While she could be best known for her stunning portrayal of Janis Joplin in the Off Broadway musical Love, Janis, Cathy Richardson also sometimes tours and takes lead vocal duties with Janis Joplin's original band, Big Brother and the Holding Co. This year, she steps into the shoes of another one of her musical heroines, the legendary Grace Slick, when she joins Jefferson Starship on a new major label album release and subsequent world tour.
Dig a little deeper and you'll discover Richardson's impressive catalog of cleverly crafted tunes, flavored with bits of gospel, jazz, blues and American rock slam. Her fan base is mainly concentrated in her hometown Chicago where her 7 indie records have sold in excess of 30,000 copies and she's wowed audiences for years with her engagingly entertaining and energetic live shows. She's been voted Best Local Band in polls by the Chicago Tribune and Fox News Chicago and received steady radio airplay from major stations like WXRT, WLUP, WCKG and WCBR.
Leaving such a strong support base was not an easy decision but her recent relocation to San Francisco has proved fortuitous and even a bit eerie to the woman who grew up worshipping Janis and Jefferson Airplane/Starship, even covering some of their classic songs as she came up through Chicago music scene. "I sang Get it While You Can on solo piano at my high school variety show senior year. People used to call me 'Janis,'" she laughs.
Actually, Richardson idolized Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart more than any other artists as a budding young rocker. "They were my heroes. I looked up to them and I wanted to be them, basically. They kicked total ass, they played their instruments, they wrote their own songs, they produced their records and they were beautiful, strong, powerful women.â€ As a teenager, Richardson found that music was a great way to connect with people. "I was very unsure of myself and I was also struggling with my identity, who I was, like all teens do but it was a particularly hard time for me, I think. I knew I could sing, though, and I always wrote songs... songs just came out of me as expression and people really responded to that.â€
A chance encounter with GRAMMY winning songwriter Jim Peterik (of the platinum selling Chicago band, Survivor) was an unlikely break for the unknown singer. "Jim lived in the neighborhood and frequently filled up at my dad's station. One day he came in to gas up his Jag and my dad went out to strike up a conversation with him, something like, 'I have this daughter who sings...'" Jim agreed to listen to her demo and recognizing her raw talent, began working with her in the studio, co-writing songs and co-producing her first full length CD, moon, not banana.
And so began her steadily upward climb, while she began cut her chops on the Midwest college rock circuit in the early 90s, Richardson's been writing songs, touring, rocking, producing and independently releasing albums ever since.
As a top session singer, Richardson's voice has unwittingly been heard by anyone in America with a television or radio in the last ten years, on dozens of national commercials for companies like Kraft, McDonald's, Budweiser, Applebee's, Glade and State Farm. Her voice can be heard in the films Savage, HBO's the Vagina Monologues and Talledega Nights: the Ballad of Ricky Bobby starring Will Farrell where one of her Applebee's commercials provides for a hilarious moment.
She was a 46th Annual GRAMMY Awards Nominee for Best Recording Package (along with painter, graphic designer and CRBand webmaster Bill Dolan) on her band's 2003 release, The Road to Bliss. Her work on The Road to Bliss received more major kudos when she received two 2004 DIY Awards in Los Angeles (Do It Yourself in Film, Books and Music) for Album Art of the Year and Producer of the Year. She was also nominated for Outstanding Producer at the 2004 OUT Music Awards. Her latest release, Delusions of Grandeur, topped the 2007 DIY Awards when she won both Album of the Year and Producer of the Year.
It was 1999 when she was cast as Janis Joplin in the bio-musical theater piece Love, Janis. She originated the show in Chicago and Sag Harbor, NY, where critical acclaim and record breaking box office success led to an Off Broadway run at New York City's famed Village Theatre in 2001. Richardson continued to craft and expand her portrayal of the legendary singer as she performed 15 of the show's 20-month run in New York. But it wasn't until the show finally made it to Janis' adopted hometown San Francisco in 2006 that the true impact of the show on her life would become revealed. The San Francisco Chronicle raved, "when Richardson pours her magnificent, flexible voice into one of Joplin's signature numbers... the experience is more real than any live recording ever captured."
Richardson signed a lease on a San Francisco apartment, just 5 days before the show closed. Regarding the move, Richardson states, "I just felt so embraced and loved by Janis' friends and fans in San Francisco. I had recently left my long-term relationship and really wanted a fresh start in a new place. San Francisco is so beautiful and, of course, has the rich musical history that I grew up loving. So, I figured, hey, even if it doesn't work out, I can survive for a year. It hadn't occurred to me that 2007 was to be the 40th Anniversary of the Summer of Love so I really didn't see what was coming. I just knew it felt right to move." She spent the 1st part of the year in Arizona doing a four-month run of Love, Janis in Phoenix and Tucson.
Already acquainted with Sam Andrew (Joplin's guitarist and music director of Love, Janis), in the Spring of 2007 Richardson was asked to sing with Janis' original band members and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees, Big Brother and the Holding Co. on their Summer of Love 40th Anniversary Tour in 30 cities across the US, including Monterey, CA on the same stage where their legendary performance at the 1967 Monterey International Pop Festival took place. At the end of the summer, she sang with a cast of Bay Area rock veterans in front of 100,000 people in Golden Gate Park for the city's Summer of Love 40th Anniversary celebration and the resulting DVD released by 2B1 Records.
In March 2008, she joined another one of her favorite San Francisco rock bands, Jefferson Starship, on a new major label album release and subsequent world tour. "I met them on the Big Brother tour last summer, which was a thrill in itselfâ€¦ I used to go see them in concert when I was in high school and I collected all the Airplane and Starship material. I have most of the albums on vinyl. I even have this really awesome Jefferson Starship mirror from the 80s that I won at a carnival hanging on my wall next to a self-portrait of Grace Slick that I bought a few years ago. Still and all, I never saw this coming! It is very surrealistic,â€ she says with a nod to the classic Jefferson Airplane album Surrealistic Pillow.
Millions of pre-schoolers know her as Cathy on Jack's Big Music Show, a rocking music show for kids on the Noggin Network, produced by Spiffy Pictures. Richardson also narrates and sings on the popular Spiffy-produced Nick Jr. DVD series for kids, the Curious Buddies.
In January of 2008, Richardson launched Shining Shakti, a new line of hand dyed, organic cotton yoga pants, and a brand new original band, PillowFace with guitarist Zack Smith (Scandal) and drummer Dawn Richardson (4 Non Blondes and no relation to Cathy)- in the same week. She's also booking summer shows with a west coast version of CRB and still goes home to Chicago several times a year for shows with her band there.
Of her unusual career, Richardson surmises, "I just set out to be a musician and make music as my career and there hasn't been this lightning bolt event or anything that catapulted me into stardom like I thought would happen. I've just followed the paths that opened up along the way, anything that gave me an opportunity to sing and make music, and really tried to put a lot of quality into everything I do. When I got the gig as Janis, I had never done theater, I didn't think I sounded anything like her but I wanted to rise to the occasion, I wanted people to forget that they were watching a play and be transported, to really have an experience of seeing Janis Joplin perform. My whole life, I looked to these powerful women who came before me and I emulated them. They weren't just talented, they were awesome, they gave people an experience of witnessing greatness, which is very inspiring, to say the least. I wanted to do that. I still want to do that! It's just weird when you're a kid looking at Grace Slick on stage and thinking, 'I want to do that,' and then you grow up and literally end up doing it."