Updated: Nov 30, 2019
Ruby Jewel Jamboree kicks off it’s 2014 season with the Kathy Kallick Band Tour.
Kathy Kallick has been making bluegrass music for 40 years, since 1975. In what was then a male predomination, with the likes of David Grisman, Bill Monroe, Tony Rice, and Ricky Skaggs it is a wonder a woman could get a lick in edgewise. Yet that year, Kathy along with four other woman cofounded a band that would play together for 20 years; The Good Ol’ Persons consisted of Kathy Kallick, Sue Shelasky, Barbara Mendelsohn, Dorothy Baxter, and Laurie Lewis. Laurie Lewis and Kathy, both living in the Bay Area, still collaborate.
As a young woman, Kathy set her sights on the San Francisco Art Institute to study painting; choosing to leave her native Chicago for concern that the folk scene might be too distracting. Her parents listened to a lot of the 1960’s folk music when she was growing up. Naturally, she sought out the genre in the Bay Area, but instead was led astray by a much more vital and available bluegrass scene. She was drawn to the “drive and the groove, and the conversation that happens between musicians; how collaborative and interactive it is.” It is, and always has been the singing and soulful harmonies that engaged her interest. She says of those first days in Art school that bluegrass grabbed hold of her and continues to tighten its grip.
It was difficult being an all-girl band in the days of so many successful male bands. But the general vibe of that particular period; the Viet Nam war just ending, women’s lib in full throttle, and a general unrest in the populace due to the antics of President Nixon fueled many a rebel. The Bay Area in general, but notably the men there, (much like we find it in Missoula with its accepting attitude of ‘follow your bliss, and we will support you ‘cuz it makes you happy, no matter how far out you are’) welcomed and supported the smattering of women who dared stand up on a stage troubadour style, or be in all-girl bands. Some of the trailblazers of the time: Ingrid Fowler, Markie Sanders, Susie McKee, and Laurie Lewis. It was when the original Good Ol’ Persons would venture out to the eastern states they found resistance to women moving into the bluegrass genre.
They never pushed too hard where they weren’t welcome, but the music they were laying down was too good to be ignored. Soon they found themselves jamming with bands like Hot Rize, Nashville Bluegrass Band, and Bill Monroe who invited them to play not once but twice at his festival in Indiana.
Exposure like this just set a tone for more women to join in and sing out.
Steady and true with a clarity that is equally at home on the low end as it is in the high and lonesome, her voice is instrumental in all of Kathy’s music. She plays guitar, and will play bass in a pinch.
Early inspiration came ringing through her soul in the voice of Pat Enright. Now, what is a shame in the wide world of music is that not every bluegrass musician becomes a household name. The reason; because there are so very many beyond-great artists out there. So many! Pat is one of those, having been part of the Nashville Bluegrass Band for many years as well as collaborating with other greats like Bela Fleck, Jerry Douglas and Blaine Sprouse in The Dreadful Snakes; but it was his band Phantoms of the Opry that caught Kathy’s ear back in those early days.
On the other hand, what is truly great about bluegrass is the tenacity and steadfastness of its musicians. One hit wonders who disappear with no trace are a rarity. More than likely you find it is a tangled, nigh incestuous lot, all of them related in their musicality; either having started, played in, or still in bands with one another. Many of them having been contemporaries for 40 years!
As for those who inspire her today, or rather, continue to as they did back when: Stanley Brothers, Hazel (Dickens) and Alice (Gerrard), Bill Monroe, Flatt and Skruggs. It’s an old list. That is just another facet of Bluegrass. It is ageless, and as reviewer, Wayne Bledsoe, rephrased “Time” the title of Kathy Kallick’s latest album to “Timeless”, he is right in saying “… though the album is an homage to the past, it is her four originals which contain the seed from which classics of the future are grown.” Obviously Kathy understood Bluegrass from an early age, still gets it, and she just makes it better the tighter the grip it takes on her.
She has a real soft spot in her heart for the young musicians who are dedicated to keeping traditional music alive.
Kathy shared with me some of the most notable moments in her long career: Having had the great honor to play with the legendary Mac Martin, from whom she learned a great deal about playing guitar, singing, phrasing, and just plain being gracious. She recounts a “killer jam session” with Hazel Dickens and Ginny Hawkins, loved getting to sing with Lynn Morris and Suzanne Thomas, and sang right alongside Bill Monroe in his church.
Currently in her CD player: Mollie O’Brien and Rich Moore, Edgar Loudermilk, Joni Mitchell, Alice Gerard’s new solo album Bittersweet, Laurel Bliss and Cliff Perry, and one from her daughter’s collection; Vampire Weekend.
When I asked her favorite venues; she said she has the most fun at local Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse in the Bay Area, and enjoys playing the Redwood Bluegrass Concert Series. It was a great thrill for her to turn music lovers on to bluegrass across the ocean on tours of both Europe and Japan.
I spent an entire afternoon listening to her music and those musicians she takes to heart. Many of them just off my beaten path as to be unfamiliar, not by name but nuance. And there, in each and every one, a sound so unique, and imbued with such talent, that it was not difficult to understand how it all has permeated her own music – how time and again, four decades and running, she too, has proven herself one mighty fine representation of the endurance that bluegrass is all about.
25 years ago Kathy played the Sweet Pea Festival in Bozeman. A couple years ago she was inspired to write a song called My Montana Home while gazing at Grant creek from her hotel window after a gig at Ruby’s Inn of Missoula. She is hopeful that they will have learned it in time for this visit. She speaks of her impressions of Montana as being a beautiful state full of warm and welcoming people, and she looks forward to returning here and spending more time.
Her present band members include Tom Bekeny who has played mandolin, fiddle, and has been singing vocals with her since 1996, Annie Staninec; fiddle and vocals, Greg Booth; dobro, banjo and vocals, both with her since 2008, and Cary Black on acoustic bass joined the band just last year.
Ruby Jewel Jamboree, Montana’s premier Bluegrass Music Promoter/venue, in combination with Erck Montana Hotels who provide lodging for the touring musicians announces the Kathy Kallick Band on a tour of multiple Montana cities/venues.
Monday April 7, 7p.m. Ruby’s Inn 4825 N. Reserve St. Missoula
Wednesday April 9, 7p.m. Hilton Garden 2520 14th St. SW, Great Falls
Thursday April 10, 7p.m. Hampton Inn 3499 Harrison Ave. Billings
Season continues with 5/19 Jr Sisk & Rambler’s Choice, 7/7 Bradford Lee Folk & Bluegrass Playboys, 7/8/5 Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen . A complete schedule can be found at Rubyjeweljamboree.com
Read article at the Missoulian
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