Today is Gillian Welch’s birthday.
Born in New York City, October 2, 1967, she grew up in Los Angeles, CA, thanks to her adoptive parents, Ken and Mitzie Welch. Thanks to an elementary school music teacher, she heard the music of Woody Guthrie and the Carter Family as a young child. At age 8, she started playing guitar and the first songs she learned to play were traditional Folk songs. (Ah, those music teachers.)
She continued playing and singing through high school, but while attending the University of California, Santa Cruz, she heard, for the first time, an original recording by the old-time Bluegrass group the Stanley Brothers. At that moment she discovered “what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
After graduation, she went to the Berklee School of Music in Boston, MA, where she studied songwriting. She also met and started playing with her musical partner, guitarist and singer David Rawlings.
In 1992, she moved to Nashville, TN. Gillian worked as a full-time staff writer for Almo Irving, a music publishing company, and the duo of Welch and Rawlings honed their performing chops in the Nashville music clubs. In 1996 with producer T-Bone Burnett behind the glass, they recorded their first album, Revival, and released it under the name Gillian Welch.
I first heard Gillian Welch in concert in August, 2004, at the Meadowbrook Pavillion in Gilford, NH, where they performed with Emmylou Harris, Buddy Miller and Patty Griffin under the title of The Sweet Harmony Travelling Revue. In an evening filled with fantastic songs and breathtaking performances, her mini-set still stands out in my mind. Hearing her again in August, 2009, at George Wein’s Folk Festival 50 in Newport, RI, I was again treated to a superb hour of stunningly gorgeous acoustic music.
When Gillian and David perform, they take to the stage with two acoustic guitars (miced, not plugged in), a banjo and harmonica (both played by Gillian), their two voices and a set list of finely-crafted original songs and carefully-selected covers. The sound they create is, simply, perfect. Their voices weave around each other and blend together seamlessly. Their instrumental parts are brilliantly arranged to compliment each other and support the whole, painting a musical landscape that is rich and detailed in tonality, harmonically inventive and virtually orchestral in its completeness.
Yes, they are that good.
So, buy her CDs, download her songs. If Gillian Welch is performing anywhere near where you live: go.
But if you only have time to listen to one song by Gillian Welch, it has to be “Revelator” from the 2001 CD Time (The Revelator). (You can also see a live performance of this song on the DVD The Revelator Collection.) Take the time – it lasts 6:20 – you won’t be disappointed. Very Highly Recommended.
Happy Birthday, Gillian Welch. Thank you for everything.
Information for this post was gathered from Wikipedia and the article “High On A Mountain” by Simone Solondz in the April 1999 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.
Having been introduced to the music of Gillian Welch by the esteemed writer of this blog, I can wholeheartedly agree. She is wonderful in concert – with and without David Rawlings (who I also like very much).
I drove from Kansas to Virginia with my 8 year old daughter to see Gillian and David perform in 2001. It was the only performance scheduled and I had to see her. I later understood that she was working on ‘Oh Brother’. A weekend at the Hill’s of Home, Dr. Ralph Stanleys place and festival was an incredible experience. I’ve seen Gillian and David many times since. It’s at the top of my musical obsession list. I have an amazing recording of the first performance of Void back in 1999.. Void was T-Bone Burnett, Sam Phillips, David and Gillian, Marc Ribot, Barry Bales, and Mike Compton. It’s too bad Mrs. Phillips wasn’t part of it.