PURSUING THE DREAM
by Julia R. DeStefano
“Staying true to your inner compass will always reward you… I believe we are all meant to follow our own individual paths and there’s a little voice inside that guides each of us. Though it is sometimes hard to hear over all the bustle, listen to it and find your own way through this life.” –Julie Dougherty
Noise: In the beginning, what led you to pursue music? Was there a catalyst of some sort?
Julie: Like many other players, I came from a musical family. The earliest memory I have, truly, is of my mother’s voice singing to me; I was an infant. She had a beautiful voice. She also played piano quite well and the story goes that on their first anniversary, when deciding whether to buy a car or a piano, my dad bought my mom a piano… very romantic. My dad played accordion and harmonica by ear. My mom was trained and could sight-read sheet music. I have three sisters and we grew up singing harmony while doing the dishes. There was always some kind of music playing.
Noise:To have sisters as equally invested in the craft as you, while providing their ongoing support, love, and encouragement must have been both amazing and inspiring— something that most only dream of. Can you share your musical history, including your involvement in past bands?
Julie:As a kid, I sang with my older sister, Kathy. When I was in the eighth grade and she a sophomore in high school, a Boston-based agency booked us into minstrel shows and college variety shows. We sang well together and could “project” our voices without a microphone. Little did I know how damaging that would be for my voice. She gave up singing once she was out of high school and later, when I went to college at Salem State; I never picked up my guitar for the four years spent there. After graduating, working for a year, and getting laid off, my sis and I started singing again at a local haunt, the Harp & Bard, on Route 1 in Danvers, Massachusetts. It was an incredible environment to sing in. Almost all of the acts were brought over from Ireland and the fellow who booked us there, Eugene Byrne, was from Dublin. We learned a lot about stage presence and many Irish songs, too! Tommy Makem played and we got to see some amazing instrumentalists and singers in those days. She and I sang there and at their other properties in Norwood, Weymouth, and Cape Cod, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Washington D.C., basically playing some folk but mostly Irish music six nights a week. Right after the big storm in ’78, my sister and I drove ’cross country in her extra-long Chevy van with our sound system in tow and our two dogs, staying in Austin, Texas, for about a month singing and then driving out to Los Angeles to stay with a friend… on her floor! I wound up living out there for almost a year and sang in a few local restaurants/clubs, then bought my own camper and drove home before Christmas of ’78.
After getting home, I started a band with my friend Richie Grace called Dougherty & Grace. We played locally and in Texas regularly for a couple years. In 1981, I began my own country-rock band with new members: Dave Malachowski (who went on to play with Shania Twain) and the Donaldson Brothers—Bob and Tom who played bass and drums respectively. After disbanding in ’85, I started playing regularly with Woody Woodward (bass) and Steve Sadler (guitar). I would drive down to Nashville on a regular basis, performing at writers’ nights and setting up appointments with publishers during the day. It was a lot of fun and a lot of work, but eventually I missed playing gigs full-time and decided to abandon the thought of moving to Nashville. I think I’m a good writer, but I witnessed great writing while there and knew I didn’t have the kind of stamina or perseverance it takes to get a cut. At home, I could gig regularly and I always have gigged a lot. That’s what I am: a working musician.
In 1993, I started a local TV songwriting show called Songwriters in the Round with the help of Mark Steele, the WGBH online editor. We taped 33 shows over a few year period and featured many incredible songwriters. The list includes: Chris Smither, Dave Mallet, Tommy Makem, Al Kooper, Noel Paul Stookey, Tom Hambridge, Jamie Walker & the Swinging Steaks, John Lincoln Wright, Bob Franke, Allen Estes, Geoff Bartley, Don White, and Cormac McCarthy, to name a few. It was a great local cable show that we were trying to get ’GBH to pick up. They liked it, but we never got the go-ahead. It did, however, air on New Hampshire Public Television’s Tommy Makem Show, so that was cool. Since then, I’ve pretty much put together players as I need them for whatever the gig calls for. My current band includes my husband, Woody, on bass, Jim Scoppa on guitars, and Jack O’Soro on drums, but I also play gigs with Bobby Keyes (guitar), whom I’m also recording with at his studio, Dave Brown (dobro), Taylor Armerding (mandolin), and many other local players who are all so amazing to share a stage with.
Noise:There are such fascinating stories here. So who were (and are) some of your influences? I imagine you have many. In what ways, if any, do you incorporate them into your music?
Julie:My early influences were Judy Collins, Kingston Trio, Woody Guthrie, Chad Mitchell Trio, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Bonnie Raitt, Harry Belafonte, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, New Christy Minstrels, the Beatles, James Taylor, Carol King, CSN&Y, Dusty Springfield, Paul Simon, Everly Brothers, Mike Settle, Peter, Paul & Mary, and Linda Ronstadt. Also, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Allison Kraus, Eva Cassidy, Keb Mo, Norah Jones, Billie Holiday, Cassandra Wilson, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Shawn Colvin, Gillian Welch, Willie Nelson, J.D. Souther, Jackson Brown, Karla Bonoff… and so many others I know I’m forgetting! I’d say all of the people that I loved to listen to affected what songs I put into my repertoire and then ultimately seeped into the way I wrote my own songs. One big influence was Joni Mitchell and her numerous tunings, which just opened up doors to different chord combinations. When I was a teenager, I wanted to sing like Judy Collins—strong, alto-rich voice and she had such command of her guitar. Joni seemed too far to reach for me when I was young. There was no one like her. It was only when I was much older that I learned “A Case of You” and some of the tuning songs she wrote, like “Hejiera” and “Coyote.” My sis and I were very much into harmony, so the Everly Brothers, Chad Mitchell Trio, PPM, and Simon & Garfunkel were influences for us at an early age. But actually, all of the writers/singers I’ve listed (along with many, many more) represented something that I wanted to be when I sang or wrote. Like any good teacher, they each touched me and pointed me in differing directions musically.
Noise:How do you write your songs? Is there a particular process that you go through?
Julie:I am not a prolific songwriter, but I do best when I get myself into a routine, writing the same day each week or with my niece, Kelly Fitzgerald, who lives in Los Angeles. We Skype and write that way, and it provides the incentive I need to get me to write. It has never come easily for me and I still struggle with it, but I find a good idea and a lot of discipline helps me to produce.
Noise:I especially enjoy how you mention discipline, as it is so critical to creation, no matter the medium. How has your songwriting progressed stylistically and lyrically since the days of your previous albums?
Julie:My last CD, Sweet Unraveling, was influenced a lot by Joni Mitchell. I love the songs, “Hejiera” and “Coyote” and the tunings that she does, so I wrote in some tunings, but most of what I love are country ballads, standards, and folk music, still. The recording that I’m doing now with Bobby is a combination of a few older tunes that I wrote ten or so years ago, as well as some new ones that I wrote specifically for this project. There seems to be more of a folk/country blending in this CD. Some of the songs I call my mid-life songs, written with the idea in mind that a good part of life is behind and that it is time to really focus on what is important.
Noise:What is next for you? Are you perhaps planning a tour, playing any festivals, etc?
Julie:Being December, the most obvious upcoming gig is my 29th consecutive Carol-Sing at the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, Massachusetts, in the grand ballroom on Christmas Eve from 4:00-7:00PM (free and open to the public, complete with the fiddlin’ Santa running through the ballroom mesmerizing all the kids!) We have a revolving cast of local musicians who come by to sing their favorite holiday tune and it is one of the most festive gigs I do. But I love my regular third Monday monthly gig at the Green Land Café in Salem, usually with Dave Brown and Taylor Armerding, and some guest vocalists coming by to add to the fun. I love my regular first Monday of the month at In A Pig’s Eye in Salem also, hosting the open mic for 21 years and counting. I am also looking forward to completing my current recording project with Bobby Keyes, who is not only an amazing guitarist and producer but also a wonderful friend. I’m lucky to have him in my life.
Noise:You appear to have such a positive outlook on life. Do you have any words for younger folk following in your footsteps?
Julie:I want to encourage all of the musicians who read the Noise to keep doing what they love. We don’t all get to be stars in the public’s eye but staying true to your inner compass will always reward you. I’ve had many, many vocal cord problems through the years, having laser surgery in ’88 on my right cord. I thought I’d never sing again, but here I am 23 years later and still singing! I believe we are all meant to follow our own individual paths and there’s a little voice inside that guides each of us. Though it is sometimes hard to hear over the bustle, listen to it and follow your own way through this life. I’m grateful for each gig that I do and for every day that I get to sing and play.
Noise: Your response is truly heartwarming and inspiring, Julie. Thank you for your ongoing contri-butions and for being such a bright light in our musical community.
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