Deb Cavanaugh performs with a wide array of instruments, including a banjo, mandolin and mountain dulcimer.
Xperience Monthly May 2019 Issue
Thumbs Up and Open Road Music
Chasing the next great experience has given artist Deb Cavanaugh a window on the world she can roll down.
By Liam Sweeny
Multi-instrumental. Multi-talented. Many styles of music. I love these phrases, and I wish that they were a stock-standard definition, like a title you get just for playing your first show. But only a few people can truly pin these to their lapels. Deb Cavanaugh, of course, is one of them. With a resume that stretches back to the early eighties Albany scene and the psychedelic band General Eclectic to a folk sound that is at once haunting and homey, Deb Cavanaugh has exemplified the talent profile of the Capital Region. I sit down with Deb to talk of the best of times.
RRX: You spent a lot of the time hitchhiking across country in the past, stopping to play wherever you could. My father was a similar traveler, and he looks back fondly. In your experience, could a young singer in their twenties get anywhere near that kind of experience under their belt today? And how would it have to be different?
DC: I do think it’s more difficult today because times really have changed. I did most of that traveling in 1974 and ’75 when it was easier to get rides and was also more acceptable, although I still pick people up when I see them. I think it’s possible to have similar experiences if you’re willing to take chances with no expectations. The beauty of hitchhiking is that there’s such a random assortment of people who pick you up. However, I think it’s important to enter into it with the acceptance that you’re going to listen to the stories of the people who give you the rides. That’s where the experiences are. My former husband referred to himself as a “road scholar,” and that is so true. You learn from the people you meet.
RRX: What I really like about your music, as I’m listening now, is how tightly the instrumentation, namely guitar, and your vocals are mutually reinforcing. I’m having a real hard time figuring out if you wrote words for the music or music for the words. Do you have a particular flow in your songwriting, like one you usually start out with?
DC: Every song is different. Sometimes I’m inspired by a phrase, and sometimes the music comes first. It also depends on what instrument I’m playing. After taking a series of songwriting workshops, first with Janis Ian then with Bob Franke, I started giving myself assignments to challenge myself and stay out of a specific mold. Then I also have instrumental pieces that some people want me to write words for, but they feel complete to me as they are.