All Parts A Musician

By Andrew Gilhooley / 411

Mary McCaslin has been a recording and touring artist since the 1960s and is cited as an influence by countless singers and songwriters. Sing Out! Magazine described her as “a songwriters songwriter” and on Thursday evening, she brings her distinctive musical style to Henfling’s Firehouse Tav em in Ben Lomond.

McCaslin was born in Indiana, but she moved with her family to Los Angeles when she was 6 years old. She began her music career in the mid-’60s, playing in the coffeehouses of LA.

“Back then, the coffeehouses weren’t like Starbucks,” she recalled. “They were dimly lit places where people got together to listen to music and talk about all kinds of deep subjects.”

Newly graduated from high school, McCaslin was constantly looking for new places to play and ended up becoming involved in the folk music scene that was emerging in Hollywood. There she attracted the interest of Capitol Records and did some recordings, of which only one single was ever released. The recordings were considered lost for many years until a German record label, Bear Family Records, found and recently released them on a CD titled “Rain – The Lost Album.”

As the 1960s turned into the 1970s, McCaslin began writing her own material and signed to the Philo record label, based in Vermont. She released several albums on this label including “Way Out West” and “Prairie in the Sky” Each album contained both original songs and covers of other artists’ work, including Stan jones’ Western classic “Ghost Riders in the Sky.”

McCaslin’s own work has been covered by artists of the caliber of Tom Russell and Kate Wolf.

McCaslin is not only noted for her singing and songwriting but also for her musicianship. She is considered a pioneer of open guitar tunings, using them in her music long before they gained their current popularity She also plays the demanding “claw hammer” style of banjo, and is well-known for her inventive arrangements of popular songs such as the Beatles’ “Blackbird” and the Who’s “Pinball Wizard.” She says “It’s kind of net to do songs on the banjo that people tend not to associate with the banjo”

It might seem easy for an artist as accomplished as McCaslin to rest on her laurels. Not so, however: The year 2003 sees her off on tour again in the spring, this time in the Pacific Northwest. She also is looking to record a new CD, and if this isn’t enough, on alternate Thursdays she presents a three-hour radio show. Tune in to KZSC 88.1 FM between noon and 3 p.m., and you can hear McCaslin play an eclectic selection of folk, country and old-time music.

McCas|in is a musician who truly lives every aspect of her art. The drive up to Ben Lomond this Thursday will be well worth it to see a performer who is, in the words of Dirty Linen magazine, “a sage writer, warmly expressive singer and exquisite player”.

First published in “411”, The Salinas Californian, February 6, 2003

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