Monday, September 10, 2012

Monday Listicle: Musicians who have inspired me

This week's Monday Listicle is 10 things about music. Well, where to start? I love music. I began playing a musical instrument at the age of nine (violin) and took up guitar at age ten. I wrote my first song shortly afterward. Over the years, I've dabbled with cello, organ, piano, and mandolin. As I've written before, though, I'm a lazy musician. I know I could be so much better if I spent more time practicing. Perhaps someday!

I call my 16-year-old my "walking musical encyclopedia." I swear it's because we sang to him every single day in the NICU, wiring music into his consciousness and helping him form an association between music and comfort. When a song starts, he can quickly identify the musician (like me). He remembers lyrics like nothing else. He loves to have music constantly playing. Even though both Mike and I went through this musical obsession phase in our teens (we both loved mix tapes and the top 40, or "Top of the Pops" in the UK), I've retained this tendency to soak myself in music more than Mike has. If he's driving, he prefers the quiet. Not me--I must have music (or NPR).

So here are some musicians that have influenced and touched me throughout my life.

1. Simon and Garfunkel: This is the soundtrack from my early childhood. I'm sure my parents listened to other stuff, but Simon and Garfunkel are who I remember in the late '60s and early '70s. To this day, I still love their harmonies and lyrics!

2. John Denver: John Denver was my first big concert. He performed for 3-1/2 hours, raising my expectations for future concerts to come. Amazing. He also wrote easy songs for the guitar...a plus for a beginning guitar player. I still have my John Denver songbook! I still sing this song to the boys every night when I'm putting them to bed. Such a shame his life was cut so short!

3. James Taylor: I learned how to play the guitar in the park near my house (Wonderland Park), from a 70s-era hippie who didn't know much about how to teach kids to play guitar. Case in point, he started out with the harder chords and "Fire and Rain" by James Taylor and "Get Together." Somehow, it took for me, though. (My parents were taking an adult guitar class in another park, taught by someone else who shouldn't have been teaching beginners, and they soon gave up after seeing how quickly I picked it up.)

I have always loved James Taylor's smooth, sexy voice. My brother-in-law has teased me about him, claiming he sounds like Perry Como! We've seen him several times in concert, including a great one with Carole King a few years ago. I have so many favorites, but here is just one.

  Check out this great parody of James Taylor that Jimmy Fallon recently performed, "Romney and Bain." At first I thought it was James Taylor, but then I realized he looked so much younger. Fallon really mimicked his voice well!

4. Peter Paul and Mary: Sometimes I wished I had been a teen in the '60s. Peter Paul and Mary were another early influence on my musical life...I saw them in concert a few times as well. I love their harmonies and passion for justice. I was so sad when Mary Travers died! Here's my favorite PPM song:

5. Joan Baez: Speaking of activism and passion for justice, Joan Baez is a true icon. She is one of the musicians I admire most. Not only has she been a successful recording artist since those days of singing in coffeehouses, but she has also never sacrificed her values and commitment to peace and justice. The last time we saw her in concert was the best, by far, right after Obama was elected. Amazing! I like her old stuff,  too, but I prefer her newer songs (with the exception of her blues album, the only one I'm not crazy about). I own most of her albums. Here's one of my many favorites (written by Bob Dylan, her former lover):

And here's a delightful video of her performing with her granddaughter (starts at 2:18).

6. Annie Lennox: Our Scottish friend Cath (who introduced me and Mike) first got me into the Eurythmics when we were in Japan. "Missionary Man" and "Would I Lie to You" are some of my Japanese soundtrack songs! Lennox rarely tours, but shortly after I turned 40, Mike and I got to see her in concert with Sting. She was absolutely amazing, and a wonderful inspiration to me after that milestone birthday. Sting paled in comparison--I would have preferred a concert entirely from Annie. She, too, continues to work for justice--her particular commitment is HIV/AIDS awareness. Love her! Too many favorites to choose from, but here's a recent one:

7. Dar Williams: I cannot begin to count the number of times I have seen Dar in concert, the most recent being this spring. I never get enough! Her career was boosted with help from Joan Baez, and she has many similarities in her songwriting. She writes all her own music, and it's intellectually rich and thought-provoking. And I love the way she bounces on the upbeat songs. Here's an old favorite, which can make me cry!

And as my birthday approaches in October, I must mention my favorite Dar song, a great affirmation of growing older: "You're Aging Well."

8. Indigo Girls: Are you noticing a theme yet? Female singer-songwriters in the great folk tradition? Yes, I'm a folkie, or a modern one at least. Of course I love the Indigo Girls, as well, and savored the opportunity to see them up close in 2009 at a very small concert. Did you know that they recorded "Jesus Christ Superstar," with Emily playing Mary Magdalene and Amy playing Jesus? It's a beautiful, little-known album. Here's a tidbit:

9. Girlyman: I discovered Girlyman when they opened for Dar, and they are now one of my favorites. I try to see them in concert whenever they come to Portland, although I've missed a few. I describe Girlyman as the Indigo Girls crossed with Peter Paul and Mary. Love their beautiful harmonies, sense of fun, and catchy tunes! Here's one of my favorites:

10. Oh no! Only one left! Well, I'll cram two into one. One of the best concerts we've seen is Elton John and Billy Joel, two favorites from my teen years. They were completely amazing separately, and together! Here's a clip from their concert in Japan, where we first saw Billy Joel in the 1980s!

Bonus: It's so hard for me to come up with just 10 (or 11) here are some other musicians that I've enjoyed over the years:

  • ABBA (one of my first records was "Dancing Queen," and Mike's given me a new appreciation for them!)
  • Adele
  • The Avett Brothers
  • Barbra Streisand
  • Beach Boys (seen in concert)
  • The Beatles
  • Blind Boys of Alabama
  • Bobby McFerrin
  • Bonnie Raitt
  • Bruce Springsteen (especially the Seeger sessions)
  • Cheryl Wheeler
  • The Chieftains (seen in concert)
  • Cyndi Lauper (seen in concert last year for the first time)
  • Dan Zanes (seen in concert)
  • Tracy Grammer and Dave Carter
  • David Cassidy (formative years!)
  • Dixie Chicks
  • Dolly Parton
  • Eddie Reader
  • Elvis
  • Emmylou Harris
  • Eric Clapton
  • Eva Cassidy
  • Fiona Apple
  • Fleetwood Mac
  • Flight of the Conchords
  • George Winston (listened to a lot of him in college--good for studying)
  • Gipsy Kings (saw for the first time 2 years ago--also reminds me of Japan)
  • Harry Belafonte
  • Harry Connick Jr.
  • Israel Kamakawiwo'ole
  • Jack Johnson 
  • Jake Shimabukuro
  • Janis Ian
  • Jason Mraz
  • Jen Cass
  • Jewel
  • Jimmy Buffet
  • John Mellencamp
  • Judy Collins
  • kd lang
  • Kate & Anna McGarrigle
  • Kathleen Edwards
  • Kenny Loggins (seen in concert)
  • Lady Gaga
  • Ladysmith Black Mambazo
  • Lenka
  • Libby Roderick (seen in concert)
  • Linda Allen (seen in concert)
  • Linda Waterfall (seen in concert)
  • The Little Willies
  • Loreena McKennitt
  • Madonna
  • Mahalia Jackson
  • Mary Chapin Carpenter (seen in concert)
  • Melissa Etheridge
  • Miriam Makeba
  • Misty River (seen in concert)
  • Motherlode (seen in concert)
  • Mumford & Sons 
  • Nanci Griffith
  • Natalie Merchant (seen in concert)
  • Neil Diamond (he's not on my iPod now, but I liked him a lot as a teen)
  • Norah Jones
  • Pink 
  • Patty Griffin
  • Pink Martini (seen in concert)
  • Sara Thomsen
  • Sarah McLachlan
  • Shawn Colvin (seen in concert)
  • Shawn Mullins (seen in concert)
  • Sheryl Crow
  • Shicky Gnarowitz (seen in concert--at the farmers market!)
  • Sonny & Cher
  • Soweto Gospel Choir (would LOVE to see in concert)
  • Storm Large (seen in concert, on stage)
  • Susan Werner
  • Sweet Honey in the Rock (seen in concert twice)
  • Three Dog Night (seen in concert)
  • Tish Hinojosa
  • Tracy Chapman
  • UB40 (seen in concert, in Japan)
  • Van Morrison
  • Yo-Yo Ma

Thanks to Monday Listicles (organized by Stasha at for the inspiration. Check out some more!


  1. Great HUGE list. OMG, you LOVE music. I feel like John Denver and Paul Simon are distant family members, I've followed them for so long.

  2. Thanks, Kate! Yes, I definitely love music. I agree with you on Johnny and Paul. ;)

  3. That's quite the music list! I love Annie Lennox, especially her Medusa CD.

  4. Glad to meet another Annie Lennox lover. Don't you wish she toured more often?

  5. I love some Simon & Garfunkel and James Taylor, too. Even more, I really love the Indigo Girls. I saw them perform at a small venue on my college campus when I was in college, and it was an awesome show.

  6. Oh about an extensive list. I love Annie Lennox, Dolly Parton & Dixie Chicks. I saw Ladysmith Black Mambaza in college...very cool.

  7. Isn't it amazing to see a group you love up close and personal? I'll bet Ladysmith Black Mambaza was great--have you heard the Soweto Gospel Choir? You might like them too.

  8. Why limit to ten ;) I saw Billy Joel and he puts on a great show , so I can only imagine him with Elton. Never heard or Dar, that song has great story!!