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?
Okay, you have an idea for a song—how do
you get started, what’s your process for
starting and finishing a song?
Roy: Do you always write on guitar? What
other instruments do you write on?
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.
Do you sit down with a guitar or other
instrument and work out the melody, or
do you write the words first?
Roy: What about tweaking songs? When do
you know a song is finished?
Roy: Do you have a writing routine? An
ideal environment for writing?
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?
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.
What’s a song you wish you had written
and why? What does this song say to you
that other songs don’t?
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
– All Is
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