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Caroline Hester

+ {The Caroline Hester Coalition}

Yet another product of the early 60s folk-revival movement and remembered as much for her relatively brief musical (or otherwise) liaisons with BUDDY HOLLY, BOB DYLAN and RICHARD FARINA; the latter she married on June 17, 1960 after an 18-day courtship; they divorced February ’63.
CAROLYN HESTER was born January 28, 1937, Waco, Texas, but spent most of her elementary years living in Austin and Dallas. In order to study acting, she moved to New York in 1956, a bedrock for budding musical aspirations, while around the same period she cut an album for Coral Records with producer Norman Petty, a record that featured the aforementioned HOLLY and his CRICKETS sidekick, Jerry Allison. The set in question, SCARLET RIBBONS (1957) {*4}, was standard folk fare for the time, full of cosmopolitan selections such as the title track, `Danny Boy’, `Ye Banks And Braes’, `Hush-A-Bye’, `The Wreck Of The Old Ninety-Seven’ and `Black Is The Color Of My True Love’s Hair’.
Having spent time performing in Cleveland and Detroit, she finally succumbed to delivering her sophomore set, the TOM CLANCY-produced CAROLYN HESTER (1961) {*6}. Not to be confused with a third LP of the same title, her voice sounded more accomplished at this stage, her high-pitched interpretations of `House Of The Rising Sun’, `Go Way From My Window’, `She Moves Through The Fair’, `If I Had A Ribbon Bow’ and showtune `Summertime’ were reminiscent of folkie counterparts JOAN BAEZ and JUDY COLLINS.
After a year or two performing at the Edinburgh Folk Festival (with FARINA in tow, but their marriage in meltdown), her second CAROLYN HESTER (1962) {*7} album was issued for Columbia Records. Always veering on the side of gospel or spiritual, the folk songs here – with backers Bruce Langhorne on guitar and violin plus Bill Lee on bass (and including DYLAN on guest harmonica) – garnered her critical appraisal from some quarters but no commercial success; `When Jesus Lived In Galilee’, `Virgin Mary’ and `Los Biblicos’ were discreetly presented alongside `Dear Companion’, `I’ll Fly Away’ and `Once I Had A Sweetheart’.
Already an exponent of Latin/World music on her earlier LPs, HESTER introduced a couple of fresh gemstones (`Tumbando Cana’ and `Pera Stous’) on her Columbia follow-up, THIS LIFE I’M LIVING (1963) {*6}, a record was more memorable for its inclusion of familiar folk staples `Sally Free And Easy’, Coo Coo’ and `East Virginia’.
Switching to Dot Records, Carolyn one again worked with Norman Petty on THAT’S MY SONG (1964) {*6}, and it was no surprise it sided on the Tex-Mex side of the musical sphere, highlighting as it did the excellent guitar work of The FIREBALLS’ George Tomsco; the latter and his wife Barbara supplied HESTER with her finest three minutes, `Ain’t That Rain’ (plus the title track). Alongside a take of the late, great BUDDY HOLLY’s `Lonesome Tears’, songsmiths of the folk-rock variety were utilised: MARK SPOELSTRA on `The Times I’ve Had’ and TOM PAXTON on `Momma’s Tough Little Soldier’ and `Can’t Help But Wonder Where I’m Bound’; on this occasion there was also room for a couple of her own rare compositions, `Stay Not Late’ and `Ten Thousand Candles’.
Carrying a handful of tracks from her previous effort, the concert sets AT TOWN HALL (1965) {*7} and AT TOWN HALL, TWO (1966) {*6} – accompanied only by acoustic guitar by George Tomsco – saw HESTER sign off in fine folk fettle. Spread over two sets as mentioned this might’ve on reflection been better as a double LP, although Bear Family subsequently re-issued the traditionally-biased pieces as a CD package (check out `Captain, My Captain’, `Come On In’, `High Flying Bird’, `Jute Mill Song’ and `Buckeye Jim’.
All but abandoning folk-rock (or at least tweaking it ever so slightly) for the rest of the 60s, she turned her hand to psychedelic pop via two group project sets, the eponymous THE CAROLYN HESTER COALITION (1969) {*6} – containing their version of ED McCURDY’s `Last Night I Had The Strangest Dream’ and DINO VALENTE’s `Let’s Get Together’ – and MAGAZINE (1970) {*3} . These sets featured her new hubby, ex-CYRKLE guitarist David Blume (whom she married in ‘69), Steve Wolfe and Tom Moore, and one should beware of their weird version of OTIS RADDING’s `(Sittin’ On The) Dock Of The Bay’.
A few attempts at bringing back the good times came and went; the CAROLYN HESTER {*3} set in 1973 had little to do with folk, rather more to do with AOR with numerous L.A. session people on drivel from the pens of such as ELTON JOHN and LOBO.
Her retirement was understandable (she continued to work with NANCI GRIFFITH, et al), but loyal fans of her folk period still pined for her comeback; note that HESTER had self-issued cassettes MUSIC MEDICINE (1982) {*5} and WARRIORS OF THE RAINBOW (1986) {*5}.
Finally, she gave into temptation courtesy of FROM THESE HILLS (1996) {*6}, an album that looked to the future, augmented by her family, husband David and daughters Karla and Amy Blume. Not content with this light excursion, HESTER found time to pay homage to one of her long-time idols on A TOM PAXTON TRIBUTE (2000) {*7}, a collection of 13 of his greatest songs sung by Carolyn herself.
2009’s Karla & Amy Blume-produced set, WE DREAM FOREVER {*6}, marked yet another comeback for this literate lady of folk music; now over 70 years of age, she’s still kept her mojo running on songs like DYLAN’s `Boots Of Spanish Leather’ and her own `There’s An English Cowboy’.
© MC Strong 2010/GFD // rev-up MCS Aug2015

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