Singer, Songwriter slash Mom
Congress House All Stars (Day 19)
21st Aug 2014 Posted in: Blog, shopkeeper Comments Off on Congress House All Stars (Day 19)

Welcome to Day 19 of the Indiegogo Campaign for The Shopkeeper: A Documentary about Mark Hallman and the Congress House. Every day during the campaign I am featuring a few artists who have recorded at the Congress House.

Janis Ian

When she was just 15, Janis Ian recorded her self-titled debut; the LP contained “Society’s Child (Baby I’ve Been Thinking),” a meditation on interracial romance written by Ian while waiting to meet with her school guidance counselor. While banned by a few radio stations, the single failed to attract much notice until conductor Leonard Bernstein invited its writer to perform the song on his television special Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution. The ensuing publicity and furor over its subject matter pushed “Society’s Child” into the upper rungs of the pop charts, and made Ian an overnight sensation.

Success did not agree with her, however, and she soon dropped out of high school. In rapid succession, Ian recorded three more LPs — 1967’s For All the Seasons of Your Mind, 1968’s The Secret Life of J. Eddy Fink, and 1969’s Who Really Cares — but gave away the money she earned to friends and charities. After meeting photojournalist Peter Cunningham at a peace rally, the couple married, and at age 20, she announced her retirement from the music business. The marriage failed, however, and she returned in 1971 with the poorly received Present Company. After moving to California to hone her writing skills in seclusion, Ian resurfaced three years later with Stars, which featured the song “Jesse,” later a Top 30 hit for Roberta Flack.

With 1975’s Between the Lines, Ian eclipsed all of her previous success; not only did the LP achieve platinum status, but the delicate single “At Seventeen” reached the Top Three and won a Grammy. While subsequent releases like 1977’s Latin-influenced Miracle Row, 1979’s Night Rains, and 1981’s Restless Eyes earned acclaim, they sold poorly. Ian was dropped by her label and spent 12 years without a contract before emerging in 1993 with Breaking Silence (the title a reference to her recent admission of homosexuality), which pulled no punches in tackling material like domestic violence, frank eroticism, and the Holocaust. Similarly, 1995’s Revenge explored prostitution and homelessness. Two years later Ian returned with Hunger; God & the FBI followed in the spring of 2000. A live set, Working Without a Net, appeared from Rude Girl Records in 2003, and a DVD, Live at Club Cafe, saw release in 2005. Folk Is the New Black appeared as a joint release from Rude Girl and Cooking Vinyl in 2006.

And (Rain speaking here) here’s the really mind-blowing thing – Janis Ian is, today, one of the most successful and sought after of mainstream Nashville songwriters. How ’bout them apples?

Daniel Johnston

Daniel Johnston has spent the last 20 or so years exposing his heartrending tales of unrequited love, cosmic mishaps, and existential torment to an ever-growing international cult audience. Initiates, including a healthy number of discerning musicians and critics, have hailed him as an American original in the style of bluesman Robert Johnson and country legend Hank Williams. A number of artists — among them the Dead Milkmen, Yo La Tengo, the Velvet Underground’s songs. And he as collaborated with the likes of Jad Fair (a founding member of Half Japanese, who’ve also done Daniel’s songs), the Butthole Surfers, Bongwater/Shimmydisc guru Kramer, and members of Sonic Youth. Daniel gained his widest public exposure to date when, at the 1992 MTV Music Awards, Nirvana leader Kurt Cobain (who constantly touted Daniel in interviews) wore a Johnston T-shirt.

Surprisingly, the bulk of his considerable acclaim snowballed from a series of homemade, lo-fi cassettes which Daniel started recording and handing out to fans and friends alike in the early 80s. Eventually, the independent label Homestead re-issued some of these tapes on CD, and Johnston recorded a few new albums in almost-proper studios.

Daniel was born in 1961 in Sacramento, California, the youngest of five children in a Christian fundamentalist household. He and his family soon moved to New Cumberland, West Virginia, where his father, an engineer and World War II fighter pilot, landed a job with Quaker State. Drawing for a long time before he took up music, Daniel grew to appreciate such artists John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Bob Dylan, David Bromberg, Queen, Neil Young, the Sex Pistols, and especially The Beatles. “When I was 19, I wanted to be The Beatles. I was disappointed when I found out I couldn’t sing.” That Liverpudlian quartet continues to inspire Daniel today, who sings, “My heart looked to art and I found The Beatles / Oh God I was and am a true disciple on Rock ‘n’ roll/EGA.”

While it would be years before Daniel committed his first songs to tape, he began composing at an early age. “When I was a kid, probably nine, I used to bang around on the piano, making up horror movie themes. When I got a bit older, I’d be mowing my lawn and I’d make up songs and sing them. No one could hear me ’cause of the lawn mower.” As a teenager, Daniel and his friends began to record their own tapes and trade them among themselves. After high school, he attended an art program at a branch of Kent State near his family’s home. This was a prolific period of his life. Unemployed, and attending classes sporadically, he began to spend most of his time in his family’s cellar, writing and recording. The tapes he made there included “Songs of Pain” and “More Songs of Pain,” which both centered around his unrequited love for a woman named Laurie who ended up marrying an undertaker.

The aspiring cartoonist — whose playful, symbol-heavy sketches have graced the covers of may of his releases, including “Fun” — moved to Texas in 1983. First he went to Houston, living with his brother and working at Astro World, while also recording the seminal tapes “Yip/Jump Music” and “Hi, How Are You?” on a $59.00 Sanyo mono boom box. These recordings featured such classics as “Speeding Motorcycle,” “Sorry Entertainer,” and odes to everyone from “Casper the Friendly Ghost” and “King Kong” to “The Beatles.” From there he moved to San Marcos, TX, and even joined a traveling carnival show for a spell, selling corndogs. “It was like a movie all the time. Everybody around me was a great story that never stopped, and for the first time, I realized how much freedom you have to do what you want.”

Throughout his career, Daniel’s songs and drawings have been informed to some degree by his ongoing struggle with manic depression — lending an added poignancy to his soul-searching times. His five-month stint with the carney left him in Austin, where he decided to stay. In the midst of that city’s mid-eighties music scene, Johnston was a definite iconoclast. While he continued to hand out his tapes for free, Austin record stores started selling them; in fact, the became best-selling local releases. Soon, a camera crew from MTV’s seminal “Cutting Edge” show came to town and all the Austin bands suggested they feature Daniel.

BTW, you can see his work on the northbound side of the bridge over Lamar, just south of the Whole Foods mothership.

Tonio K.

Tonio K. (born Steven M. Krikorian, July 4, 1950[1]) is an American singer/songwriter who has released eight albums. His songs have been recorded by Al Green, Aaron Neville, Burt Bacharach, Bonnie Raitt, Chicago, Wynonna Judd and Vanessa Williams, among many others.{Warner-Chappell Music Publishing, 1991-2000} His song, “16 Tons Of Monkeys,” co-written with guitarist Steve Schiff, was the featured tune in the 1992 Academy Award winning Short Film, Session Man. He worked with Bacharach and Hip-Hop impresario Dr. Dre on Bacharach’s At This Time, which won the Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Recording in 2005.

 Donna Lynn Kay

Donna Lynn Kay is a Canadian singer and slide guitarist whose musical influences draw from the American Deep South and the Mississippi Delta. Originally from Sudbury, Ontario, she has lived in Canada, Europe, and most recently in Austin, Texas.

In Austin, Donna was a regular on the local Blues Scene – appearing on stage at such hallowed venues as Antone’s and Threadgill’s – and has shared the stage with such noted players as Hubert Sumlin, Buckwheat Zydeco and Kim Wilson. She is equally comfortable playing electric guitar at the bigger venues, or playing more laid back and intimate clubs where her instrument of choice is her National Guitar.

Musically, Donna draws from the early slide masters like Son House and Blind Willie Johnson. You will also hear the influences of Muddy Waters, Robert Petway and of course, Robert Johnson – the most famous of the early bluesmen. In a recent interview, Donna said, “This music has an honesty and a soulfulness that reaches down inside of you. With every listen I seem to take away something new.” She continued, “The first time I ever heard slide live was back many years ago when R.L. Burnside played the Horseshoe in Toronto. I don’t think anyone can ever really replicate the playing of the great masters, but that’s not the point. The secret is to find something of your own within the Music.”