02. The College School
05. They Call It Love
06. The Children of Sunshine
07. Uncle Harry
08. If You Are Lonely
10. It's a Long Way to Heaven
Kitsy Christner and Therese Williams recorded a novelty album as ten-year-olds. Forty years later, Dandelions is an Internet sensation.
One typical 1970 afternoon, Thérèse Williams, nicknamed "Tres," and her best friend Kitsy Christner gathered for their usual after-school guitar lesson. The two Webster Groves fifth-graders were in a silly mood. While waiting for their guitar teacher, Jim Curran, they discussed a Christmas party that Kitsy's parents were planning. Tres wasn't yet sure if she could stay over that weekend.
"Be sure to ask your mom!" Kitsy reminded Tres.
"I will," said Tres.
"Be sure to ask your grandparents!"
"I will, Kitsy! I'll even ask my dog, Tuffy! And he'll say, Arf arf arf arf!"
Then Tres began strumming her guitar, landing on a two-chord pattern, and began improvising lyrics:
Arf-arf-fa-farf, that's what Tuffy will say
After I ask him,
Can I go to Kitsy's house?
I'm gonna run away from home and go to Kitsy's party!
As Kitsy joined in, Curran arrived, overheard the cheerful singing and playing, and asked, "What was that you were doing? You know you were writing music?"
"What do you mean? We were just goofing around!"
"No, that is making music! Keep going. This is today's lesson. I'm not teaching you anything else. You're going to expand this."
This is how Tres and Kitsy, two ten-year-olds from St. Louis County, wrote their first song. Before they graduated sixth grade, they made an album called Dandelions under the band name Children of Sunshine, sold 300 copies to friends and family, appeared on local TV and radio, and — thanks to a garage-sale rediscovery by a local record collector — inadvertently created a collector's item that now sells for upward of $500 on eBay. There is currently no other way to hear it besides the gray-market world of Internet file sharing.
It also happens to be a wonderful album. Dandelions' ten short songs are clearly influenced by the folk music of the time — Judy Collins, Carole King, James Taylor — but the melodies are so memorable, the performances so strong and unjaded, the vocal harmonies so shaky but effective, that it's utterly charming even now. Tres and Kitsy sing about family friends, pets, the world around them, God and each other. There are silly songs with inside jokes, but there are also confused observations on a Vietnam-era world ("War") and a resigned, almost heartbroken look at divorced parents ("They Call It Love"). It's very intimate music, not meant for an audience beyond themselves and their close friends and classmates.
Despite this — or, more likely, because of it — Dandelions has struck a chord with a discerning class of musicians and record collectors. When Beth Sorrentino, the former lead singer/pianist of 1990s alt-rock band Suddenly, Tammy!, heard Children of Sunshine, the duo immediately reminded her of "the untouched and authentic sound" that she loves in her own music students. "They seem to understand music on a very different level. It's fresh in their ears. Kids, I find, don't sing or play music unless they completely feel it. The experience for them seems incredibly in the moment. It feels almost like you are eavesdropping on them. [The music is] just pure and clean, full of flowers and sunshine, and just a dash of edge."
"When music is this special, we want to share it," suggests British rock critic Everett True, who featured Children of Sunshine on his website, collapseboard.com. "It's so understated, so human. I love singing where you can hear the personality of the singers. The music is fantastic, the way it's so nearly not there. There's such untroubled joy there."
Everett heard about the album from Ben Ayres, a founding member of the band Cornershop. "The album puts me in mind of artists like Beat Happening, the Shaggs, the Vaselines and many other musicians I love who aren't afraid to wear their hearts on their sleeves and put musical ideas and emotions before detailed technical ability," Ayres says from London. "I deeply believe that most great music is on the boundaries of the so-called rules of music and more in the spirit and emotion-led area."
It's lofty praise for an LP that, almost accidentally, is only now worming its way into eager ears. It's certainly taken the creators off-guard. They occasionally get calls from curious fans, asking if it's really them.
"You have to understand, when we listen to it, there's a part of us that's very proud and profoundly moved," says Thérèse Williams. She lives and works in Santa Fe, New Mexico, now, but took time out of her vacation in Oregon to discuss Dandelions. "But there are other parts where I'm just in pain at the sound of my voice, or how simple it was. Very childish. Immature, almost."
"For a long time, it was sort of an embarrassment," says Kitsy Christner Sheahan, who still lives in St. Louis and works as a real estate agent. "Now I'm thinking: 'You know what? It's OK to come back to this now. It was always a fun, exciting time, but it's OK to be proud about it.'"
The College School of Webster Groves was originally founded in 1963 as a teaching school for undergraduate education majors at Webster College. Then, as now, the school was known for its program of "experiential" education, with emphases on direct experience and theme-based learning. "The school was extremely supportive of students exploring learning on their own," says John MacEnulty, who was one year behind Tres and Kitsy in school. "There was a specific curriculum in math and science, but everything else was sort of loosely guided. Students were encouraged to come up with projects of their own to explore things."
Kitsy began attending the College School in the fall of 1970, at the beginning of her fifth-grade year. "My parents, especially my mother, would seek out the most creative teaching styles and had learned about the College School," she recalls. "So she moved my siblings and me from the public-school system." Her father played a few instruments, her siblings took lessons, and both her parents were fans and patrons of the arts.
On her first day at her new school, Kitsy met Tres, who had been at the College School since the second grade. She lived right across the street with her mother. Her father, Jimmy Williams, was a well-known local jazz pianist and an integral part of the Gaslight Square scene. "He was right in the middle of it," Tres Williams remembers. Her parents divorced when she was a toddler, but she retains almost subliminal memories of Williams' presence in the home. "He watched me when I was a baby. He used to play classical music for me all the time. There's a passage of Mozart's Requiem that makes me just melt. Even though I don't have a memory of him in my household, I apparently have this cellular memory relating to music."
Tres and Kitsy went through the first school day together and signed up for extra courses — including Jim Curran's guitar class. "He was not a teacher per se at the College School. It was part of his coursework at Webster College to teach us," Sheahan recalls. "I don't remember that I had picked up a guitar more than a couple of times beforehand."
"I had taken guitar classes with [Curran] the previous year, and Kitsy and I, just by chance, were going into class together," adds Williams. "We played beautifully together, sang together and liked each other."
Through school and guitar class, the two became best friends. Tres would spend weekends at Kitsy's house; the two would ride horses together at the Christners' farm in Dutzow, about an hour west of St. Louis. "You seldom spoke of them separately," says MacEnulty. "They were always 'Kitsy and Tres.'"
It was at one of these weekend sleepovers that the idea arose to make an album.
"Kitsy's parents had a lot of music parties, and we'd always do 'shows,'" Williams remembers. Uncle Scott and Aunt Judy, two of Kitsy's relatives, were in town from Kansas City. After an impromptu "concert," Uncle Scott said, "You two are good! Why don't you make an album?"
That was all the encouragement the precocious pair needed. With support from the College School, pre-production began. They had taken pictures of themselves in a field of dandelions at Webster College, so Dandelions became the album title and photo. Williams still marvels at the ease and enthusiasm with which her College School teachers took to the project: "As soon as it was clear we were on this track, they completely supported us to the point where we would get out of school to do performances. We would take school time to write music, perform on TV and radio. The whole school as well as our parents were totally supportive. They allowed us to be in control of the entire process."
Under Curran's tutelage, they wrote enough songs for a ten-song LP. There were no outtakes or unreleased tracks. To get comfortable with the recording process, they gave a concert at the College School — their first performance outside of practice sessions and spontaneous shows for family and friends. For the recording, they rented a church on Big Bend Boulevard and hired two backing musicians, Wendy Katz on acoustic bass and Mike Kieffer on drums. They rented the church for an entire week, but Tres and Kitsy, being kids, finished the songs in two days and were too restless to spend time overdubbing or doing extra takes. "If we've recorded everything, can we be done?" they begged. There are two tracks of between-song chatter on Dandelions, and you can actually hear them arguing about song endings, and their audible relief after finishing the last track.
They mixed the tracks with Kent Kesterson at KBK/Earth City Sound Studios. Later a world-class studio and rehearsal space — Welders' drummer Jane Fujimoto recalls it as "like being aboard a giant spaceship" — it was then a tiny basement studio.
"He was recording high school choirs at the time," Sheahan says. "When we had to make decisions, we all met in his basement. And the adults let us decide." A total of 300 copies were pressed, and Tres and Kitsy sold them for five dollars apiece. "Jesus Christ Superstar was really big at the time," Williams says. "It was ten dollars for a double album, so we figured we could sell ours for five."
While waiting for the albums to arrive, the Children of Sunshine found themselves sought by local media. They appeared on two radio stations, KMOX (1120 AM) and a college station that neither now remembers. The Post-Dispatch wrote them up on the front page of the Sunday entertainment section underneath the headline "Songwriting Not For the Young at Heart." Most exciting, they appeared twice on Corky's Colorama, a long-running children's show hosted by Corky the Clown, also known as KSDK-TV (Channel 5) weatherman Clif St. James. "[Corky] had Tuffy's Pet Foods as a sponsor, so he had us sing it and then held up a can of dog food," says Tres. Their parents printed up business cards that said "Tres and Kitsy — Guitar Entertainment" on yellow card stock with raised orange lettering.
"Oh my gosh, we felt larger than life," Sheahan recalls with a laugh. "It was so fun and exciting."
And then it was over. By the time the albums arrived, Tres and Kitsy were in sixth grade and on to the next phase of their lives. There were no Children of Sunshine concert tours. In fact, both of them were a little embarrassed by the whole thing. "When you're ten or eleven, you're still a little girl," explains Sheahan. "When you get into the early teen years, you want to make sure you're still seeking approval from the people around you. And all of a sudden, we went through this transition where we had felt like what we had done was so wonderful, and then we thought it was babyish."
"By sixth grade, Kitsy's brothers were all into rock music," adds Williams. "No sooner was the album released than we were ashamed it wasn't hard rock. We had a psychological block to it for many years."
The pair graduated sixth grade and stayed together one more year — some of the College School parents from their grade started the Satellite School at Nerinx Hall High School. Then Tres moved onto Webster Groves High School, and Kitsy to Ladue Horton Watkins High School. The pair kept in touch but did not do any more songwriting or recording.
And that would have been the last anyone had heard of Children of Sunshine. Except for a little invention no one but a few computer scientists could have predicted in 1971: the Internet.
There have always been record collectors seeking out the most obscure recordings available. From old blues recordings and Harry Smith's Anthology of American Folk Music to the present day, private, ultra-limited-edition pressings have always been valued for their scarcity and odd charm. "Obscurity itself will not sustain collector interest," suggests Irwin Chusid, a long-time DJ at Jersey City, New Jersey's WFMU (91.1 FM) who has produced reissues by the likes of Lucia Pamela and the Langley Schools Music Project. "However, obscurity and some musical magic, however raw, can spark cult appeal, especially if there's a back story and existing copies are rare."
Chuck Warner surely had this philosophy in mind while browsing a west-county garage sale some time in the mid-1990s. Now based in New England, Warner is a collector of some renown. His Hyped to Death label has unearthed literally hundreds of obscure punk, pop and post-punk one-offs and obscurities. He claims to have been one of the first to discover the Shaggs' Philosophy of the World, a strange but beguiling album by a trio of New Hampshire sisters that has spawned cult fame, a musical and a possible biopic. Through trial and error, he's trained himself to sift the vanity projects from the gems. "There are hundreds, if not thousands, of private-press LPs with promisingly crude artwork that turn out to be high school and college glee club and show bands, or religious records," Warner says. So when he happened across Dandelions at this particular garage sale, he was naturally suspicious. But, hey, it was only a quarter — so he bought the album and took it home.
"Of course, when I listened to it, I was blown away by both the musical sophistication and the lyrics." Warner recalls. And thus began the search for answers, in time-honored collector fashion: Who are these people? And what are they doing now?
Warner began sleuthing. He called the College School's alumni office, which would not give out contact information. When he realized that they had friends in common, he put out a request for information and a fresh, unopened copy of the album — only to find out, "Kitsy and Tres did not seem to want anything to do with the record and were not willing to sell copies to me at any price."
"We just didn't want to claim it anymore," Sheahan recalls. "The man I ended up marrying, his family had dear friends that went to the College School with me. While I was out of town, his mother had our record album in her living room and said, 'You're not going to believe who this is!' Even then, I was still embarrassed."
Warner played Dandelions for a few select contacts. One was ex-Dead Kennedys' vocalist Jello Biafra, known for his passion for "incredibly strange music."
Another was a long-time friend of Warner's in California. Said friend finally traded a pile of punk records for Warner's copy of the album, did his own research and found Williams on the Internet.
She was annoyed that someone had sold Dandelions at a garage sale.
"My instant reaction was, 'Who's the jerk who sold our album when they could have called and given it back to us?'" Williams remembers.
By this time, both Williams and Sheahan were happily going about their adult lives. Sheahan stayed in the area, married, had three children and began selling real estate. Williams married, divorced after fifteen years and eventually found her way to New Mexico. There she became active in music once again — this time playing percussion in Brazilian samba bands — and started working in "permaculture," or sustainable land-use design. Her organization has helped set up agricultural systems throughout Latin America. (When it's suggested that she's come full circle from Dandelions to permaculture, she laughs. "If you're growing shallow-rooted crops, leaving the dandelions actually brings nutrients up to the surface," she says. "So dandelions are very valuable.")
Warner's friend convinced an initially skeptical Williams to sell him a batch of unopened albums, and from there the recordings traveled around the world.
In April 2009, the blog swanfungus.com provided a download link to a digitized copy of Dandelions. "I listened to it yesterday for the first time and can't really think of a good musical comparison, but the songs are actually really cool, and the recording doesn't smack of kitsch in any way," wrote the Webmaster. This is the link that rock critic Everett True posted to his faithful readers and promoted on Twitter.
It's been a long, strange trip: from a west-county garage sale to a collector in California, to a musician in England to an English writer currently living in Australia and now back to St. Louis. It took a complex tangle of technology — a medium that some believe is destroying the music industry — to bring these low-key, isolated acoustic recordings to an audience that no one, least of all ten-year-olds Tres and Kitsy, could have imagined existed.
Even so, the pair is making plans. In between writing a book about her father, Williams is fielding offers and talking to record labels about reissues. There have been a few offers, and they're considering how to best preserve the innocence and legacy of the original project. She and Sheahan have even discussed a "reunion" concert — maybe a potluck dinner for their family and friends, maybe even at the College School itself.
There's one bittersweet part of the story: Jim Curran, the man who taught them guitar and inspired the whole project, is nowhere to be found. They're still looking for Curran, and both were adamant that he be mentioned in this story.
"We cannot find him, and we want him to be part of this resurgence," stresses Williams. "If it wasn't for him, we wouldn't even be writing music. He was our protective bubble through the entire process."
But Williams and Sheahan would be crazy not to keep hope alive. If the story of Children of Sunshine teaches us anything, it's that we're all interconnected in complex and seemingly random ways. The concept of "six degrees of separation" is now as outdated as eight-track tapes. If a Webster Groves duo's fifth-grade school project can reach across the decades to find an audience, perhaps their teacher is closer than they think.
EL: Evan LeVine
TW: Thérèse (Tres) Williams
KC: Kitsy Christner
EL: Can you tell me about yourself?
TW: My legal name is Thérèse Williams. The nickname “Tres” was created by a second-grade teacher who felt “Thérèse” was too difficult. I reclaimed my true name “Thérèse” as a junior in high school. Although I was married for fifteen years and had changed my last name to my husband’s in 1984, I changed my name back to Williams via my divorce in 1999, reclaiming my father’s name the year before his death. It was a good choice.
My father was Jimmy Williams, jazz pianist/composer/arranger. He had a strong 50 year musical history in St. Louis. He started playing professional jazz piano while only 15, playing with an adult jazz band in East St. Louis. His original composition “Jim’s Tune” is covered on the vinyl album ‘Five Brothers’ on Tampa Records (sold for $1.98 back in the day), with Red Mitchell/bass, Bob Enevoldsen/tenor sax, Herbie Harper/trombone, Don Overburg/guitar, and Frank Capp/drums. I have two in my possession. He’s also on three CDs that I know of. A 1957 recording of Bob Graf’s ‘Bob Graf at Westminster’ and a 1995 issue of Jay Hungerford’s ‘Jay Hungerford presents The Keys to the City’. Each track is a duet with Jay on acoustic bass. He let my dad name his track; “Get Out of Town” – Cole Porter. My dad’s long-time buddy, and best man at my parents’ wedding, Joe Bozzi came out with a CD after my father’s death “Nice Vibes and a Trumpet” with a cover of my dad’s original composition “Jimmy’s bossa Nova (Only a Dream Ago)”, and the original recording from the late ’60s on the Charlotte Peters Show in St. Louis (ABC) of “Jordu” (the Jazz Salerno Quartet, later the Joe Bozzi Quartet was the house band at the Playboy Club Penthouse in St. Louis for many years-they performed on her show to promote the Penthouse shows at the Playboy Club).
I have recordings of his that I need to put to digital and release. I’m also doing a website for his musical legacy. He was the musical director and had the “Jimmy Williams Orchestra” for a jazz series for St. Louis’ PBS (channel 9). He was musical director and pianist for the Golden Rod Showboat in St. Louis, docked at Laclede’s landing. He did jazz arrangements for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. The Doc Severinsen Band of Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show performed one of his arrangements (I have to find out which one and when). He studied with Henry Mancini. He was in the middle of the Gaslight Square phenomenon in St. Louis in the late ’50s, early ’60s due to the fact that he was the musical director and pianist at the Crystal Palace in it’s heyday. At the Crystal Palace my father played for the Smothers Brothers, Barbara Streisand, Odetta, Lenny Bruce, and so many others.
My father drowned in my presence in St. Charles, just outside St. Louis in September 2000 in the Missouri River. Twenty-three musicians from the ages of 23 to 60+ played his musical memorial. They played his arrangements, original compositions, and his personal favorites. We have video. I’ve inherited his music and piano…so it’s in my blood; I have great timing and a good ear…but I never mastered any one instrument, I never truly studied music. My father studied music at a young age. He was practicing piano four hours a day starting at age fourteen because something in him ‘had’ to. He was considered in St. Louis to be a musician’s musician; a master musician, of the bebop era. There are jazz musicians all over St. Louis that have suitcases of my father’s arrangements. When a band leader would hire my dad for a gig, they new they’d get amazing arrangements thrown in!
After Dandelions, I never played music again until after my father died, twelve years ago. I had to step back into that river gradually. Song writing is my life-long therapy.
EL: Can you settle the Dandleions/Children Of Sunshine/Tres & Kitsy thing?
TW: The album was titled Dandelions. We called ourselves The Children of Sunshine, but were known as Tres & Kitsy (Tres & Kitsy is what was printed on the album labels).
EL: The back cover of the record tells us a lot about the history of ‘Dandelions’ — but it doesn’t say how Kitsy and Tres met, just that you met two years before the album was recorded. So, how did you two meet exactly, and how was your friendship different before you started taking guitar lessons?
TW: Kitsy and I first met at The College School in Webster Groves on the first day of school in 1970. We were both ten years old and starting the fifth grade. I had been at the school since the second grade, but this was Kitsy’s first year there. At the time, it was an open-classroom school supported by Webster College, which is now Webster University, in Webster Groves, MO (The College School has been independent for many years now and is in a different Webster Groves location). We just happened to be thrown in together for a guitar class with Jim Curran, an art major at the college who was a work-study student teacher, giving guitar music lessons to the students at The College School (it was a very progressive school at the time and we were allowed to create our own schedules and curriculum). I had taken guitar classes from Jim in the previous year (fourth grade/1969-70).
We were at similar levels with guitar musically, and played surprisingly well together. We also sang together beautifully and we both liked the same folk artists: Judy Collins, Peter Paul and Mary, Buffy St. Marie, Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, John Denver, James Taylor, etc. Through the music, we quickly became best friends; we were inseparable! We were together all the time, in school, outside of school, weekends, vacations, so we had every opportunity to play our guitars, singing the music we loved together…and we LOVED our guitars! We were real hams, performing for our parents/family and their friends. We participated in all the school concerts along with Jim’s other guitar students.
From the time we met and played music together in the Fall of 1970, to the time we began writing music together Christmas of 1970, was a total of only four months. In the song “The College School”, our opening line is “It was just two years ago, when we picked up our guitars…”, which was true for both of us, but this was independent of one another, prior to having met. Within five months, from Christmas 1970 to the Spring of 1971, we had written ten songs for the album and recorded ‘Dandelions’. We had enthusiastically decided upon the photograph we’d use for the album cover (one we had developed ourselves in our photography class).
Our friendship was very rich, and mutually inspiring. I feel that it was our unique chemistry that made our magic. Our chemistry as friends, as well as the alchemy of Jim working with us so closely, along with the support of the adults around us; family and school. No one tried to edit our creativity, instead, the focus was on our true unbridled expression. We were very fortunate to have a true creative philosophy surrounding and nurturing us.
EL: What was it like writing all the songs that wound up on the album? Do you remember who wrote which songs, or was it a totally collaborative process?
TW: Christmas was approaching in 1970, and Jim was late for our regularly scheduled guitar class. To pass the time, we started to talk about the Christmas party that Kitsy’s parents were planning. Kitsy wanted to make sure that I would come and spend the weekend of the party at her house. I told her that I’d have to ask my folks for permission, she was insisting that I get permission, so I assured her that I’d even ask my dog Tuffy. She asked me, jokingly, what he’d say, so I began to play my guitar and sing “Arf, arf, arf, arf”. At that moment, Jim came bursting through the door (he was never late). He had witnessed us laughing and singing “Arf, arf, arf, arf”. Jim said “Hey, play that again!” We laughed at his interest in what seemed completely silly to us, but he said “No, you guys are writing music! You just wrote a song!” He dedicated our guitar class that afternoon to our song-writing, encouraging us to develop our first song together, “Tuffy” [MP3] written about my Boston Terrier Bulldog.
I remember it being very easy to write music and lyrics at the time. I had mine, and Kitsy had hers, and we’d bring them to one another and get excited about them and collaborate till we felt they were right. I wrote the song “War” and had bounced it off my carpool friend and schoolmate Crystal Gore, who made a few musical suggestions in the backseat of the taxicab that our parents chartered to bring us to and from school (along with other kids who lived in the city of St. Louis and attended The College School in Webster Groves). I brought “War” to Kitsy and we collaborated further, giving Crystal additional writing credit on the track (her name is on the label itself, listed on the track, not on the album cover, none of the songs are listed on the cover). While Kitsy’s family wintered in Steamboat Springs, CO, she wrote the song “If You Are Lonely”, then brought it back to me in St. Louis and we collaborated further. Every song on the album is original and represents some form of our collaboration together musically/creatively. Our unique alchemy was an inspiration for us both. All that we did, was because we had done it together. Our unique chemistry, our unique bond, seemed to have a life of it’s own, far greater than the sum of our independent creativity.
EL: Where did you record the album?
TW: Kent Kesterson of KBK Records recorded us in a Webster Groves church on Big Bend. It was modern with carpeted floors and a surround pulpit; it was a good acoustic choice. At the time Kent recorded High School choirs on location and did all his mixing in his basement studio in his new home in the newly developed Earth City which had previously been farmland for miles around. Ten years later he had created KBK/Earth City Sound Studios where he recorded albums for Mama’s Pride, voice recordings for John Davidson, and Black Sabbath used his studio for rehearsing. He was interviewed in Billboard Magazine in 1980 regarding his studio expansion which, at that time, was the most state-of-the-art recording facility in the Midwest outside of Nashville. Like many recording studios in the early ’80s, he was forced to sell the entire studio at auction to cover his bills…I think they went bankrupt. Unfortunately, Kent died of a stroke during the ’90s.
John MacEnulty Sr. provided professional musical assistance. Al Schmeez designed the album cover. Wendy Katz played acoustic bass. Mike Keifer was on drum kit. Kitsy’s parents paid for the cost of the record being made. My mom printed our business cards “Tres & Kitsy, The Children of Sunshine, Guitar Entertainment” and included our home numbers. I still have four copies of the business cards!
EL: Do you remember being nervous your first time in a recording studio?
TW: Kent, as were all the adults surrounding our project, was wonderful. At the age of ten, we were allowed complete artistic freedom in all choices regarding our album and our music. Although we had scheduled a week of recording sessions, after two full days we were already tired of the long detail-oriented process and asked to stop recording at the end of day two. There was no day three. Our process was always honored. Kent invited us to his basement home studio to listen to our tracks. We were able to discern which cuts we preferred, as well as the order of the tracks. We were surprised to find two additional tracks added to our ten-song album. While the tape was rolling between official takes, Kent had captured Kitsy and I in conversation discussing the music, the last song we’d played, how we might perfect it or not, silly thoughts and feelings, and our excitement at being done with the recording process. It was a clever documentation of our age and sensibilities at the time in that unique setting. We were just happy to get out of the regular school day!
EL: Were there any songs you recorded during the ‘Dandelions’ sessions that did not make the LP?
TW: We only wrote together what you hear on the album. We were creating music all the time, but this album captures the only co-written material that we ever documented outside of radio and television performances.
EL: What’s your best/favorite memory of the recording sessions?
TW: We were also taking a photography class at our school and used a photo that we had developed of us as the album cover. In this photograph we were surrounded by a field of blooming dandelions. It was this dandelion field that inspired us to use one of the photos on the album cover and to title the album ‘Dandelions’. Only then did we write a song about it (title track 01).
We wrote songs about our school, a dandelion field, a family friend, my dog, divorce (which everyone’s parents around us seemed to be experiencing), heaven, god, war, how to make a record, and how not to be lonely. We never wrote any other songs together that ‘took’. Once we had a total of ten for the album, we figured we were done.
EL: Do you still have any of the pictures you took of the dandelion filed during the outing that inspired the album cover photos?
TW: We both have sets of enlarged photos from our dandelion field session that we mounted on board back in 1970. We made two identical sets for both of us. Each set had a portrait of each of us separately, as well as the one on the album cover of us together…we were squinting in the sun!
EL: Do you remember how many copies of the album were made, or how many were sold? Did you remember to keep copies for yourself?
TW: 300 albums were produced. Most were either sold one at a time to friends, family, and school-mates, or given away, so it’s fair to say that every copy that went out at that time was opened and played at least once. Our mothers kept the bulk of them, though we each had a few. A vinyl collector from LA bought most of what we had left and that was after he searched for us for fifteen years! A collector friend of his had found an old used copy of Dandelions at a yard sale in St. Louis and sold it to him. Apparently the LA collector has been getting the word out. We’re still pretty shocked over it all. Grade school friends write to tell me how they lost the album in their divorce, or how they found their album after their mother passed. It seems to be a personal bond for people.
EL: How did you feel about playing your songs in a live setting at such a young age?
TW: We were never nervous about performing. It came very naturally to us. We’d perform every chance we’d get, and we created a few of our own opportunities. We performed twice on the Children’s television show Corkey’s Colorama, a weekend children’s program hosted by Corkey the Clown, otherwise known as Cliff St. James, the NBC channel 5 weatherman. Once on his show we performed our song “Tuffy”, written about my dog, and Mr. St. James found a sponsor in Tuffy dog food which he pitched on the heels of our song. We performed live on KMOX radio (another NBC affiliate) and KDNA, an independent college station. We managed to score a feature entertainment story for the St. Louis Post Dispatch that included large photographs of each of us. We had a few small gigs in St. Louis. We were always performing at our school and we loved to get out of school to perform for others!
EL: What happened after the album was released? Did you consider making a second album? Did you keep playing music
TW: The album was released in the 71/72 school year. We were both eleven years old and in the sixth grade. We sold our albums for $5 each. I had set that price based upon the fact that the double album “Jesus Christ Superstar” was currently selling for $10 (a big price in those days).
Kitsy and I were best friends in the fifth and sixth grades. While preparing to graduate the sixth grade, we knew we’d be leaving The College School, which was a sad prospect, so a handful of students and their parents decided to create our own junior high school. Kitsy and I attended this new school which our parents had helped to create and which we had all named “The Satellite School” (I had even designed the school’s logo). Although we started the seventh grade as best friends, much had changed between us during that school year. We moved in different circles and followed different drummers, but we’ve always kept in touch over the years. We were in each others’ weddings. We never played music together again, but often made fun of ourselves having recorded Dandelions at ten when we were on the verge of discovering rock, which made our music seem pretty silly and babyish. We were ashamed of our music for many years. We took a lot of hard-core teasing from Kitsy’s older brother and the boys at school. Some of the boys pulled off a great prank by getting hold of the school’s speaker system and mocked us by singing “Barf, barf, barf, barf…that’s what you would do…after you see the room that Tuffy got to…”. I’m still in touch with some of those guys today and they still laugh at their coup of 1971!
I was always close to Kitsy’s mom, Jo. I’d spent a lot of time in their home, and felt a strong heart connection with her then as I do today. Their family gave me my own pony, Dusty. I was also inspired by her father, Ted, who was one of the top architects in St. Louis. When I went to college at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, it was their pre-architecture program that drew me…that and wanting to leave St. Louis to be on my own. I remember how it felt to be in Ted’s office during the years Kitsy and I were close. Everyone at his firm was drawing blueprints and painting presentations and building models and it was all a beautiful candy store to me. I never completed the architecture program but excelled in all of my art classes. I should have changed my major to Fine Arts, I couldn’t grasp the physics required for architecture; I was great with calculus, but physics did me in. I also had an extreme fear of test-taking. A couple of family tragedies kept me from returning to school.
KC: While Therese became close with my family I too spent a wealth of time with her and her mother, Carol. She became like a second mother. She has a heart of gold, loved me, cared for me…She encouraged us to do anything that came to mind that was creative, never putting limits on us, making sure that we knew that we could do anything, be anything. She was a single mom, worked countless hours but always had time for us. She did not have any extra cash ever but I remember there always being enough for us to do something special, get an ice cream, or go to a movie.
EL: What are you doing with your lives currently?
KC: I am working in Residential Real Estate Sales in St. Louis. I am very happily married and have three beautiful children ages 22, 20 and 17. My free time is spent enjoying my family and in the outdoors.
TW: Today, I’m working in the field of permaculture. I’ve been working administratively over the past eight years in the executive office of the twenty-three year old 501c3 non-profit PAL-Permacultura America Latina. As PAL’s Administrative Director I handled all administration and financials from the executive office including all registrations, wires, scholarships, etc. Prince Charles wrote of his first permaculture tour to our center in Manaus, Brazil in his new book “Harmony”, where he’s photographed with PAL’s founder, President and International Program Coordinator Ali Sharif, and PAL’s Vice-President Carlos Miller. PAL…is serving communities and families in need of water and food security, as well as natural sanitation. This is a region that has survived civil war.
I fell into permaculture by accident. I am staying in the field because I strongly believe that sustainable design for living is the most viable solution for our current ecological, economic, and ethical condition of deterioration in our world. Through PAL, I was able to attend the IPC9 in Africa in 2009, where I received my 72hr International PDC-Permaculture Design Certificate Course at the Fambidzanai Permaculture Centre. The course was associated with the IPC9, which was held in Malawi. After the Malawi Convergence and Conference, I stayed for an additional week to receive a teaching certificate (TOT) in Permaculture Design from Rosemary Morrow of the Blue Mountains Permaculture Institute of Australia. I’m currently a member of the International PDC Support Group (the IPC selects a different continent and host for the IPCs every two years).
I recently started my own non-profit, Food and Permaculture for Communities, which is just getting off the ground. Working with numerous permaculturalists across Africa, my passion is to support and understand how permaculture empowers the women of Africa, and how the women of Africa empower their communities, though my interest isn’t in the women alone. Men and women are doing amazing work on their own. I want to support their work and network them with one another. I’m also interested in teaching people locally how to compost, harvest water, grow food, build with earth, and integrate systems for sustainable living. I spent weekends over the course of five months learning hands-on earth-building at Ampersand Sustainable Learning Center in NM. I spent last summer as an Executive Assistant for the Carbon Economy Series of lectures and workshops in Santa Fe. I’ve taught composting to fourth-graders. I work at a local organic farm. I grow food and raise chickens in my spare time.
EL: Did either of you continue to play music?
TW: For the past 12 years I’ve played agogo bell with Samba Fe in Santa Fe and am learning to play an 18? surdo drum. I’m a guest agogo bell player for St. Louis’ Joya samba band when I’m in town. I’ve played agogo/cowbell for Mala Mana and also Batacutanga, of Albuquerque. I’ve been in the Albuquerque samba band The Lost Tribes of Mardi Gras for the past year (though I’ve played with them for the past ten years as a guest agogo and percussion player). They’ve got me singing again and I love it!
I’ve studied Zimbabwe Shona music over the years and have been in two local marimba bands and love singing vocals. I sang on stage with Michelle Shocked in Taos, New Mexico (we harmonized like angels – she is without a doubt a most generous soul). I’ve performed vocals with a few local musicians and poets in Santa Fe. I have a beautiful passion for Afro-Hatian dance and African Dun Dun drumming. I’ve been blessed with instruction from some of the best teachers in African dance and music. I continue to write songs, always have, always will.
I love music. I love creating it, singing it, witnessing it, dancing and making love to it. It’s in my blood. I still write music and lyrics, though I rarely play guitar. I still have my Yamaha steel string guitar, made in a Japanese factory, that I bought for myself for my tenth birthday in 1970. I had earned $30 doing odd jobs in my neighborhood and my mom matched it for a dealer price of $60 (the music store’s owners were friends of my parents). I had it cleaned up a few years ago and bought a new case. I’m now wanting a small-necked acoustic with pick-up (my hands are small). In the meantime, I’ve been blessed with a baritone ukelele with a pick-up. It’s very kind to my out-of-practice hands and is so much fun to play!
EL: Do you maintain a good friendship with each other? Has the recent interest in your music affected that?
KC: The new interest in our music over the last seven years has really brought us together with our communication. Although we lead very different lives it has been a true joy to get to know each other again and appreciate the different things that each of us has done.
TW: This new and totally unexpected interest in our album ‘Dandelions’ from 40 years ago has brought us closer together now than we’ve been in years. It’s been a riot. We can’t understand what all the fuss is about. Mike Appelstein of the Riverfront Times, in St. Louis, wrote a 2,300-word feature cover story on us April 15, 2011. We were very proud of that issue. I’m designing a website (we have a temporary website). We gather with our mothers for dinner now whenever I visit St. Louis. The album is a business now. We have seven offers to re-release the vinyl, and we will be releasing digital ourselves; pay-to-download, and a collector’s anniversary cd with memorabilia. We will also release a songbook. Someone is interested in doing a documentary film on our story. The eBay sales have not been ours. The internet and YouTube postings have not been ours. ‘Dandelions’ has taken a ride all on its own. It’s beautiful how the music and the message has rung true through the years. Now we’re stepping up to claim what was our creation. The phenomenon of ‘Dandelions’ 40 years after the fact has brought us much closer than we had been in many years. It’s a welcome reunion!