I’ve seen Rebecca McDade play many times and have always been impressed by her distinct guitar picking style, voice, lyrics, and poise she brings to her style of indie-folk. I found out today, as we chatted at Gov Cup, that she’s 22 years old. I wasn’t going to print that, but I see it in her bio, so I feel ok about it. And it’s part of my respect for her, actually. When I was that age, I was busy building a tinfoil ball out of Michelob labels. Heh. Not a lot has changed. What McDade has already done is truly impressive to me.
Born in Scotland, she moved to Oregon when she was in the sixth grade, where she became active in Portland theater. She got a role in the award winning musical, “The Ghosts of Celilo.” Celilo Falls was an important cultural and spiritual place for the native people of The Dalles area, until it was flooded by the building of The Dalles dam in 1957. The musical was written by Marv Ross of Portland’s iconic band, Quarterflash. McDade’s association with Ross opened doors for her musically. Ross connected her with Oregon Hall of Fame’s Gregg Williams to produce her new full-length album, “To Call Home.”
She wrote all the songs on the album, recording them on GarageBand and continuing to add “doodles,” as she put it, to fill out the songs instrumentally. Williams helped in the studio with instrumentation and thought that Eric Earley of Blitzen Trapper would lend the perfect sound and feel. Earley helped with slide, banjo, bass, and baritone guitar. He was instrumental to getting the “spaghetti western” feel on the track “Other Side.”
McDade is deeply influenced by 60s folk music, and became fascinated by a guitar technique, “Travis picking.” It was developed by country/western singer/guitar player Merle Travis. Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, and Dave Van Ronk are some of her influences who employ it. She said it took her a long time to master, but it is an important element of her playing now.
We covered a lot in our brief meeting; I’m leaving so much on the cutting room floor. My favorite story was when she studied abroad her junior year in Scotland, (where all her extended family still live). Her father had already taught her guitar when she was seven, but she didn’t give it much care. While back in Scotland, she decided to check out the open mic at Glasgow’s Nice N Sleezy’s, not realizing that it hosts the longest running open mic in Glasgow, and attracts truly accomplished musicians. She was too intimidated to play, but the music grabbed her. She decided that she would focus on her guitar and become the capable musician she is today. I love that it started at at a place called Nice N Sleezy’s.
Rebecca is also a voice and guitar instructor at Salem’s rock school, RiverCity Rock Academy. When I asked her about that, her face lit up and she had nothing but praise for the experience. Not only does she love the staff and students, she acknowledges that it’s making her a better player. “When you’re teaching, it forces you to get more technical and think about what you’re playing.”
You can see Rebecca play in Salem this Saturday the 26th at Sleep Millennium’s album release gig at Venti’s downtown. She already had her Salem album release at The Space a couple weeks back, but she’ll be sure to have them available for you. Take a listen to “To Call Home,” on bandcamp and buy it, because you love supporting local artists. She’s also scheduled a couple performances for Make Music Salem, June 21st.