Seeing as how she’s always owned the masters to every album she’s ever made, Terri Hendrix could have easily just marked the 20th anniversary of her recording career with a nicely packaged, special edition reissue of her debut album, 1996’s “Two Dollar Shoes.” After all, it’s been a while since she last had it in print, and given that it’s the one album in her expansive catalog that’s never been on any major download or streaming service outside of her own website, a good many of the fans she’s picked up in the years since its original release would likely be hearing it for the first time. Toss in some bonus tracks, new liner notes, and maybe a handful of special, career-spanning anniversary shows (in throwback overalls, naturally), and voila: a perfectly fitting way for a pioneering independent songwriter to celebrate two decades of owning her own universe with friends and fans old and new alike.
Only Terri didn’t do any of that. Instead of looking back, she kicked off 2016 with the brand new “Love You Strong,” her 15th release on her own Wilory Records label — and then got immediately back to work on three more new albums (“The Slaughterhouse Sessions,” “Who Is Ann?” and “Talk to a Human”), all of which she plans to release throughout 2016 to summer 2017 — along with a new book. She calls the thematically linked collection “Project 5,” and as crazy as the whole plan might sound to some, anyone who really knows this artist shouldn’t be surprised at all. That’s because Terri has never done “conventional,” and from Day One of her career, the only direction she’s ever known is forward. Not necessarily straight-ahead, shortest-way from here-to-there forward — her natural wiring, curiosity, and freewheeling creative spirit have always made her more of a zig-zagger and round-abouter — but ever forward just the same.
When three different labels turned down that first record of hers 20 years ago, the Texas trailblazer forged ahead by self-releasing it on her own. This was still long before the practice of artists putting records out on their own labels became an accepted industry-wide trend, but Terri’s little DIY experiment did so well for her that by the time she was ready to release her second album, 1998’s “Wilory Farm,” she was going-her-own-way not by necessity but by proud — and profitable — choice. Two decades on, all three of those labels that turned her down are long out of business. But Terri Hendrix and her San Marcos, Texas-based Wilory Records are still going strong. As music legend Al Kooper once noted in a glowing review of her 2010 song “Slow Down,” “Terri is truly a self-made woman … She makes me jealous.”
But Hendrix certainly hasn’t built her career on DIY business smarts — or even go-for-broke “can she really pull this off?” gambits like “Project 5” — alone. She’s an award-winning singer-songwriter, classically trained vocalist, and deft multi-instrumentalist (guitar, mandolin, and harmonica) who routinely holds her own both onstage and in the studio alongside some of the best musicians in Texas — including Austin City Limits Hall of Fame guitarist/pedal steel player Lloyd Maines. On top of that, she’s also an in-demand music workshop teacher (everywhere from her annual “Life’s a Song” retreat in Port Aransas, Texas, to festivals across the country and even the Berklee School of Music); the author of a book combining essays and a soup-to-nuts independent artist how-to-guide called “Cry Till You Laugh — The Part that Ain’t Art” (described by the Austin American Statesman as “equal parts spiritual and practical, honest, funny, useful, revelatory and moving”); and, most recently, the founder of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit community arts center project called the OYOU — which stands, of course, for “Own Your Own Universe.”
Above and beyond all, though, the secret of Hendrix’s success comes down to her unfailingly warm and sincere connection with her grassroots fanbase. Many of those fans have been with her since her original, pre-email mailing list, and they’ve followed her music faithfully from the winsome, youthful playfulness of “Two Dollar Shoes” and “Wilory Farm” through to the eclectic folk-pop sweep of 2000’s “Places in Between,” the strikingly assertive one-two punch of 2002’s “The Ring” and 2004’s “The Art of Removing Wallpaper,” 2007’s open-hearted “The Spiritual Kind” and the starkly confessional lyrical and musical maturity of 2010’s “Cry Till You Laugh” and this year’s “Love You Strong.”
No two of those records have ever sounded alike, let alone quite like anything else on the Texas or national folk/Americana scene, but the fact that everyone of them sold enough copies through pre-orders alone to cover their recording costs underscores the degree of mutual trust between Hendrix and her fans. The fans have always trusted her to make great music from the heart worth supporting and believing in, and that trust has allowed Hendrix, in turn, the freedom to follow her creative muse wherever it leads her without fear of losing her following by coloring outside the lines. It also gave her the courage to publically address her ongoing struggle with the serious seizure disorder that in recent years has led her to scale back of her once relentlessly busy national touring schedule and redirect her focus on building the OYOU to serve her beloved San Marcos.
The OYOU may be new, but it’s a dream that Hendrix has been working on for nearly a decade. And while still seeking land in Hays County, Texas on which to build the OYOU’s home — an all ages, handicapped-accessible, multi-purpose arts center — Hendrix is already taking a “get-it-done” approach to putting that dream into action via performances, instrument donations, workshops and other special events throughout Texas and beyond. One of her chief goals for the OYOU is to promote the healing and therapeutic qualities of art and music, which she can attest to firsthand as a successful performing songwriter who has lived with epilepsy for most of her life.
Of course, managing an independent music career while coping with a seizure disorder has never been “easy” for Hendrix. But she’s never wallowed in misery. While unafraid to face hard truths head on, she’s always maintained a positive “live with passion” outlook on both life and art, spinning sorrow into joy and wringing wisdom from the blues with the poetic grace, engaging warmth and uplifting melodic flair that is as much of a Terri trademark as the way she’s always dodged genre pigeonholes by weaving folk, pop, country, blues and swinging jazz into an eclectic style all her own. Add to that her charismatic stage presence and reputation for delivering an energetic and feel-good live show, and it’s no wonder why the “Terri Hendrix experience” has been embraced by three generations of loyal fans across the country and around the globe. Be it solo, as a duo with her Maines or fronting a full band, she’s entertained crowds everywhere from intimate listening rooms such as Chicago’s Old Town School of Folk Music and Austin’s Cactus Cafe to huge outdoor events like the Austin City Limits Music Festival and the Newport, Philadelphia and Kerrville Folk Festivals.
Hendrix’s love of music and writing can be traced all the way back to early childhood in her native San Antonio (and Panama, where her sergeant major father was stationed during her first few years of grade school). “When I was a kid, I often found escape in books and writing short stories,” says Hendrix. “I wrote so often, that my Mom said she could find me by following my ‘paper trail.’ Then I stole my sister’s guitar, and once I began to write songs, the paper trail grew longer.”
She sang in choir all through high school, earning a scholarship to study voice at Hardin Simmons University in Abilene, Texas. In another universe, she might have been an opera singer; but her future in classical music was not to be. “Instead of taking notes, I wrote lyrics all over my music theory notebooks,” she explains. She eventually transferred to Southwest Texas State in San Marcos, the hippie-friendly college town halfway between San Antonio and Austin that she still calls home. But she wasn’t long for school there, either; instead, she found the most important mentor of her life in classical musician, teacher and organic farmer Marion Williamson. In exchange for farmhand duties (including milking goats, which explains the mascot Hendrix later adopted for her label), Williamson taught her not only the finer points of Mississippi John Hurt-style guitar picking, but how to book gigs and set up her own PA system. Williamson’s sudden death, which came shortly after the release of “Two Dollar Shoes,” was devastating to the young songwriter; but the invaluable education she received from her friend continues to guide her through both her life and career.
Soon after Williamson’s passing, Hendrix began working with producer/guitarist Maines (Joe Ely Band, Terry Allen, Robert Earl Keen, Dixie Chicks). Their first record together, “Wilory Farm,” sparked significant airplay and tour dates well outside of Texas, and Hendrix’s career has moved from strength to strength ever since, with subsequent albums like “Places in Between,” “The Ring,” “The Art of Removing Wallpaper” and “The Spiritual Kind” receiving critical raves from such publications as Texas Monthly, the Boston Herald, Washington Post, Billboard, Harp, Texas Music Magazine, and Mojo. She’s also released four live albums, a popular kids album, “Celebrate the Difference” (which featured the satellite radio hit “Nerves”), a Christmas EP, and a decade-spanning collection of previously unreleased studio recordings, “Left Over Alls.” Hendrix’s 2010 album, “Cry Till You Laugh” (released in tandem with her aforementioned first book), garnered some of the best reviews of her career, with England’s Maverick calling it “a 100% Terri Hendrix tour de force” and the San Antonio Express-News nailing the essence of Terri to a “T” by noting that “part of the beauty of Terri Hendrix’s music is she’s among the best at recognizing, writing about and celebrating resilience and common ground, the things we can all cry, and laugh, about.”
Throughout her career, Hendrix has won several regional music awards in San Antonio and Austin (including “Best Singer-Songwriter,” “Best Folk Act,” and “Best New Band”). She also co-wrote a Grammy-winning instrumental (“Lil’ Jack Slade”) on the Dixie Chicks’ multi-platinum “Home” album, and recorded a cover of “The Dark” for the Grammy nominated “This One’s for Him: A Tribute to Guy Clark” (which won the Americana Music Association’s “Album of the Year” award). She has her own star on the South Texas Music Walk of Fame in Corpus Christi, alongside such Lone Star luminaries as Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson and Doug Sahm, and has been honored with both an Outstanding Alumni Award from Hardin-Simmons University and the Art of Peace Award from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, the later for “creating art in the service of peace, justice and human understanding.” Most recently, she was inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame in San Marcos, Texas, in recognition of her contributions to the arts and humanities and her community.
Now well into the third decade of her career as a performing artist, Hendrix is busier — and more creatively and spiritually charged — than ever before. “Project 5” is the proof. Although each separate component of the sweeping, yearlong endeavor is distinct, they’re all thematically linked by their relationship to the concepts of love, hope, and faith. The first album, “Love You Strong,” is an unfiltered portrait of a real woman taking a long, hard look at herself, her loved ones and relationships, and the world she lives in — and just like life itself, it’s not always pretty. But ultimately, the album’s message — as driven home in songs like the title track, “The Texas Star,” “Fifty Shades of Hey,” “Found” and especially “Earth-Kind Rose” — is one of inner strength and resilience. Ditto the heart and soul of this summer’s “The Slaughterhouse Sessions,” an acoustic blues and gospel records which tackles such uncomfortable subject matter as war, poverty and racism, and the two releases still to come after that: an EP of lyrically-driven electronica called “Who Is Ann?” and an eclectic, genre-blending songwriter set called “Talk to a Human.” Last but not least in the Project 5 collection will be Hendrix’s second book, offering a deeply personal account of her lifelong battle with epilepsy and the path she’s braved to wellness.
Tellingly, her intent with the book is not to celebrate her own journey, but rather to hopefully help others struggling with similar health issues learn from her own mistakes and breakthroughs. It’s the same “bigger picture” sense of purpose that has long inspired not only her songwriting and life-affirming performances, but her ongoing commitment and vision for the OYOU.
“I’ve worked a lot on my music and on becoming the kind of writer I really want to be over the last four years, and I feel like I’ve really found my voice as a woman right on the threshold of middle age — a woman with something to say and the experience to back it up,” says Hendrix. “I feel proud of all the music I’ve done to date, but my job is to keep reaching for a new level of artistic integrity — and to do all I can to not only make a positive difference while I’m here on this earth, but to build something that will hopefully continue to make a difference long after I’m gone.”
Terri Hendrix is a pioneering independent Texas songwriter who spins sorrow into joy and wrings wisdom from the blues with a poetic grace and engaging melodic flair that has endeared her to three generations of loyal fans around the globe. A classically trained vocalist and accomplished multi-instrumentalist (guitar, mandolin, and harmonica) recognized by “Acoustic Guitar” Magazine as one of Texas’ 20 “essential” singer-songwriters, she is also one of its most prolific: counting the four brand new albums she aims to release in 2016 alone, Hendrix has averaged nearly an album a year going all the way back to her 1996 debut, “Two Dollar Shoes.” Every one of those albums has been released on her own Wilory Record label, making her one of the few artists who has proudly owned everyone of her master recordings from day one. That autonomy has allowed her the freedom to dodge musical pigeonholes her entire career by weaving folk, pop, country, blues and swinging jazz into an eclectic style all her own — a playful mix that makes for a highly energetic and spiritually uplifting live show in any setting, from intimate listening rooms and theaters to outdoor festivals. Along the way, she’s also co-written a Grammy-winning instrumental (the Dixie Chicks’ “Lil’ Jack Slade”), and garnered such honors as a star on the South Texas Music Walk of Fame, the Art of Peace Award by Saint Mary’s University in San Antonio, the Distinguished Alumni Award at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, and a 2015 induction into the Women’s Hall of Fame in San Marcos, Texas. Now well into her third decade as a performing artist, Hendrix is spending all of 2016 running a “sonic marathon” she calls “Project 5”: four thematically-linked new albums and a book. The first album, an intimate folk record called “Love You Strong,” was released in February. On October 7th, “The Slaughterhouse Sessions” (acoustic gospel blues), and by summer 2017, “Who Is Ann?” (electronica), and “Talk to a Human” (an eclectic singer-songwriter collection tying everything together). Last but not least will be her second book, a deeply personal account of her lifelong battle with epilepsy and the path she’s braved to wellness. In addition to all of this (and teaching workshops, like her annual “Life’s a Song” retreat in the fall), Hendrix is also hard at work building a nonprofit creative center for the arts serving the greater San Marcos area and beyond. It’s called the OYOU, an acronym for “Own Your Own Universe” — words that this free-spirited, self-made woman has lived and thrived by her entire adult life.