by Ali Kaufman
Christine Ohlman – Photo by Super 9
No matter how much the January temperatures drop, the river of American song will never freeze over; certainly not with the likes of Miss Christine Ohlman flowing down that stream. From her homes in Connecticut and New York, her music winds its way to Muscles Shoals, New Orleans, Nashville, and with an ever widening tributary to Memphis. The Bee Hive Queen has been expanding her reach, perhaps now more than ever. The very successful release of her 2010 album, The Deep End, brought with it new opportunities and made her busy schedule even more so.
Last March Christine skipped across the pond for the Sessions Panel in Germany and Paris to be part of a group whose mission is to enrich, educate, and empower. No stranger to putting herself out there for a good cause, there are a few in particular that have become a part of her life. The Institute for the Musical Arts, or IMA, in Goshen Massachusetts is headed up by Ann Hackler and June Millington. Millington, who was the lead in the band Fanny, the first all girl group to be signed to a major label, knows a thing or two about strong women. With Bonnie Raitt on the Board of Directors and Christine also serving, as well as her hands-on involvement doing a workshop called Foremothers, this yearly camp has become a way to inspire a new generation of musicians.
Second, nationally known Little Kids Rock, is the name of a foundation based out of New York that holds a star studded gala each year raising millions while transforming lives by making sure hundreds of thousands of public school children have musical opportunities to help unlock their true potential. Christine has been with Little Kids Rock since the first event was held at B.B. King’s in 2009 to honor the late saxophonist, musician, and actor, Clarence Clemons. That first event raised $160,000; this year they raised $1.3 million.
Third is the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic which strives to support the great need for medical care regardless of the musician’s insurance status or ability to pay. These are all causes that are near and very dear to Christine’s heart, and she continues to lend her time and star power to help keep the donations flowing in.
Along with so many worthy entities that this Connecticut legend champions, bringing a hip shaking good time to the masses ranks right up at the top of her To Do list. A joyful time worth noting was the River of Love event that took place at the Trinity Church in New Haven last year. Flanked by the Boys and Girls Church Choir that evening, it was obvious how incredibly moved and emotionally uplifted she was. “In particular, singing The Deep End was extraordinary, very poignant indeed,” Christine shared with a delighted chuckle.
If there is a downside to being so in demand, it may be that the bookings take her away from the recording process for the highly anticipated new album, The Grown Up Thing. Do not despair fans of the hive, this is coming! The new year will bring a ramped up effort through Pledgemusic.com as the process continues to advance. You can’t rush perfection; and Christine is nothing if not a perfectionist, both on and off stage. We get a taste of the sweetness headed our way with some of the forthcoming songs being played by Ohlman and her band, Rebel Montez at their current shows. One song in particular is Burning Sugar, inspired by an article in the New Yorker about women who fight fires in the Bayou. The sugar Christine sings about morphed into a metaphor for love and has a decidedly Cajun groove. I was granted permission to share that Paul Thorn and members of the Subdudes will guest on the album, among others that she is keeping under wraps until the new record hits. I for one can’t wait!
As prolific as Miss Christine is, songwriting is still a magical mystery for her and a gift for which she is abundantly grateful. Some songs will literally percolate for years before they are ready to pour out, ah…but when they do, they are good to the last note! Another thing Ohlman is intensely grateful for are the strong friendships that have stood the test of time, especially in the music business. Big Al, aka Alan Anderson is like Christine’s musical big brother, going back to the days before NRBQ when his band was the Wild Weeds and Christine’s baby garage band. The Wrongh Black Bag used to open for them in teen clubs! Wrong is meant to be spelled with the H on the end; they thought it was adorable as teens, and it certainly set them apart! Not only are Christine and Al still fast friends but you can usually find her guesting at the gigs he has been playing here in the Northeast. G.E. Smith is another incredible musician Christine mentioned and counts as one of her closest friends, as they have come full circle and find themselves on a level playing field.
I could not wrap up our conversation without a nod to her longtime standing as vocalist for the Saturday Night Live Band. 2017 brought with it a slew of Emmy nominations and wins! She shared that the magnitude of the recognition caught them by surprise; and that “no matter what side of the aisle you are on, SNL has become a sounding board for the country.” Christine is proud to be associated with a show that is truly part of the fabric of America’s pop culture.
As we head into the new year I asked if Miss Ohlman had any advice to share about how she continues to seemingly age backwards, avoiding the pitfalls that have taken their toll on many in the music business. I really hoped she was going to recommend a moisturizer or some vitamin supplement, but her advice was as straight forward as she is. “Live a happy life, don’t hold grudges, get good sleep, and drink a lot of water.”
Well, if that is what keeps you looking and sounding 20 years younger, gimme my pillow and pass me a glass of water!
To learn more about where you can catch Christine Ohlman and Rebel Montez, please visit http://christineohlman.net/. You will also be able to link to her campaign to help get The Grown Up Thing released.
To get involved or find out about the causes mentioned above, please visit the links below.
http://www.ima.org/. For Rock and Roll Camp for Girls
http://littlekidsrock.org/. Little Kids Rock
New Orleans Musicians Clinic
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