Kimmie Rhodes: "You can still laugh and not just be broken by things"
As years go, 2009 was a hard one for Kimmie Rhodes, a year that she says she spent hanging out in hospitals and hotels. But even the worst year can end with a spark of light.
In January 2009, Rhodes’ mother was diagnosed with cancer. As she waited to hear how serious that would be, the news came that Rhodes’ husband, Joe Gracey, also had cancer – 30 years after he first fought off the disease.
“It was horrible, it was like everything had just started caving in,” says Rhodes. The Austin-based songwriter, singer, playwright, painter and actress abandoned many of her plans to write and tour to spend time with her family as her mother underwent treatment and her husband surgery.
But with that surgery came an amazing possibility. Thirty years ago, the cancer had forced the removal of Gracey’s larynx, robbing the singer and DJ of his voice. When they consulted a surgeon about the return of the cancer, she suggested to them not only that it could be removed but that she might be able to implant a prosthesis that would allow Gracey’s oesophagus to act like a larynx. After 30 years, he was given the chance of being able to speak again.
“It’s a long road and we’re not there yet but he’s in this series of operations. It’ll be a couple of years but there’s a lot of hope there,” says Rhodes.
With her mother also doing better, by the end of the year Rhodes was back in the studio – to record a Christmas album. In the new year she set out on tour again, accompanied by her husband.
“If there’s anybody out there that’s going through that, it does eventually get over with,” Rhodes says. “It’s just good to know you can still laugh and have a good time and not just be broken by the things you didn’t want to happen.”
Rhodes’ musical career has been long and varied. She has produced 12 solo CDs as well as writing songs that were recorded by artists including Willie Nelson, Trisha Yearwood, Amy Grant, Joe Ely, Mark Knofler and Emmylou Harris. She has written and produced three musical plays and published a book.
“I’ve been pretty high profile but under the radar my whole career, and I kind of like it that way,” says Rhodes. I sought a level where I’d have a lot of freedom, and I’ve gotten to do pretty much everything that I wanted to do.
“One thing I really wanted to do was write for films and I’ve gotten to do that. And I’ve gotten to do big shows. I just didn’t do the ‘get a bus, go on the road in America’ thing. But I’ve also found that for a lot of people especially now in the commercial climate that that kind of means you’re up and over with pretty fast, and I’ve kind of gotten to have a nice long ride.”
Rhodes has been a regular visitor to the UK, and finds Europe to be a better market than the US, even though the audience has gone up and down over time.
“I used to come here and play the Wembley Festival 20 years ago and headline, and that was a moment in time, but after two decades of making music all kinds of things come and go. There was a time when it just wasn’t really happening here, and then it kind of came back.”
She says she’s happy to be able to make the music that she wants, in her home studio, with the artists she wants to work with, and she doesn’t feel the need to have a big record deal – she has her own record label – or put in the work to get more recognition at home.
“I’m not as hungry for that recognition any more because as a writer I’ve gotten good recognition. I’d rather just come over here. We do tours and then at the end of every tour we usually go to France. That’s just so much better than getting on a bus and going to Indiana!”
Rhodes, who worked for years as a florist before taking the plunge and going full-time into music, acknowledges that making a living can be financially difficult, but says she loves to travel and wouldn’t be able to do that with any other job.
“It isn’t just the money, you get to earn the fun of it, and so there’s that and I’m not the wealthiest songwriter I know, but more than the money. If you love what you do you don’t even know you’re going to work every day.”
So Rhodes is working on the songs for her next album – “You just walk around with it and don’t rush it and at the right moment it just all falls down into a song” – and enjoying the new opportunities that life has offered her and her family, and enjoying the touring.
And as for the Christmas album, well, it should be out in time for a party at the end of a far happier 2010.
Kimmie Rhodes on Backroads