One rarely hears the name Tracy Grammer without hearing the name Dave Carter in the next nano-second. In this interview, Tracy relates how entwined her life has been with Dave’s during his lifetime and after his death. It was her ‘mission’ to introduce the world to Dave’s music and to help cement its legacy. It’s been over ten years since Dave passed away and Tracy confesses that she’s not sure what her next mission should be, but it has to be about her, and not Dave. And I say….more power to Tracy and wish her the best as she discovers what she wants to do next.
Tracy said to me: “I hope you like a good, frank interview.” My yes. …this is frank and she tells it like it is.
The life of a touring musician can be grueling. How do you usually spend your time traveling from gig to gig (other than keeping your eyes on the road)?
Morning is for coffee and journaling. Sometimes I find a YMCA and get a quick workout. Then I hit the road. I like to be on the highway by 11 a.m. if possible.
In the car, I do nothing. Well — maybe I eat an apple or some carrot sticks. Mostly I just unravel there. I don’t turn on the radio. I let my eyes rest on whatever horizons. I drive in silence, and I drive fast. I enjoy that silence immensely and miss my mid-summer cross-country jaunts most of all. I’d do a thousand miles a day sometimes. It’s terrible for the body but it is good, good, good for quieting the mind.
You’ve toured the country for many years now. Can you recall some of your most memorable appearances? I’m sure that some were epic and some more intimate. We are interested in hearing about both kinds.
I showed up at a place in Iowa City, a real shithole if I may say so — dark, dank, and subterranean, with a dance studio above. No one was there but me and the bartender. I called my best friend in California and told her nobody came to my gig and she thought I was kidding. We laughed so hard. Someone finally showed, and she wrote songs so we traded my guitar back and forth until more people showed. Turned out there was an error in the start time listed in the newspaper. At the height of my little gig I had about 7 people listening, and while that might sound challenging, it’s always the quality of the listener that determines how the gig feels, not the quantity. I had a stellar crowd. It turned out fine.
As for stellar gigs, I have been blessed. For every Iowa City there were 100 places I have loved. Last year’s tribute at Falcon Ridge was special. Singing with Joan Baez will always be a life highlight, and I got to do that for a few months running. Japan with Miyuki Kahler and Maeta Hiroki is my favorite overseas memory. We made fine music and had the best time.
Your name will be forever tied to Dave Carter’s. Your time together was a magical time for us as music fans. It’s as though your fate was written in stone the moment you met him back in Portland back in the day. Having never experience that kind of life-changing event, can you even adequately explain what your heart and mind told you that momentous night?
I got a mission. I felt chosen. I have always trusted my intuition and my future rang out over the course of lifetimes, to the stars and back like a frickin bell when I first heard him sing. I knew he was great and I suspected I could help him become better known and so I got to work and did my part to make that happen.
This clarity of vision and singularity of purpose has been a blessing and a curse. Everyone knows I love Dave Carter’s music and have devoted my entire career to promoting his good name and his stellar work. But I have been both filled and obliterated by the process of carrying all of this forward. I was made and undone by my work. Love has been difficult for me because of my tie to Dave Carter. And I have certain forever-regrets, like never having children, and never returning to school.
I did what I felt I needed to do and most of the time it seemed bigger than me. I fought with it sometimes and sometimes I wrapped it around me like Love itself. I made certain promises and feel like I fulfilled them. But now I have no idea what to do musically, because the whole reason I was here was to tell you all about Dave Carter. It was never about me.
I have to admit that the 10th anniversary tribute to Dave at Falcon Ridge last July was one of the highlights of my year. Having all those wonderful musicians contributing their interpretations of Dave’s song along with you and your band adding complementary harmonies and instrumentation was not only a wonderful showcase but dare say it, a spiritual experience. What were the thoughts running through your head that night?
I was proud of myself and overjoyed at the caliber of the musicians who decided to be a part of this. I will never forget how lovingly they rendered the songs. This was the crowning achievement of my 10 years of legacy work. This was the moment when it wasn’t just me singing those great songs, but all of us. That’s when you know a legacy has legs; when the whole hillside sings along. At some point a girl needs to lay a mantle down and find herself again. I believe that moment is now.
Let me hit the wayback machine button and ask you about your introduction to the world of acoustic / folk music. Did you hear it growing up or were you classically trained?
In the Plymouth Duster as we tooled around town it was Jim Ed Brown, John Denver, Mac Davis, Willie Nelson, Neil Diamond, Oak Ridge Boys, Statler Brothers, Olivia Newton-John, Charley Pride, I’m trying to remember all the 8-track covers (!) … But I started playing in orchestras at the age of 9 and so I grew up on classical and considered that my “serious” music. I sang “Macarthur Park” and “You Light Up My Life” and “Tainted Love” into hairbrushes, worked my way through my mom’s Beach Boys and Jan & Dean 45s, and tuned in faithfully to Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 so I could hear the Long Distance Dedication. I did not listen to Baez or Dylan, only knew “Puff the Magic Dragon” because my dad brought his guitar to school and played it for my elementary school class, and never went to a festival. I am an accidental tourist in the world that is now my working home.
To learn more about Tracy, visit her website.
Photo credit: Ben Barnhart