Back to January 2011 QMH Show

Cris Williamson - Yesterday (1967)

This is JD Doyle and welcome to Queer Music Heritage. I started off with a cover version of a classic Beatles song, by an artist you might not expect. This month I want to bring you a show I'm calling "Cris Williamson: The Early Years." Cris is of course iconic for her role in getting the Women's Music Movement off the ground. To give the short version of the story, it was during a radio interview in 1973, in Washington DC, that she suggested a record label be started for women's music, and that idea went on to become Olivia Records. In 1975 that label released an album by Cris called "The Changer and the Changed," which became one of the best-selling independent releases of all time. While she wasn't the first to release an openly lesbian album, her success on Olivia enabled that label to introduce many other lesbian artists to the world. Some 26 albums later, in December of 2010, Cris just released her latest CD, called "GiftHorse."

Many of her fans may know that there is a music history to be told that pre-dates Olivia Records, by about ten years. Cris was born in South Dakota in 1947 and in her youth lived in Wyoming and Colorado, and musically she was very much influenced by Judy Collins. It's kind of amazing that as a 16-year old in Sheridan, Wyoming, she released her first album, while still in high school. She had been performing locally and several supporters raised the money for the album release, and 500 copies were pressed, on a label created for her, called Avanti Records. The release was called "The Artistry of Cris Williamson." Within the next two years two more albums were released, and these three are the purpose of this show.

The three albums on the Avanti label are very rare, as you might imagine if only around 500 copies of each were pressed, some 45 years ago. I've seen them go on eBay for over $200 each, so since I have all three, well, I want to share them. So this is music by Cris you may not be able to hear anywhere else. I won't be able of course to play every song during this hour from all three albums, but I think I can give you a good sampling. So, if you are a die-hard Cris Williamson fan and want a chance to hear her early material, this is the show for you. And I'm starting with two songs that I first heard performed by Peter, Paul and Mary, "All My Trials" and "500 Miles."

Cris Williamson - All My Trials (1964)
Cris Williamson - 500 Miles (1964)

We already know that Cris was much influenced by Judy Collins, and I'll also comment that the mid-60s was the peak years of popularity of folk music, so she was no doubt listening to what were staples of any folk artist, like these next two, "The House of the Rising Sun" and the Malvina Reynolds song "What Have They Done to the Rain?"

Cris Williamson - The House of the Rising Sun (1964)
Cris Williamson - What Have They Done to the Rain? (1964)
Cris Williamson - Hangman (1964)

At the end of that last set was the song "Hangman," and here's some interesting trivia. Yes, there is a song recorded both by Cris Williamson and Led Zeppelin. I'll let that sink in for a moment. "Hangman" is also known as "Gallows Pole" and was on a 1970 album "Led Zeppelin III."

And up next is another reason to track down Cris' first album, as it contains the first two songs she wrote, both on the themes of fidelity and longing.

Cris Williamson - White Dove (1964)
Cris Williamson - West Wind (1964)

Those two songs, called "White Dove" and "West Wind," were the only compositions by her on all three of the albums. Before I get to the second album, I've got some fun and obscure bio information on Cris, and it may perhaps seem a bit at odds for a future feminist. In the summer of 1965 she was a finalist in the Miss Wyoming Beauty Contest, a preliminary to the Miss America Pageant. A newspaper article I found in the Billings (Montana) Gazette reported that for the pageant she planned to sing one of her original compositions, which probably means one of the two you just heard. The article said she had completed one album and was working on another. And, no she didn't win, place or show, though the other contestants did choose her as Miss Congeniality.

On to the second album, called "A Step at a Time," and it contains the first of three Bob Dylan songs that she would record, the classic "It Ain't Me Babe." And it will be followed by one of Gordon Lightfoot's early songs, called "I'm Not Sayin'"

Cris Williamson - It Ain't Me Babe (1965)
Cris Williamson - I'm Not Sayin' (1965)

Cris QMH ID

We're halfway through this show, so this is a good time to invite you to check out my website. If you visit it while you're listening you can see the playlist and follow along, while looking at photos of these rare recordings. I've always considered our music history as a visual as well as an audio experience. Again, that's at www.queermusicheritage.com, Also, for more very queer programming, please listen to After Hours with Jimmy Carper, every Friday night/Saturday morning from midnight to 4 am, on KPFT; it's Queer Radio, with attitude.

Cris broadened the material on the second album, just a bit, by including songs like "Try to Remember," from the musical "The Fantastiks," the Rodgers & Hart song "He Was Too Good to Me," and this song, which was a huge hit for the New Cristy Minstrals," called "Today."

Cris Williamson - Today (1965)
Cris Williamson - More (1965)

And from the movie "Mondo Cane" was the song "More."

I've got to comment on the artwork for the second and third albums, where Cris did something I've never seen done by anyone. The first album did not feature a picture of Cris on the cover, but the second two did, in a novel way. Actual photographs of her were glued to the covers. You could peal them off if you were so inclined, which of course I'm not. And all three of the albums were recorded in the studios of radio station KWYO, in Sheridan, Wyoming. Liner notes on the third album, from 1966, tell that Cris was then in college at Denver University, but had already by that time performed on stages with Josh White, the We Five and the Back Porch Majority. The third album was called "The World Around Cris Williamson," and it contains two more Bob Dylan songs. First is one also recorded by Joan Baez and Judy Collins, called "Daddy You've Been on my Mind."

Cris Williamson - Daddy You've Been On My Mind (1966)
Cris Williamson - Mr Tambourine Man (1966)

That's probably my favorite Dylan song, though I preferred the version by The Byrds to his; the iconic "Mr Tambourine Man." On to a bit of blues, and a song Bessie Smith made famous. Lots of folks have recorded it, and here's Cris' version of "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out."

Cris Williamson - Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out (1966)
Cris Williamson - The Very Last Day (1966)


Another folk standard that I know from hearing Peter, Paul & Mary's recording of it, called "The Very Last Day."

In the mid-60s I loved folk music. I remember knowing all the words to "Like a Rolling Stone," and loving these next two classics, Tom Paxton's song "The Last Thing on my Mind" and by Phil Ochs, "Changes."

Cris Williamson - The Last Thing On My Mind (1966)
Cris Williamson - Changes (1966)

This is JD Doyle and I thank you for listening to Queer Music Heritage, and I have to admit that this show was very much a special interest one. If you're not interested in the early folk music of Cris Williamson, well I probably lost you long before now. But I hope for those die-hard fans I provided a rare look at her early career. By the way, after the Avanti albums, the next album by Cris was in 1971 on the Ampex label and was just called "Cris Williamson," and it's been re-released a couple of times and is now available on CD.

For this show, I've got one more song, and it wasn't on any of these albums. In 1967 Cris recorded enough material for a fourth album, but only a 45 rpm record was released from it. On one side of it was the Beatles song "Yesterday," which started the show, and I'm closing with the A-side of that record, a song that Peter, Paul & Mary had released a year before, called "Hurry Sundown."

Cris Williamson - Hurry Sundown (1967)

And, the new CD...