Some of the greatest pop music to emerge from the Western World has been a result of great friendships: Lennon and McCartney, Richards and Jagger, Elton John and Bernie Taupin.
Great friendships give us wings, they make us feel confident and loved — they can even save us from ourselves (see: John and Taupin).
Cris Williamson, Teresa Trull and Barbara Higbie have been making music together in some capacity for 40 years. Each a multi-talented artist in her own right, together they create something beyond beguiling. With powerful voices and endless charm, they effortlessly blend their love for gospel, folk, country, rock and even New Age sounds at “reunion” tours that bring these longtime friends together every couple of years.
“It’s an amazing chemistry, definitely something bigger than the three of us,” Higbie — a violinist, pianist, mandolinist, drummer and singer — explains. “For some reason, the sound of our three voices singing together makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up — every single time… and I’m not the only one. There is a resonance among our three voices that is simply a gift. The fact that Cris and Teresa are two of the best singers on the planet is a big part of that. But still, it is greater than the sum of the parts and is something we all feel. Years of close friendship, creating, performing and backing each other up through thick and thin certainly help, too. Then there’s the wonderful fact that at this point we’ve all forgotten about ego or careerism and just want to serve the music and the community.”
It’s hard to imagine these three ever battled with overactive egos. They met in the mid-’70s soon after Williamson co-founded Olivia Records, a women-run label focused on developing women musicians. But Olivia was even more radical than that: The seven women who founded the label were lesbian feminists, and they were determined to create a space in the world for their voices.
“I cannot abide competition in art,” Williamson says. “Oh no, you’ve got to let go of one or the other, and for me, I hold the hand of art, right to the heart. I don’t compete with it. I never have had to, you just step up to it, you know? And [Higbie and Trull are] that way too.”
Williamson was born in North Dakota and raised between Colorado and Wyoming as her father moved between assignments as a forest ranger. The four-person family lived mostly without electricity, but not without culture.
“We lived way out in eastern Colorado, out in a place called Briggsdale, a town of a hundred people,” Williamson says. “I was 5 or 6 when I took my first piano lesson, and my mom would drive me once a week out to Ms. West’s ranch for an hour after school because she had a piano in her house and that was a big expense. As my father said: We were poor but poverty stricken. We had no money for [piano lessons], but Mother said, ‘Oh no, no matter how far out in the mountains or the wilderness we are, my kids are going to have culture.’”
Trull likewise grew up financially poor but culturally rich in eastern North Carolina, where she was steeped in the sounds of blues, gospel and rhythm and blues from an early age. She left home at 16 after her mother died, and cut her teeth playing guitar and singing in rock bands before being accepted to Duke University on a full scholarship to study chemistry. Dismayed by what she saw as unethical practices in the labs, she left Duke after about a month to tour with Ed’s Bush Band. Today, Trull lives in New Zealand where she trains horses.
“She’s a survivor, never about money,” Williamson says of Trull. “It’s not why she’s on this earth. She’s here to help us all move forward of our own volition. You know, she was my producer on a couple of albums when I needed exactly a horse trainer. She says the job of the horse trainer is to get the horse to move forward of its own volition.”
Higbie’s life was a bit different. The child of two Peace Corps members, Higbie and her family moved to Ghana, West Africa when she was 13. She studied drumming with ethnomusicologist Mustapha Tetty Addy while there, and later studied music at Mills College and the Sorbonne.
Raised in different ways in different circumstances, these three women are bound by their devotion to peace, love and equality, just as they have been for the past 40 years.
“Each of us, Barb and Teresa and I, are all teachers in that way,” Williamson says. “We stay put and we do our very best to talk about the things that matter in the world so that when you leave, you’re fuller than when you came in.”
ON THE BILL: Cris Williamson, Barbara Higbie and Teresa Trull. 7:30 p.m. Saturday May 31, Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder. Tickets are $40/$55 VIP (includes meet-and-greet at 6:30pm), thedairy.org