I’m Deborah. It was all about the radio…
As an only child, I drove to L.A. with my parents in the summer of love via the airbase at Bellville, Illinois, via some Air Force place in Boston, and originating in Savannah, Georgia, where I like to say I was born at the airport (on base). When I was a baby, I’d lie in my crib and hold on to a long high note. My dad had been accepted at USC film school, and the plan was – he would study with Lucas and Spielberg, and my mom would go-go dance to support our little household in the jungle of Marina Del Rey. She and I would dance in white latex boots before her nights at work as I attended Montessori and other hippie community schools run by free-thinking educators. Disconnected from all extended family but my two eclectic parents, my great Aunt Cosette (thank god!), sent me a white plastic organ when I was three. It became my best companion – I couldn’t stay away from it. I took to the piano next, learning Beethoven by ear.
Though my mom sang me the old standards, showing me the Astaire Rogers, Kelly-Garland musical comedies, and my dad played the banjo and adored the bagpipes, they seldom bought or played records. My dad did have the 45 of Hey Jude and played it to bug my mom because it was a shitty song to go-go dance to. In the’70s, I fell in love with Paul Simon and pop music when I heard Kodachrome on 93 KHJ while waking up one morning in our house on Laurel Ave. I switched to a Silverlake school attending with Mama Cass’s daughter and other celebrities like Avery Schreiber and Peter Bonerz – watching my parents embrace the experimental Laurel Canyon life. My first stadium concert was Bette Midler at the Universal Amphitheater. I cried all the way home just because it was over. I fell haard for the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, and the three-part harmonies. I wanted to be her. She was perfect.
At nine, my dad (one of the original Mad Ad Men in 1960’s Los Angeles) brought home the first Roland Synth (no preset sounds, just oscillators and knobs) and a Washburn guitar. On guitar, I took a few lessons at a guitar shop in Pacific Palisades and learned Linda Rondstadt and Eagles songs, then moved through Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, Dolly Parton. Attending the touring Broadway show of Beatlemania, The Beatles, became everything to me as I learned all their songs and harmonies on both piano and guitar. I also started tap dancing. Of the few albums my parents had, Hair, Saturday Night Fever, and The Beach Boys Greatest Hits were the most influential. Some of the most influential music from my youth were T.V. theme songs like Get Smart, I Dream of Jeannie, and The Addams Family.
I started piano lessons with Meg Cambpell, an original MGM golden girl. She taught me, mainly by ear and harmony, how to play boogie-woogie and ragtime. After winning Best Musician in 6th grade, I began performing solo piano concerts in middle school, sang in the choir, and danced in shows. At 15, I created a DIY 4-track recording system where I’d play and sing into a boom box and then replay the boombox track while singing along and adding percussion. I’d run a second tape recorder to record the composite sounds and go back and forth till the cassette got too wobbly. Meanwhile, I listened to 70/80s radio and fell in love with The Police, Fleetwood Mac, Queen, Elton John, Beach Boys harmonies and kept up with Wings as disco and ABBA sparked my growing interest in dance.
At UC Berkeley, I could barely read music. They tested me by ear, however, and put me in the highest level of classes. I studied Bach and harmony but left the music major (#metoo ☹) but luckily found writing, Italian, Mass Communications, and Women’s Studies. I majored in Social Science, but in my senior year, I stumbled back into the music department (the #metoo guy had been “transferred”) and into CK Ladzekpo’s Ghanian African drum class. The talking drums changed my life, opening a pulsating passion for rhythm and beat. On the radio wave…I fell hard for Madonna, The Bangles, The GoGos, Annie Lennox, Miami Sound Machine, Chrissie Hynde. Finally, some women on the charts! I took my first singing lessons and began teaching piano.
Back in L.A. I went to Dick Grove School of Music and found myself in a songwriting class where I finally felt like I’d found a family: songwriters and songs. I recorded with a 4-track, experimented with sequencers, and started performing at night around L.A. at places like the Coconut Teaser, Café Largo, The Breakaway, and the Roxy with various bands I’d formed. During the day, I taught piano, eventually becoming a Piano Teacher to the Stars, where I taught the kids of Hugh Heffner and high-level directors, actors, and producers on the Westside of L.A.
Sometime in the 80s or 90s, I picked up the bass, the ukulele and studied drums, played in the disco band The Booty Shakers, the R & B band in Beverly Hills with Jolie Star. I played keys with Armenian bands and did piano bar gigs, busked with my guitar on the Venice Boardwalk, in Montreal and Istanbul, participated in sing-songwriter nights, and sang jingles. I traveled the world, studied gamelan in Bali, and performed in Italy, sang for my supper in Greece, wrote an album in Thailand, taught piano on a yacht in Tahiti, and to a young prince in Vietnam. I played timbales with the UCLAtino band and, on the same day, played timbales at both The Ahmanson and on the back of a truck in the Long Beach Parade with Lula and Afro-Brazil. I studied Jazz piano with Terry Trotter, jazz dance with Jilly Jazz, Belly-dancing, salsa, and swing.
Those radio days gifted me with Alanis Morissette (eventually auditioning for her band – didn’t make it), Suzanne Vega, The Indigo Girls, Aimee Mann, all the Lilith fair powerhouses, not to mention Fiona Apple, The Talking Heads. Really, there’s too much!!
The Weather Channel used my instrumental song during the radar segment, and I had my first Television placement. Randi Mayem Singer used my song The Wheel (Round and Round) on her network show Jack and Jill, and that scored me a publishing deal with Bug Music (now BMG). Soon my song Hit Girl was used on the x-files, and shortly after that (inspired by all my work with children and education), I created a kids’ T.V. music project (a pilot, a second script, and all the music) called DidiPop.
In 2001, I put out my debut record Chasing Lunatics (also called “In A Loop” on some streaming platforms) but then got married and had children, so I put my music career on the back burner for a while.
Of course, I couldn’t stay away from making music and performing for long, so I picked up with DidiPop (as I could perform with my daughters). I went to Nashville and made three records with Brad Jones. The Cool Alphabet Song went viral and was covered by Panda e Os Caricas, the Portuguese Kids music group. The Cricket Alphabet was picked up by Cocomelon and is a little bit of a hit on Spotify. Bunny in the Moon won a STAR from the School Library Journal, and The Hawaiian Alphabet song won the John Lennon Songwriters Award for best kids’ song. I guess I have good luck with the alphabet.
I had a piece published in the L.A. Times, wrote two novels, The Remodel sand Bird Juice and am looking currently in talks with a publisher. Now that my kids are teens, I am back at my grown-up songwriting, recording, and performing. Back in the game…and loving it.
My current Spotify favorites are Taylor Swift, Lucinda Williams, Dua Lipa, Tiwa Savage, Lana Del Rey, Brandie Carlisle, Ella Fitzgerald, St. Vincent, Jobim, Wilco, and yes, Paul Simon abides.
Some things have changed since I got that white plastic organ back in 1967 – my height and dance skills, the number of women and POC in politics and music, the air quality, honesty in songwriting, the mindfulness, the mindlessness – but other things, like my devotion to music, my love of rhythm, harmony, and the joy I feel when I perform, remain steadfast.
Please look out for my new music and join my mailing list and social media accounts. I’d love to share music with you. And please write to say hello. Thank you for reading my life’s musical story.
I’ve had a long history with music and life. Here are the basics:
2021– Now: listening to Taylor Swift and Olivia Rodrigo pop and Ella-Duke jazz, writing songs, putting out a single on label Renew (BMG) – for Americana Railroad. Raising kids, walking dogs, making a website.
2018-2020 – studied jazz and wrote novels, locked down with my family, and wondered what would come next.
2015-2017 – Remodeled house, hit menopause, lost my mind, got a dog, hit the streets, fought Trump – wrote crazy songs.
2007-2011 – had another baby and created DidiPop Kids Music – wrote songs for kids, animated videos. Danced.
2004-2006 – found true, non-lunatic love, got married and had a baby, a house, cats, sold the Camry, bought a mini-van– wrote songs about all of it. Danced.
2001-2003 – traveled, continued to teach piano (and guitar, drums, bass, singing), wrote, performed, danced, repeat, repeat, repeat.
2000 – Signed with Bug Music!
1999 – The Wheel placed on The WB network.
1987-2000 – Piano Teacher the to Stars (and Hef – who is bigger than a star), wrote 300 songs and had bands around L.A. Traveled the world performing and writing, learned bass, drums, ukulele. Celica stolen bought myself a new Camry. Got married, got divorced, started chasing lunatics.
1986 – Dick Grove School of Music – studied jazz and songwriting. New Holiday (first song placed!) on The Weather Channel. Bought a used Celica.
1985 – L.A.U.S.D. substitute teacher, used guitar music and singing to teach the inner-city kids math and history, bought a Datsun then totaled it after a horrific day of teaching near Adams and Crenshaw.
1982-1985 – U.C. Berkeley – studied music until my teacher accosted me, switched to women’s studies, and ended up back in the drum department with C.K. Ladzekpo (Ghana Drum Master). Pushed my VW Bug around to jumpstart it. Took singing lessons and danced.
1981-1982– Parents forgot to talk to me about college, but for $1500 they went in on a VW bug. I bolted with a friend at the last minute to Cuesta JC in SLO. Took singing, stripped my spark plugs in auto-shop class, but applied to Berkeley and got in. Wrote my first song.
1978-1981– Went to Palisades High, got high a lot, dad moved out, mom went to England, cried in the halls, almost gave up, but played piano at a party and the applause pushed me on again. Started dance classes.
1975-1978 – Went to Paul Revere, played my first big solo piano concerts (Boogie Woogie and Ragtime). With parents splitting up, got arrested for selling my dad’s joint to a girl, almost gave up, was bullied, and had a probation officer for 6 months. Then grew 6 inches in the summer before high school. Kept singing.
1974-1975 – Ripped out of Swinging Hollywood and shipped to freaky and judgmental Pacific Palisades. Went to Marquez, my first public school. Was voted Best Musician. Stuck with piano lessons and learned to play guitar. Got lice and my mom shaved my head. Everyone teased me, life SUCKED, but I still sang.
1968- 1973 – Took piano lessons, was an only-child flower-girl to my hippie parents, went to free schools where parents ran things from a house. Lived on Laurel Ave., in the heart of Hollywood, heard Paul Simon and sang along.
1967 – moved to the jungle of Playa Vista, got my little organ, and started playing melodies. Went to Montessori School My mom sang me standards.
1966 – lived in Belville while my dad finished the Air Force. I sang.
1964-1966 – was born at the airport hospital and lived in Savanah Georgia. I sang.