Cathy Richardson has just completed a successful tour with Jefferson Starship and now has her eyes on the next step. I chat to Cathy about the tour with Jefferson. Her role in 'Love, Janis' and singing with Big Brother and The Holding Company aswell as what comes next.
Hi Cathy, how are you? In which part of the world are you in today?
I am doing great thank you. I'm actually home outside Chicago on a little break.
How has the tour with Jefferson Starship been?
It has been amazing! We played so many shows this last leg in Europe for great crowds.
I missed your two London dates at The Borderline but I had some friends who went and they loved it. Have you had any particular moments of the recent tour stand out to you? If so what is your favourite?
The Borderline shows were both really fun and different. Both shows were sold out, we have a rabid fan base in London and we haven't played there in a few years so people were really fired up to hear us. We also had some new blood in the band on this tour, UK drummer Richard Newman and the great San Francisco Bay Area guitarist Jude Gold so that added a new dimension of excitement to the shows.
Two other shows that stand out were Paris and Worpswede in Germany. I have never played in either of those places but the fans are so appreciative, it makes for a fun night when the band is on fire and the crowds are into it.
You have had quite the career! Seven solo albums, a GRAMMY nomination, you’re the lead singer of Jefferson Starship and you also played Janis in the off Broadway show ‘Love, Janis’ as well as sung with Big Brother and The Holding Company. Of all these achievements, which would you say has been your most accomplished?
Oh I don't know, I tend to feel at times like I haven't achieved what I wanted to achieve in the music business and then I look back at everything I've done collectively and go, "Wow, I guess I have done a lot!" I've released all of my albums independently and I've been rejected by every major label over the years so the GRAMMY nomination felt really validating at the time, although in hindsight it didn't really change my life except that now I can have that word GRAMMY attached to my name forevermore, which is pretty cool.
Love, Janis changed my life in so many ways, it took me out of the local bar scene in Chicago and put me in a National spotlight. It also changed me in huge ways as a performer and singer. I had a huge growth period during that time. It took me to San Francisco where I ended up meeting Jefferson Starship, and that has obviously taken me all over the world and given me an amazing showcase for singing and performing.
What has been the biggest struggle that you have faced in your career?
I think the biggest struggle has been dealing with rejection. You have to believe in yourself 100% and along the way there are bad reviews, record company rejections, failed auditions, shows that don't sell well etc. There have been times when I thought about giving up because I just couldn't stand the thought of another asshole behind a desk telling me I wasn't good enough when I knew that I was… I think deep down I have always felt that by virtue of sheer endurance I would have success on my own terms and there was nothing that could stop me. Plus, the longer you do something, the better you get at it.
When you played Janis, how did you prepare for that role? Did you find it difficult?
It was a very challenging role; I had to really change my voice to try to sound like her. I listened to her recordings over and over, watched every piece of film I could get my hands on and just ensconced myself in her for the entire period I was doing the show. I talked to her and I asked her to come and work through me and I just really tried to have integrity in portraying her as realistically as I could, to give the audience the most authentic representation of her that was physically possible for me. Obviously we are two different people and I am not an impressionist, but like Janis I can do a lot of different things with my voice. It really pushed me beyond my limits and forced me to take risks and I grew tremendously as a singer from that experience.
What is the strangest/funniest/craziest thing that has ever happened to you on the road?
A lot of crazy stuff happens on the road but on this last tour, I had some supreme dingbat moments. First, I left ALL of my luggage in the lobby of a hotel in Southampton, we drove ALL the way to Wolverhampton before I realised and our manager had to turn around and go ALL the way back and get it. In my defence, I thought I saw one of the pieces in the parking lot when we were loading out and assumed the guys had grabbed it when I was next door in the restaurant. I was wrong!
The other really stupid thing I did involved going from London to Paris to be on French television. The band was scheduled to travel later that day but in order to be on time for my interview, I bought a new train ticket, got up super early and went by myself. When I arrived at Gare du Nord, there was no one there to pick me up, so after about an hour of dragging my luggage around the station, sweating and looking for my ride, trying to speak French and no one could understand a word I was saying, I took a cab to the TV station. I had no cell service and couldn't access the internet to check my email so I couldn't get in touch with anyone and I was just really concerned that I had missed the driver and was now running late. When I got to the TV station, announcing I was there for my interview, no one knew who I was or what I was talking about. As it turns out, I was a day early. That was fairly humiliating but now that it's over I can laugh about it.
I am a huge fan of Janis and Grace and think your singing is amazing. How have you found it singing with both Big Brother and Jefferson? Were you intimated at all by stepping in for two such amazing women?
After doing ‘Love, Janis’ for so long I was less intimidated singing with Big Brother and more in awe of how much it was like stepping into one of those old records I had listened to so much. They really sound remarkably similar to this day as they did back then. Of course Janis and Grace are both iconic female rock singers, very different stylistically but both very powerful singers and if I have one thing in common with both of them I think it's that. I was actually a much bigger Jefferson fan growing up so coming into that band, I felt like the Grace stuff was right in my bread basket where as I really had to work hard to get that Janis sound. Even still, people are going to be critical no matter how good you are. Some people will never be satisfied because you are not that person. Of course I'm not, I'm not trying to be Grace but I do try to honour her by being the best I can be every night and giving people a great show. For the most part, people are really appreciative and kind to me.
You have another project – The Macrodots. Can you tell me some more about that? How did it come about? What are your future plans?
Macrodots is basically a collaboration with Zack Smith and myself, I met him in San Francisco and we wrote and recorded a bunch of songs, put a band together and played a few gigs, made an album, put a different band together and played a few more gigs and it's just a really fun rock project that is getting a lot of good buzz and feedback from our fans and critics, too. I love the songs and I think we have a unique sound with a retro/modern edge. It has been a great creative outlet for me while I've been busy touring with Jefferson Starship and it's really different from my solo stuff which is much more rootsy. Zack is an extremely prolific and talented writer and producer and working with him has taken me places musically I wouldn't be able to go on my own but still compliments what I do perfectly. We're working on another record right now but are still in the writing phase. It's slow going because I live in Chicago now so we have to write over the internet. He sends me tracks and I write lyrics and melodies and send them back to him. We are both pretty busy with other stuff so we have to really focus to get it together.
If you could pin point the moment in your life that lead to all of this when would it be?
I think it would be the moment when I was in about 7th grade and trying to teach myself how to play guitar and my next-door neighbour told me to listen to Heart. I did and I knew instantly what I wanted to do with my life.
Aside from Janis, Grace, who are/were your vocal influences? Is there anyone unusual that your fans wouldn’t expect?
I think everybody knows that my absolute hero is Ann Wilson. I also loved Mickey Thomas which might surprise some of the Jefferson fans. There is sort of a divided camp in the Jefferson world of those who resent him for taking the band in such a commercial direction but I think he is an amazing singer.
You have already played with some fantastic musicians, but if you could collaborate with anyone now, dead or alive, who would it be?
Oh wow, well, my favourite songwriter is Jill Sobule so I would love to write a song with her although I might just sit there and watch her write it to see what I could learn. I had a dream the other night that Nancy Wilson was putting a band together and needed a singer to do the Heart stuff and I was auditioning for that. That would be just a little fantastical!
If you could offer any advice to aspiring female singers and aspiring musicians, what would it be?
I really believe that, number one, you have to believe in yourself and love what you are doing. When I talk to Paul and David and the guys from Big Brother, none of them had aspirations of being famous, it just kind of happened to them. They were doing what they loved, and they were in the right place at this magical moment in time and they were kind of swept away with it. Then you hear about people like Madonna who were just driven by ambition and would stop at nothing. Of course she worked very hard at it but she got where she is today… the point is there is more than one way to get where you are going. I used to want to be famous but in my old age I have realized that fame for fame's sake is an empty pursuit, it's much more fulfilling to be recognized and appreciated for doing great work. So I just aim for greatness, and whether or not I achieve that is extremely subjective.
Of all the places you have toured, do you have a favourite and why?
We went to Tel Aviv this year and that was just incredible. Such a beautiful city. Warm, friendly people, great food, great beaches. I was really surprised, I don't know what I was expecting but it was just so mellow, I really loved it.
Is there anything that you haven’t yet achieved that you want to?
I would like to have at least one hit song, a song that I wrote that breaks through to a mass audience and I can bank on for the rest of my career.
Thanks so much for your time Cathy. I hope this finds you well. I hope to see you next time you’re in London.
Thank you, Chelle.
All articles are © Michelle Nevill