Young musician was influenced by Neil, others


By Nathaniel Miller
Herald Arts & Entertainment Editor

Tracy Grammer, folk musician and ex-partner (musical and otherwise) for the late legendary singer-songwriter Dave Carter, performs Friday evening at the Abbey Theatre. Grammer said that, if she ever quits music, she might be a full-time producer of records.
You’ve got to carry on. That’s what Tracy Grammer does, and she’s shouldering the weight of two.

The folky musician/producer and ex-partner of the late songwriting guru Dave Carter performs Friday evening at the Abbey Theatre. Grammer will be joined by Jim Henry, another Portland-based multi-instrumentalist.

Raised in Southern California by weekend musicians, Grammer faced no familial resistance when she declared her official interest in a life of music. She co-founded the pop band Juicy in the mid-’90s.

“I think I was living out everyone else’s fantasy by playing music professionally,” she said in a telephone interview Friday from the road.

Then, in 1996, she met Carter after hearing him perform at a songwriters’ showcase, and the rest is the rest. They formed a musical duo that was moving up rapidly in recognition – signed, with two successful studio records – when they were split in 2002 by Carter’s sudden heart attack and death at 49 years old.

Grammer never disappeared; she declined to isolate herself. She kept playing, serving as a vehicle for Carter’s lyrical canon.

A year before meeting Carter, armed with a 4-track and some poetry, Grammer had tried her hand at songwriting. But when she saw her competition in Carter, she laid her scribblings by the wayside.

Now there’s a bit of a clamoring for some of that poetry to be fished out and presented in the metaphorical wax.

“The fans are bugging me for it. After all, there’s a limited number of Dave Carter songs at this point,” she said. “All the conditions are there. It’s just a matter of buckling down and doing the work.”

If you go …

Tracy Grammer, 8 p.m. Friday, $15 or $12 for Durango Society of Cultural and Performing Arts members, Abbey Theatre, 128 E. College Drive; tickets can be purchased at the Abbey, Canyon Music Woodworks or Southwest Sound; for information, call 385-1711.

The precedent is tough to meet, of course. Grammer must remind herself often that she need not write exactly like Carter: “It takes a lot to get out of that shadow. It’s not a bad shadow – it’s a brilliant shadow.”

The University of California-Berkeley English literature degree under her belt – a focus on Shakespeare and female American Indian writers – doesn’t help much in the songwriting respect. It’s more analytical, Grammer said: “I think it gave me a pretty good appreciation of writing, which is what attracted me to Dave Carter in the first place.”

But Grammer shouldn’t pass all the lights and glory over to Carter. She is an acclaimed vocalist (Joan Baez, a former touring mate, counts herself a fan) and a jack-of-all-trades with stringed things: she dwells primarily on the guitar, violin and mandolin, but picked up a mandola in October and took to it the way certain people take to things.

“It’s a little monster,” she said. “It’s just as rich-sounding as a guitar. It’s a great substitution for something on the low end. … I can fake it so far. I’m no raging genius or anything.”

She has a thirst for more, but thinks that traveling with her current “arsenal” is tough enough as it is. If space were no issue – she’s on the road 150 days a year – Grammer would love to get into the harp (“It stymies me”) or the banjo (“I did take a couple of lessons – just enough to be dangerous”).

And if Grammer’s broad range of tools wasn’t enough of a hint, let it be known: She will not be saddled by a genre. Among her influences: Gilbert & Sullivan, Willie Nelson and Neil Diamond.

“It’s not prairie-oriented. It’s not a get on your horse and ride’ kind of thing,” she said. “The easiest thing to say is acoustic music. There are no electric guitars, at least not yet.”

Reach Arts & Entertainment Editor Nathaniel Miller at375-4554 or via e-mail here.

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