Kate Wolf - Biography
By J Poet
Kate Wolf’s star burned brightly and brilliantly for a few brief years, but in that time she won a legion of fans. Her subtle guitar picking and reserved vocal style had an intimate quality that made her beautifully crafted songs resonate with an ageless wisdom and heartache. The albums she released between 1976 and her death of leukemia in 1986 - Back Roads (1976 Owl, 1979 Kaleidoscope, 1985 Rhino), Lines On The Paper (1977 Owl, 1979 Kaleidoscope, 1985 Rhino), Safe At Anchor (1979 Kaleidoscope, 1985 Rhino), Close To You (1981 Kaleidoscope, 1985 Rhino), Give Yourself To Love (1983 Kaleidoscope, 1985 Rhino), Poet's Heart (1985 Kaleidoscope, 1985 Rhino) – are subtle, shimmering gems of the songwriter’s art. Her albums sold well, but not spectacularly, but anyone who ever saw her live became a lifelong fan. The records continued their slow but steady sales in the years after her death. Give Yourself to Love and Poet’s Heart won NAIRD’s Best Folk Album awards and Wolf was the first musician inducted into the NAIRD Independent Music Hall of Fame.
Kate Wolf’s family moved around a lot during her early childhood, perhaps endowing her with the wanderlust that kept her on the road performing for the second half of her life. She grew up in Berkeley, CA and played music from the time she was a child until her high school years when she was overcome with stage fright. She had piano training from her grandmother starting at age four and loved folk, country and pop music. In 1969, after the birth of her second child, she met a group of songwriters who gathered informally to offer support to each other. Wolf picked up her guitar again and started writing songs encouraged by her friends Gil Turner and George Schroder, AKA Redtail Hawk. In 1971, she left her husband and children to become a performer. She moved to Sonoma CA and lived out of her car while performing once a week at a local bar. She landed a job at the Sebastopol Times Newspaper, found an apartment, arranged to have her children come live with her, and started a two year residency at a small restaurant singing her own songs. She put together The Wildwood Flower Band, landed a regular radio show, Uncommon Country on KVRE and hosted the Sonoma County Singers Circle.
In 1975 she started her own label, Owl Records and put out two albums - Back Roads (1976 Owl, 1979 Kaleidoscope, 1985 Rhino) and Lines On The Paper (1977 Owl, 1979 Kaleidoscope, 1985 Rhino) - featuring her own material and covers of favorite country tunes. The albums picked up airplay on indie folk and country radio, and Wolf began her ceaseless touring. She also found time to put on the first Santa Rosa Folk Festival. In 1979 her band fell apart and she started performing as a duo with Berkeley super picker and multi-instrumentalist Nina Gerber. She also signed with Kaleidoscope, an ambitious indie label and released Safe At Anchor (1979 Kaleidoscope, 1985 Rhino) her first album of all original material and considered her masterpiece. Kaleidoscope reissued her first two albums and arranged national distribution. Close To You (1981 Kaleidoscope, 1985 Rhino) another collection of originals got her a San Francisco Bay Area Music Awards (today the California Music Awards) nomination for Best Folk Singer. In 1982 Wolf released a live album Give Yourself To Love (1983 Kaleidoscope, 1985 Rhino.)
Wolf’s first live set, Give Yourself To Love (1983 Kaleidoscope, 1985 Rhino) included the title track, which has become one of Wolf’s most popular tunes. In 1983 Wolf felt her health slipping and took a year off to reevaluate her life. She started work on her last album Poet's Heart (1985 Kaleidoscope, 1985 Rhino) and made her final tour. She appeared on Austin City Limits, which gave her some national attention. The gig was released posthumously as An Evening In Austin (1988 Kaleidoscope 1988.) Wolf was diagnosed with leukemia in April 1986 and went into the hospital for a bone marrow transplant in September, but she never recovered from the operation. A solid retrospective, Gold in California, came out on Kaleidoscope in1987.
The Wind Blows Wild (1988 Kaleidoscope), also released posthumously, includes a wrenching performance of the title track recorded on her deathbed.