Musical partnerships come in many forms and achieve different levels of success. You work with other musicians, and the whole you create from your individual parts feels like it moves the material along in a way you couldn’t on your own. But once in a while, there’s a pairing that rises to achieve something special, almost magical.
That’s what happened the first time I sat down with Dionne Ward to sing some songs.
We first met through mutual friends. She was the percussionist for another singer-songwriter and had just moved back to the Indy area after some extensive touring. I actually heard about her several times before we met. Folks kept telling me I needed to check out this drummer who sang. What’s really crazy is that, years ago, before I was doing music full time, she was part of another project that not only performed in some of my haunts, but worked closely with and was produced by my pal and Brown County’s own, Kara Barnard. It’s sometimes unbelievable, even to us, that our paths didn’t cross sooner. I guess there’s only one explanation. It wasn’t time yet.
I had need of singing percussionist for a few gigs that were part of the Super Bowl festivities when it was held in Indianapolis, and the drummer in my band at the time didn’t sing. I reached out and Dionne seemed interested, so I sent some rough tracks and we planned to get together and see how our voices meshed. After smiles and some nervous greeting, I pulled out my guitar and settled on the couch in the front room of her little Arts and Crafts Bungalow near Historic Irvington. I say nervous, because this sort of thing is something akin to a musical first date. Singing together is an intimate thing when done well, and it could be amazing or an absolute disaster. You just don’t know until you open your mouths and listen. So we were both a little like quarter horses at the starting gate.
But all of that melted away once we hit the first chorus. I don’t recall the song, but I do recall how I broke out in chicken skin all over when our voices blended for the first time. And while we have definitely gotten musically tighter over the years playing together, that magic was there from the first note. Combine that vocal blend, the raw simplicity I strive for in the songs I write, and the unique character of a guitar/percussion duo and you have what has become the core of our “sound.” And now that sound has a name. Cari Ray & The Shaky Legs.
*To be clear, while the sound of the duo is at the heart of the music, this announcement will have little impact on how fans are used to seeing the band…sometimes it will be the duo, and also often the trio version with Chuck Wills on tasty lead guitar. We will also continue to add Jeff Farber on bass when more firepower is warranted! The music is the same, the players are the same, but now when we perform, it won’t be as “Cari Ray & The Loaners,” but as “Cari Ray & The Shaky Legs.”