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 Cindy Bear 

Jacksonville Folk musician Cindy Bear is known around these parts for writing honest, passionate songs with well thought out lyrics. Cindy has won multiple awards for her songwriting and is an active board member of the North Florida Folk Network. She has a smile for everyone, wherever she goes, and is often found on the folk circuit, playing her original music with her husband and musical partner, Franc Robert. I always look forward to hearing one of her songs when I see her out and about. I communicated with her via email for this interview and this what we got.

Roy: Okay, let’s start with telling the nice folks out there just who Cindy Bear is: Give us a few sentences about yourself—the speed dating version, as it applies to Cindy the Songwriter, if you will.

Cindy: The Speed Dating version? Oh honey, that’s a hard one to do, but I’ll try. I’m a 50-something divorcee-single parent who has risen from the ashes and finally reclaimed my life. I am a perpetual optimist and a survivor, and my trials and tribulations coupled with my experiences in my law enforcement career help me write empowering (and sometimes humorous) songs about the human condition. I write and play songs in the Folk, Blues and Americana genres, and marrying my life and music partner (Franc Robert) recently has taken my songwriting to a whole new level. Franc and I also play as a duo called Bear and Robert (Row-bear), and it is very exciting to co-write new songs with him too. Basically, storyteller with a Folkie-Bluesy twist. How's that? 

Roy: Okay, you have an idea for a song—how do you get started, what’s your process for starting and finishing a song?

It really depends on what I’m doing when it comes to me. My phone recorder comes in handy to preserve melodies, ideas, and lyrics so I try to keep it close! At work it is really hard to get creative because there is so much going on, but there’s always a notepad, piece of paper, etc. in my pocket for just in case. I’ve lost a lot of melodies because I couldn’t stop and record something at work, but I figure if one lasts until I get home then it’s usually it’s a keeper. Also, there are times the song comes quickly, and others take years to write. Depends on the subject matter, and how much I know about it. After I have something tangible, I’ll play it out a few times to knock some of the rough edges off of it. The song tells me when it is done. After a song is finished, it usually takes a good month for the song to be polished enough to play out.

Roy: Do you always write on guitar? What other instruments do you write on?

Cindy: Usually guitar, but also write on piano, banjo or harmonica. Sometimes when I try out a new instrument, a new song will spring forth too. It’s so cool when it works out like that!

Roy: What do you use to write your songs? Do you write in a journal? Type up lyrics on a laptop?

Cindy: I have quite a few notebooks and composition books I write in. I mainly use a mechanical pencil, though I always have a few favorite worn out pencil stubs that serve me well. Have tried a journal, and when I make myself write every day, it really helps! It’s just a matter of discipline. I write in pencil, then in pen to solidify the idea, and finally type them out on my laptop. Writing out the title on top of the page really helps to solidify my vision of finishing the song, and helps motivate me to actually do it.

 Roy: Do you sit down with a guitar or other instrument and work out the melody, or do you write the words first?

Usually the melody comes first with the lyrics following later. I work out the melodies on whatever instrument the song calls for, and since I name my instruments, it is like having a “conversation” with them to see which one would like to help me, so to speak. My 6-string Taylor (Lizzy) inspires most of the songs, however my 12-string (Marty) or my resonator (Big Mama) have also born many songs due to the nature of their beautiful sounds.  Big Mama inspired a song the first time I tried open G tuning on her, as did my banjo (Ronjo) in Sawmill tuning. My old Harmony (Stella) even inspired one in open D tuning. It was really wild how that worked!

Roy: What about tweaking songs? When do you know a song is finished?

Cindy: The song tells me when it is finally done. That took me a very long time to learn that! Being a storyteller, it has been quite challenging to condense everything I want to say into something less than a dissertation. I am getting better at knowing when to put the pencil down and walk away. A few songs have required updates, such as love songs, but that’s another story.

Roy: Do you have a writing routine? An ideal environment for writing?

Cindy: There’s no set routine for me for writing, but there should be. There is always so much going on at work and home, that it is difficult sometimes to find some time to myself to write. Somewhere in the woods, on the beach, or just in nature with lots of peace and quiet is my ideal writing environment. Getting up early in the morning and having my coffee while listening to the morning birds singing outside is my favorite time to write, but doing that while watching the sunrise at the beach is the best!

Roy: One of my favorite songs of yours is the one about Julia Tuttle, the so-called “Mother of Miami.” Why did you decide to write a song about her and what sort of research did you have to do to finish it?

Cindy: Thank you for liking my song! Actually, Julia Tuttle really was known as the “Mother of Miami.” Because I love Florida history, I was given that song idea as an “assignment” per say, by my late friend, fellow songwriter, Florida historian and mentor, Ron Johnson. There’s a story behind song assignments in Florida Folk Music:

Ron gave that assignment to me just like Frank Thomas, who is known by some as the, “Dean of Florida Folk Music” gave assignments to him as well as other songwriters too. Frank continues that tradition from “Cousin” Thelma Boltin, who was the director of the Florida Folk Festival at the Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center in White Springs from 1954 to 1965. Cousin Thelma was a retired school teacher, and often gave Frank and other Folk Musicians song assignments in order to preserve Florida history in song. Ron decided to carry that tradition on to me, and basically “challenged” me to write a song about Julia Tuttle, as he thought it needed to be written from a woman’s perspective. I had never even heard of her, but since the challenge was more like a “double dog dare," after 9 months of research (just like birthing a child), The Mother of Miami was finally written. I had the melody first with that one, but that was the only easy part about it.

When you write about a true story, especially about someone or something historical, you really have to be sure you have your story straight.I read all the books, old online interviews, newspaper and magazine articles, and anything else I can physically get my hands on to give me the most information possible. I’ve even conducted personal interviews with authors of books written about who or what I am writing about, or with people who knew my subject personally. It really helps if I can physically go to the place where my song originates from, but therein lays the challenge for this song, because I had never been to Miami before. That was the hardest part of that whole experience. It is not easy to write about a place you have never been to, so my vision did not really come full circle until after the song was written, and I was able to finally get down to Bayfront Park and see the larger than life bronze statue of Julia Tuttle herself. She is magnificent!

There is a lot of information on the internet, newspaper articles, and books written about Julia Tuttle and the incorporation of the city of Miami, but unfortunately, I found out the hard way that not all of it is correct. Some information I found came from tourist sites and attractions, which gave conflicting information about birth dates, sequences of events, etc. After efforts to locate some of Julia’s family members didn’t work, I finally managed to locate a top notch Miami historian named Arva Parks who helped set me straight. She is such a kind, helpful, and extremely knowledgeable woman, and she bestowed mercy on me in my dilemma. I am forever grateful to her for that.  I guess the bottom line here is to triple and quadruple check your facts first before you commit to putting your song out there to the masses, or it may bite you in the you-know-where.

Roy: What’s a song you wish you had written and why? What does this song say to you that other songs don’t?

The list is endless and it’s hard to give you just one, especially since I have favorites in many different genres. I guess the song that keeps coming back to me time and time again is, “Coat of Many Colors” by Dolly Parton. It was my Mama’s favorite, and I grew to love hearing it every time she played it. I grew up in a large family (7 children) and we were very poor, but only in terms of money. She really did make me a coat just like that out of rags. Made with love, just for me. How can you top that?

Roy: What music are you listening to lately? Anything new we should be checking out?

Cindy: I actually had to go out to my car and look at my CD box, and check my phone player to answer this question. I love pretty much all genres, so it’s a pretty colorful mix. I change these out every few months, but here’s what’s been on the player lately:

 Memphis Minnie – Anything by her (bake those biscuits girl!)

Bob Patterson - Remember

Souliz Band EP (Love love love that band!!!)

Back Porch Revival Band – Live at Highland Hammocks

Suz (Susan Jean Grandy) – All of her stuff

Selwyn Birchwood – “Don’t Call No Ambulance”

Heather Crosse – Groovin’ At The Crossroads

Barberville Pioneer Settlement - Songs Of The Settlement

Kim Reteguiz & Shawn Pfaffman – Cover Me

Paul Garfinkel – The Last Good Mile

Brady Clampitt – Things are Different Now

Weird Al Yankovic – Off The Deep End

Gamble Rogers – Signs of a Misspent Youth

Larry magnum – The Last Citrus Grove

Lucinda Williams – The Ghosts of Highway 20

Heart – Magazine

Howlin’ Wolf – Greatest Hits

Johnny Cash – Greatest Hits

Big Mama Thornton – Stranger Than Dirt

Lightnin’ Hopkins – Soul Blues

Etta Baker – One Dime Blues


and of course, Roy Peak – All Is Well!

Roy: Hmmm... that last one seems suspiciously familiar...

You can check out some of Cindy Bear's terrific songs at:




copyright 2017 D.R.Peak