Having A Coffee With… is a fun series in which we ask bluegrass music personalities, some famous, some not so well known, about some of their interests as well as about the music that they love.
Born in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Amy Gallatin grew up in Alabama and Louisiana and spent 12 years in Montana and Idaho working at guest ranches before, in 1993, she migrated to Connecticut to join other musicians that she had befriended during a winter break there.
Gallatin is at home singing various musical styles including country, folk, bluegrass or western swing. Her musical influences are diverse, ranging from old and contemporary cowboy songs learned out west to great country artists like Emmylou Harris, Loretta Lynn and the Everly Brothers.
Susan Forbes Hansen, host of an NPR folk show, praises Gallatin for her “clear true singing, clean sweet playing [and] great song choices”.
What would you like to drink?
Hmm, what time of day is it? Noon? That’s morning for me. A nice cup of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, dark roast, if possible. Or maybe a cappuccino.
Do you want anything to eat as well?
Nah, I’m good with coffee, thanks. I’ll bank the calories for dinner!
What’s your favorite food?
Anything ethnic or exotic—Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, Peruvian, Ethiopian. The more exotic the better!
And what would you have to drink with that?
A nice glass of Bogle Petite Sirah or Wolftrap, a South African red wine blend. Or if the food is spicy, a glass of Vitiano Sicilian rosé. Sicilian rosés don’t get the attention they deserve but they’re very full-bodied and good. Foreign rosés in general are underappreciated in the US, I think.
What’s the nicest meal that you have ever had?
I’m honestly stumped by this one. I’ve had a lot of good ones. Maybe the Thanksgiving dinners my mom used to make, complete with pickled peaches that you can’t find up here anywhere in New England. She was southern, and was a great cook.
Let’s talk bluegrass….. Where/when did you first hear bluegrass music?
I was working as a wrangler on a dude ranch out in Big Sky, Montana, and was sort of isolated musically, doing a lot of cowboy and folk tunes around the campfire type of thing, but I had access to the Elderly Instruments catalog of recorded product — cassettes, remember those? So I had been romping through that catalog, sampling, among other things, Alison Krauss, who was just coming into prominence with her Everytime You Say Goodbye album. On a trip back east, I had the chance to attend the Merle Watson Festival (MerleFest), which back then was like in its 5th year, I think. It was my very first festival. I remember Alison was on the Thursday night bill with Ronnie Milsap—and I liked her a lot better than Ronnie, who did this weird 10-minute medley of all his hits, never doing any song to completion. But I was almost immediately hooked on all the bluegrass I heard, and Doc Watson—wow wow wow!
Which of your own songs do you have a particular liking for?
I’ve written a few, probably none that I would sing for anyone else! I wrote one about a bad relationship called Like a River Through Stone, and a fun one written the first year Roger and I were together called Endless Honeymoon.
What about a song written by someone else?
Well, there is a songwriter whom we met a couple of years ago, from Syracuse. His name is John Cadley, and everything he writes is just a gem; he wrote that song, Time, that Lou Reid charted with, and he’s written another one called They Said which is kind of about not making assumptions about people. We recorded it on our latest CD.
Rick Lang, an old friend of Roger’s from New Hampshire, is also a fine songwriter; we recorded his Wind in the Valley on our Nashville album Something ‘Bout You, and Angel By Your Side on our latest CD.
Which particular album do you like best and why?
Probably my all-time favorite is Tim O’Brien’s Odd Man In; it’s welcome on my stereo any time. Carrying the Tradition by the Lonesome River Band; there’s just something about that powerful, deliberate rhythm that they had, that pulse. Hard to beat that first Ricky Skaggs bluegrass album, the one that starts off “Country rocks….but bluegrass ruuulz!” I also think Larry Cordle kicks butt on that Lonesome Skynyrd Time tribute to Lynyrd Skynyrd…great rhythm and great interpretations of those songs.
You play a guitar ….
Yeah, I have two Martin Jumbo J-40’s, one black with a Fishman pickup for the road and a blonde one that I never take out of the house. Very well balanced for whatever I need it for, straight bluegrass-style rhythm, sock/swing chords, fingerpicking. I never really want for anything more, although hard as it is to believe, those Carbonite guitars that Tim Stafford plays are kind of the bomb—indestructible too. Someday I want one of those, at least for travel.
What’s your favorite bluegrass memory?
That would be, actually, another year I went to MerleFest from Montana, a very rainy one. I was incredibly sleep-deprived because I hadn’t had the foresight to make a hotel reservation and you couldn’t find one within, as I recall, 200 miles of Deep Gap, so I was just kind of sleeping in my tent wherever. But It was the first time I had ever heard the Seldom Scene, and I was absolutely captivated by the vocal harmonies; it was like a religious experience! Then lightning struck the grounds and the power went out….and they kept right on singing, in the rain, as everyone gathered closer to the stage. Magic! I stood there knee-deep in mud with my sleeping bag wrapped around me and listened until they finished and I thought “that’s the kind of music I want to do!”
How do you keep fit and healthy when you spend so much time on the road?
Pilates and yoga when I’m not traveling. And bicycling when I can fit it in. I also try not to eat crap while on the road, but that’s difficult sometimes, since sometimes it seems that my band members are denizens of Junk Food City!
Are you a sports fan? Who do you follow?
The Boston Red Sox! Got into that from Roger (Dobro player Roger Williams and my partner), who is a lifelong fan. Boston is a great sports team town.
What hobbies do you have?
Gardening in the summer, bicycling or kayaking when I have time, scuba diving when I have the money and the moxie. Does reading count as a hobby? Sadly, my main hobby is probably mostly managing/booking my band!
What is the last movie film that you watched?
I watched Spielberg’s Memoirs of a Geisha the other night, lavishly filmed. Hard to beat Out of Africa or Gone With the Wind though. I’m a sucker for a doomed romance! Well, I love My Cousin Vinnie too, probably the most madcap movie ever made! Monsoon Wedding from India is also great–great music! Don’t get me started on movies—I loved a little art house gem called The Station Agent too; saw it on a plane on my way to Guam for a scuba diving trip and watched it like three times in a row!
Do you get much time to watch TV?
I’m not crazy about TV in general, but I will confess to being addicted to The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. I like the American Experience series on PBS; I’m a nerd, I know!
What would you be doing if you weren’t involved in bluegrass music?
Maybe still working out West with horses or traveling the world scuba diving—if I had the bucks for it, that is. But seriously, when I hang up my musical hat, if that ever happens, I’d love to work for an NGO overseas, working for a cause, something I believe in, trying to make the world a better place. I do hear the call from time to time.
An NGO is any non-profit, voluntary citizens’ group which is organized on a local, national or international level.
Initially, Gallatin formed her band Stillwaters with Kevin Lynch, mandolin, and Dobro player Matt Nozzolio. Together they recorded two albums, Northern Girl and Sweet Gatherings.
In 1996 they toured Europe and in 1998, they showcased at the European IBMA World of Bluegrass event in the Netherlands. Material from these tours was assembled to make a Live in Europe CD.
In 1998 Gallatin went to Nashville to record an album with producer Rich Adler that featured the talents of Rob Ickes [reso-guitar], Missy Raines [bass], Pat McInerney [percussion], the late Randy Howard [fiddle/mandolin] and Jeff White [harmony and duet vocals].
About three years later she teamed up with Peggy Harvey (of Traver Hollow) to form a short-lived side project Amy Gallatin and the Hot Flashes (2001-2003).
Stillwaters was revitalized when renowned resophonic guitarist Roger Williams joined to explore their mutual love of country music standards.
Together they have recorded three albums, Something ‘Bout You, Phoenix, and the recently released Everything I Wanted Love to Be, all on their Happy Appy record label.
The duo are currently enhanced by mandolin and vocals from Roger’s son, Berklee College of Music student JD, who—in the time-honored tradition of musical consanguinity—complements his father’s style perfectly, and by veteran bass player Eric Levenson, formerly with Joe Val & The New England Bluegrass Boys and later with Boston City Limits.