Chris O’Connell – An American Music Singer
When you hear Chris O’Connell sing, you say, “Nice song!”
That’s what a great singer does. If the song has a beautiful melody, the singer puts it in your head and leaves it there for days. If the song tells a story, the singer makes it your story. When Chris sings a blues, or country or jazz song, the genre label melts and the song takes you away.
Growing up in Virginia, she learned melody and harmony from the radio hits of Detroit, Liverpool, Philly and L.A. At the footloose age of 18 she found work with an upstart country music band calling themselves “Asleep at the Wheel.” “We practiced for a year, in a little two story back woods house so cold we cut a hole in the upstairs floor to let the heat rise from the wood stove down in the dining room. I was too shy to learn the songs with the guys listening. I walked the snowy mountains of West Virginia, learning the songs of Hank Williams, Loretta Lynn, Ernest Tubb. The band had an old ’61 Cadillac. When I got tired of walkin’, I locked myself in the Caddy with Leroy Preston’s guitar and practiced Moon Mullican songs about bein’ mad. That was my higher education.”
Chris graduated to fifteen years on the road, nine albums, dozens of awards including a Grammy with “The Wheel.” As their success grew, so did the size of the band and the range of the music. They became the best western swing band in the country, touring with as many as 12 musicians. Chris constantly pushed the boundaries, singing blues, R&B, jazz songs backed by fiddles and steel guitars. She drove several incarnations of that band around the stage with steady, insistent rhythm guitar and vocals, but she became especially known for searing hearts with wrenching, soulful ballads.
Back and forth, up and down the country, they put on a million miles playing county fairs and swampy gambling joints, the Smithsonian, a presidential inauguration, often sharing the stage with great stars of American music like Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson. Always building on the styles and trials of the masters, her unique voice cut though the crowd and her reputation grew for covering a wide musical range with her own clear, heart-bound style.
Settling down in the music capital of Austin, Chris raised a daughter while doing live TV, film music, radio, commercial advertising, local concerts and countless recording projects. An inevitable hiatus found her back in Virginia in the 2000’s, far from any music scene. But by 2008 the music scene found her. She began the re-entry to music when Bill Kirchen called her to sing on his album, “Word to the Wise,” along with Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Maria Muldaur and Dan Hicks. Rave reviews for that performance led to her first Chris O’Connell solo project. Almost two years in the making, that project is hardly solo. When word of the project spread, great musicians from all over the country came calling to join in a love fest for this singer and the songs she chose. And today, the buzz inside the music world grows: “The Voice is back.”