Up in Topanga Canyon in the early ‘70s, when spring came, it was an incredibly beautiful time. I lived on the side of a hill, surrounded by steep, fierce mountains, many of which had trails only known to us locals to get up to the fire roads and the endless trails to the ocean. Never have I loved a place like I loved those hills: I walked them, I planted gardens in them, I rode my horse through the chaparral, across creeks, up slopes, through fields of mustard as high as my stirrups, I had dogs, cats, hawks, coyotes, everyone living around me.
But spring brought every shade of green to the usually brown and rocky mountains. And everywhere, the scent of all sage, manzanita, toyon, coffee berry, ceanothus, California poppies, lupines by the road and up in the hills, buckwheat and if you were lucky the wonderful sticky orange monkeyflowers.
Perhaps when websites like All Music and such proclaim that I never ‘made it’ as a solo artist, it might be because in my early twenties, I spent my time in two places only: on the road playing gigs, and on the mountain planting, walking, learning and loving the canyon. I might have preferred it up there… Perhaps I should have been in town more, and done more of the things that were recommended to a young, slightly quirky and stupendously headstrong artist. But to this day, I watch the hawks, and celebrate the first warm day of spring, and feel the wind, even here in the suburbs. I have no regrets about the vast amount of time spent up there, what I learned and how it shaped everything I do—the only regret is that I don’t live up in the chaparral anymore!
Nik Venet, who produced my third album ‘Wendy Waldman’ also lived in Topanga with his wife Valerie. They too loved the canyon, and understood my passion only too well. Nik was far wiser than me and I wish I’d had the opportunity to tell him that this particular cd, as troubled and crazy a child as I was, was honest, true, and fun. He hired the great Ron Tutt to play drums—Ron who had played with Elvis Presley, for example, and the great percussionist Emile Richards for this particular track. Nik also trusted my people: Kenny Edwards, Peter Bernstein, Karla Bonoff, Jennifer Warnes, engineer Michael Boshears, and…another canyon resident, someone you don’t know but who was and is one of the finest musicians of my generation, a gentleman by the name of Steve Ferguson. Steve was an extraordinary scholar, pianist both classical and ragtime, guitarist, songwriter and thinker. He was among the very first people David Geffen signed to Asylum, but alas, his music was reinterpreted from its pure and brilliant solo perfection to a hybrid and less focused band setting. He was also a stupendously sophisticated, well educated and highly gifted black musician who found himself in the early days of the California Folk rock movement, which did not serve him well. Among Steve Ferguson’s admirers to this day: George Winston, Linda Ronstadt, Jennifer Warnes, Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, ME. I’ve always loved this great artist, who retired from the pop world and spent his life composing and studying privately. His son, by the way, is Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, who is experiencing wonderful success these days.
But there is no one in this world like Steve- I hope some day just to show a few of his songs. They have been sung by some artists, but his own versions are masterpieces. To be discussed!
I mention these players and singers because Spring is Here is something I wrote, undoubtedly sitting on the hill above the house, looking down at the canyon, with my dulcimer on my lap. The way Nik produced it was actually an early realization of the idea of ‘world music,’ in my mind. There are layers of dulcimers, hand drums, drums but not played in pop style, and the absolutely awesome contrapuntal guitar work of Steve Ferguson.
Karla Bonoff, Jennifer Warnes and I and layers of background vocals, sometimes shifting the harmonies so that the chords took on slightly different colors. The song, over the years seems to have become something of a touchstone for some fans—something that gets pulled out in the springtime, or deep in the winter, celebrating spring. I am so grateful to the people who call it out when I do concerts. And yes, I do concerts and I do play dulcimer in them. My dulcimer is an old chromatic dulcimer built many many years ago by Joellen Lapidus and I still love it.
Happy Spring, everyone. ❤️