The Texas Story Project.
My name is Terri Hendrix. No relation to that Hendrix, but I am the daughter of a man named Jim. I’m an Aquarius, born in San Antonio, Texas.
I’ve been a proud Texan since birth, and an even prouder (sometimes to a fault) wholly independent artist for as long as I’ve been in the music business. Which, going back to my very first open-mic performance in 1990, has been more than half my life.
My father was a career military man, and for several years when I was a child, my family was stationed in Fort Clayton, Panama. Once my father’s tour of duty was up, my parents squeezed our family into a maroon van and drove us all the way from the “Canal Zone,” in Central America, back to Texas over the course of an entire summer. My Mom, who grew up in Cuba and therefore knew something of the language, translated from Spanish to English to Panamanian to Tex-Mex to Spanglish the whole trip, thus enabling us to find our way safely through the outskirts of guerilla warfare to peaceful villages far removed from conflict.
After we settled back down in San Antonio, I noticed that I didn’t quite fit in with the other kids my age; being cooped up in a van with two older siblings does little to enhance social skills. So I spent quite a bit of time making up songs on the guitar I’d borrowed (or stolen) from my sister the Christmas prior. My love for music only flourished throughout my childhood all the way through high school.
Upon graduation, I received a scholarship to study voice at Hardin-Simmons State University, in Abilene, Texas. After two years of failing music theory, I switched majors and transferred to what’s now known as Texas State University, in San Marcos. I waited tables to pay for school, and fumbled along aimlessly until I stumbled upon an open-mic night. Soon thereafter, I met a woman named Marion Williamson, who employed me to look after a few goats on her property, called Wilory Farm. Within months I was bartering out my goat-milkin’ skills for guitar lessons, as I’d come to find out Marion was a great fingerpicker from the schools of Mississippi John Hurt, Lightnin’ Hopkins and Big Bill Broonzy.
With Marion’s encouragement, I began making demo tapes off her DAT machine (yep, I said DAT machine) and booking gigs around the Texas Hill Country. My tour bus was a green, beat-up Toyota pick-up with a camper shell. I carried my own PA system and landed a gig as my own personal “roadie.” I started playing tourist hot spots like the San Antonio Riverwalk and bars along the Texas Gulf Coast. With the help of friends, I got a website launched and started a mailing list. These two decisions, I’d come to find out later on, were crucial to my career really getting off the ground.
Most everywhere I played, folks at my gigs were asking to buy my music. It took me some time, but I heeded their requests and recorded and released Two Dollar Shoes. It was hard keeping up with both business and art, so I actively pursued a record deal to help further my career so I could focus solely on my songwriting. My own record label, originally called Two Dollar Shoes Music, then Tycoon Cowgirl Records and finally Wilory Records, took root after I received three rejection letters from labels — all of which are now out of business. I had friends to pay back who had loaned me money to cover some of the cost of Two Dollar Shoes, so I quit waiting on a label to pick me up, and instead signed myself.
Within six months or so of selling my CDs off the bandstand, I’d paid everyone back and even made enough to start a new record. It seemed as if all the stars had aligned in my favor, until my mentor and best friend Marion died suddenly in 1997. I was devastated. I have never, nor will ever, get over the suddenness of Marion’s passing and the void that has been in my life ever since.
I was still mourning when, exactly one month after her death, I met Lloyd Maines at South by Southwest in Austin. He’d heard a cassette of my new songs, and we discussed the details of what would later become my second record, and the first he would produce for me. I named it after Marion’s old place: Wilory Farm. I released it in 1998. Maines began working with me at that time. Twenty years later, and we are still business partners. Our contract is simple. It’s a handshake.
I had the fortune of finding good who helped me from the very beginning, from mailing out contracts and postcards when I booked myself to launching my own online e-commerce store. That e-commerce store, which kicked into high gear with the release of Places in Between and The Ring, has since funded every aspect of my business — more so even than the countless shows I’ve played over the years. I was able to capture memorable performances on Live and Live in San Marcos. The low recording costs of each, coupled with their popularity with my fans, helped to subsidize future recording, manufacturing, and publicity for my label.
By the time my fifth studio album, The Art of Removing Wallpaper, was released, we’d converted my mailing list from names on scraps of typing paper to a Rolodex, to a database, and eventually an email list, saving me lots of money in postage. My fans began requesting that radio stations in their area play my music, and within a few years, independent radio stations were playing my songs and I was touring all over the United States and Europe behind each of my self-released albums. Thinking back on some of the obstacles and naysayers I’d encountered early on, I made Marion’s favorite goat from years past, Peggy Lee (named after the singer), my Wilory Records mascot — because I had been too stubborn to accept the word “no.”
Being told “no” by those record labels so many years ago might be one of the best things that ever happened in my career. I actually qualified for the purchase of my first home from bank statements affiliated with my online sales account. Later, after selling more downloads than CDs following my Austin City Limits Music Festival performance, I knew the “boom years” of bankrolling my career on my physical CD sales would soon be ending. And yet, even though the download age has certainly taken its toll, here at Wilory, I’m still able to jump on the board and surf to shore no matter what turn the tides take. That’s because I own not only the publishing rights but also the master recordings for all of my music. The benefit of this was driven home — literally — when a tune I wrote called “Nerves,” off my kids record, Celebrate the Difference, covered my car payments for more than a year through song royalties.
The Spiritual Kind was the ninth record I released independently. It was recorded with pretty much the same approach I’ve had on all my records (the kids one included), in that we let the songs dictate what they’d become and tried to pay no heed to whether they were too loud for folk, too pop for country, too country for jazz, or too this or too that for any other genre. But because it was more acoustic-driven than most of my previous recordings and featured a lot more harmonica, I ended up calling it my “folk” record.
I figured out the hard way — by losing money — that my type of music and traditional widespread distribution channels did not mix; it inevitably meant that boxes and boxes of my CDs ended up collecting dust in a warehouse somewhere. Ultimately, I got wise to it all, tightened my belt and marked the 10-year anniversary of my label by releasing both a five-song holiday EP, Christmas on Wilory Farm, and Left Over Alls (a sort of “retro-perspective” of new and unreleased recordings) through my website alone.
My career has been a wonderful one, but has been somewhat compromised due to Epilepsy. It’s a diagnosis I received in 1989. I’ve always channeled my frustration from dealing with epilepsy right back into my music. The end result was 2010 record, Cry Till You Laugh, and a book Cry Till You Laugh — The Part That Ain’t Art. The book is a companion piece to Cry Till You Laugh, with essays that are thematically linked to songs on my record. Some of the musings are new, and others I picked out of my archives from the newsletters (originally called “Hendrix Happenings,” and later, “GoatNotes”) that I’ve shared with my mailing list over the years. When it fit, I included lyrics from a few of my old songs, too. Basically, just like we did on my record, I let my muse run wild throughout the writing and compiling of this book. I also tried not to nit-pick my older writings apart too much, leaving some of them “warts and all.” In 2012, I launched a non-profit called “Own Your Own Universe.” In 2017, I secured land to build a small arts center in Martindale, Texas. I call the property, “Wilory Farm.” I focus on using the creative arts to help those with health challenges and or people in need.
These days I’m working on a big project called Project 5. Project 5 is a comprehensive collection of lyrics and music that address the topics of love, loyalty, friendship, faith, and resilience. It's five distinct but thematically linked projects — four new albums and a book. My first album in this series, "Love You Strong Project 5.1," was released February 2016. It was remixed, remastered, and re-released January 2017. "The Slaughterhouse Sessions Project 5.2" was released October 2016. Most of the songs on these individual albums and the chapters in my book were written over the last seven years. All of my writing in that stretch seemed to touch in one manner or another on love, hope, and resilience. As I became ever more conscious of just how many common threads there were, connecting songs to songs and songs to book chapters and vice versa, the more I realized that everything I was working on was a single body of work. Seeing that “big picture” allowed me the freedom to explore different aspects of my writing and music in more depth than I ever have before on a single record.
Today, I’m miles and miles past those days when I launched my career by way of playing four-hour gigs anywhere someone would let me put out a tip jar. I’m now decades past the age I was told by an agent that you had to have “made it” by in order to “make it” in the music business. I’m not gonna lie: It’s been a hard gig, and I’ve seen the music industry turned virtually inside out and upside down since I first started my label. And though I’ve plastered my mantra, “Own Your Own Universe,” on everything from caps to posters, I know full well that it’s easier said than done. I’ve found that in the most trying of times the only thing I really “own” or have a say in is my own attitude. I strive to maintain a positive outlook, because without a doubt, I know that I’m lucky to be here: Alive.
Ultimately, my story is about perseverance. Being a native Texan has enabled me to play multiple shows and build a loyal following — which now span three decades. And I’ve had the same band for twenty years. I’m proud to not only be from Texas but to continue to work and live here. I’m also grateful for the opportunities I’ve had in my home state.
That’s why, even though my starter may give my engine trouble from time to time, I don’t give up. I’m no longer in denial that I’m a cranky ol’ stick-shift transmission in a world better suited for automatic vehicles. But through experience, I’ve learned how to pop the clutch, grip that wheel, and roll on.
I hit the road until it hits me back, and when it does, I cry till I laugh.
And then I write.
Posted December 27, 2017
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