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A Gillian Welch Biography

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    • 29 posts
    December 29, 2011 3:39 PM PST

    Gillian Howard Welch was born on October 2nd, 1967 in New York City and adopted by Kenneth and Marilyn "Mitzie" Welch.  Little is known about her birth parents except that her birth mother was a college student in NYC (and may have grown up in the mountains of North Carolina) and her biological father was a musician, a drummer.  Gillian has an older sister, Julie, born in 1961, who lives in California and works as a graphic designer and comedy teacher.  When she was three, her parents packed up the family and moved to Los Angeles to write for The Carol Burnett Show.

         Gillian attended Westland Elementary School (K-6), a progressive private school founded in 1949, located on Mulholland Drive in Bel Air.  While attending Westland, she was introduced to the music of folk singers such as Woody Guthrie, The Carter Family, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan, and performed their songs with her peers.  In high school, she attended Crossroads School For Arts and Sciences (K-12) in Santa Monica, graduating in 1985. 

         Although she applied to and was accepted at Princeton University, she chose instead to attend the University of California at Santa Cruz.  There, by her own admission, she immediately spun out of control and began "getting drunk and taking drugs all the time".  She also played in several different bands: Penny Dreadful, a Goth band in which she played bass, "Thirteenth-Floor something or other", a psychedelic surf band where she was the drummer, and Sofa, a campy seventies cover band where she switched between guitar and bass, and performs under the pseudonym "Oprah von Sofa".  It was during her time in Santa Cruz that she was introduced to bluegrass music by her then housemate, musician and radio DJ, Mike McKinley (mandolin player in SC's iconic bluegrass band, Harmony Grits).  "When I discovered bluegrass music, it was like an electric shock that it meant so much to me.  I hadn't heard people playing the music I had sung as a kid, and it made me think, I know these songs, and I sound good singing them."  She graduated from UCSC in 1990 with a B.F.A. in Photography.  Following graduation, and a bit of adventure in Wales/Amsterdam, Gillian decided to further her musical education at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts.

         At Berklee, she majored in songwriting and studied under Professor Pat Pattison, although her style and taste were not a perfect fit with the school's decided jazz leanings.  One of the greatest benefits of her attending Berklee, however, was meeting her eventual music and life partner, David Todd Rawlings, at a successful audition for the country-band class.  She studied music for two years, during which time she gained greater confidence as a performer "because you had to". "In every class, you had to do things in front of about twenty people."

         After finishing her studies at Berklee, Gillian made the decision to leave Boston and head South to Music City-Nashville, Tennesssee.  "I looked at my record collection and saw that all the music I loved had been made in Nashville-Bill Monroe, Dylan, The Stanley Bothers, Neil Young-so I moved there.  Not ever thinking I was thirty years too late."  Gillian moved to Nashville in the Summer of 1992, and Dave followed shortly after.  Her first attempts at entering the Nashville scene were playing the numerous writers nights around town: Douglas' Corner, Third Coast, the Courtyard Cafe & The Bluebird (she got signed to her songwriting deal there, "over by the cigarette machine").  Prior to her being signed to Almo/Irving Rondor as a songwriter by iconic country music exec David Conrad, Tim & Mollie O'Brien recorded two of her songs, "Wichita" and "Orphan Girl", on their 1994 album Away Out On The Mountain.  The following year, The Nashville Bluegrass Band recorded "Tear My Stillhouse Down" and "One More Dollar" on Unleashed.  Industry wide acclaim arrived when Emmylou Harris did "Orphan Girl" on her comeback album Wrecking Ball that same year.

         A little background first, in 1962 East Coast music executive Jerry Moss and musician and bandleader Herb Alpert (of Tijuana Brass fame) formed A&M (née Carnival) Records, [A]lpert&[M]oss.  The label released a mixture of pop, jazz, rock and folk, and is still in existence today under different management.  Alpert and Moss sold the label to Polygram Records in 1989 for a reported $500 million, although they continued to run the label until 1993.  In 1994, they started Almo Sounds ([Al]pert+[Mo]ss), with the intent of creating an independent botique label as they had originally set out to do with A&M.  David Conrad introduced Gillian to Jerry Moss, who flew her and manager Denise Stiff (who also managed Alison Krauss) out to L.A. for an audition which led to her being signed to a recording contract with Almo.  Labelmates included Imogen Heap, Ozomatli, Garbage and Herb Alpert himself.   

    This post was edited by Brian1964Smith at September 29, 2014 8:48 PM PDT
    • 45 posts
    January 2, 2012 4:21 AM PST
    She said recently she was born on West 72nd St and went to Kindergarten somewhere there on the Upper West Side.
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    • 135 posts
    October 22, 2021 6:05 AM PDT

    Every now and again I can't shake the feeling that Gillian's biological mother is Vicki Lawrence who worked on the Carol Burnett Show in '67. As Gill was born in '67 that seems far fetched, but then I look at the resemblance and start putting together tiny shreds of coincidences. Gill's middle name is Howard, Vicki's father's name, that she was also known as Miss Fireball when Burnett met her aged 17, appearing on Burnett's show in '67, when both the host and Lawrence were both seen to be wearing big maternity dresses. My theory doesn't hold water tho as the first show Lawrence appeared in was Sept '67 and Gill was born October that year.