The Austin Chronicle

https://www.austinchronicle.com/daily/music/2023-03-31/mandy-mercier-force-of-nature-in-the-austin-singer-songwriter-scene-died-on-her-74th-birthday/

Mandy Mercier, Force of Nature in the Austin Singer-Songwriter Scene, Died on Her 74th Birthday

By Rachel Rascoe, March 31, 2023, 12:15pm, Earache!

Mandy Mercier, known for impactful live performances and lifelong connections in the Austin music scene, died on Monday, March 27, on her 74th birthday.

Close friend Dan Earhart, who confirmed the news to the Chronicle, said Mercier died due to Parkinson's disease, worsened by a case of COVID-19 last year. The Austin artist spent her final years living in Wimberley, Texas. Mercier was put into hospice care in December while living in the Symphony of Wimberley assisted living facility.

“She was very flamboyant, and she could really fill a room with her voice. It was real loud and clear and high,” says Earhart, a pianist who played in bands with Mercier for many years. “She was extremely powerful, always right on pitch. She never wavered.

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“She was quite an intelligent person. It was unfortunate, about the last two years, she basically went blind and couldn’t read, and she had been an avid reader – a book or two a day – all her life. Both her parents were in the publishing business in New York City, so that was the intellectual culture she grew up in.”

As an accomplished singer and instrumentalist, Mercier played shows with and in the bands of artists like Townes Van Zandt, Lucinda Williams, Butch Hancock, and Jimmie Dale Gilmore in the generative Eighties Austin singer-songwriter scene. In an excellent 2001 profile on Mercier entitled “All There in the Music: The Wild Dreams of Mandy Mercier,” the Chronicle’s Margaret Moser wrote: “Singer, songwriter, guitarist, fiddler, lover, and free spirit wrapped up in one, Mandy Mercier is less a jack-of-all-trades than a force of nature.”

Growing up in Westport, Connecticut, Mercier studied classical piano and violin in school but also developed an interest in traditional blues artists like Mississippi John Hurt and began playing guitar. She later attended the University of Colorado to study classical music before moving to New York City where she played in a duo with Leif Kahal. A residency at NYC’s Lone Star Cafe connected her to musicians from Austin, where she relocated in 1980 and was quickly embraced at Threadgill’s, Armadillo World Headquarters, and elsewhere.

The Chronicle described the era in Moser’s 2001 profile:

"It's all there in the music" could well be Mandy Mercier's motto. When she plays her fiddle, tiny gleaming hearts fly off the end of the bow. She plants her small frame firmly on the floor, feet braced, and leans into the instrument as if to remind it she is the master. She closes her misty green eyes and then come the notes, the soulful fiddle, the heartbreak strings, and soaring melodies. Onstage, she wears the hats of sideman, back-up vocalist, duet partner, and frontwoman with equal aplomb.

For all her ball o' fire energy, Mercier will tell you that romantic involvement makes for better songs than relationships. There was guitarist Tom Pacheco from the Hellhounds, in which she also played. There was Blaze Foley ("It wasn't a long romance, but we were always tight"). There was Ray Wylie Hubbard, with whom she toured and shot pool. It's an attraction she describes as getting "turned on [by men] because of how they played and what they knew based on what they wrote about -- what they represented."

And then there was Clyde Woodward Jr. No, this isn't Lucinda Williams' biography. In the early Eighties, Mercier, Williams, and the infamous Woodward shared a house in Hyde Park, living so sparsely the three sat on speakers at the kitchen table because they had no chairs. Woodward was an irresistible charmer who sometimes played at "managing" his talented girlfriends and held tenaciously to the slacker work ethic. Williams and Woodward moved to L.A. in 1987 and Mercier followed shortly thereafter. She kept busy, as music at the Palomino club suited her fiery stage presence and won her "Female Vocalist of the Year" there. Lucinda and Clyde broke up, after which Mandy and Clyde then shared a brief liaison.


Prior to Mercier’s move back to Austin in 1992, friend Patti Thornton joined her in the music scene established around North Hollywood’s Forties-era Palomino Club. At another L.A. club, the Music Machine, Thornton remembers seeing Mercier as the opening act at a Lucinda Williams record release party: “When Mandy came out on stage and started singing, the girl I was with, man, we looked at each other and our mouths dropped open. We were just totally blown away. We all became friends. I used to go to all her gigs.

“She really did not get the notice she should have gotten, for all that she did. I mean, she could play several instruments and she had an unbelievable voice. She could really belt out a song. She was bullheaded, but she was also extremely sensitive and kind and generous. After Hurricane Katrina, she just rallied and jumped in gathering donations.”

Mercier can be heard on her 1992 debut, Forgiveness and Rage, as well as Run Out of Darkness (2007) and Singer in a Roadhouse Band (2010). Moser’s Chronicle story was published following Mercier’s 1997 battle with cancer, which inspired an Austin benefit concert and, later, her 2001 album Wild Dreams of the Shy Boys. A Chronicle review of the record read:

A multi-instrumental dynamo live, Mercier sticks to rhythmic accompaniment here, letting her songs do the talking. She is all too often (and perhaps unfairly) compared to her friend and colleague Lucinda Williams, because they mine much of their material from the triumphs and tragedies of love and heartbreak. Original numbers like "Already Fallin'," "Make It Back to Midnight," "See It Now," and "Ready for Me," are well-crafted tunes that reveal a sensitive woman of strength and vulnerability.


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