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Although Carolyn Hester's talent was tenuous, she was an important if marginal figure of the early-'60s folk revival, singing traditional material with a high voice in the manner of Joan Baez and Judy Collins (though with less command). She is also remembered for brief her musical associations with Bob Dylan, Buddy Holly, and Richard Fariña, as well as having her early albums produced by music legends Norman Petty (who had produced Holly), Tom Clancy, John Hammond, and John Simon. Some of her early- and mid-'60s work points, if only ever so slightly, in directions that would lead to folk-rock. Hester herself was unable to make it as a folk-rocker despite a brief try, and unpredictably went into psychedelic music for a couple of albums before largely drifting out of the business in the '70s and '80s. In the '80s, she was a mentor for budding talent Nanci Griffith (whose vocals have been compared to Hester's), and appeared on Griffith's Other Voices, Other Rooms album.
Born in Texas, Hester moved to New York in 1955 to get into music and acting. However, she would first record for Norman Petty at his studios in Clovis, New Mexico, not far from Lubbock, Texas, where her parents were living in the late '50s. Her first album, Scarlet Ribbons, was produced by Petty in 1957, and found release on Coral Records. In 1958, she did an unissued session in Clovis with Holly, Jerry Allison of the Crickets, and George Atwood that would be fascinating to hear if it ever emerges, as it was rare for folk and rock musicians of the period to collaborate. She was a friend of Holly's as well, although his influence on her subsequent music is not too audible, other than on her multiple versions of his "Lonesome Tears." In 1960, she made her second album, Carolyn Hester, for Tradition, the label run by the Clancy Brothers. This cast her very much in the thick of the folk revival, including her standards of the movement "The House of the Rising Sun" and "She Moves Through the Fair," sung in her high, almost shaky and girlish voice. In the early '60s, she was briefly married to author and folk singer/songwriter Richard Fariña, who became friendly with Bob Dylan shortly after Dylan's arrival in New York. While recording her third album (also, confusingly, titled Carolyn Hester) for Columbia and producer John Hammond in September 1961, she invited Dylan, then almost unknown, to play harmonica on a few cuts. His work on the album helped bring him to the attention of Hammond, who signed Dylan to Columbia as a solo artist shortly afterwards.
While other performers of the early-'60s folk revival made great strides forward in sales and influence -- including Dylan, Baez, and Collins -- Hester remained relatively obscure. She turned down a chance to form a folk trio with Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey, offered by manager Albert Grossman; that position went to Mary Travers, and the trio found stardom as Peter, Paul & Mary. In hindsight, her two Columbia albums may have opened ears up to the possibilities of folk musicians recording with bands, as they included contributions by Bill Lee on bass, future Dylan sideman Bruce Langhorne on guitar, and even light drums on a cover of Buddy Holly's "Lonesome Tears" (not released until 1995). However, in sticking exclusively to traditional material, rather than covering songs by contemporary writers or writing anything herself, Hester was falling behind the folk curve.
After her second album, Hester moved to Dot, and began recording again with Petty in Clovis. These 1964-1965 recordings, with a band including George Tomsco of the Fireballs on guitar, inched a little toward folk-rock without actually getting there, and also included some covers of material by then-current folk singer/songwriters like Tom Paxton and Mark Spoelstra. Through his friend Hester, another Petty recording artist, Jimmy Gilmer (who recorded with the Fireballs and had a number one hit in 1963 with "Sugar Shack"), met Paxton and was influenced to record some of his songs on his 1965 Folkbeat album. (The Fireballs got their last big hit with a cover of Paxton's "Bottle of Wine" in 1968.) However, the Tex-Mex folk-rock sound, as produced by Norman Petty and performed by Gilmer, the Fireballs, and Carolyn Hester, never did make a substantial impact.
In 1966, Hester was re-signed to Columbia by John Hammond. Although she made a good number of recordings there with producer John Simon (known for his work with the Band, Big Brother & the Holding Company, and others), only two singles were released. One of these, "Early Morning, " was a fairly good commercial piece of pop-folk-rock, but Hester didn't seem terribly well-suited to electric music. Other Columbia recordings, most of which were not released until 1995 on the Dear Companion anthology, show her casting about for direction, running through material by Tim Hardin, Jackson Frank, and Cat Stevens, taking a stab at the Beatles' "Penny Lane" and even doing an odd cover of Ravi Shankar's "Majhires" that verged on psychedelic music.
In the late '60s, Hester made the unexpected move to psychedelic music as part of the Carolyn Hester Coalition, who recorded a couple of little-known albums for Metromedia. These were erratic but not half-bad, interspersing updates of traditional material like "East Virginia" and Ed McCurdy's "Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream" with moody and fuzzy folk-rockers. Hester also did some recording for Decca, RCA, and Capitol, and formed the Outpost label with her husband, jazz pianist/producer/songwriter David Blume. With Blume, she ran an ethnic dance club in Los Angeles, and she continues to record and tour occasionally. She was seen duetting with Nanci Griffith on Bob Dylan's "Boots of Spanish Leather" on a nationally broadcast tribute to Dylan at Madison Square Garden in the '90s. Hester continued to be musically active into the new century and released We Dream Forever in 2009 -- the U.S. release appearing a year later -- an intimate album that featured her daughters Karla and Amy Blume co-producing, writing, and performing with their mother.
Carolyn Hester (born January 28, 1937 in Waco, Texas) is an American folk singer and songwriter. She was a figure in the early 1960s folk music revival.
Carolyn Hester's first album was produced by Norman Petty in 1957. In 1960, she made her second album for the Tradition Records label run by the Clancy Brothers. She became known for "The House of the Rising Sun" and "She Moved Through the Fair".
Hester was one of many young Greenwich Village singers who rode the crest of the 1960s folk music wave. She appeared on the cover of the May 30, 1964 issue of the Saturday Evening Post. According to Don Heckman of the Los Angeles Times, Hester was "one of the originals—one of the small but determined gang of ragtag, early-'60s folk singers who cruised the coffee shops and campuses, from Harvard Yard to Bleecker Street, convinced that their music could help change the world." Hester was dubbed "The Texas Songbird," and was politically active, spearheading the controversial boycott of the television program, Hootenanny, when Pete Seeger was blacklisted from it.
After failing to convince Joan Baez to sign with Columbia Records, John H. Hammond signed Hester in 1960. That same year Hester met Richard Fariña and they married eighteen days later. They separated after less than two years.
In 1961, Hester met Bob Dylan and Hester invited him to play on her third album, her first on the Columbia label. Her producer, John H. Hammond, quickly signed Dylan to the label.
Hester remained relatively obscure throughout the folk music revival. She turned down the opportunity to join a folk trio with Peter Yarrow and Paul Stookey. With Mary Travers the trio found stardom as, Peter, Paul, & Mary. Although Hester collaborated with Bill Lee and Bruce Langhorne, she concentrated exclusively on traditional material. In the late 1960s, unable to succeed as a folk-rock artist, she explored psychedelic music as part of the "Carolyn Hester Coalition" before drifting out of the music industry of the period.
Hester has disputed David Hajdu's depiction of her marriage to Fariña in his book Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña, and Richard Fariña,. She also identified supposed exaggerations in his description of the relationships among Dylan, Baez, Hester, and the Fariñas. Hester denies that Fariña was so close to Dylan, as some rock historians claim, and strongly disputes that Fariña was in any way responsible for Dylan’s success, as Hajdu insinuated. Hajdu also suggested that Hester had an ongoing rivalry with Baez and her sister Mimi. To this day, Hester maintains that to the contrary, she did not and does not know Baez well, and that they never were rivals, personally or professionally.
In 1969, Hester married the jazz pianist-producer-songwriter, David Blume, the composer of The Cyrkle's 1966 Top 40 hit "Turn Down Day." Together they formed the "Outpost" label. They also started an ethnic dance club in Los Angeles.
In the 1980s she returned to recording and touring. She and Nancy Griffith performed Bob Dylan's, "Boots of Spanish Leather", at Dylan's Thirtieth Anniversary Tribute Concert at Madison Square Garden in 1992.
In 1997, Hester toured Germany for the first time. Her tour manager was Dirk Stursberg of M&K Management. As a friend, she visited his home and bought a Teddy from his wife's company, the "Teddy Atelier Stursberg". A year later, Hester played in a festival in Denmark.
In 1999, Hester released a Tom Paxton tribute album. She appeared on the A&E Biography of Bob Dylan in August 2000.
Blume died in the spring of 2006. Hester closed the dance club, Cafe Danssa, a year after her husband's death.
She continues to perform and tour with her daughters, Amy Blume and Karla Blume. They Recorded her latest album, which was released in 2010, "We Dream Forever."