Creative Voices Interview with Connie Mims

CONNIE MIMS PINKERTON began her career in Houston in the seventies with the Texas band WHEATFIELD which evolved into the band ST. ELMO’S FIRE. WHEATFIELD appeared in the first season of the PBS TV series Austin City Limits. After disbanding in 1979, Connie pursued a solo career as a performing songwriter and studio vocalist, appearing on numerous radio ads and in the classic Blue Bell Ice Cream TV commercial, “Texas Musicians”. Her comedic vocal impersonations of well-known recording artists were made popular on the nationally syndicated Q-Zoo in the Morning radio network. She has served on the Board of Governors for the Texas Chapter of The Recording Academy (GRAMMYS). She has facilitated songwriting workshops for The Recording Academy’s GRAMMY Career Day and for the Ozark Folk Center and the Kerrville Folk Festival. She was the founder and workshop coordinator for both the North Houston and East Texas Chapters of Nashville Songwriters Association International (NSAI). She continues to write, record and tour with Craig Calvert, Ezra Idlet and Keith Grimwood (Trout Fishing in America) as WHEATFIELD.

In addition to her songwriting and recording credits with WHEATFIELD, her discography includes two albums, “Go Deep”(2008), and “Gettin’ There” (2012). In 2009, she was awarded “Singer/Songwriter of the Year”, by the Academy of Texas Music, the first woman to receive the honor and in 2015, she was voted The Best Singer/Songwriter of Upper East Texas by a reader’s poll in County Line Magazine. A songwriter and publishing affiliate with BMI, Connie enjoys co-writing and producing various projects, as well as assisting others in their creative pursuits. She lives near Tyler, Texas, with her husband Jeff.

My conversation with Connie focuses on how to know when your song is finished. I hope you enjoy our chat.

Creative Voices: Interview with Dawn Kenney

Raised on the traditional country greats, Dawn Kenney has been making music since before she could walk. She weaves together her love of bluegrass, country, folk, and gospel music to create her own unique genre-defying sound.

In April 2015, Dawn and co-writers David Morris and Mitch Matthews took first prize at the esteemed Merlefest Chris Austin Song Contest Winner for their song, “Something About A Train”., and placed 2nd in the 2016 Annual Hazel Dickens Song Contest
with co-writers David Adkins and David Morris for their song, “Turn and Burn”.

In our interview together, we focus on the co-writing process. We hope you enjoy our conversation and give co-writing a try!

“My SongC.R.A.F.T.” Book Review

How wonderful to receive such a glowing review from a couple of awesome songwriters! Jim and Lynna Woolsey are making a huge name for themselves in the Bluegrass world, topping the charts and churning out expertly crafted songs and recordings, and stacking up accolades along the way. We’re grateful for the kind words about our book!

“I was so excited to read Nancy and Laura’s book SongC.R.A.F.T. Writing Songs in Your Authentic Voice. I just knew this was going to be a great read, not just because my husband and I are both songwriters, but because we have written with Nancy as a co-writer. This book says it all in such an incredible and authentic way. I loved how they used the word craft as an acronym for chapters in this book so you remember what it takes to be successful. Both Laura and Nancy have spelled out the secrets to successful songwriting or any creative venture. Even I came away with some things I had never thought of that truly are necessary for the creative process to occur, and I am an art teacher. This book is a must-have for any inspiring songwriter or even a visual artist. I for one took notes and intend to use these insightful tips that Nancy and Laura have given us as a guide to stop putting off your dreams, and start creating!”
Lynna Woolsey

Creative Voices: Interview with George Ensle

George Ensle is a Song-painter. Sometimes he paints landscapes with broad strokes, hilltop sunsets or tree-lined rivers. Sometimes he paints portraits describing characters like Uncle Jack, who is a young boy’s rough and rowdy hero, or like the elderly widow sitting by a window with the sun streaming in, pondering her life. Ensle song-paints with reverence and compassion mixed with a healthy dose of wit and wisdom.

George Ensle began his career in 1967 sharing stages with legends Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Billy Joe Shaver. He was inducted into the Houston Folk Music Archives in 2017 and has won numerous awards throughout his career. 

I had the chance to sit and chat with George at the 2018 SWRFA conference in Austin. Watch now as he tells us about his creative process, songwriting, and life.




Tom Smith – In The Space Between Your Words

Tom grew up in rural Pennsylvania in a family where music was part of the fabric of everyday life. As a young man living at the epicenter of the folk-quake that was Cambridge, MA in the 1960’s, Tom solidified what has become a life-long love of self-made music. Deeply rooted in the old-school folk tradition, his timeless stories are told with a voice that is honest and sincere with melodies that you will remember forever.

SongC.R.A.F.T.  is so pleased to share the song Tom wrote using the method in our book. “In The Space Between Your Words” is a poignant reflection of the relationship of a son and his father; one longing to hear caring words, the other unable to speak them.

Thank you, Tom Smith, for sharing this beautiful song with our readers and songwriters.


Creative Voices: Interview with Artist Brenda Freed

Brenda Freed has performed and worked in music-related professions all her life.  From age 6 through her college years she sang at every opportunity. She received a BA in Music Education/Music Therapy.  She taught K-12 music, then pioneered the music therapy program at the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics while earning her Master’s Degree.  Brenda has published articles and presented her music therapy techniques across the U.S. and in Germany.  All the while she performed in bands.  A 9000-mile bicycle tour led her to Texas in 1991 where she has been songwriting, performing and teaching since. Brenda has released 10 CDs and tours throughout the U.S., England, and Ireland.

Nancy had the opportunity to interview Brenda about her creative process at the 2018 SERFA Conference in Austin, TX.

Be Frederick.

I do a lot of thinking. Probably more than is really necessary. Having written my share of songs, and having heard some amazing writing by other songwriters, I’m always trying to be open to ideas and perspectives that I might not have had on first glance.  i’m like a human idea squirrel, seeing things, hearing phrases, having little epiphanies that I tuck away for later use. And while those things are in there, they’re stewing, some might say composting, waiting to be reborn as new ideas, in new ways.

I think a lot about why I write- is it all a big vanity project? Am I capable of having a new, independent thought? Is anyone? Does anyone really care about this? Will what I write make a dent in the social consciousness? Will I actually be able to touch someone’s life?  Would my efforts be better spent rolling up my sleeves and serving lunch at a soup kitchen? I think a lot about that one.

I am reminded of a great book I used to read to my kids, called “Frederick,” by Leo Lionni. The story is about a family of mice preparing for the winter. All are hard at work gathering and storing food, except for Frederick, who sits very still. He is disdained by the others, who ask him why he doesn’t work. He protests, and says things like  “I gather sun rays for the cold dark winter days,” “I gather colors, for winter is gray,” and “ I gather words, for winter is long, and we’ll run out of things to say.” And, sure enough, the long, cold winter takes its toll, all of the food eventually eaten, the mice dispirited. They turn to Frederick:

“ ‘Close your eyes,’ said Frederick, as he climbed on a big stone. ‘Now I send you the rays of the sun. Do you feel how their golden glow…’ And as Frederick spoke of the sun the four little mice began to feel warmer. Was it Frederick’s voice? Was it magic? …  And when he told them of the blue periwinkles, the red poppies in the yellow wheat, and the green leaves of the berry bush, they saw the colors as clearly as if they had been painted in their minds.”

It is easy to see how Frederick’s supplies are equal to those of the other mice, how his words sustain them just as surely and fully as the food they had eaten.              

     I like to think that our songs are food for sustenance of the soul,  drink for the parched spirit, rest for the weary mind. 

I tell my songwriting students, and myself, that songs are like snowflakes – no one is exactly the same as any other (sorry, George Harrison; you might have proved an exception).  No one else brings to writing the sum total of our experiences, viewpoint, choice of words or images.  My fondest hope is that one of my songs, drifting in the universe, will to someone, feel like the warm rays of the sun, or conjure up the beautiful colors of the springtime. I hope that one day, I will be Frederick. So may we all.


Change Your Sound Palette!!

Love Mumford and Sons? Joni Mitchell? Led Zeppelin? Patti Griffin? Have you tried to play their songs but just couldn’t quite make them sound quite right? Welcome to the world of alternate tunings. 

            Not all songs are written for, or played in, the standard E-A-D-G-B-E tuning.Alternate tunings open up a whole new world for guitarists willing to look beyond the standard tuning, offering the possibility of creating combinations of notes not previously available, or only available to those with enormous hands. There are tunings in whichonly one string’s tuning is changed, but others  which retune three, four or all of the strings to different pitches.

            A favorite “one-string” altered tuning is the “Drop D”, in which the low E string is tuned down one step to D. Since D is usually a 4-string chord, this drop-D tuning has the advantage of giving the D chord use of all of the string, and a resonant low bass note. BUT, any other chord in the song using the lowest string must then be played a whole step, or two frets higher. Some people like drop D because when you barre the bottom three strings you get a “power chord” that sounds good anywhere on the fret board. The easiest way to get to drop D tuning is to pluck the low E and the D string together and tune down the low E until it matches the D string’s pitch. 

            Another very popular tuning is the open G. Once tuned, the strings will produce a G chord without placing any fingers on the strings. For this tuning, you will leave the A-D and G strings unchanged, but tune the low E down to a D, the A up to a G, and the high E down to a D. This tuning makes it very easy to play any major chord progression just by barring the whole fret. The Rolling Stones favored this tuning- listen to the opening riff of “Start Me Up, ” or “Honky Tonk Women.”

            And, one of the most popular tunings I’ve come across is the Dsus4, more commonly known as “DADGAD”, for the order of the tuning of the strings: low E down to D, A stays the same, D stays the same, G stays the same, the B is tuned down one step to A, and the high E is tuned down one step to D.  Playing in this tuning can be a bit intimidating at first, but with just a little work, you can play some of the most beautiful major and haunting minor chord voicings.  Since the notes of the open strings played together form a Dsus4 chord, the best place to start is the key of D because you can play any of the open strings at pretty much anytime, which makes for some really nice “drone chord” voicings. While this tuning lends itself to, and may have originated in Celtic music, it has become a favorite of folk musicians.


Three Step Daily Creative Practice

I’d like to do morning pages every day, but I’ve never been that disciplined. Object writing is a fabulous practice, and I do this often, but not daily. I love stream-writing, but I have to be in a particular mood.

In the Artist’s Estate, (chapter three of our book), Laura and I talk about the inherent value of having some sort of daily habit to support our Creative Practice. Personally, I need something simple, but effective, and I’ve come to cherish this Three Step routine.

  • 1. First, look for inspiration everyday. Engage your senses, open your mind to experience a heightened awareness of your surroundings, and get ready for a sensory surge of ‘holy wow’! Go for a walk someplace new. Drive home on a different route – take a back road! Try something new on the menu. Taste the wind, hear the clouds, smell the colour red. The key is to go looking for it: the weird, the wonderful, the whimsical.
  • 2. Next, document your findings. Look for unique and distinguishing features in your observations and note why that particular ‘thing’ struck a chord with you. Documentation helps us to remember the emotion of the moment so it can be savored again and again. Write or sketch in your journal. Take a photo. Make a voice recording. Scribble on the back of a napkin. Get the idea?
  • 3. Last but not least, share your experience in a meaningful way. Post a photo on social media, have a conversation with your family around the dinner table, send snail mail to someone who will appreciate your musings, just don’t let it lay dormant and forgotten. When we share our inspiration, we offer meaningful connection and invite people to tune into their own aspirations as well. It’s a win-win.

Cultivating a daily creative practice helps us massage all aspects of our creative being. We’d love to hear about your findings, so please do share with us. Also, use #mycreativeheart on social media.