“When the morning breaks
and the sunlight warms my soul
In the east the eagle flies
and the Redtail proudly soars
I’m on my way
to the place of the spirit one
grandfather hear me now I am on fire.
Let the sundance guide my feet
to your desire
Give me visions for my eyes
and words like gold
that shimmer in the sun.”
Sometimes the good die much too young. That´s what happened with the late great Kate Wolf, who died only 44 years old of leukemia. A convincing voice and a gifted pen, she made albums a lifetime worth, wrote songs masterly covered by other great artists, but still never got the recognition she really deserved. Kate was a unique singer/songwriter that drifted between folk and country, and her beautiful voice lifted all the songs in a way that made you listen. She was singing the truth and she showed us the beauty of sadness.
Born in San Fransisco in 1942, moved around with her family, lived in Oregon and Michigan before settling in Berkeley from her sixth year of school and through high school. Always fond of music.
“I have to say that it probably started with the Weavers and led to Rosemary Clooney. I started out with singers that you could hear the words. Then I got into writers. Dylan is a big influence and of course the Beatles happened and folk music was always kind of there in the background. I got interested in folk music out of the Kingston Trio stuff and the Weavers. I wanted to know more about it, and started going to libraries. Then I discovered the Carter family. When I got into country music radio, I started to discover Merle Haggard and Lefty Frizell, and people like that. I used to listen to Hank Williams as a kid, so it’s been kind of a progression through honest songs and honest singers; that kind of clarity. I guess it’s that heart that’s out there.”
When she was 27, she suddenly knew that she should be a singer/songwriter, moved to Sonoma County, singing in bars and writing songs. She formed the band, Wildwood Flower, worked in a radio station and at last got funding for her debut album, released on her own company, Owl Records. The album was “Back Roads” and the year was 1976.
“I’ll take the back roads home through the open countryside
Letting things slip by in drawn out time
I’ll take the long way home on the back roads of this life
Taking time to see what goes by.
Coming and going, there’s no dividing line
What you’re headed for, someone left behind
And the shortest road ain’t always the best
Sometime let a back road take you home.”
The next album was “Lines On The Paper” in 1977. In style it was very much like the first, but maybe not quite the same impressing material, even though you still can listen to an album freely flowing of talent and promise of what was to come.
In 1979, “Safe At Anchor” was released as Kate´s third album – with several songs of eternal beauty. Like “September Song”.
And like “Early Morning Melody”.
Then, in 1981, the album “Close To You” – with some of Wolf´s masterpieces included. The arrangements of the songs included more musical elements, and the sound of the album was more complex. The great Tony Rice contributed with his masterly guitar playing. Maybe her most known song is the opener “Across The Great Divide” – especially because Nancy Griffith´s cover. But the song belongs to Kate.
Another instant classic from this album is “Love Still Remains”, a perfect country ballad from start to finish. This time it was Emmylou Harris´version who would be the most known. Actually it was well deserved – it´s a stunningly beautiful cover.
In the albums last song, “Close To You”, Kate shows us all her unique qualities, both as a singer and a songwriter. The voice and the poetry makes a perfect combination and bring tears to our eyes.
“Here In California” is another masterpiece: Love can make you happy, love can rob you blind.
“Give Yourself To Love”, another one of her greatest songs, was also the name of her first live album, released in 1983.
“Love is born in fire;
it’s planted like a seed
Love can’t give you everything
But it gives you what you need
Love comes when you are ready,
love comes when you’re afraid
it will be your greatest teacher,
the best friend you have made.
So give yourself to love
if love is what you’re after
Open up your heart
to the tears and laughter
and give yourself to love,
give yourself to love.”
She even sang a few cover versions on this album, among them one of the most beautiful songs ever, Sandy Denny´s “Who Know Where The Time Goes”. Here she shows us the quality of the greatest singers, to make even classic songs their own.
The album also contains what´s possibly my personal favorite of all her songs. “Cornflower Blue”. Beautiful beyond words.
Later Eric Bogle made a touching cover version of the song as a tribute to Kate.
The next album is released in 1985, “Poet´s Heart” with the title song one of the highlights. This should be Kate´s last album released while she was alive.
“She never was a dancer or wrote a fancy line
The treasures of her life were the things she left behind
They buried her without them where the prairie grasses grow
In China or a woman’s heart there are places no one knows”
After getting her diagnosis of leukemia, the love for Kate from both audience, friends and fellow artists, lead to a series of supporting concerts and benefits for her in the last part of her life.
Nina Gerber, Kate´s close associate, friend and virtuoso guitar player, edited the collection “The Wind Blows Wild” in 1989, the title song was Kate´s last recording.
A new live album was released in 1989, with a video companion. The last is a perfect way to view the elegance and passion in Kate´s quiet performances. Such as in “Green Eyes”.
A smiling version of “Eyes Of A Painter”.
“These Times We´re Livin´In” was filmed mid-80´s.
Kate Wolf made an impact by following her own inner voice and by making no compromise to her own artistic vision – she was her own woman and burnt with a clear blue flame through all her works, albums and appearances, and still is an inspiration to us all – always seeking to the deepest parts of human nature in her songs and in her singing.
“I live for a sense of a feeling of purposefulness in this world, you know, that I could stop my life at any point and feel that my life has been worthwhile; that the people I’ve loved and my children have all reached a point where their lives are now going to come to fruit. And as far as something I live by, it’s to try to be as alive as possible and feel free to make my mistakes and try to be as honest as I can with myself.”
That´s exactly what she did.
“It’s an unfinished life
that I find lies before me;
an open-ended dream
and I don’t want to wake.
I’ve crossed so many rivers
in search of crystal fountains;
I’ve found the truest paths
always lead through mountains.
I’ve seen water on the sky,
and fire burning on the lake.”