Carolyn Wonderland can’t avoid Janis Joplin comparison

Carolyn Wonderland
Carolyn Wonderland, who rocked the High Sierra Music in 2013, will be in Squaw Valley this summer for Bluesdays.
Tahoe Onstage image by Tim Parsons

So Carolyn Wonderland, Lucinda Williams and Susan Tedeschi walk into a bar. … Have you heard this one?

It was at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when the three hard-rocking women gathered to honor Janis Joplin. Each decided to play one of Joplin’s songs, something Wonderland had always declined to do.

“My whole life, people have asked me to do her songs,” Wonderland said. “I think every girl from Texas who sings is gonna have that. Sam Andrew (from Joplin’s band Big Brother and the Holding Company) told me, if you write your own songs, don’t do any Janis songs or no one will hear the stuff you write. So my whole life I’d never done any except for biker funerals and stuff of this nature.”

When Wonderland finally said yes, she chose “What Good Can Drinkin’ Do,” from Joplin’s little-known 1964 blues album, “The Typewriter Tape.” Like every song she does, Wonderland’s rendition was soulful and intense. She would have been compared to Joplin even if she weren’t from Texas.

Specifically, Wonderland is from Houston, where she lived across the street from Uncle John Turner, who taught her drums, snuck into a bar at age 15 and jammed with Townes Van Zandt, and chauffeured an unappreciative Gatemouth Brown, who tore up Wonderland’s perfectly rolled joints and packed them into his pipe.

As an adult, Wonderland landed in Austin.

“It’s the land of free guitar lessons, a great place to live,” Wonderland said. “A lot of cities where you’d have this many musicians, you would find it to be a far more competitive scene. Not so here. Everybody’s in everybody’s band. And if they’re not playing, they are at each other’s shows cheering each other on. It’s an unusual little bubble we live in.”

Wonderland has a large following in the Lake Tahoe area, and she gives credit to sound engineer Blake Beeman.

“We were so early into our tour thing and I was self-road managing at the time, to varying degrees of success,” she said. “(Blake) saw that and some people will see that and say, ‘Oh, easy target.’ But he was very helpful. He showed us how to build an audience out there.

“You can tell when people care, and the bands will always come back, too. It’s not the money. It’s the respect and the appreciation from someone who is genuine. You don’t get that everywhere.”

When Beeman was ailing in 2014, Wonderland flew to Tahoe to play in a benefit event at the Crystal Bay Casino to raise money to pay for medical expenses.

On Tuesday at Bluesdays at Squaw Valley, Wonderland will make her second Tahoe appearance since Beeman has passed in the Summer of 2014.

Wonderland plays in a trio with her longtime bandmates Cole El-Sale on keyboards and Rob Hooper on drums. Wonderland plays guitar, mandolin, lap steel guitar and trumpet. She recently released a live album, “Live Texas Trio.”

Editor’s note: Quotes from this story are from the author’s previous interviews with Wonderland.

Related story: Another blissful Blake Beeman gig. LINK

  • Bluesdays 2016
    6 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesdays in the Village at Squaw Valley, free
    June 28 – Carolyn Wonderland
    July 5 – Chris Cain
    July 12 – Shawn Holt & the Teardrops
    July 19 – J.C. Smith Band
    July 26 – Dennis Jones Band
    August 2 – David Jacobs Strain
    August 9 -Lloyd Jones
    August 16 – Joe Louis Walker
    August 23 -James Armstrong
    August 30 – Mark Hummel Band ft. Little Charlie Baty, & Anson Funderburgh
    September 6 – Kenny Neal

ABOUT Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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