cindy lee berryhill
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cindy lee berryhill

Encinitas, California, United States | Established. Jan 01, 1987 | INDIE

Encinitas, California, United States | INDIE
Established on Jan, 1987
Band Alternative Folk


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"Cindy Lee Berryhill: Teach Your Children"

Editor’s note: Cindy Lee Berryhill began her career as a cofounder of the mid-1980s New York City antifolk movement. But after two albums in the late-’80s she moved on from that ragtag group of punk-inspired folkies that would later go global and launch the careers of Beck, the Moldy Peaches, and Regina Spektor. By the turn of the decade, Berryhill had returned to her native Southern California, where she began creating sprawling, highly arranged, orchestral albums—but retaining the acoustic focus—inspired more by Brian Wilson than Woody Guthrie or Joe Strummer. That meant Berryhill needed to graduate from a loud-fast-hard acoustic strummer to an advanced guitarist who could do intricate interplay with cellos, timpani, and vibraphone. In this edition of Guitar Talk, Berryhill tells how she made the transition.

If you go back and listen to my earliest albums, Who’s Gonna Save the World and Naked Movie Star, I’m a strummer. In the early days of antifolk, we were all about being vigorous strummers. We wanted to be loud, simple, hard—and break lots of strings. We were folkies, but we were punks at heart.

But that gets old.

At a certain point you get tired of strumming. I knew that I could do other things, but I couldn’t do as much as I wanted to do. I’d sit down and play and get frustrated: How come I’m not playing more riffs?

About 14 years ago, I started teaching guitar, and that’s when I started seeing the change in my playing. I always could read music—I learned to play classical music as a kid—so I could teach that with no problem. But the kids I was teaching wanted to learn specific stuff—they wanted to learn AC/DC, so I’d have to learn AC/DC riffs, or they wanted to learn a Beatles song, so I’d have to learn Beatles songs.

I also had to learn how to read tab, which we didn’t do when I was a kid. The only people I knew who knew tab when I was starting out were bluegrass players. We learned by reading notes. You’d buy guitar books and it was notes—it wasn’t tab. So, I had to pull it together and learn how to read tablature and all these other things I hadn’t learned before or that had changed from when I was first learning to play.

By teaching kids riffs instead of just chords, I started to get comfortable with playing riffs myself. I’d go to parties and play a couple of songs and my friends would be like, “Whoa! What happened? You’re playing ‘Cinnamon Girl?’ Dang! You’ve gotten so much better on the guitar.” And I hadn’t realized it. It hadn’t occurred to me that my own guitar playing had stepped up several notches along with the kids I was teaching.

So, my main message for players who are tired of strumming is this: If you want to become a better guitar player, start teaching. It can be kids on your block. Or it can be kids at the local music store. Kids challenge you. Teaching gets you out of your comfort zone, and that’s what I needed to do.

The icing on the cake is that as I became more comfortable with riffs and other non-strumming techniques, I started writing new riffs for my own songs and my songwriting improved. So then I started coming up with new tunings. Everything just stepped up several notches. It was quite a transition, and it’s interesting when people see me who knew me back in the antifolk days. They’re like, “What happened to your guitar playing?” And I say, “You know what? I have to play every day.” But it’s not like, “Oh, God, it’s practice time.” It’s more like, “Oh, wow, this kid wants to learn how to play ‘Dear God’ by XTC,” so I have to figure that out. And then I learn more about a song I’ve known for years: Oh, that’s such a great descending line on the bass! It takes the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” descending line and sort of turns it on its head and adds some other parts to it. It’s pretty much the same thing, but reinvented. I could do that, too!

It’s been interesting getting out over the last couple of years and playing guitar with people, because I was not used to people coming up to me and saying, “Your guitar playing puts me to shame.” But I actually heard that recently. And it was amazing.

Cindy Lee Berryhill’s forthcoming album, The Adventurist, is due out on Omnivore Recordings in Spring 2017. Watch Berryhill’s episode of Acoustic Guitar Sessions, with cellist Ranata Bratt, here. - Acoustic Guitar Magazine

"Jim Bessman Blog"

Cindy Lee Berryhill alluded to her difficult recent past at the beginning of her opening set Tuesday night at City Winery when, leading into her forthcoming album The Adventurist’s track “Somebody’s Angel,” she invoked “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town,” the 1969 hit by Kenny Rogers and The First Edition that was written by Mel Tillis and is about a paralyzed veteran of “that crazy Asian war” who begs his wife not to go out on the town.

“I didn’t understand it when I was a kid,” Berryhill said, quoting the lyric “And if I could move I’d get my gun and put her in the ground/Oh, Ruby, don’t take your love to town.”

“Where was she going? The bowling alley? An Al-Anon group? There are any number of things she could have been doing besides having an affair!”

Berryhill has said that The Adventurist “bookends” with her 1994 album Garage Orchestra in that the first album documented the beginning of her relationship with her late husband Paul Williams and the new one its end: Williams, a prominent rock journalist who was a founder of the seminal rock magazine Crawdaddy!, died last year after many years of debilitation from a severe brain injury following a bicycle accident.

Ruby, Berryhill came to realize, was, much like herself, “a caretaker.”

“That’s not an easy way to go,” she said, adding, of caretakers, “It’s not an easy life—they deserve a song.”

Hence, “Somebody’s Angel.” But she noted after that she had “no regrets,” and had started the show with “a downer song” in order to progress to the more hopeful fare included on The Adventurist.

“You have to eat the healthy stuff first,” she explained, “then the Coca-Cola with ice cream.”

She later brought up her longtime friend Lenny Kaye, who produced her 1989 album Naked Movie Star. Kaye played acoustic guitar on The Adventurist’s “American Cinematography” and the Velvet Underground classic “Femme Fatale,” which was written by Lou Reed—Reed being part of Berryhill’s acknowledged “triumvirate” of key influences, the others being Patti Smith (Kaye has forever been Smith’s guitarist/collaborator) and Brian Wilson.

Berryhill was opening for another influence, Al Stewart, who sang his hit “Time Passages” at Kaye’s request. For his part, by the way, Stewart was quite engaging, particularly in stories like the one about playing places like Tokyo and Rome and hearing wives complain to their husbands that they thought they were going to see Rod, not Al Stewart.

Stewart also brought a nifty merchandise item: a poster pattered after the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cover and featuring some 200 people and things associated with the lyrics to his songs–historical, if I heard correctly, and being hard of hearing and sitting in the back and Stewart not having a loud voice, I’m not 100 percent sure. He definitely said that only one person had been able to identify all but one of the figures, and he might have said that he himself couldn’t identify at least 30. - Jim Bessman


Still working on that hot first release.



“Cindy Lee Berryhill is an unparalleled electric folksinger. She traveled a long distance to write the songs on The Adventurist.” So writes the great American songwriter John Doe. “You can hear it in the beauty, sadness and unhinged moments that have become signature elements of all of her work.”

The Adventurist is Berryhill’s first solid, focused studio work since the mid 1990’s when she garnered four stars from Rolling Stone for her Garage Orchestra album: “Squealing and swooping, her voice is a natural gas, even more wonderous is the guitarists arranging, flourishes that echo Brian Wilson…songs whose raw free ecstasies recall Patti Smith”. Or Record Collector’s take on her cool status, “Tomorrow’s cult artist today. Berryhill is as unconventional and inspired as any rock performer in America”  

Where’d she go?

In 1995 Berryhill’s world turned upside down after her husband, rock journalist legend Paul Williams, sustained a brain injury in a bike accident. By 2013, after many years of Berryhill’s caregiving and care, he passed away.

Determined to retain and honor the beauty and joy of the relationship they shared Berryhill set out to write and record an album full of visionary songs with the help of her musical friends, some from the world of punk rock, some from orchestral backgrounds all understood that it was a grand musical adventure they were up to. The results?

Dave Alvin: “What an impressive, astonishing, honest, complicated, beautiful bunch of songs/performances/words/revelations. Fantastic songs and stunning arrangements. Very timeless Pop in all the good ways.”

Jon Landau: “ favorite, Somebody’s Angel.  That one is the heartbreaker “

Steve Wynn: Wow is your album great!! Stunning.

Mark Kemp: Somebody’s Angel-is unbelievably beautiful and moving with the full arrangement. I’m knocked out by this work!

Kim Shattuck: CLB paints a picture, she melodically hypnotizes...

John Doe: Only CLB knows how to use strings like this which is yet another unique piece of fireworks in this electric folk record from Southern California. Her new album The Adventurist is a story that took many years to tell & you feel that it's probably not over. “


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