OAKLAND -- Kathy Kallick, leader of the eponymous Kathy Kallick Band, has been playing bluegrass in the Bay Area since 1975. This summer, her band released a new album called "Time," and many of the songs reflect on Kallick's life and experiences during decades in the music business.
Over the years, Kallick has written more than 100 original songs and released 17 albums, but her voice still bubbles with excitement when she talks about the music. It's as if the young woman from Chicago, who moved to San Francisco and was swept away by the bluegrass scene, is just right below the surface.
Kallick remembers the first time she saw a bluegrass band play live and how forceful the impact was on her.
"Bluegrass was this big visceral exciting ensemble thing, it was this powerful thing that came off the stage at you," Kallick said. "And the songs were interesting and really compelling, you know, they were story songs. And the singing I loved. The singing was just so full of feeling and really soulful."
Kallick started her first band in 1975 and began writing her own songs, a taboo in bluegrass. Many musicians at the time felt that straying from traditional lyrics and musical interpretations was an unnecessary departure from the standard set by Bill Monroe, the father of bluegrass. It was especially controversial for a woman.
It has been Kallick's goal to put women's voices and experiences in music traditionally sung and written by men. This female perspective can even be subversive, she says. One of her songs, "Walkin' in My Shoes," was inspired by a friend's struggles with domestic violence. The song spent a year at the top of the national bluegrass charts, and even old-school DJs related to the feminist message without quite realizing it.
A lot has changed in the industry in the past three decades, and "Time" attempts to chart that progression. Kallick wrote the song "Fare Thee Well" as a sweet way to end a set, but says that the result for many listeners is unintentionally sad. She sings in a keening voice; "Think on the best of all our times/The gladdest moments we shared/ Hold dear the favorite funny lines/The boldest truths we may have bared."
The title track, also called "Time," has a gritty fiddle intro that Kallick wrote for her 26-year-old fiddle player, Annie Staninec. Kallick says the song is about the interesting feeling of aging, and how every stage of her life is still relevant today. The song ends: "When all is said and done there's just no way to run from time, time, time."
The Kathy Kallick Band, in its current form, has Tom Bekeny on the mandolin, Greg Booth on the dobro, Sharon Gilchrist on the bass (Dan Booth is on the album) and Staninec on the fiddle. Kallick and Bekeny have been playing together since 1996, but she says that even someone new to the band can play based on shared knowledge.
"The great thing about bluegrass is that you come together, people that have never met, and there's this common vocabulary of songs, so you can play instantly," Kallick said. "And that's what's happened. You can say 'Well what do you know, what do you know?' and you can play."
A full list of performance dates can be found at www.kathykallick.com/schedule.html