"It’s all in good fun" says Shelley King describing her new album and her outlook on life. With two successful studio CD’s under her belt, Shelley King introduces her third release on her own label, Lemonade Records. "Rockin’ the Dancehall" was recorded live over two shows in the summer of 2003.
To King, "fun" means logging hundreds of thousands of miles on the odometer of her 15 passenger van, playing hundreds of shows across the United States and Canada even (leaving the van behind) the high seas on her annual "Texas Music" Caribbean cruise. "Fun" also includes King being singled out by Austin's roots music queen Toni Price as one of her favorite songwriters and landing a cut on Price’s most recent release, “Born to Be Blue”, and two cuts on Price's acclaimed 2001 album “Midnight Pumpkin”, including the AAA and Americana radio hit "Call of My Heart" - a cut that earned King a first-place win for "Song of the Year" in the 2001/2002 Austin Music Awards. The same ceremony - in which winners are chosen by the discerning citizens of the "Live Music Capitol of the World" -- also found King finishing #2 Roots-Rock & the top 10 in seven other categories, including best Female Vocals, Singer-Songwriter, Roots Rock, Folk, & Country, Album of the Year in the 2002/2003 awards.
"Rockin’ the Dancehall" couldn't hit at a more perfect time for King. While her following has grown steadily since her arrival in Austin a decade ago, it's grown by leaps and bounds over the last couple of years. King credits her surge in popularity to the fact that her songs started getting so much attention. “I'd always heard how songs have their own lives, and I never really understood that until I saw Toni Price doing my song on Austin City Limits. I thought, ‘Wow, there's my little baby up there!' It's very flattering, and it validates me a songwriter."
"Rockin’ the Dancehall", meanwhile, validates the full package. While King's songs are rooted in the traditions of folk and classic honky-tonk (with a healthy helping of rock & roll for good measure), her shows are eclectic, genre melding, high energy, and empowering. Her voice is pure Southern gospel, as big and hallelujah bold as any that ever rumbled the rafters of a country church, which, by the way, is where she got her start. "That was pretty much my main outlet for singing when I was a youngster," says King, recalling her childhood living with her grandparents in rural Arkansas. "Since I lived in the country, there really wasn't a music scene. I would go to church and sing gospel music every time the doors opened. My first public performance was in front of a congregation when I was about four."
After graduating from high school, King moved to Huntsville, Texas to study English and speech communications at Sam Houston State University, figuring she'd follow-up with law school. But weekend gigs in Houston with her first band eventually threw her off - or rather, back on - course. She finally abandoned all pretense of a legal career and dived headlong into music, playing primarily rock and blues numbers until falling in love with the Austin singer-songwriter scene. In 1992, she left Houston for Austin. After fronting her own band, Riverchild, for a couple of years in Austin, she stopped gigging for a few years and focused all her attention on songwriting, taking a day job in outside sales to pay the bills.
"I spent a couple of years out of the music scene just writing and listening to tons of people. I was influenced by the central Texas singer-songwriter scene, and it really rubbed off on me and got me back to my roots," recalls King, who grew up in a house full of Emmylou Harris and Willie Nelson music but originally gravitated more towards rock & roll. “I put away my Pearl Jam and Tori Amos and busted out with the Joe Ely and Lucinda Williams. I just wrote what came to me, and all my friends were like, 'What the hell is going on? She's writing country music!' I'd always hated country music radio - still do -- but I like rootsy stuff, and the music that came out of me naturally was kind of hillbilly-fied, countrified, but not straight-out commercial country. It just came to me honestly, so I thought, 'Ok, this is me then. This is what I'm going to do.'”
In early 1997, she gathered up the songs she'd been stockpiling and began performing live again - for the first time under her own name rather than as a band project. After a year and a half of building a local grassroots following, she entered the studio with the intent to record a handful of demos and came out with a full album, “Call of My Heart”. “When my first CD was released, it really helped open some doors” says King, "after that, everything started falling into place."
Her follow-up sophomore release, “The Highway”, was recorded over three days at the end of an 8 week tour at the renowned Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals, AL, where King’s heroines Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples, and Etta James recorded hits. The Highway was released to enthusiastic audiences and brisk sales in April 2002. “Call of My Heart” and “The Highway” combined have sold more than 10,000 copies.
And now, her new album and third independent release was recorded live over two shows at Gruene Hall, “Texas Oldest Dancehall”. Eleven songs were taken from the Aug 30, 2003 show with guitarist Kris Brown and guitarist Kyle Judd, bassist Bonnie Whitmore, and & drummer Perry Drake. Three songs were taken from the May 24, 2003 show which featured Kris Brown, Perry Drake, bassist Ann Marie Harrop and guitarist Jeff Plankenhorn.
Gruene Hall was built in the 1870s and has been graced by the talents of Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Los Lobos, Aaron Neville, Delbert McClinton, Rodney Crowell, Robert Earl Keen and many more. Shelley King has been performing regularly at the hall since 1999. King credits the agility and dynamics of her show to “cutting her teeth” at Gruene Hall. For years King and her band have filled four hour shows with 98% original material, entertaining die hard fans, dancehall regulars, and tourists form all over the world. The audience at Gruene Hall is one of a kind, eager to enjoy live music and soak up the history and the unique vibe of the hall.
King is one of the hardest working musicians on the scene. When she’s not gigging with her full band, she performs in many other combinations. She works as an acoustic folk duo with friend and writing partner Floramay Holliday. Their act has been known as SASS (south Austin soul sisters) and more recently they have been called the Jonz Sisters, and have played regular weekly gigs, showcasing material they have written together, in Austin for several years. After the pair started writing more rock influenced songs they decided to gather a band of Austin’s top female musicians together to perform as the super group Sis Deville. King also performs in a four part harmony a cappella quartet called the Bar-B-Cuties with Toni Price, Leeann Atherton and Holliday.
There is no doubt King loves to perform and in her pursuit of venues she accesses nearly every available avenue as well as blazing some new trails along the way.
Nate Cavalieri of the Dallas Observer sums it up like this: "Maybe King has a charmed existence, but her ability to make magic happen is mostly the result of her determination as a songwriter and bandleader. Onstage, she leads her band through tangents of electric Southern blues and acoustic folk, revved-up Cajun country and rock and roll with a charismatic ease that evidences the resilience of a lifelong performer."