Born on November 19, 1950, in Fort Worth, TX. Education: Attended Tulane University in New Orleans, LA, and St. John's College in Santa Fe, NM.
In the liner notes to her 1996 album Midnight Radio, Katy Moffatt's longtime collaborator Tom Russell wrote: "Folk, Country, Blues, Rock ... Roots? She erases the boundaries. They call the music 'Americana' now. Well, close your eyes and listen to The Voice. It's midnight in Fort Worth; the radio glows a magic yellow-orange...." Along the highways and byways of an itinerant musician's life, Moffatt's singing acquired a complexity and passion transcending the "folk" category where many of America's lyric songwriters are buried. Bill Bell of The New York Daily News compared Moffatt to Iris Dement, another soulful Texan with a cult following. Bell described her voice as sometimes forceful, sometimes caressing, and praised her lyrics as "bright and biting." Moffatt was a pioneer in the style that later infiltrated the popular culture through singers such as Alanis Morrisette: the female troubadours, spiritual heirs to Bob Dylan, Kris Kristofferson, and John Lennon. Like Dement, Moffatt may have been too "country" for the mass audience, yet her songs relate a genuine spiritual journey.
Moffatt was born and raised in Fort Worth, Texas. Her grandmother was a concert pianist who taught Moffatt and her brother Hugh to play the piano. Hugh Moffatt also became a songwriter, well-known in the Nashville, Tennessee music business. Moffatt listened to blues and the top forty on the radio. She credits Leonard Cohen's "Dress Rehearsal Rag" for making her want to perform. Like many others, when the Beatles and the British invasion stormed the United States, she was inspired to learn guitar. Those were heady times, when music seemed to be a royal road to the imagination for young rebels. Moffatt started playing anywhere she could in Fort Worth: a Neiman Marcus fashion show, a small coffeehouse, and the Fireside Lodge Rest Home (where her audience included Willie Nelson's grandmother). She modeled herself on folk singers like Judy Collins, Phil Ochs, and Dave Van Ronk. Another key influence was Tracy Nelson of Madison, Wisconsin.
Moffatt left Fort Worth to attend Tulane University in New Orleans, then went to St. John's College in Santa Fe, New Mexico. At college, she sang in her one and only musical, The Fantasticks. Her voice and attractive appearance made her a popular act in Santa Fe nightspots. When actor Tom Laughlin came to town to shoot the movie Billy Jack, her local fame helped her land a role as, naturally, a folk singer. Moffatt managed to develop an interesting sideline "moonlighting" in films off and on throughout her career. She later appeared in Hard Country, Honeymoon in Vegas, and The Thing Called Love.
After Santa Fe, Moffatt lived in Austin and Corpus Christi, Texas. In 1971, she moved to Colorado. Denver and Boulder were becoming counterculture meccas--good spots for an aspiring songwriter to find an audience. Unfortunately, her music jobs were not steady enough to support her. Just when she was ready to quit and go home to Texas, she got a regular cocktail hour engagement at a Denver hotel. There she met Mary Flower and Randy Handley, who, along with Lon Ephraim, formed a band called Flower, Handley, and Moffatt. They developed a following and traveled all over the state, with Flower and Moffatt eventually becoming a duo that toured nationally. Moffatt's next job as a solo performer at Denver's top rock club, Ebbets Field, opened an avenue into the mainstream recording industry. The club's owner, Chuck Morris, became Katy's manager, and Morris' efforts helped her to land a contract with Columbia Records.
Moffatt's first two albums were promising. Her initial album for Columbia, Katy, was country flavored; her second album, Kissin' in the California Sun, took more of a pop direction. The second album achieved moderate critical acclaim, including positive reviews in Rolling Stone and Newsweek. She recorded for Columbia Records from 1975 to 1979, making several singles to go with the two albums. However, the glimmer of commercial success faded. According to Watermelon Records, which signed her years later, Moffatt had mixed feelings about her experience with Columbia. "I had a very strange history with CBS. I started six albums, finished three, and two were released. They simply didn't know what to do with me. At that time, you either had to be pop or country, and I didn't fit into either of those categories. I was a hybrid. I was always a man without a country, so to speak. I would go in and start a new project with a new producer, then they would stop it and not release anything. It was very frustrating because they obviously did not know what they wanted from me."
In 1976, Moffatt had the opportunity to appear with bluesman Muddy Waters, opening for him on the road. She moved to California in 1979 and joined the country rock scene developing there, typified by bands such as the Eagles, The Byrds, and The Flying Burrito Brothers. The scene produced the memorable album A Town South of Bakersfield, which featured Moffatt and many other new country voices, Dwight Yoakam and Rosie Flores among them. Her voice was much appreciated by other musicians, leading to brief singing stints with Warren Zevon, Roy Orbison, the Everly Brothers, and Don Williams. For the next few years, Moffatt toured as a backup singer for many acts, including Lynn Anderson, Tanya Tucker, Hoyt Axton, and Jimmy Buffett. A duet with her brother Hugh on his song "Rose of My Heart" received a lot of play, and Johnney Rodriquez and Nicolette Larson later covered the song. She also received some comforting recognition for her solo work when she was nominated for a Country Music Association Award for Best New Female Vocalist in 1985.
Meanwhile, Moffatt's movie career continued. In 1980, she had a small part in Hard Country, an "urban cowboy"-type movie starring Jan-Michael Vincent and Kim Basinger. In 1991, she appeared as a backup singer for a string of Elvis impersonators in Honeymoon in Vegas with Nicholas Cage and James Caan. She also appeared in River Phoenix's last movie, The Thing Called Love, as a dancer in an outdoor scene. She recorded sporadically, but could not get much to market, even recording an album for an MCA subsidiary that folded before the album was released. Two albums in 1989 on Rounder/Philo, Walkin' on the Moon and Child Bride, received excellent reviews, and she released an album with her old singing partner, brother Hugh, called Dance Me Outside, in 1992. In addition, Moffatt cut a studio live album, Indoor Fireworks, on Red Moon Records in 1992.
Moffatt's career blossomed in the 1990s as she began to work with smaller but more personally involved record companies. She exhibited the variety of talents she had acquired over the years. Dance Me Outside demonstrates her impressive harmonic skills in duets. Indoor Fireworks brought in a full band from Austin with electric instruments and a more driving sound. The Greatest Show on Earth displayed a range of instrumentation with acoustic folk and country rock elements. The songs on this album were co-written with Tom Russell, who met Moffatt at the Kerrville Music Festival in 1986. Russell also helped her produce the album. Although The Greatest Show on Earth received complimentary reviews, the producers subsequently received a brusque legal notice from the Barnum and Bailey Circus that their choice of album title violated the circus' trademark rights. Rounder Records was forced to recall the album and change the title and album cover. It became The Evangeline Hotel. The content remained the same, however, and The Evangeline Hotel was released in the United States, Canada, and Europe.
Like many American singer/songwriters, Moffatt is more honored abroad than in her own country. She is celebrated in both Europe and Canada and has toured there often. Moffatt undertook an extensive tour of the United States in 1995, playing more than 220 days on the road, despite a bout of tuberculosis in January and back surgery in December. Always a hard worker, Moffatt released several albums in the mid-1990s: Hearts Gone Wild, released in 1994, was highly successful, reaching the top ten on some lists; Sleepless Nights, a collaboration with fellow songwriter Kate Brislin, debuted in January of 1996. Midnight Radio was recorded during the 1996 New York City blizzard, a metaphorical triumph over odds typical of Moffatt's progress. The complexly textured Midnight Radio came out later in 1996. Nat Hentoff, the legendary pop music critic, reviewing the album in the Wall Street Journal, considered her eclecticism the result of a "naturally protean" streak. He noted: "In all her albums and her appearances, Katy Moffatt is indeed a storyteller. Her voice has many shades of meaning as well as memory. She illuminates--in natural light--the characters and the places in her songs, and even the weather."
Throughout her travels, Moffatt has maintained an artistic quest. She takes her trials and tribulations with a grain of salt, according to Watermelon Records: "It's only through those things that you become who you are. That's what all those years have been for; there's an appreciation for literacy and a desire to go a little deeper because of the years survived and the years given, and this is inextricably bound to and hopefully reflected in the music made." Holly Gleason observed, "There are plenty of good singers in the world: singers with lovely voices and lots of technique, singers with impeccable taste, singers who know how to turn a song inside out. But, singers who know how to get inside the songs, to inhabit them and make them their own are very rare indeed."
Moffatt continued to produce records, releasing Angel Town in 1998, and Loose Diamond in 1999. Loose Diamond is a grouping of songs about situations where love has gone wrong. Then, in 2001, she added in the western music category to her repertoire by releasing Cowboy Girl. "Cowboy music is story-songs that reflect the life of the cowboy," she defined the genre for the Albuquerque Journal. "Western music is more popular, like Hollywood cowboy music. My last record was more of a throwback to early '60s country music, with a few twists. This is something different."
Touring constantly, she travels throughout the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Moffat works and travels by herself, carrying her own vocal mikes and doing her own set-up. "I've come to really love the solo format," she told the Birmingham Post. "I love the freedom of it. I never work from a set list. I can take requests from the audience and just do whatever we want to do, you know. I love it!"
by Paul Anderson and Sarah Parkin
Katy Moffatt's Career
Appeared in movie Billy Jack, 1971; signed by CBS Records, 1975; released debut album, Katy, 1976; contributed to album A Town South of Bakersfield; performed at Kerrville Music Festival, 1986; toured nationally and extensively in Europe and Great Britain; released Child Bride, 1990; released Dance Me Outside (with Hugh Moffatt), 1992; released Greatest Show on Earth, later re-named The Evangeline Hotel, 1993; signed with Watermelon Records, 1994; released Walkin' On the Moon, 1994; released Hearts Gone Wild, 1994; released Sleepless Night, (with Kate Brislin), 1996; released Midnight Radio, 1996; released Angel Town, 1998; released Loose Diamond, 1999; released Cowboy Girl, 2001
- Selected discography
- Katy CBS, 1976.
- Kissin' in the California Sun CBS, 1978.
- Walking on the Moon Rounder/Philo, 1989.
- Child Bride Rounder/Philo, 1989.
- Dance Me Outside Rounder, 1992.
- Indoor Fireworks Rounder, 1992.
- The Greatest Show on Earth (later re-named The Evangeline Hotel ), Rounder/Round Tower, 1993.
- Hearts Gone Wild Watermelon 1994.
- (With Kate Brislin) Sleepless Nights Rounder, 1996.
- Midnight Radio Watermelon, 1996.
- Angel Town HMG, 1998.
- Loose Diamond Hightone, 1999.
- Cowboy Girl Shanachie, 2001.
- Albuquerque Journal (Albuquerque, NM), June 15, 2001.
- Audio, April 1995.
- Billboard, October 28, 1989.
- Birmingham Post (England), November 14, 2002.
- Folk Roots, June 1990; August 1992; April 1993; September 1993; March 1995.
- Herald Sun (Melbourne, Australia), March 7, 1998.
- Melody Maker, February 3, 1990.
- New York Daily News, November 18, 1994.
- Rolling Stone, June 15, 1978.
- Sing Out!, Number 2, 1993.
- Stereo Review, September 7, 1993.
- Variety, April 19, 1978.