Many people might regard television-based talent competitions as a fast and convenient route to fame and fortune, but Austin, Texas-based blues singer/ guitarist Carolyn Wonderland has doubts about the value of such career shortcuts.
“I have an aversion to music as a competitive sport,” she said. “So I’m definitely one of those anti-‘American Idol’ kind of people. You know what? Go out and play it in clubs for 30 years and then let me hear ya.”
Wonderland, playing Saturday at Oklahoma City Limits, grew up in a musical household. Her mother sang with a band and plays guitar, while her grandmother played fiddle and taught her to play piano. After being loaned a cornet from an aunts, Wonderland taught herself to play trumpet.
“I cannot remember a time without either listening to or playing music,” she said.
By the time she was 15, she was gigging regularly with a band at Fitzgerald’s, a live music club in Houston that has hosted such music legends as Stevie Ray Vaughan, James Brown and Tina Turner.
More recently, Wonderland derives inspiration for her songwriting from many directions.
“Oftentimes, songs will show up while I’m driving, and I just have to wait till I get somewhere to write them down,” she said. “Sometimes, they show up in a dream, like ‘The Farmer Song’ was a guy in overalls standing there, playing a banjo, singing it to me, so I woke up and wrote it down.”
In 1999, Wonderland moved to Austin, where she appeared regularly at Antone’s and lived in her van, partly out of convenience; by then, she was playing as many as 300 shows a year.
Although she has been a frequent traveler for a long time, her experiences with airlines have soured her on flying to gigs.
“We so prefer driving,” Wonderland said with a laugh. “Any chance we get to not be on an airplane, we’ll take. I hate the way I’m treated. I guess I look like a stoner guitar player. Now, every time I get on a plane, I think, ‘Is my guitar gonna make it?’ I’ve bought a seat for my guitar, and it even has frequentflier miles, and they still refused to seat it at one point, and I got off the plane and said, ‘Well, I guess I’m driving to Cleveland — awesome!’” Wonderland chuckled as she described a recent airport experience, when her outspokenness collided with the intimate aspects of new “enhanced” search policies, as a female Transportation Security Administration screener began running her hands over Wonderland’s body.
“I have a big mouth, and these new touch-you-in-spots-you’re-notsupposed-to-be-touched rules really, really caught me off-guard,” she said. “My hands were up over my head and I blurted out, ‘Whoa, that’s fucking ridiculous.’ I didn’t slap her hand away — I stopped myself before I touched her — and as soon as I realized I let the F-word out of my mouth, I saw the police walking toward me, and I thought, ‘Aw, man, I’m not gonna catch this flight.’”