Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Melanie Has A Brand New Key

Melanie would be the first to admit she’s lived something of a charmed life.  The effusive energetic singer, who may be the only person alive who appeared at Woodstock and had songs covered by Cher and Miley Cyrus, is appearing at The Center for Performing Arts in Natick (TCAN) on Thursday, December 4.

Her path from Woodstock to Natick is interesting, as was her journey from adolescence to Woodstock itself. She shared that story with us.

“To be honest, I didn't spend a lot of time paying dues.  I went to acting school and did some auditions, not a lot, because I was shy, and an introvert. I sang in Greenwich Village, on the streets, in coffee houses.  I wasn't even interested in the money- I thought it was embarrassing to pass the hat, and I had no guitar case. I literally walked away from money.”

“To this day, I don't know what motivated me.  I was really shy, but while I was singing, I was really driven.  It was the ‘in-between stuff’ I wasn't good at.  I needed people who would deal with the money, and organizing my career. I was right out of acting school.”|

“One day, I went to a building to do an audition for a musical, and there was a music publishing company on the same floor.  I walked into it by accident. They thought because I was there with a guitar, I had come to audition for this producer who worked there, Peter Scheheryk. So the next thing I know, I’m auditioning for him. And that was it. He and I fell in love, and married, and he became that person who took care of the business for me. Money, producing, business. For 45 years; until he passed away a few years ago. So I didn’t really feel the reality of having to make a living at this. I guess I had the sort of career where you ay your dues in public.”

Even into a life as serendipitously blessed as Melanie’s a little rain falls.

“Well, I did have a real job, once.  I was in a bar on 80th Street.  I think it was a gay bar.  I was a gourmet girl, I was dressed up a French peasant woman costume- I spoke French, that’s how I got the job.  I was supposed to walk around, say a few words, and sell cheese baskets. One night they assigned me to the coatroom, and I hadn’t done that before- and I was with a friend, and we got to talking.  And at the end of the night, there was a huge pile of coats, and the wrong tickets attached to them. It was a mess. And I was fired on the spot, which wasn’t fair, ‘cos they had never really trained me for what they wanted me to do.”

Melanie did not let that get her down.  She moved smoothly through a career that by the end have brought her Gold Records for songs like ‘Beautiful People,’ ‘Lay Down,’ ‘Candles in the Rain,’ ‘Brand New Key,’ and ‘Look What They’ve Done To My Song, Ma.”  There was a great deal of acclaim- at one point Billboard, Cashbox, Melody Maker, Record World, and Bravo all promoted her as the Number # Female Vocalist in the World. There were appearances on Ed Sullivan, Merv Griffin, the Tonight Show, Johnny Cash. And of course, onstage at the Woodstock Festival, early on, in 1969.

“Well, that was totally serendipity.  My husband had an office in same building as the organizers.  I first heard about the festival about a year out. The Aquarian Exposition, arts crafts for three days... that sounds nice. My husband Peter figured we’d like to do it, and they said, ‘yeah, come and play’, it was like that.”

“I was in England doing a film score, working as a songwriter in London with Peter, and I was really enjoying being behind the scenes.  We debated whether I should come back to the states to do Woodstock, and finally, we decided I should go, play, and then come back a few days later to finish up. So I get on the plane, with no clue about the hype, and my mother meets me at the airport, and takes me up to where I’m supposed to be. Which turns out to be somewhere else.  By now we’re beginning to realize things are getting a little different. I get to this motel, and there’ all this traffic, and we’re thinking that it might be related to the festival- and the first person I see in the lobby of the hotel, there’s Janis Joplin. Then Sly Stone walks by. OMG! I’m thinking what am I into here?”

“I’d never seen anyone famous before, close up. So terror starts to mount.  The next thing I know, they’re hustling us towards a helicopter. And my mother tries to get in with me, and the pilot says ‘who’s that’, and I say ‘my mother,’ and he says “sorry, no moms here,” and I don’t think to say “... and my manager...”  So the copter lifts off without her, and it’s my first copter ride.  And as we get close to the festival, I look down, and I see what looks like a big lake and I ask, “What’s that,” and the pilot says, “That’s the people.” And I don’t believe him, so I point to another thing that looks like a pond and I say ‘What’s that?’ And he says, “That’s still the people. They’re all the people down there.” It was terrifying, and we are landing over that big sea- and I still didn’t believe it was all people.  And I get out, and Richie Havens is like on his 30th Chorus of ‘Freedom’, and I could tell his passion was coming from several laces- terror being one of them. And I’ve never seen such a big riser on a stage before. It was just unbelievable. And when it’ time for me to go on, it’s getting dark, so the Hog Farm, I think, starts to distribute all of these candles. And it starts to rain, and all of these candles are getting lit, I’m trying to absorb this- and then I start, and all the candles get lit. And that’s where the candle lighting began, holding up a match.  For the rest of the time I appeared onstage, anywhere, people would bring a candle to my concerts. And fire marshals hated it.”

Like I Need To Add A Caption?

Since the seventies, with virtually no break, Melanie has continued to perform, and record. She often brought her kids on tour with her husband, who had also taken on the additional responsibilities of tour manager for her. It comes as no surprise that her son Beau-Jarred, has become an integral art of her musical universe.  In addition to having become a guitar player of astonishing skill, speed and melodic substance, he is also following in his father’s footsteps- engineering, arranging.

“He’s upstairs right now working on some classical arrangements of my early songs.  I work with a label that has the resources to be able to look back at that stuff, and then help me to present it with some beautiful, full instrumental arrangements. And Beau is writing them!”  There is no small touch of parental pride in her voice when she speaks of her kids.

Her most recent CD was recorded in 2010, Ever Since You Never Heard of Me, while her husband was still alive.  It is vintage Melanie in many ways, drawing from world musical motifs, a little rough around the edges, and delivered with ebullience and love and largeness of heart and voice. Available through her website, the CD was never given a full-bore release the passing of her husband.

In many ways, the change from a relationship in which Melanie was sheltered from “the business” and allowed simply to create in a supportive, familial environment has not passed unnoticed by the veteran performer.

“Since Peter passed a few years ago, I’ve been sort of thrown into the ‘other side’ of the business. I was so sheltered.  But think at this point in my life, I am too much who I am to be badly affected by that.”

“I tell everyone I’m ‘the oldest little girl in the world.’  My life before now seems like another universe entirely. It’s such a different world now for me. I'm much less guarded, and like being less in the public eye.  It seems like there wasn't a time when everyone knew everything I did.  When the pressure is off that way, and everyone isn't waiting for you, you can take a breath.”

Melanie remains a high energy, very giving performer, so it’s likely that breath will be a short one- enough to get her to the chorus of the next song.

Melanie is appearing at The Center for the Art in Natick on December 4th, and at the Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry New Hampshire on December 5th.

You can follow her at her website at:


Ever Since You Never Heard of Me
Available through the website:

Melanie has always been something of a happy anomaly in a business that usually shies away from the singular of any artistic particular quality. She is, and remains a genuine original, with a heart as big as Cleveland and a quirky, affectionate sense of humor,  she has succeeded in her career beyond her own expectations (which were minimal in terms of traditional success), and certainly beyond that which was expected.  It is hard to imagine another performer of her era, who appeared at Woodstock, and who continues to offer new music as personal and relevant as Melanie.  Perhaps Neil Young stands with her in that regard.

This CD was recorded four years ago, work begun by Melanie’s guiding force and muse of 45 years, her husband, producer, manager Peter Scheyereck, who passed away while the recording was in progress. The album was completed, and features Beau-Jarrerd, the couple’s son.

It also features a roiling and eclectic array of Melanie tunes.  Traditional, rooted in world melodies, and catchy.  She has always had the ability to shine through her own lyrics as the genuine article- personal, humorous, transparent.  In many ways, this CD reflects Melanie at her “earthiest”- the least polished production, the most ragged of accompaniment- and it is a deeply, warmly authentic piece of work, worthy of her canon, and of a regular spot in you CD queue.

It is a collection of songs that seem half-finished, in a warm sort of way.  But by no means incomplete- what is missing, simply is the part that the audience brings to the listening experience. In an almost magical way, the CD can only be completed by the listener bringing their own sensibility to ‘the party’; it is a space left by a generous artist to be filled by an enthusiastic and open listener.   And that is an experience this listener hasn’t felt since the release of Warren Zevon’s The Wind, a CD that cannot be heard without full listener engagement on an emotional level.  That is a rare feat, done here with such riveting honesty that it is often breathtaking. That ethereal connection to Zevon is further reinforced by the tune ‘I Tried to Die Young’ with the neo-Zevonian lyrics “there were demons, I know them, and they still come by, well we’ve become friends, my demons and I”.

Notable tunes on the CD include the very beautiful “Kiss From The Heart”, a moving song about true love and deep attachment, and loss- something that is fresh for the artists.  I use the plural, because of the presence of Melanie’s son on harmony.

Melanie and Beau
Any doubts that Beau’s talent is monster big, and will be a part of his parents’ happy legacy should be erased by his guitar playing on Deserts of Blue, which opens with some glistening guitar fretwork by the then-sixteen year old. His demonstrated gifts on this tune are nothing short of jaw dropping.

Melanie remains fully in control of her muse.  She has suggested that the passing of her husband has in some ways opened her eyes and ears to a whole new range of possibilities.  Ever Since You Never Knew Me is ample proof of that. The future looks creative for this artist.

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