" He waved a hand to indicate, I think, all male singer-songwriters on the planet. Dave could be a little delusional. Dave could also be a LOT jealous.

"Fuckin' Shindell?" It wasn't a slur -- that was his name in the van. Fuckin' Shindell. A term of endearment, actually. We both loved him.

"No way," I said. Loved Shindell, sure, but I was exasperated that his name had come up AGAIN in this context. "First of all,  he only likes to sing with Lucy, in case you hadn't noticed. And secondly, in case you hadn't noticed, he only likes to sing with Lucy. So read it and weep, baby: you're stuck with me."

And we drove on in silence down Interstate 5, letting that hang in the air for a moment. Dave bowed his head a little in apology and looked at me because he knew his fear was unfounded, but he couldn't help himself. Some little part of him still believed this was possible.

But then I had a thought.

"Well," I said, stretching my words long. "There is ONE person I'd have to leave you for..."

I'm sure his heart sank like a stone. He turned to me with his eyebrows raised and squinting, anticipating the blow.

I nodded my head slow and turned to him. "Mary Chapin Carpenter. If Mary Chapin Carpenter calls, sorry baby -- I gotta go."

Well --

For what it's worth, and this is probably obvious -- this never happened. That call never came. But the day after Dave Carter died, Mary Chapin Carpenter sent me an email expressing her condolences. She Sent. Me. An Email. I had no idea that my musical hero knew about us at all. Can you imagine how my heart swelled and broke all in the same moment? Because that's what happened. It swelled, and then it just broke. But a couple years later, she and I would sing together on my FLOWER OF AVALON album; she'd ask permission to use words I'd written as the title of her new album (BETWEEN HERE AND GONE); she would invite me on stage at the KATE WOLF FESTIVAL in California to sing "Gentle Soldier of My Soul" with her. She would pick me up one afternoon from my hotel in Charlottesville, VA and take me to her farm, where we spent the afternoon riding around on her gator, or standing in the kitchen munching hummus and crackers and chit-chatting about Dave, her dog Cal, and our adventures. Every bit as nice as I thought she'd be, and ten times as gracious.

What is one of your most memorable or off-the-wall touring experiences?

Well, file this one under "Kooky Green Room Stories" -- a venue left me a thawing package of frozen broccoli, a plastic bag of watery tofu product, and a note on the back of a folded-up brown paper bag which read, "Hope you can make this work." No utensils, no bowl, no way to heat this ... I was speechless.

Favorite Food: in winter, clementines. sushi for every season, though :)

Favorite Drink: tea

If you were to have a film/movie based on your career, which actors or band would you select to portray yourself?

I wouldn't know. I am culturally illiterate after the 80's :). Haven't watched TV in years and don't remember movies. Sad, really. Want to recommend someone?

What two words would best describe your music?

Two words to describe Dave Carter's songs -- because those are mostly what I sing at this point -- mythopoetic, intricate.

Two words to describe how I play them -- pristine, soulful.