Updated: Jun 28
Photo credit: Irene Young
How old were you when you started playing guitar?
What was your first guitar? Did you buy it yourself? Do you still have it?
Stella Harmony. Yes, I bought it myself as my Mom supported me playing an instrument, but since I had quit piano lessons after 18 months a few years earlier the guitar was on me. She did help me get a summer job at a snack bar at JFK airport where I worked for three weeks until I had enough to buy a guitar. $50. My Mom went with me to the music store. She did buy the strap. I also bought Alfred’s Basic Guitar Course Book One. The Stella hangs in my home as a wall ornament. It is extremely warped and unplayable but still much loved.
Deidre with her first guitar (1971).
Did your parents or grandparents play any instruments? If so, what did they play? Did you ever get a chance to play with them?
No. My Mom and I would often sing together while doing the dishes, though.
Deidre with her mom.
What are the guitars that you play? Do you have a favorite? If so, why is it your favorite?
2014 Santa Cruz OM Grand. 2021 Santa Cruz Custom OM Grand. Collings OM2HT. My favorite is the 2014 OM Grand. I had an almost out of body experience with it when I discovered it in a shop in St Paul, MN. Had no intention of buying a guitar that day but this wood spirit vibrated through my hands, arms, and core like no instrument ever had before. Very rich and resonant.
What strings do you use (brands and gauges)? How often do you change your strings?
D'Addario XS Phosphor Bronze light gauge. I used to try to change every 10 hours of playing but these are coated so I’ve been going longer. They actually seem to sound better with a bit of wear on them. Also like DR Sunbeams light gauge.
Do you use a pick? If so, what brand and thickness?
Dunlop Primetone .73mm Sculpted Plectra with grip. .73mm is what I use for live shows. Pricey for me so I hate it when I lose one. Has a grainy raised area that helps me hold on in heavy strumming. The Primetone .73mm feels as stiff as other makers .88mm. For live streaming when I need the guitar not to be as loud I use Snarling Dog Brain picks .73mm which is way floppier than the Primetones but also has a grainy grip.
Do you use any effect pedals? If so, what are your favorites?
Do you work on your own guitars or do you bring them to a guitar tech? Are there any guitar techs that you would like to recommend?
Beyond changing strings and cleaning, HELL, NO! Maple Street Guitars in Atlanta, GA has good techs and friendly, knowledgeable people.
Same is true for Righteous Guitars in Roswell, GA, but they are a much longer hike from me.
Do you have a favorite guitar shop? What makes it a good shop?
See previous answer.
At what age did you start writing songs?
16. Wrote my first song a few weeks after buying the guitar. At least it feels in my memory like a few weeks. I jumped into the guitar like a fiend but I can’t imagine I was comfortable with chord changes enough to write a song after a few weeks.
What is your songwriting process? Is it the music or the lyrics that usually come to you first? Do you write old school on paper, or electronically?
I have to write on paper. It varies as to whether I use a pen or pencil. My laptop is always nearby as I use MasterWriter which has the most awesome, comprehensive rhyming tool I’ve ever used. I also use Roget’s Thesaurus. I use my laptop or my iPhone to make audio recordings of the song's evolution.
It varies by the song as to whether the melody or the lyrics come first or together. I will say that I have let go of needing to have a killer guitar part be essential in the writing of the song. In many ways my guitar skills are rudimentary and I realized insisting I have an awesome guitar part from the song's inception was really crippling the muse.
Who are the top three musicians or bands that have had a major influence on you?
Joan Baez. Joni Mitchell and Paul Simon.
Photo credit: Denna Bendall
If you could jam with one person, living or dead, who would it be?
I find “jam” means different things to different people. I studied jazz guitar at a Conservatory. Jamming involves ensemble playing where every instrumentalist is expected to operate in a band context (not stepping on each others parts), and be able to improvise and take solos. In the folk world jam seems to mean to play along with and there’s usually an over abundance of guitars playing the same chords. I learned at the Conservatory and in playing in a jazz rock band for three years that soloing is not my superpower so I don’t jam.
Photo credit: Janice Rickert
That being said, I’ll reframe the question as to what player/singer-songwriter would I like to spend some time with and learn from. That would be James Taylor.
What are your top three “desert island” albums?
Bob Dylan/Blood On The Tracks, Bonnie Raitt/Sweet Forgiveness and Teresa Trull/A Step Away.
What was the first concert you attended? What was the last concert you attended?
The Beatles or the Stones?
The Beatles, of course! I was a GOOD girl not a ruffian!
Where and when was your first paid gig? How much did you make?
A coffeehouse at Our Lady of Lourdes High School in Poughkeepsie, NY, February 1973. I was a sophomore in college. $50. I thought I had died and gone to heaven!
Deidre playing her first gig in 1973.
What has been the highlight of your musical career so far?
Though I have performed at Carnegie Hall, the peak moment in my career was opening the Main Stage at the April 1993 March for Lesbian and Gay Rights in Washington, D.C. and hearing my voice soar through the National Mall as my community began to proudly, defiantly stream in.
Watch the video of Deidre performing at the 1993 Gay and Lesbian March here on C-Span.
What has been your worst gig so far and why? (You don’t have to name names).
Too long a story to tell but I’m looking at you, Rochester!
What are some of the venues you enjoy performing at the most? What things make the venue enjoyable for the performer (location, equipment, setup, organizers)?
The Ark in Ann Arbor, MI. The audiences were always great as was the sound but really, the best part was after the show hanging with Dave Siglin and his wife Linda and listening to the stories they could tell. Folk City in New York was a great, historic club to play. I also did the sound there for the weekend shows in the early 80s and if I wasn’t performing or working I was dusting a bar stool for a couple of nights a week. It was my second home when I lived in the Village.
How do you work out your setlist?
A set has to have an arc where you journey with the audience from one place to another. You have to think about where you want to take them for that set and balance out the emotional roller coaster. I have a background in theater so I am keenly aware of tension, release, pacing, tempo, and dynamics.
Photo credit: Larry John Fowler
Is there any advice you wish someone had given you when you were first starting out in the music business?
Building networks and personal business relationships are far more important than one imagines. Schmoozing is part and parcel of the business but one has to be authentic about it. For introvert artists like myself social networking is the hardest aspect to navigate.
Photo credit: Irene Young
Do you have any suggestions for a guitarist or songwriter who might be stuck in a musical rut?
Explore the sounds of a new instrument. It’s why I recently bought a 6-string banjo.
Learn to play someone else’s song. What you pick up in that process will eventually bear fruit in something of your own.
If you weren’t a singer-songwriter, what would you be doing for work?
For the longest time I thought I was going to be a doctor until I realized how much math and science one needed to master. I majored in theater thinking I would be an actor but ultimately chose music as my performance route. TBH, I’d probably be managing a Starbucks somewhere. Best shit job a musician could ask for.
Photo credit: Robin Scully
Please list some of your upcoming shows, plug your music and provide links to your merchandise.
Best places to find out what I’m up to is:
my website — deidremccalla.com
on Facebook — facebook.com/Deidre.McCalla
on Bandcamp — deidremccalla.bandcamp.com/album/endless-grace
Photo credit: Irene Young