Kathy Mattea performs at the Pocahontas Opera House for two sold out shows
There was a time not that long ago that Kathy Mattea was afraid that her performing days might be coming to an end.
“At first I thought I had just lost my voice but really it was just that there were just changes in the way I know how to sing,” said Mattea. “I had to just kind of get to know it again and there were just some little shifts and once I did that I was okay.”
The changes came after going through the change of life – she found that her voice just felt different. Around the same time her long-time voice teacher in Nashville was in declining health, so she had to find a new teacher.
“So, I found this teacher and I started working, I’d practice every day,” she said. “And then my long-time guitar player Bill Cooley would come over one day a week, we’d sit and jam in the afternoons. I was like ‘Bill, I have to get to know my voice on songs I don’t know.’ So, I just started throwing out songs and over time these songs became the ones that sort of got me back to singing.”
Those songs are featured on Pretty Bird, released last September, her first new album in six years.
She said it was scary working through those changes, it also gave her a new appreciation for her instrument.
“You know I have this voice it’s like an old Volvo, it’s classy and it’s sturdy and it gets the job done and it’s going to last for a long time,” she said. “It’ll be older but it will be a classic. And then after a while I was like wait a minute, maybe I have a vintage Ferrari on my hands and I just don’t know how to drive it yet! So these became like my little pictures I’d hold in my head while I was doing the work.”
That work ethic has served her well over the years, with almost 20 albums in her catalogue. But over 30 years ago as a college student studying physics and chemistry at WVU, a career in music wasn’t on the horizon, although she enjoyed playing music with a group of like-minded peers. Then a fellow student pursuing a career as song writer invited her to accompany him to Nashville.
“I knew that I was good at math and science but I felt really different when I played music,” she said. “And I thought if he goes to Nashville and he has this great life and I’m stuck up here in school kind of going through the motions, I don’t know if I’m going to be able to live with myself.”
So, at the tender age of 19, she moved to Nashville and got a job as tour guide at the Country Music Hall of Fame, learning all she could about the business. She signed her first recording contract on her 24th birthday; her first single was released on September 2nd, five years to the day after she’d arrived in Nashville.
Many years later, a chance meeting with Dayton Duncan would lead Mattea to another milestone. Introduced to Duncan during a showing of clips from the documentary he and Ken Burns had done about the early ‘30s Dust Bowl, he told her about their plans for a documentary about country music and asked if he could pick her brain from time to time. One thing led to another and before she knew it, she and her husband were consultants on the documentary. She was impressed with the research he and his team were doing for the project.
“It was like making a friend who’s super interested in all the things you love,” she said. “Everyone in Nashville was just kind of awestruck by how much care they put into it. And to have Ken Burns who is widely recognized as our most valuable and thoughtful historian, to have him turn his lens on us in country music was quite an amazing experience.”
Mattea said the broadcast also brought about a resurgence in the popularity of her music as well as that of many other country stars. She said the day after the last segment aired, which featured her music prominently, her song ‘Where Have You Been?’ was in the Top 40 country on iTunes as well as a greatest hits album that included the song.
“I just walked around all day laughing, I thought it was hilarious,” she said. “It’s lovely you know, it’s was a very sweet moment. John and I looked at each other and we were just like let’s just enjoy it.”
Kathy Mattea has two sold out shows scheduled for the Pocahontas Opera House on October 17th and 18th. Both shows are sponsored by the Richmond-based Tomato Fund which is also a financial supporter of Allegheny Mountain Radio. The Oct 17th show is also sponsored by Mitchell Chevrolet.