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Life Arts    H3'ed 2/22/11

Singer/Performer Linda Eder on Her Life and Career

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My guest today is actress and singer Linda Eder. Welcome to OpEdNews, Linda. I was lucky enough to see you in concert recently.  And what a concert it was!  You almost didn't make it to Chicago altogether and it wasn't because of the weather. Can you share with our readers how a text message saved the day?

photo courtesy of Powerline Entertainment

Well, if you ask my friends and family they may tell you that occasionally I can be a little absentminded.   My flight arrangements are usually made by my road manager and he emails me an itinerary.   I check it a few days before but I didn't realize that I was looking at the arrival time and not the departure time.  I did however check myself in on line and wisely signed up for email alerts.   On the morning of the flight, I thought I was leaving at 11:45am and since I get up early I was happy to know I would be able to have a relaxing morning.   At around 8am, I checked my laptop and saw and alert from American Airlines.   It said, "your flight is on time leaving at 10am."   I generally leave an hour and a half travel time to the airport.   There went my nice morning and my second cup of green tea.   I scrambled my things together and ran out the door.  

On the way to the airport, I realized I had forgotten a few things like make-up and jewelry for the concert.  But I made the flight and, fortunately, my hotel in Skokie was next to a Nordstrom where I had time to buy the things I needed after telling my story to a few different sales ladies who helped me get in and out of there fast so I could make the sound check.  It was a bit of a stressful day but the concert went well and the audience was amazing.  If it hadn't been for that email alert I might not have made it to the show that night.

You sing, you act. You've performed on Broadway numerous times. As a kid, were you always putting on shows for your friends and family? What did your family think of your aspirations?

No, I was extremely shy about singing in front of anyone.  I sang all the time but only when I was alone or sometimes with my younger brother.   It was very hard for me to get up the nerve to audition for choir in seventh grade.  I wanted to do it so desperately but it was like a small death to actually put myself out there.  Of course, singing in front of audiences became easier but I am still very shy about singing casually in front of friends to this day.  It's weird, I know.

My family thought singing for a living was a phase I was going through so when I started to sing professionally I think they were nervous.  Over time they saw that I was actually becoming successful and they relaxed.   In some ways, they probably still think I should have "a real job" to fall back on.

You seem pretty busy for not having "a real job." A farm in Brainerd, Minnesota was not exactly a cosmopolitan setting nor the birthplace of many musical icons.  Did that get in your way? Were you always hankering for the lights of the big city?

No, I was never longing for cosmopolitan life.  I just wanted to sing and I didn't really think about what that meant.  I had my hobbies (horses, art) that filled my life during my school years and I was in the business pretty quickly right after high school so there was really no waiting around for something to happen.   Minneapolis seemed big after Brainerd.  Atlantic City felt like the big times after Minneapolis and from there was LA and NY.

I've read that one of your claims to fame was an early string of wins on Star Search . Was that helpful in launching your career or at least familiarizing the public with your work?

Yes, it was huge.  I was on national television for 24 weeks (they re-ran the whole season) that year and there is no better way to reach a wide audience.  To this day,  people still talk to me about Star Search.  People love a good competition - someone to root for, and because I was on so many weeks people got to know me a little bit.  As American Idol and all the reality shows point out, it is important for people to get to know you not only for your talent but who you are as a person.

Could you say that Star Search led directly to new gigs? Or was it more an important  validation of your career path?

I think it absolutely led to bookings.  People knew my name.  And having the words "undefeated winner of Star Search" on my bio could only help.  At the time, it was the only talent show on TV.

Nice! Over the years, you've added many genres of music to your quiver - ballads, country, folk, Broadway, American standards. Am I missing anything? Is one style a particular favorite - more the real you, or more the real you right now?

I like all of them but the only time that I am 100% myself is when I am singing the country/pop stuff that I write.  I've done so much Broadway and American Standards that the majority of my fans might tell you that they like this the best. And there is no question that I'm good at it and I enjoy it, but I know that I am also "playing" a role.  The real Linda is a much quieter Midwesterner.  

I didn't realize that you also write some of your material! Good to know. I saw you in an intimate venue with great acoustics. It was a perfect introduction to someone I had only heard about but never heard.  You've actually been around for quite a long time; in fact you have more than a dozen solo recordings and others from various Broadway productions.  You also have a versatile and talented group of musicians who accompany you. Tell us a bit about them.  Have you been together for a long time?

My musical director these days is a man named Billy Stein.  Billy used to play 2nd keyboards in my band years ago.  He left to pursue his record producing career and now has his own studio and a career that has really blossomed.  When I wanted to make The Other Side of Me CD [2008] his name came up so I got in contact with him and asked him to send me some of his work.  In the end, we co-produced the CD.  Since then, we have made two CD's and I was able to coax him back out onto the road for live shows.  He is a fantastic musician and a super guy.  The band I have now are mostly all new people that I met from working with Billy with the exception of my guitar player Peter Calo who used to also be in my band years ago, and when I use woodwinds or horns, they are all great guys that I have worked with often over the years.   

Your female vocalist was outstanding. What's the story with her?

Yes, Allison Cornell is amazing.   I needed someone in the band to sing the harmonies that I usually overdub myself when I make the records.  I love harmony and so often it really makes the arrangement.   But I couldn't really afford to hire just a singer.  It needed to be someone who could do double duty by playing an instrument.  Allison not only sings great, she plays violin, viola, guitar and keyboards.

Agreed. You've just released Now , your new CD. On it, you collaborate with Frank Wildhorn, your ex-husband and the father of your son. How does it feel to be working together again?

It was easy.  Actually easier these days because I can be more demanding...  This CD involved a lot of people from the "old days" and it was fun to see them and work with them again.  It all came very naturally.  We are all the same people.  Just older and fatter.

Jake loved it.   He came to the studio often and I know he got a real kick out of it.  Recording is meticulous and it can be frustrating sometimes which can lead to swearing.   A few times, I forgot Jake was in the studio and he collected a dollar every time someone swore.  He made some good money.

Clever boy! Speaking of Jake, one of your biggest and most important roles these days is that of mother.  How do you juggle career and being a mom? Does it keep you off Broadway? And how do you deal with the out of town gigs? Your schedule looks quite full and taxing.

photo credit: Carolina Palmgren

It's not easy.  I try very hard to keep the shows on the weekends when possible.  His dad travels as well but often it works out where he can take him on weekends when I am away.  It's important for me to be here to get him to school and be here when he gets home.

It has definitely made me stay away from doing another Broadway show because I know the schedule and the way the show takes over your life and energy and I just knew I couldn't do that to Jake or to myself.  He is my only child so I only get one chance at this.  Every parent fails at time.  It's impossible to be perfect.  The challenge is just to be the best parent you can be given what life throws at you.

You aren't kidding. What does Jake think about what you do? Does he think you're fabulously talented and incredibly cool? Or, like most kids his age, is he pretty oblivious, except when your schedule means you might miss a soccer match, school function or something else important to him?

Jake is really musical.  He plays piano and already has a band in school that he writes the music for.  So, he is very interested in music.

I think he thinks his mom's career is pretty cool and he is proud.  He has always had very good ears and can hear correct pitch really well.  Since he first learned how to write, he has written things for school papers like "my mom is a great singer,"  "my mom is the best singer in the whole world"... Of course, he spelled several words incorrectly...;)  

As for missing games or events, I have managed to not miss too many.  Jake grew up very used to his parents traveling so he has always been comfortable and secure with it.  I was lucky in the fact that when I did travel Jake was only cared for by my sister or a close family friend.  I don't think I would have been as comfortable traveling if I had been forced to rely on baby sitters.   I'm a worrier.

A musical dynasty in the making! Do you ever jam with him? On another topic, you just celebrated a big birthday. In fact, you were outed at the Chicago concert I attended. Do you feel any different? Does it change the way you look at yourself?

We haven't jammed yet but I'm sure we will soon.

I outed myself.  I've always told people my age.  I don't feel any different but it is kind of scary seeing my age in print.  Just doesn't seem right.  I'm sure everyone feels that way.  I think turning 50 is a definite mind shift.  My goal is 100 so now, as far as I am concerned, I am officially middle-aged.  Some days I can feel like I'm 80, but for the most part I feel physically good and I think I look a bit younger than my age (thanks in great part to my Norwegian mother and my boring clean living) so it's not all that bad.

photo credit: Carolina Palmgren

Bless those genes and clean living; I think you look pretty darned terrific! Performing on Broadway has been a major part of your life. Are you able to get your acting fix through concerts and recording? Do you have plans to go back on Broadway eventually? I know your many fans are interested in the answer to this one.

Actually, the idea that Broadway was a major part of my life is a misconception.  I've only done one Broadway show.  It just took so long to get to Broadway with several CDs, readings, workshops, regional productions, pre-Broadway tour, but it's still just the one show and I was on Broadway for a total of 13 months.  I did do shorter productions of three other shows outside of Broadway, but that's it.  Most of my performing life has been concerts and records. That being said, I do miss theater, but I never really wanted to take the time away from my son that doing a Broadway show requires.  It eats up your time and energy.  He is growing up though, so maybe one day I will find myself in a costume doing another musical or play. I like acting.  I like working with other actors and I love costumes.

You live far from the Minnesota farm you grew up on.  Do you get back often and where and how do you get your horse fix?

I usually go back at least once a year for a concert.  But these days I also try harder to go back just for the sake of visiting my family.  I like to bring Jake and share my childhood memories with him.  My parents are getting up there in age and it's so important to bring Jake to them since it's harder for them to make the trip out east now.  

As for my horse fix, I have a farm in NY so I see my horses every day.  I take care of them myself.  It's a lot of work but I enjoy it because I am a farm girl at heart.  I like feeding and caring for animals.  I don't always feel like trudging down to the barn in the dead of winter for the night feeding but it actually makes me feel good once I am out there, especially when there is a new clean snow and a full moon.  Magic.

Lovely, absolutely lovely. The New York Times has called you "the personification of the pop diva as vocal athlete." I have absolutely no idea what that means but it sounds like a major compliment! You have many accomplishments under your belt - CDs, Broadway, touring, awards. What's left on your wish list?

I think this particular critic was giving me a back handed compliment.  Implying that I had all the mechanics and sound but not enough feeling or "me".  At the time, I don't think I really disagreed with him.  When I started doing pop/country, adding it to my show I finally got a good review from him where he said he heard "me".  That is why my show is called "All of Me" and why I like to sing so many different types of music.  I have to please the people who are hungry for the Streisandesque songs and yet I can surround them with music that is more honest.

My wish list is always the same ... time.  

I was given a physical gift right out of the gate and I have been lucky enough to have a career that I wanted because of it.  Sure, there are things that might be fun to do but all in all I feel grateful for and ultimately proud of what I have accomplished.  Remember, I just turned 50 so I don't yearn for more success.  I just want more time to enjoy what I already have.

photo credit: Carolina Palmgren

You sound incredibly  well-grounded to me. Any tips for youngsters aspiring to make it on the music scene today?

I get asked all the time by young aspiring musicians "how do you get into show business?"

I tell them the truth: "I have no idea" BUT make sure that it is something you really want and can visualize yourself doing.  Unless you can see it, taste it, feel it, you can't possibly make it happen.  And if you have any other talent or career interest, then develop that as well.  It's a dog eat dog world and only a handful of musicians can support themselves by making music.  

Well, keep doing what you're doing, Linda. It seems to be working! Thanks so much for talking with me. It's been a pleasure.

Linda's website
Her touring schedule
Linda's latest CD "Now"

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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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