Song and a stage
Vonda Shepard brings blue-eyed soul to Thousand Oaks
By Kelly McCartney 07/10/2014
Dating back to her late teens, singer-songwriter Vonda Shepard has enjoyed an incredibly varied and lengthy career. She’s been a backup singer for Rickie Lee Jones, Al Jarreau, Jackson Browne and others; an adult contemporary chart-maker with songs of her own, as well as the classic “Can’t We Try” duet with Dan Hill; a musical alter ego for the lead character on FOX TV’s Ally McBeal; and, most recently, a stage performer as part of Randy Newman’s Faust: The Concert.
Out of all those good times, Shepard is hard-pressed to pick a favorite. When she does, though, it’s a memory that relates to her core: songwriting. “One highlight was the day I finished the song ‘Maryland.’ I knew it was finally done on this particular day, after three years of working on it practically every day.” That tune is the heart of 1996’s It’s Good, Eve, an album that continues to be a fan favorite, as well as the musical reason she got looped into Ally McBeal by the show’s creator, David E. Kelley.
Staying true to character, Shepard brings it all back, once again, to songwriting when explaining what makes that record so special. “The time of writing It’s Good, Eve was such a focused, distilled time in my life,” she recalls. “I had no children; I had no record deal anymore, no manager, just a tremendous amount of emotion that I would laser-focus into songs over the course of a few years. The luxury of time and pain through the alchemy of hard work helped me to produce one of my favorite of my own albums.”
But songwriting is only one of the wings that makes a musical bird fly, with performing as the other. Luckily enough, Shepard is equally passionate about both. She grew up as “an extremely shy child” and performing provided an appropriate place to let herself explore other ways of being. “I realized at a certain point in my life that I had this soulful core, and when I was courageous enough to hop up onto a stage, this ‘soul mama’ voice would come flying out,” she says. “Sharing that gift, as well as the actual songs I had spent so much time writing, and seeing the reactions of the fans really made me feel that I had something to offer — not only to them, but to myself.”
Though Shepard plays only sporadically around the U.S., she treks across the pond at least once a year. Trying to describe what it is about European audiences that keeps her going back, Shepard notes, “They seem to have a vast amount of patience and devotion to artists they love. I often can feel a genuine love and warmth pouring out of them. This isn’t to say that I don’t have this experience, at times, in the States . . .. It really depends on the city here in America.”
So what can Southern California fans expect when she hits Thousand Oaks Library on July 12? Pulling songs from across her catalog, along with some Ally McBeal favorites, Shepard will be accompanied by guitarist James Ralston and bassist Jim Hanson, who have played with Tina Turner and Johnny Cash, respectively. Shepard enthuses, “James and Jim both are incredible singers, so we create a very full sound, vocally. The show will have some acoustic tunes as well as some high-octane soul slammers!”
There might even be a new song or two, as Shepard is presently writing songs for her next record: “These songs will be really fun to play live. I kind of geared some of the writing to fill some gaps I felt I had in the performance. For example, instead of doing a cover tune to have a super-up-tempo dance/funk tune, I decided to write my own.”
Vonda Shepard performs at Thousand Oaks Library on July 12 at 8 p.m. 1401 E. Janss Road, Thousand Oaks. For tickets and information, visit http://liveatthelibrary.org.