Cindy Cashdollar – Sliding solo
There are days when being a working musician — not a star or even a bandleader, mind you, but a journeyman lifer — can be a finely etched study in frustration. The phone doesn’t ring and there is a subliminal, nagging conviction that it never will. The lucrative session or gig falls through at the last minute, just when the health insurance premium is due. There is the sense that life, as Ian Fleming once wrote, “is a heap of six to four against.”
Then there are interludes of great satisfaction, when the uncertainties of playing music for a living are redeemed by travel, kindred spirits and creative expression. Cindy Cashdollar has known both extremes, and, happily for her, she entered this spring in the midst of the latter. One week she was eating crawfish and recording with Beausoleil in Lafayette, Louisiana, where the sessions seemed mere interludes interrupting extravagant meals. The next, she was onstage at the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, sitting in (as she does on a semi-regular basis) with Garrison Keillor’s house band on a live broadcast of “A Prairie Home Companion”.
In between those endeavors, Cashdollar took time out to talk about the long-in-the-making release of her first solo album, Slide Show. As the disc’s title alludes, she lives for the slippery sound of a metal bar sliding across a guitar string.
Cashdollar grew up on a dairy farm in Woodstock, New York; she was 13 when the legendary 1969 festival came to nearby Bethel. She didn’t go, but she wanted to; “My parents watched me like a hawk that weekend,” she relates.
It wasn’t until she reached her 20s that Cashdollar found her niche in the stringed universe. She progressed rapidly from dobro to lap steel to steel guitar (Hawaiian-style steel, that is, not that C&W mainstay the pedal steel). In New York, she played with Leon Redbone and Levon Helm, but she is probably best known to audiences around the country for her 1992-2001 tenure with those indefatigable Texas road dogs Asleep At The Wheel.
“It was a wonderful relationship and it still is,” says Wheel founder and bandleader Ray Benson. “She wasn’t that great when she joined the band, but she worked her ass off and became quite a good steel player. I don’t hire people because they’re pretty, but I do hire people who have showmanship. And she has that. Plus, as a person, I just really liked her a lot. And that’s something, if you can still say that after nine years on the same bus.”
Cashdollar got off the bus three years ago, feeling that she didn’t have anything left to bring to Asleep At The Wheel’s table. She had always had a boss, never charted her own course, had deferred following her own muse, and she was curious about all that. Her multi-instrumental prowess had the potential to open lots of doors.
“You can never get bored playing steel guitar because there are so many different tunings and there’s so many different necks that you can do just about anything on it,” she says. “And I liked the dobro because it has that combination of blues and country sounds. [But] when I started out, I was godawful. Dobro and steel are unforgiving instruments. It’s hard to get control of that bar and those fingerpicks.”
Many of Cashdollar’s mentors and peers sit in on Slide Show, including Mike Auldridge, Jorma Kaukonen, Marcia Ball, Herb Remington and Sonny Landreth. “I wanted to do a CD that shows all the different styles and textures of the slide guitar,” she explains. “Then I thought it would be fun to get a whole bunch of different people on there. It worked out nicely, kind of like a potluck dinner.”
Not merely the collection of hot licks (although there are plenty of those, as in “Speedin’ West” and “Twin Guitar Special”), Slide Show is surprisingly lyrical in places, particularly on “Sliding Home”, Cashdollar’s duet with Landreth, and her own “Locust Grove”.
Even at the height of her involvement with Asleep At The Wheel, the calls kept coming, most notably from Bob Dylan, who enlisted Cashdollar to play on his 1997 album, the multi-Grammy-winning Time Out Of Mind. “That was a nice phone call to get,” she admits. “I was excited, not only for the obvious reasons, but also because Jim Keltner was there, and Augie Meyers and Jim Gordon. It was a really interesting experience to see so many musicians gathered in this circle and cutting live. When I listen to it now, it sounds exactly like it did in that room when we were recording — a big, dark, open sound.”
One sultry afternoon during this year’s South By Southwest festival in Austin, Cashdollar set up her triple-neck Remington steel guitar and lap steel to sit in with rockabilly filly Rosie Flores and the only-just-occasional girl group Henhouse (which, besides Cashdollar and Flores, also features the bassist Sarah Brown and drummer Lisa Pankratz). Her startlingly pale blue eyes focused in the middle distance, Cashdollar traded blistering solos with Flores on Link Wray’s “Run, Chicken, Run” and Johnny Horton’s “Honky Tonk Man”. It might not have been a session with Bob Dylan. But, to paraphrase Merle Haggard, it wasn’t bad.