Holton's music goes beyond the mountains
With her primitive quality of Delta blues and a touch of contemporary flair, Heidi Holton of Andrews continues to captivate music lovers across Cherokee County.
Whether people have heard her at the Murphy Art Walk, special events or every other local venue, over the years Holton’s music has found its home in the Appalachian Mountains.
The singer-songwriter-guitarist’s musical journey reached a new altitude with the recent release of her album Why Mama Cries. And there are many stories behind the songs.
Holton said the name of the album was inspired by the first independent rock band she ever met, which was named Why Mama Cries. During her first semester at Appalachian State University, the band took her under their wing and encouraged her to pursue her musical dream.
The message behind Holton’s album digs beyond the surface of its name origins, exposing an autobiographical view into her life.
“The album is really my coming to terms with the fact that I’m not going to have children,” she said. Now 37, Holton said she has closed that chapter, but discovered a new path.
Holton’s album encompasses the theme of women empowerment, drawing influence from women in her life that do have children. She said many of the songs are written from a woman’s point of view.
“There are so many reasons why women weep over their children and over the world,” Holton said. “I think women take on the burden of the world.”
Meeting her hero
Embodying the strength of women in her songs, Holton was determined to work with a female producer. But throughout her years of making music, she never expected Rory Block, the famous American blues guitarist and singer, to produce her album.
Before meeting Block in person, Holton felt an unmistakable connection to the artist’s work. She said the first time she put in one of Block’s CDs, it didn’t leave the player for six months.
She received her first opportunity to meet Block when hearing about a guitar workshop held by the musician in Ohio. With the encouragement of friends, Holton managed to gather the funds to go and take lessons from her blues idol.
Despite her nerves, Holton said the two had an instant connection. Like others in the class, she found herself enchanted by Block’s method of teaching.
“When you play a super-aggressive style of country blues, you can’t tell someone how to do that, you have to show them,” she said. “So watching the power that she puts into her music, it’s otherworldly.”
Having become close friends during the workshop, Holton and Block kept in touch once they parted. A month later, Block invited Holton to travel to New York for private lessons.
Witnessing the similarities in their music, Holton asked Block if she would consider producing another artist’s work. Block responded, “Well, I’ll think about it.”
One week later, Holton received an email from Block saying, “I thought about it, and yes, I’d love to do it.”
To Holton’s surprise, Block said she had an opening in a month. At that point, Holton had only written one song for the album.
Pouring soul into song
Quickly jumping on the opportunity, Holton drove to Bisbee, Ariz., where she stayed in a haunted hotel and busted out original music. Instead of being haunted by ghosts, Holton became engulfed by her emotions. She said the process of conveying the images she saw in her head proved painful.
“It’s almost like you’re cutting your heart open and letting it bleed for other people,” she said. “I love that, even though it’s painful.”
Holton said despite the ugly side of her songs’ development, the album transformed into something beautiful.
When performing original work for the first time, Holton said she never knows how people will respond. Fortunately, during her time practicing at the hotel in Bisbee, people would stop by her room and provide words of encouragement.
Once the month was over, Holton met with Block to record the album. Six of the songs included originals, while four were traditional country-blues covers.
Holton said she played and sang her first song with Block, which helped break the ice for the following songs. It was one of those moments that she will remember for the rest of her life. With each song, the process followed an organic route. The two recorded the guitar parts, then transition into percussion and singing.
Holton said the title track, “Why Mama Cries,” became one of the most emotionally tolling songs of the album. It focused on Holton’s life, drawing out her burdens and struggles.
“It’s about me making the choice to be independent and knowing I have to walk through this life alone,” she said. “It started out as the most female empowering song on the album, but when it came down to the emotional side in the studio, it was the most difficult to record.”
The song “Haunt Your Own Houses” followed the stories of Holton’s grandmother, who suffered from domestic violence; her mother, who broke the cycle; and her sister, who she sees as “the most beautiful heartbreaker you could imagine.”
Holton said she had mixed feelings about the song, but once it was released it became a resounding favorite with fans.
Connecting with blues
Holton discovered her love for blues while growing up listening to her dad’s record collection. She said he didn’t just listen to the classics, but recorded songs from street blues performers.
Holton said her musical calling involves keeping the traditional style of blues alive. If the younger generation doesn’t pick up the genre, she’s afraid it eventually will die.
Over the years, she developed a fondness for music made for the sake of making music – not solely for the purpose of profit.
Holton said she couldn’t count the number of times people have asked her, “When are you going to audition for American Idol or The Voice?”
“I would rather starve to death and make the music that I love, and play on the streets, than make music that I don’t love doing and have the record label, a mansion and drive fancy cars,” she said. “The music I make is a labor of love. It’s not anything other than that.”