I was born near the waters that run down south. The wide Missouri to the Gulf Coast Mouth. . .
From birth to age four I was lucky enough to frequently sit at the feet of my dear ol’ pop in Parkville, Missouri, while he strummed his guitar with his brothers. Grandpa Rausch with a mountain dulcimer in his lap or a harmonica to his lips, mama singin’ along . . . I danced in the cigarette smoke and played ball in the house with my sister and cousins. There was a bloody nose here and there and babies a-cryin’, but above all the music never stopped. Not even when the southbound waters carried me to southeast Texas -- Splendora to be specific. A town as big as the time it took us kids to walk across the railroad tracks barefoot to get a soda and candy. It was in Splendora, however, that I learned that music and dance is evil and bad. The preacher man said it, and it scared the hell out of me. A short time later, mama and pop bought a small house in Livingston, Texas where I would start my schooling years and quickly learn that my mama’s old beatles records were among some of the greatest evils of the world! Along with the rainbow bright doll I gave a gal for her birthday. I was now doomed to hell, all at age 5.
Luckily, Santa Claus saw the light and brought my sister (at that time Kimmie, later nick-named Charlie) and me our first guitars. I was eight years old. Pop taught us the old blues/folk tune “Walk Right In” on the first two bass strings. I should mention, too, that I got my first real cowgirl hat that Christmas. And my first cowgirl boots followed shortly after, given to me by my best friend, Angie’s, older sister.
But the great Piney Woods were so inviting in the warm East Texas weather that most of my days were spent outside a-wonderin’ around with Charlie and the neighborhood kids, swimming in Lake Livingston, fishin’ at the slew and catchin’ crawdads and frogs in my own back yard. The record total was 48 frogs! We made sure we didn’t catch the same one twice by keeping’ ‘em in the bath tub . . . ‘til mama got home. And we learned a lot about nature when we forgot to feed the 10 crawdads we put in the jumbo coffee can. Did you know crawdad’s are cannibalistic?
And so time passed, as it inevitably does. My guitar was sad and lonely with the exception of the times of pretend, strumming along to those evil Beatles, beach boys and Jim Croce records . . . Until 1986. I was 12 years old and in the 6th grade. Charlie started taking guitar lessons from a local boy and being the competitive little squirt I was (thanks to the hardcore gymnastics training I had been a part of since age 9), I sat down with pop one fine day and learned a “C” chord, with a walk-down to an “A minor.” An hour later, I was playin’ Mr. Bo Jangles. And so the story grows from there. Not too long after that, Charlie taught me the intro to Bon Jovi’s Dead or Alive. I called Angie up right away and played it for her over the telephone, so when her dad took her to Houston see them in concert, she bought a t-shirt for me! Yeah! It fell down to my knees and I had to roll the short sleeves up to fit in with that great 1986 look! Bon Jovi Rocks! Yes!
Luckily for me, as much as East Texas helped shape me and put the fear of capital God in me, I did have the great mid-west to escape to. Each summer I made the trek to Kansas City and Parkville, Missouri where most of my extended family still dwelled. I would go to the “ -cause parties” (a party just “because”) with my uncles and as I picked up the guitar, I paid close attention to the songs and to what their fingers were doin’ -- especially Uncle Terry’s. He had a way of makin’ a guitar sound like there were at least three people pickin’. Fascinated I was. So around age 13 or 14 I started sittin’ in with them and pickin’ a bit. Occasionally one of ‘em would show me a new chord at the end of a song if they noticed that I wasn’t quite getting’ it. And at 15 I sat in on my first gig with them in Parkville, Missouri. It was outdoors on the patio of a restaurant right next to the railroad tracks. We hit the last lick of Johnny’s “Folsom Prison Blues” when the train whistle blew and it came rollin’ by. The crowd hooted and hollered and I was hooked . . . So this is what evil makes folks feel like! Right on!
Now, I shouldn’t forget to mention that shortly after I turned 14, my pop’s job as the saw mill king took him to the Duke City -- Albuquerque, New Mexico. This was where I proceeded to do almost nothing but sit on the side of the Sandia Mountains all by my lonesome and think. I thought about god, nature, humans, life, death, music, loneliness, miracles, insignificance, the universe, geology, horny toads and tumble weeds. This, I’m sure was all in preparation for my return to Livingston, where I would begin playing music as much as I could -- even though that meant giving up the trombone in the high school marching band. Nope. No field marching for me in an incredibly thick uniform in the hot Texas sun. Were they crazy?
So . . . In my sophomore year of high school I began playing rhythm guitar in the band “Accoustic.” Yes, sadly we misspelled it on purpose. Creativity has to start somewhere . . . Accoustic was myself and my boyfriend of the time. Occasionally his dad would sit in with us, too. We played everything from Poison and The Cure to Jimmie Rodgers and Bill Monroe and everywhere from Astroworld in Houston to the Pine Cone Festival in Livingston, to the backwoods bars where our parents would help us get in. Towards the end of the band’s life, we added an electric bass player and a double bass drummer. We practiced “Smells Like Teen Spirit” in the drummer’s parent’s church. (Apparently music is not evil if you play it in a church.) I learned a lot. Then I moved on.
By my senior year of high school I started singing. Mama would take me up to the bar inside the Park Inn, a hotel that sat at the entrance of our neighborhood. There I met one mister Joe Richey. Joe was, to me, and old fella. We’d sit around the tables in the bar and trade songs back and forth. He’d play his old country and irish songs, and I’d play my Edie Brickell and Jim Croce covers. I only knew Joe for a short while, but the amount of encouragement I got from him was amazing. I will always remember Joe (aw, ya drunk, ya drunk, ya dirty ol’ fool, if you had eyes you’d see. That’s your boots upon the bed where ye ol’ head should be . . .)
Two days after my high school graduation, I jumped in my ol’ bug, Moona, (pop found her in Cut-N-Shoot, Texas, just down the way a bit) and headed north to Kansas City. This was where I met Miss Mikal “Koo” Shapiro who intimidated me and inspired me all in one. I showed her a few chords, she showed me how to be confident, and we were off. Mama Ra was born. Koo and I hit coffee houses and bars in the KC area and grew, and grew, and grew -- musically, spiritually and as dear friends.
More than 12 years have passed now since Ms. Shapiro and I stepped foot into the waters of the Kansas City musical ocean. So here I sit, telling my story, preparing for the next time I pull my guitar over my head, or a banjo, or a mandolin, or pull a big ol' bass up to my belly. It’s hard to wrap this song up for the ending is not yet in sight. Everywhere I’ve been, and everyone I’ve met along this long journey in a short time has helped shaped me -- and will continue to shape me. And what shapes me, shapes the music that comes out of me. Music has always been there and will always be. Now, as a mother of a beautiful young gal, music is more important than ever. It’s insightful, inviting, critical, soothing, supportive, delicate, passionate . . . inspiring. Music feeds me, but only if I feed the music. I have never known life without music, nor music without life.