Songwriter Spotlight: Maureen Blumenthal
I’m delighted to share our first songwriter spotlight! This month we are featuring Maureen “Mo” Blumenthal, whose song “For Crying Out Loud,” won best song of the month at the West Coast Songwriter’s Contra Costa chapter in December 2013.
Songs are judged on melody, lyrics and overall composition by a group of peer singer/songwriters who also perform and compete. The West Coast Songwriters Association has chapters up and down the West Coast. Check out our interview with Maureen and view the video of her winning song below!
Tell us a bit about your background. When did you start writing songs?
I grew up in the East Bay, attended S.F. State, got a degree in Art, and spent most of my working life in the printing industry. I started writing songs about five years ago, about the time I took up the banjo and began playing bluegrass with friends I'd met through workshops at the Fifth String in Berkeley.
You play guitar, any other instruments?
Yes, I play banjo, in my own three-finger, Scruggs-ish way.
What made you pick up the guitar in the first place?
I can't remember ever not wanting to play guitar. During the Folk Scare, my sister got a beat-up old nylon string guitar from a friend of the family. I was the one who took off with it, using the Weaver's Songbook, and trying to copy all the pop songs of the ‘60s. My parents would trot us out to sing "Puff the Magic Dragon" for their friends at parties. I thought it was pretty lame at the time, and I never worked seriously at playing guitar until I started writing songs. It took a couple years more to develop the confidence to play in public.
Your song, “For Crying Out Loud,” won best song this month, What's the story behind the song?
Usually there's no story, per se, behind my songs. I'll get a phrase, a lyrical hook in my head that inspires the cadence of the song and the beginnings of a melody line. Then the song forms, a bit like putting a jigsaw puzzle together, but without that photo on the box lid. The finished product is never predetermined. I'll get an idea of where I'm heading, and then my honky-tonk muse intrudes and sends me off in another direction.
You play a bit with Richard Mason, can you tell us about that partnership?
We first met at a CBA (California Bluegrass Association) Music Camp a few years ago. I liked Dick's voice and guitar playing right away. We played together again at camp this past spring, and started working up some duets in July. We've found that we both love that old-style country sound, and we work hard at keeping it simple, which isn't easy.
Do the two of you co-write?
I have trouble with the idea of co-writing. To me it seems to require too much intimacy, kind of like group sex. And GroupSpeak could be the result. I'm still learning to write in my own voice.
Do you have any performances or other things coming up that you'd like to share?
Other than the duo with Dick Mason, I also play banjo and guitar with the Harlan James Bluegrass Band.
Check out the winning song, “For Crying Out Loud” here: