Singing the praises of Austin steel sovereign Cindy Cashdollar
The first thing you notice upon entering her apartment, deep in the heart of South Austin, are the guitars. In front of the fireplace are two National steel guitars, all metal, one from the Twenties, plus a Dobro. Next to them stands a vintage steel guitar, with legs but no pedals. Above the fireplace sit the Grammys. What's a mantel for, anyway?
On the wall near the awards she won as a member of Asleep at the Wheel, there's a photo of her with Bob Dylan and Western swing memorabilia from the Fifties. You can't help but feel like you're in the presence of someone special, and you are. This is a visit with Austin's slide guitar, Dobro, and lap steel sovereign, Cindy Cashdollar.
"Just listen to her, she just doesn't make mistakes, and on an instrument very few women have approached. Yet in a blindfold test, you'd put her in the first rank of all players. Plus she's got the best cowboy boots in town."
Texas blues diva Marcia Ball
Most folks know the petite blonde from her days with the Wheel. But she had a notable career before them. Now she's stepping out on her own, having just released her solo debut, Slide Show, a collection of duets with such singular talents as Redd Volkaert, Sonny Landreth, Jorma Kaukonen, Marcia Ball, Steve James, Mike Auldridge, Lucky Oceans, Johnny Nicholas, and legendary Bob Wills alumnus Herb Remington.
It's a mostly instrumental disc, one that features not only first-class musicianship, but also a delightful array of styles. It's bluegrass and blues, swampy and twangy, crystal clear acoustic and grungy distortion, along with a healthy dollop of jazzy swing. Cashdollar and her muse are such a natural part of the Austin scene that it may surprise some to discover she's originally from New York.
Born and raised in Woodstock, an artist haven nestled in the Catskill Mountains, her father's family goes back several generations there before the famed music festival put the town on the map. Originally a guitarist, Cashdollar discovered the Dobro at the age of 20.
"I was waitressing at a club in town," she recalls, "and saw someone playing it and thought it was such a great combination of sounds. You could do country, you could do blues, you could do anything. So I gave up the guitar and concentrated on that."
"Of all the collaborations I've done, this is my favorite. It just has a great vibe. Cindy's special because of her personality, her technique, and her taste. She moves effortlessly between styles. She's always professional, always prepared."
Louisiana slide guitarist Sonny Landreth
Not long after she joined the John Herald Band Herald being best known for his work with seminal NYC bluegrass band the Greenbriar Boys Cashdollar had her first taste of touring. This was also the period she found time to work with longtime New York folkies Happy & Artie Traum, as well as Whiskey Before Breakfast, an all-girl band.
After that, she became part of an acoustic quartet with Levon Helm and Rick Danko of the Band, dubbed the Woodstock All-Stars, which eventually mutated into something more electric and included Paul Butterfield. In the mid-Eighties, Cashdollar hooked up with the strange but lovable bluesman Leon Redbone.
"He had a gig in the area and asked me to do sound check with him," she chuckles. "That turned into a five-year gig."
By the early Nineties, Redbone's touring schedule had slacked off a bit, so Cashdollar left for Nashville to seek steady work.
"I wasn't looking to play a specific type of music, but I thought that'd be the next best place to be, because I knew I wanted to do it for a living," she explains. "That's when I heard Asleep at the Wheel was looking for somebody, and they happened to be coming to town the next day to tape a TV show.
"So I went and waited outside the TV station with a promo pack and ended up talking to John Ely, the band's steel player, and gave him my package. The next day I went to Europe with Leon, and when I got back there was a call from them. Right after that I moved to Austin. It was the most amazing musical experience.
"I had worked with interesting combos and some very eclectic people, but as Ray [Benson] said to me, 'If you can last with Leon for five years, I know you can last with this group.'"
"Still, everything I'd done up to that point didn't prepare me for playing Western swing."
"Cindy's sense of rhythm and feel is outstanding. Some people have it, and some don't. Everyone's got their own sense of time, and hers is really unique something that's hard to find in a steel player."
Asleep at the Wheel drummer and Slide Show producer Dave Sanger
That was 1992. Cashdollar was a member of the Wheel until 2001, playing everything from small roadhouses to stadiums; touring Europe; recording with Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Merle Haggard, and the Dixie Chicks. In 1997, she took part in Bob Dylan's Time Out of Mind.
"Dylan was amazing to work with," she sighs. "It was all recorded live, and it was interesting to watch Bob work. He would suggest trying something in a different key because he thought it might sound better, and it did. He was very nice to work with, very generous. During the playbacks, he'd come around and ask what people thought, and I remember thinking to myself, 'Are you really gonna tell Bob Dylan what you think?'"
By 2001, she'd tired of the Wheel's nonstop schedule and left the band. Since then, she's been active locally with a host of groups including all-women supergroup Henhouse. She's also been a frequent guest on Prairie Home Companion and played regularly with the Cajun band BeauSoleil. She's returned to playing with Redbone and might tour with Hot Tuna later this year. To promote Slide Show, there will be a two-night Slide-o-Rama at the Cactus Cafe later this month featuring many of the disc's guests and a couple of surprises.
"I was a side person for so long, I wasn't sure [a solo album] was something I wanted to do," she admits. "But I thought doing it as duets would make it a fun and exciting project. I'm glad Dave Sanger talked me into it!"
"I like to play with Cindy as often as possible. I'm just a huge fan of hers and have been for years. She's one of the heaviest musicians I know. Sure she's an authority on Western swing, but she can go anywhere with it. She brings something special to whatever situation she finds herself in, but she doesn't color it. She plays whatever the music needs, and that's a real rare commodity."
Jefferson Airplane guitarist and one half of Hot Tuna, Jorma Kaukonen
Slide-o-Rama, featuring Herb Remington, Stephen Bruton, Johnny Nicholas, and Steve James, and more, slides into the Cactus Cafe April 26 & 27, 8pm.