Kate Wallace took a long detour to get from Pasadena to Santa Barbara, but it was more than worth it. The dulcet-voiced singer/songwriter who oversees the popular Trinity Backstage monthly concert series grew up sneaking into big city clubs to see acts like Joni Mitchell, the Firesign Theatre, and Janis Ian, and then launched her own career at the tender age of 16 with a regular gig at the Caltech coffeehouse. The rest was seemingly history, culminating in Nashville’s Tin Pan South, where she wrote songs for Polygram.
“But boy, I’ve had enough of the country music business to last a lifetime,” she said as we stood in the backyard of her 100-year-old Westside bungalow. Wallace, who will perform a CD-release concert on Saturday, March 20, penned songs for Billy Ray Cyrus, among others, and released two CDs of bluegrass-tinged tunes herself, then hit the wall while attending a showcase in Nashville. While there, she listened in as some industry flak answered questions from the audience about the decline and fall of true country music radio “This A&R guy actually said, ‘We’re not interested in art. We’re selling ads,’” she recalled.
Lucky for us, Wallace moved here to take care of her father, thereby escaping the crass call of commercialism. Since arriving in S.B. nine years ago, Wallace has created a very viable forum for contemporary American troubadours—many whom she met while gigging—at her once-a-month Trinity Backstage shows, where people like Geoff Muldaur, Caroline Aiken, and John Stewart can be found picking and grinning in the comfy church basement for a modest ticket price of about $8.
The move was lucky for Wallace, too. Here she met her partner, Doug Clegg, who accompanies her musically, as well as in the daily strife of existence. She also met musician and recording ace David West, through a long string of associations from Cold Spring Tavern. “David West is the best,” said Wallace. Visiting his small but righteous studio near Five Points Shopping Center, Wallace recorded a song she was working on. “He said, ‘That was great, let me put a few things on it.’ The next day I came back and heard what he did and said, ‘Wow.’”
This weekend at Trinity, Wallace will celebrate her second collaboration with West in the recording studio, a CD entitled Ruby Slippers. The disk is also the culmination of another Santa Barbara connection Wallace made: songwriting on Tuesday afternoons with Annie Dahlgren, another singer/songwriter from West’s fold. (She’s perhaps better known as Neal Graffy’s spouse and partner in the S.B. History Consortium nonprofit.) “She’s very, very, very talented and I spend every Tuesday from 1 to 5 p.m. writing songs,” Wallace chirped happily about the association. It’s one of the best parts of her new life, claimed Wallace, and the music in the new CD offers obvious proof.
Wallace is completely at home in Santa Barbara now, making music on a level that satisfies after her decade of running at country stardom. “I used to wonder what kind of dream is it if when it comes true it sells the soul out of you?” she asked poignantly. Wallace likes to tell a story about a Nashville songwriter named Paul Overstreet who struggled with his career and kept shaking his fist at the deity, asking why he was allegedly blessed with talent if he wasn’t ever going to be able to parlay it into success? Then one day, Wallace said, Overstreet was walking on the stage of Opryland when he heard a voice, presumably from on high. “I gave you the gift, Paul, because I thought you might enjoy it.”
“That’s what I’m doing nowadays,” said Wallace.