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February 17, 2014IM -
Woodstock, New York, in the 1970s was a musical Mecca. Icons like Bob Dylan of Local 802 (New York City) and The Band had lived there since the mid ’60s, and of course, in 1969, the small Catskill town’s picturesque landscape hosted the peak event of the counterculture music scene.
It was in the midst of this atmosphere that Local 433 (Austin, TX) member Cindy Cashdollar first fell in love with American roots music. “Growing up in Woodstock at the time, I was seeing live music from a very early age,” says Cashdollar. As a young girl, she had the opportunity of seeing local greats Happy and Artie Traum, John Hammond Jr. of Local 248 (Paterson, NJ), and even Van Morrison at a special benefit concert, her very first live show experience when she was only 11 years old.
Years later, Cashdollar had the opportunity to work with Morrison. “I told him about that show, and that it really made an impression on me,” she says. “He was living in Woodstock at the time and remembered the venue and everybody at the show.”
Cashdollar coincidentally took up the guitar at age 11, around the same time she was becoming energized by the vibrant music scene in her hometown. What started as basic lessons in chords and strumming quickly blossomed into country blues picking, jazz, and then finally to the slide guitar, which eventually became her specialty, ignited by the eclectic and influential compositions of John Fahey.
“I tried to play bottleneck guitar off of a John Fahey recording,” Cashdollar says. “I was trying to pick out by ear the tunings he was using. Lord knows what tuning I put the guitar in! I kept turning the tuning keys until it kind of sounded like what he was doing.”
Even if she never discovered the elusive tuning Fahey was using, it started her down an important road, one that has shaped her entire career. “I was very drawn to the sound of the slide,” she says. “I thought it was very dark and haunting.”
At the time, Cashdollar didn’t even know what a Dobro was, the small bodied guitar with a chrome disc that is played with a steel slide bar and finger picks (pictured to the left). It wasn’t until a few years later, while waitressing in a restaurant, that she first heard the instrument. It wasn’t long before she was taking Dobro lessons.
After honing her chops in a few local bands, she was picked up by influential bluegrass artist John Herald, who was largely responsible for the role bluegrass played in the folk revival movement of the ’60s. Cashdollar toured with him for five years before moving on to the next exciting opportunity.
Cashdollar met Levon Helm of Local 71 (Memphis, TN) and Rick Danko of The Band at a small party in Helm’s Woodstock home, which is famous for hosting great jams. “It was a beautiful small party, and a friend told me to bring my Dobro,” Cashdollar recalls. “Levon and Rick were hanging out jamming, and a couple of days later, they gave me a call and said, ‘We have an acoustic show in New York City. Wanna play?’”
In the ’80s, the once vibrant Woodstock music scene was fading fast from its former glory.
“I moved to Nashville in 1992, just because a lot of the clubs in and around the Woodstock area closed down,” Cashdollar explains. “I had been playing with Leon Redbone for five years, and at that time, his touring schedule was temporarily slowing down. Living in Woodstock, news was sometimes slow to get there regarding national touring acts needing a Dobro player. I thought it was time for a change anyway, so I moved.”
Change quickly found her when she heard of a lucrative opportunity. It was rumored that Asleep at the Wheel was losing their steel guitarist. It also happened that the band was coming to Nashville that very next day. Cashdollar made a bold move.
“I went and waited in the parking lot for their bus to pull up,” she says. “I didn’t know anyone in the Wheel, so I knocked on the bus door, and said, ‘Can I talk to your steel player?’”
She confirmed with John Ely, the steel player at the time, to make sure he was leaving, and left her demo material with him. A few months later, Ray Benson flew Cashdollar to Austin for an audition. “He said, ‘Well, I can tell from your demo tape that you’re not much a steel player,’” she says. The steel guitar was only a hobby up until this point, and she only included one steel guitar instrumental on her demo tape. Benson said he liked her Dobro playing, however, and agreed to give her six months to learn to play the steel.
“The misconception is that, if you play Dobro, steel guitar should be easy, but it’s not,” Cashdollar explains. “There are two more strings, which makes the string spacing closer together across the neck; there are multiple necks, each with a different tuning; and you have to use a different slide bar. The style of music was also totally different from what I had played before, so it was a completely different animal.”
Needless to say, Cashdollar had a huge challenge ahead of her. She relocated to Austin and took lessons from Ely every chance she had. She also sought out Bob Wills alumnus and veteran steel guitarists Herb Remington of Local 65-499 (Houston, TX) and Maurice Anderson. “That’s all I did, I lived, ate, and breathed the steel, because I just didn’t want to give up,” she says. “I was a big fan of the Wheel, and I thought it was a wonderful opportunity. It was a very complex gig, and there were times when I just didn’t think I could do it, but I thought, I made this move, I have to do this.”
Within a year, Cashdollar made her first appearance with the band on the long running PBS TV show Austin City Limits. “That was frightening, because I was still really green,” she says. “But at least I made it up there! It was sink or swim.”
It was around this intense period of her career that Cashdollar joined Local 433. “It was a no-brainer to me,” she says. “I was moving to another city, so I wanted to join their local union.”
Cashdollar finds the Local 433 office an invaluable resource for information on subjects such as her pension or out of state recording scales. They even stepped in to correct filing errors from TV appearances. “They were very helpful in going through the proper channels to make sure that I was paid,” she says. “They are a wonderful resource for information.”
Cashdollar played with Asleep at the Wheel for eight-and-a-half years before she became restless again. “I just got a little burned out playing the same style of music all the time,” she says. In 2001, she left the band on good terms, and has since gone on to pursue a rewarding career as a recording and session musician, working with such talents as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Ryan Adams, and Dave Alvin of Local 7 (Orange County, CA).
Cashdollar’s extensive knowledge of slide instruments and alternate tunings makes her irreplaceable in the studio. “I like to have a good variety of instruments to bring to the sessions,” she says. “Even when they call me to just bring my Dobro, I’ll bring at least six or seven guitars. You just never know; they may be hearing a Dobro sound when the track could really benefit from a tricone sound.”
In 2004, Cashdollar released her own CD, Slide Show, where she teamed up with various slide musicians like Herb Remington, as well as ace vocalist and pianist Marcia Ball of Local 433. “I wanted to give an overview of the different styles and sounds of the slide instrument,” she says. “Plus, it’s so much fun to work with people that I don’t get to see or play with as much as I would like.”
In a way, Cashdollar’s record showcases what is most important to her: experimenting with sound and collaborating with great artists. “It’s been a process over the years of liking different sounds and being influenced by different styles,” she says. “It’s so fortunate that I got to work with a few of the artists who influenced my musical tastes early on, like Van [Morrison], Levon Helm, Rick Danko, and Paul Butterfield. I felt like their music was such a part of me by the time I got to work with them.”
And yes, Cashdollar is her real name.