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    Remastering Women’s Music in Political Times

    women“Gripping” feminist energy literally resulted from a recent meaningful handshake and meeting between Margie Adam and Hillary Clinton. Adam, who is based in the Bay Area and is one of the lesbian feminist architects of the Women’s Music movement, spoke with Clinton at a Hillary for America event on September 28 in Orinda, CA. As Clinton grasped her hand, Adam looked right into the Presidential candidate’s eyes and said, “I am carrying a message of support from thousands of lesbian feminists who believe in you and will have your back every day until you are elected President of the United States.”

    For those of us who have drawn strength, healing and inspiration from Adam’s transcendent music over the years, we trust her every word.

    The daughter of classical pianist Harriet McCollum, Adam began her career as a professional musician in 1973 with a performance at the Sacramento Women’s Music Festival. The following year, she co-headlined the National Women’s Music Festival in Illinois with Meg Christian and Cris Williamson. In 1976, Adam’s first solo album, Margie Adam. Songwriter., coincided with a fifty-city tour that concluded with a performance of her song “We Shall Go Forth” at the National Women’s Conference in Houston. The lesbian feminist anthem is now part of the Political History archives in the Smithsonian Museum.

    Fast forward to this year, which marks the 40th anniversary of Women’s Music, and Adam is still as driven and passionate as ever. Her keynote speech at the 40th National Women’s Music Festival drew thunderous applause. Entitled “Radical Feminist Leadership: Lessons from Women’s Music,” it can be heard and read in its entirety online (http://www.margieadam.com/info/nwmf_2015.htm).

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    We are also thrilled to report that Margie Adam. Songwriter., as well as the instrumental album Naked Keys, were recently remastered. Songwriter features a veritable who’s who of Women’s Music, given that music greats such as Linda Tillery, the late Kay Gardner, Vicki Randle, Meg Christian and Woody Simmons contributed to the recordings.

    First released in 1980, Naked Keys is a piano tour de force showcasing Adam’s mastery of the instrument. From ethereal meditative moments to fiery speaker-shaking passages, the album’s emotional range takes listeners on an unforgettable journey. Naked Keys was an immediate critical and commercial success that paved the way for countless other innovative instrumental albums that followed. We recently caught up with Adam to find out more about these recordings and her thoughts concerning the evolution of lesbian feminist culture.

    San Francisco Bay Times: We can’t wait to experience Songwriter and Naked Keys again anew. Please explain what “remastered” means exactly.

    Margie Adam: We recorded Margie Adam. Songwriter. wa-a-a-y back in the day—in 1976—on very large, three-inch tape providing twenty-four individual instrumental/vocal tracks that produced a very clean and true sound. These tracks were mixed down onto a much smaller two-track tape (stereo sound!), which was then transferred onto a metal plate that stamped out vinyl LPs. Boom! With each one of these transfers, the sound quality of the original recording deteriorated to some degree. When CDs came along, that two-track analog tape sound went through a major transformation to a digital format. The sound quality deteriorated even more. The 21st century has brought with it better sound transfer technology so that the remastered versions of Songwriter and Naked Keys’ sound is closer to the original recordings.

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    San Francisco Bay Times: What led to the decision to remaster these two CDs?

    Margie Adam: I’ll give it to you in a meander: Sometime after the turn of the millennium, in the midst of traveling solo to Scotland and Wales year after year, visiting Neolithic stone circles here and there, working with the labyrinth and incorporating labyrinth walks more and more into my performances, I slipped into a new region of possibility. After 2008, I stopped performing in concert and put myself in a PhD-Psychology program. When I came out the other side, I opened a private practice in counseling here in the Bay Area. I work with people in early recovery, and in other life transitions. When I was asked to give the keynote speech at the 40th National Women’s Music Festival this summer, it struck me that even though I wouldn’t be performing, I could thank the women who had enjoyed and supported my music all those years by reissuing/remastering a snapshot of our era: Margie Adam. Songwriter.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Wasn’t Best of Margie Adam remastered previously? How were you involved in the process?

    Margie Adam: I remastered and released Best of Margie Adam in 2005. By then, the process was easier, cheaper, and the sound quality was improved. Remastering Naked Keys this year was easy. I had already worked with that recording a few times since 1980, so this recent remaster was a kind of dusting off and fluffing up effort.

    The challenge for me in remastering and re-issuing Songwriter was that I had not worked on the recording in 30 years. It meant climbing back into the recording—song by song, performance by performance—to sign off on the new sound transfer. Had I been able to let my engineer/producer do the signing off, Songwriter would have been released decades ago. However, I was simply not capable of turning over that kind of control over my music to someone else. Seems like a crazy choice now, but I accept it. I also accept that I have history with each of these songs and that, more than any other album, Songwriter is loaded with complicated memories and lessons, some of which I knew I would bump up against in the remastering studio.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Now that you’ve reissued Songwriter, have you any other thoughts about the experience?

    Margie Adam: I had lunch with an old friend and mentor, Phyllis Lyon, and as a birthday gift, I put together a CD of her favorite songs, including “Tenderly” sung by Rosemary Clooney and Sarah Vaughan, “Secret Love” sung by Doris Day, and a song I wrote called “Best Friend – The Unicorn Song,” which is on the reissued/remastered Songwriter. These days, our visits are mostly focused on the present, but on this occasion, as she listened to “Tenderly,” Phyllis became increasingly animated and happily sang along. Toward the end of the song, she pointed at a famous photograph of her marriage to Del Martin. “There she is,” she said, smiling broadly. Then on came “The Unicorn Song” and we both sang along, holding hands. And as I sat there, I remembered the first time I saw Phyllis—sitting in the front row of a concert I was doing for Inez Garcia’s Defense Fund. When I got to “Best Friend,” she sang full out—with complete abandon—”Loving is believing in the ones you love!”

    San Francisco Bay Times: Take us back some in time, to when you first recorded Songwriter. What inspired some of the songs, and what was the energy like during the recording sessions, given that so many talented musicians participated in the making of this remarkable work?

    Margie Adam: Songwriter was part of an astonishing soundtrack of early Women’s Music. Some of the recording artists included Meg Christian, Ginni Clemmens, Cris Williamson, Woody Simmons, New Haven and Chicago Women’s Liberation Rock Bands, Casse Culver, Robin Flower, Mary Watkins, Willie Tyson, Holly Near, Gwen Avery, BeBe K’Roche, Teresa Trull, Kay Gardner, Diane Lindsay, Maxine Feldman, Linda Tillery, Sue Fink, Alive!, Berkeley Women’s Music Collective, Linda Shear, Baba Yaga, Deadly Nightshade…on and on. I’m talking early Women’s Music here—when we were just getting started. And you know, I have to say these names out loud, in print, because otherwise, some of our names will be lost. So many women’s names and the history of our accomplishments are already lost.

    Anyway, Women’s Music Festivals were popping up all over the country wherever there was a women’s community, a women’s bookstore, a women’s radio show, a women’s study program, a women’s center—any of the above was all that was needed. Some of us played on each other’s albums during this era and Songwriter was one of those projects. I was already performing with Meg, Cris, Kay and Vicki Randle, so when we went into the studio in San Francisco, we recorded the arrangements we were currently performing for audiences all over the country. We were in love—so the arrangements were really HOT! When we sang together, we looked directly into each other eyes and played directly into each other’s hearts—and we were changed forever. I was changed forever.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Was Naked Keys the first solo piano recording in the Women’s Music genre? What inspired you to record such an LP?

    Margie Adam: I began writing solo piano music when I was in high school, so by the time Boo Price (my producer/manager/partner at the time) suggested I record a piano album, I had most of the material ready to go. Recording an entire album of instrumental music seemed like the best way to define myself as a composer and pianist as well as a singer/songwriter. At this time, women musicians outside the classical genre were rarely recognized as instrumentalists, only singers. Our idea was also somewhat controversial in the women’s music distribution network.

    Some distributors were worried that the women’s music audience was primarily interested in singers, lyrics, and the folk/pop sound. My piano music was more like a pop/jazz/classical soundscape. Also, in 1980, the Wyndham Hill easy-listening instrumental context did not exist. Our distributors were understandably concerned that a solo piano album would be a hard sell. Nevertheless, we released Naked Keys and three things happened: National Public Radio picked up the album and used it extensively as incidental music in between its feature stories. The National Women’s Political Caucus sponsored me on a fundraising tour for women’s candidates, which coincided with the release of the album. And probably most significant, I learned how to position and introduce my solo piano pieces in concert so that the audience members stopped using the instrumentals as cigarette and bathroom breaks!

    San Francisco Bay Times: Is there any chance that you will perform live again? We would, of course, love that, and would promote any such performance! 

    Margie Adam: I have no idea if I’ll perform in concert again. Back in the 80s, I told everyone I was taking off a year. That break lasted for six years. Who knows? What I can say is that I am riveted on the work I am doing as a counselor and I’m not done. Accompanying a broken heart on its deep dive to healing and wholeness is a joy for me.

    San Francisco Bay Times: Please mention anything else that you would like our readers to know. 

    Margie Adam: As the LGBT community is integrated more and more into the mainstream, it seems to me that holding a place for our remarkable lesbian feminist culture is worth the effort—both for those of us who continue to draw strength and healing from its unapologetic presence in the world, and for lesbians who will come after us and wonder if there isn’t something special about loving women.

    To learn more about Adam and to purchase her newly remastered CDs as well as other recordings, please visit http://margieadam.com/