Dinner at The Polo Lounge
Beverly Hills Hotel, with
by Jerry Jewett
"Freud said we liked gardens because they were symbols of the female body. But that must be a man's point of view. Presumably gardens meant something different in women's dreams. Or did they? Did men and women both feel interested in the female body and even, though it sounded ridiculous, in almost the same way?"
That Hideous Strength C.S. Lewis
Scribner's, New York © 1945, 1974 at page 60.
At the duly appointed hour of 7:00 p.m., she strode into the elite Polo Lounge, tall, lean, fit, self-assured, suffused with feminine radiance, garbed in black stretch skinny jeans, a pale Van Halen T-shirt, black leather jacket, and black 3" Coach heels, hair flowing, eyes flashing, trailing clouds of glory. She might have been a high fashion model, a WGA writer, an actress, an entrepreneur, a sportswear model or some other kind of business woman. She was, in fact, a singer, a violinist, a songwriter, a fiddler, a horse-woman (equestrienne) and entrepreneur—Aubrey Richmond.
I saw her perform in late 2013 with the primary ensemble of which she is a member—Sugar in the Gourd—in Altadena's Coffee Gallery Backstage. There, the group's instrumental expertise and smoothly interwoven three-part harmonies elicited thunderous applause and vocal appreciation from the packed audience, in response to the folk and Americana standards and original tunes the Sugars played. Her confident rendition of Patsy Cline's Walkin' After Midnight exemplified smoothness as it showcased her rich, mellow voice. The venue is small, maybe 50 seats, which gives the performers instant feedback laminated with a palpable sense of vulnerability.
Being curious about her and in a capacity to post a profile if I could arrange an interview, I commenced pursuit of the interview at October's end, but the pursuit was in such a low-key way as to probably appear negligent to anyone who had observed it. Believing that most people have small interest in being barraged by e-mail from a near-total stranger, I made one overture, then waited. Still, fortune smiled, with a response from Aubrey in late January. The above date was agreed. This dinner interview worked off a set list of 60 prepared questions, with riffs and segues as we saw fit.
As to whether hers was a musical family? It was indeed: her father being a singer and guitar player; her mother a singer; one grandfather was an accomplished singer of operatic music. She has one brother, about four years younger. She is a Cancer, in the cusp of Gemini.
She was born in Sacramento, where she lived until she was about six. Then the family moved to Northeast Washington, a rural home 30 miles outside of Colville, a small town of less than 5,000 inhabitants 100 miles north of Spokane. Living in the country, she and her brother were home-schooled. She began riding horses at age five, the same age where she took up the study of music with the violin (Suzuki method) and soon after, traditional fiddling.
Alec (Dick) and Lisa Barrett were among her early teachers, Alec having been a national old-time fiddle champion. She also studied classical piano for seven years, and was giving fiddle lessons to others from the age of 9 to 13 (and baby-sitting). She also sang during this time, and attended fiddle contests far and wide, traveling with her family to get-togethers.
The family moved from the Pacific Northwest to the Victor Valley/Apple Valley area of the Mojave Desert, just in time for her to enter public high school there. The culture shock was significant and jolting on several levels, including socializing.
She joined Choir in high school, improving her vocal abilities. She did not know the names of The Beatles until she was 19. Academics and her development as a singer formed the principal focus of her life in high school. Home schooling clearly prepares youngsters well when done right, for she also was a self-described reading-and-writing geek, emerging as an A student. Other choir members were less than kind to her, creating a kind of bitter-sweet experience, for she enjoyed singing but not being ostracized.
At one time, at the end of her junior year of high school, she auditioned for and was accepted into the perpetual touring company, The Young Americans. Singing and being able to dance helped her fit in with the Young Americans. She stayed with them about three years, performing locally at first while in school. Then she took a semester off, during which she auditioned for a tour. She was placed in an international cast of 40 Young Americans members going to Germany on a workshop and performance tour for three months.
Given her professional skills in performance, I surmised she might have gone to conservatory, so I prepared a number of questions along those lines. These were stymied when I learned she had instead gone to Orange County's Chapman University as an English Literature major on an academic scholarship. There again, being the "writing geek" who is an A-student paid off largely! While at Chapman, however, she kept involved with music, taking private music lessons as well as being accepted in the Chamber Orchestra, and University Choir. Touring with the University Choir took her to Hawaii and China.
She has been part of a five-piece group that played the Officers Club at the Guantanamo Bay Naval Center on New Year's Eve for several years running, as well. Sugar in the Gourd spent a week in England, another excellent experience, mostly in the Barnes suburb of London, with a day trip to Brighton for a show there. She reports that English pubs offer pleasant, really sociable, club-like atmosphere, a social environment which she wishes could be successfully replicated here. Other occasions have taken her to Rome, Australia and Mexico. She truly is an international performer.
Apart from her music career, she has worked as a waitress, a file clerk and a legal secretary. She spent some time after college as a Substitute Teacher, contemplating a career in public education, but had a horrible teaching experience, allowing her to rule out a career as an educator in the public schools system.
Moving to Los Angeles was the farthest thing from her mind, but some musical friends, Blaze and Desiree, encouraged her to relocate there to play with their new country band. Blaze sings and plays guitar, Desiree is a vocalist, and they shared their talents and inspirations with her. Her residence in Los Angeles was with the parents of a college roommate, professional music writers and performers themselves, who were supportive in both professional and familial ways, helping make her experience as a musician in the sprawling world city that is Los Angeles one far above par for beginners to the professional music scene.
Her musical influences include Alison Krauss, Emmy Lou Harris, the venerable Bonnie Raitt and Bob Dylan. Aubrey's musical ideal is dabbling in different genres. The piano compositions of Beethoven and Chopin rank among her favorite classical works. She has great facility as an improviser and innovator, and working with harmony.
Among her mentors would be Mary White, dependable regular at the Cowboy Palace Saloon in Chatsworth; they have played together there. Mary White's was one of the first bands Aubrey started playing with after moving to Los Angeles. She quit her job at the L.A. Equestrian Center to go with the Mary White Band to play Guantanamo Bay for the Officer's Club there. Other influential figures are John New, a Music Director at a Church she attended, bassist Michael Lyons, and singer/songwriter Dillon O'Brian, a genius/savant type with great analytical skills and one who helped her understand her value as a musician.
John New taught her one of the most important things a musician can know: in any given musical situation, think of the song as a pie; that pie gets divided up among the musicians on stage; and you only get your one piece. Lesson? Be very selective and thoughtful in choosing how and when you are going to play.
Sugar in the Gourd
Michael Lyons is a bassist and producer, founder of bands including the Hookers, Wheels and Calico.
Dillon O'Brian introduced Aubrey to quality people in the industry, shared some great musical opportunities with her, and exposed her to a more in-depth view and fuller understanding of great songs and songwriters.
After her move to Los Angeles, one band led to another via word of mouth or personal impressions, with no auditions necessary. Work has been steady ever since, although there is a natural tidal rhythm in the life of a self-employed private contractor. She has performed with The Rambling Fools, an original American four piece group, whose style is very agreeable because they encourage lots of improvisation and harmonizing.
Latin Legend Marco Antonio Solis, singer, songwriter, guitarist and band-leader, is another influential musician with whom she has worked as a member of his ten-piece string section, including playing at The Honda Center.
Further luminaries with whom she has worked include Jason Charles Miller, formerly of Godhead (I Feel the Hate in Me Awakening), who is a video games-man, guitarist, song-writer and vocalist, also playing edgy country, as well as the Persian vocal artist Ebi (Ebraham Hamidi), with whom she played at The Forum. Two more disparate styles would be hard to find.
Appearances at the Folk Alliance help her keep current in networking and maintaining contact with other musicians outside her immediate circles. Music sets the theme in her life. Her hobbies, social life, friends and work are all music-oriented. She finds that music opens doors and gives her access to a different side of people.
In the almost nine years she has been in Los Angeles, she has played with hundreds of artists and bands across multiple genres and done thousands of sessions, playing everywhere from the Sunset Strip rock clubs to the Cowboy Palace Saloon, McCabe's and Coffee Gallery Backstage, to mention but a few. She has performed with the opening acts for such famous country artists as Jason Aldean, Sara Evans, Phil Vassar, Eric Church, Joe Diffie, Mark Chestnutt, Dwight Yoakum, Travis Tritt, Crystal Gale, Tim McGraw, and similar established performers. She even played the eight-day Sturgis Bike Rally in 2007.
Being in Sugar in the Gourd gives her a major sense of belonging to a community, almost as a second family. She has other new work lined up for 2014, as well. She is with BMI.
As for collaborating with others, starting a new song is no problem, though sometimes finishing it can be, which is where the co-writer comes in handy. Barnaby Saints is one performer with whom she has collaborated, find them on YouTube. She excels at being a "blend-in" member of a band like Sugar in the Gourd, but she also does very well in the lead role, as can be found in her video with Walter Van Norden, You're Still Asleep, also on YouTube.
When asked what would be a big stretch for her, she said Cajun music, electric blues, or Rolling Stones material would not be troublesome. Memorizing sheet music for classical playing, or updating her skills in Celtic music, where the changes are so different from what she normally plays, would be more challenging and difficult, as that vocabulary has lapsed with lack of frequent use. She has played with Sugar in the Gourd a bit over one year. They had originally contacted her a year before that, but she was too busy. Finally, it all worked out, and is still working nicely.
An artiste without being a diva, Aubrey Richmond, a musical talent still growing in stature but well worth the trip to hear her wherever she plays, whether with the Sugars or in some other capacity.
I lately heard a musician I used to know described as "The New Emmy Lou Harris." That's probably a nice accolade, but I rather prefer "The Original Aubrey Richmond."