By Donna Marie Miller
[R]ecently, at the One-2-One Bar in Austin, TX, supergroup Texas Guitar Women (with special guests Marcia Ball and Rosie Flores) toasted some teary goodbyes while regaling all with joyous stories of the good old days with the five-time Grammy winning steel guitar and resonator player Cindy Cashdollar.
Texas Guitar Women (Cashdollar’s powerhouse group of female, Texan musicians that includes Sarah Brown, Shelley King, Lisa Pankratz and Carolyn Wonderland) along with the rest of Cashdollar’s Austin friends officially gave her the boot—albeit a gold-plated and bejeweled one—as they celebrated her final days in Austin on stage in front of a standing-room-only audience. This event, the first of two such parties scheduled for her in March, sold out days in advance as news spread that Cashdollar plans to leave Austin, after 23 years, for her hometown of Woodstock, NY.
As one of the most famous female resonator and steel guitar players of all time, Cashdollar traverses the genres of blues, bluegrass, Cajun, country, folk, jazz, rock, roots, soul and western swing. She has contributed to dozens of albums, three movie soundtracks, several instructional DVDs and has performed on stage with some of the biggest names in the industry throughout a career that spans nearly 30 years.
And for those who are wondering, Cashdollar is her real name.
When discussing her plans to move back to New York, Cashdollar promised to return to Austin as frequently as she can. “There’s no way that I could ever leave Austin and not come back,” she said. “There are too many good things to just shut the door and go. Austin is this incredible pool of so many talented singers, songwriters, musicians and so many great artists in one place. It’s just unbelievable. I’ve had such an amazing time here. I feel fortunate that I’ve been able to work with people in Austin and with people outside of Austin. I just feel lucky to have had the best of both worlds.”
It seems that the feeling is mutual. Fellow musicians consistently claim that Cashdollar always hits the perfect note and that she knows just how to instinctively tailor her sound to fit the genre and the band in question. “I really try to listen to a lot of components that are going on,” she said. “I try to listen to the lyrics, I try to listen to other musicians that I’m playing with and I try to figure out just where I can best fit where I’m adding something instead of overcrowding something that’s going on. That’s the way my brain, or my ears, always work.”
A tribute to this talent, Cashdollar became the first woman inducted into the Texas Steel Guitar Hall of Fame in 2011 and in 2012, she was inducted into the Texas Music Hall of Fame. A passionate instrumentalist, Cindy is open about the craft that has won her such accolades. “Steel guitar is fretless; it’s a very unforgiving instrument. I mean you’re playing all of these guitars with a slide bar so there’s not very much room for error.”
There’s not much room for error in Cashdollar’s instrumental changeovers either. Bringing several guitars with her to play wherever she performs or records, she possesses an uncanny ability to change guitars often on stage, a feat that boggles the minds of most musicians, as not all guitars are created equally. “The steel guitar I play has two different necks and two different tunings and eight strings,” she said. “To me, that’s fun. I always like a challenge. The more versatile, the better for me. It’s like cooking. You can’t really over spice anything unless it’s really called for. I always think of musicianship as being like the spices in a recipe. You want to enhance the recipe or dish. You don’t want to overload it.”
Cashdollar’s love for music began when she was a teenager, frequenting a multitude of popular clubs in Woodstock and seeing the likes of The Band’s Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Robbie Robertson, Paul Butterfield, Van Morrison, Lovin’ Spoonful frontman John Sebastian, Bonnie Raitt, Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters. “There was this club there called The Joyous Lake where I saw most of the acts when I was probably 15 or 16 years old,” she recalled. “Nobody worried about ‘carding’ anyone.
“I saw all these great players. I think that’s really where I got my various interests in all kinds of music.” Cashdollar feels obligated to pay forward the favors that she received growing up in the idyllic and magical Catskill Mountains surrounded by musicians during an era when music gave life to every moment. “It was a beautiful place to grow up. I feel really happy to have grown up there,” she said. “It was a very creative place to be. When I was growing up, there was a lot of music, a lot of bands moving there and a lot of artists. That was my college; that was my education.”
While in her late 20s, Cashdollar played locally in various Woodstock bands before landing her first touring gig on a Dobro with bluegrass bands led by singer, songwriter and guitar player John Herald, who wrote songs performed by legendary folk singers like Peter, Paul and Mary, Joan Baez, Maria Muldaur and Linda Ronstadt. She toured with Herald for five years, and then spent the next five touring with blues and jazz artist Leon Redbone. Austin became Cashdollar’s home base in 1992, after Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel hired her to go on the road with them. She spent eight and a half years with the band, and has since performed and recorded with Ryan Adams, Dave Alvin, Marcia Ball, Bob Dylan, Merle Haggard, Van Morrison, Jorma Kaukonen, Daniel Lanois, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Peter Rowan, BeauSolieil, Rod Stewart and Redd Volkaert, just to name a few.
Beyond performing and touring in a traditional sense, Cashdollar’s career has taken many diverse turns. She has contributed to three major movie soundtracks including The Horse Whisperer, Elf and This is 40. She also has made guest appearances with the Guy’s All-Star Shoe Band on Garrison Keillor’s weekly A Prairie Home Companion radio series. Cashdollar confessed that those performances kept even her on her toes. “Being that it’s live radio, things happen at the last minute and you just kind of have to be ready.”
Over the years, teaching has also become an important component of her career. Cashdollar has created several instructional DVDs for Homespun Tapes, and she teaches workshops at Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch in Pomeroy, OH and ResoSummit in Nashville. “To me, to be able to teach and to give people something to take with them is really rewarding,” she said. “Touring, there generally are a few people at every show that come out and tell me, ‘I learned how to play from your instructional DVDs,’ and it is such a wonderful feeling.”
For those who worry a move back east might mean retirement, Cashdollar is quick to nip those rumors in the bud. “I’m still going to be working, that’s for sure,” she assures fans, “When you’re a musician—most musicians anyway—you have to keep working. It’s funny because everybody thinks I’m retiring, but no, not at all.” She soon plans to record a second album as a follow up to her recent album, Slide Show, and after she settles into her Woodstock digs, she’ll hit the road this summer to tour with Grammy-winning British guitarist Albert Lee.
Those who missed the first farewell party have a second chance when Johnny Nicholas and Hell Bent hold a final send-off for Cashdollar on March 25 at the Saxon Pub, promising an evening filled with song, laughter, maybe some tears and plenty of surprise guests, all ready to celebrate a woman with a whole lot of heart and a whole lot of talent.