Catching up with Helen Hudson -- Where she's been. Where she's going.
You've been a songwriter most of your life. How did you start?
I had just graduated from Stanford and was teaching high school English in Arizona. I was sick of grading papers, so on a whim one day, I went to a hobby shop and bought a guitar. I started writing some songs and someone said, "Those are good songs. You should go to Los Angeles." So I did -- just packed up my guitar and drove to LA.
Wasn't that a little intimidating?
After living with my mother for the early part of my life, very little intimidates me. However, a traumatic childhood is great fodder both for writing and a happier adult life. My first book, First Memory, Last Act, details those 12 years living with a paranoid schizophrenic.
Moving to LA and performing for complete strangers was easy by comparison. Taking that chance paid off -- I played One More Guitar, one of my first songs, at every Talent Night within 100 miles in the first six weeks of my arrival. Those performances led directly to a call from CBS. They were doing a music special with Jason Robards and Tony Randall and asked me to sing the title song. Two years later, in 1980, I was offered a record deal and my first single, Nothing but Time was on the charts. Then I toured on the college market.
What caused you to stop touring?
My grandmother had moved in with my husband and me in 1982. After several years of moving around from California to New York, we decided to settle in Nashville and start a family. Also, Granny Jo had become my legal guardian when I was 12. She took such great care of me growing up that I wanted to return the favor when she could no longer care for herself. Granny lived with us for 13 years. When she died, our first daughter was almost 2.
So your life became home-focused?
Yes, and it still is. My husband and I have been married for more than 30 years and we have two teenage daughters. We have lived in LA, Seattle, Sun Valley, New York, Nashville and Sarasota. And there's no place like home...wherever you make it.
As you look back, what were some memorable moments?
Too many to mention but I'll give it a shot. Forgive the name-dropping, but I had wonderful mentors:
- Meeting my future husband at the bus stop in front of Carnegie Hall
- Spending afternoons with Lucille Ball at her home in Beverly Hills and chatting about our grandmothers. Lucy was raised by her grandmother too, and loved hers as much as I did mine.
- Having Nancy Reagan tell me to "Marry him" when I told her about the guy I met at that bus stop.
- Taking her advice!
- The first time my children said, "Mommy" and hugged me (much more fun than giving birth).
What about memorable music moments?
- Hearing my first single come on the radio when I was driving down Sunset Boulevard. I had to tell somebody so I screeched to a halt in front of a bench full of nuns who were waiting for a bus. "That's ME!" I yelled, pointing to the car radio. They all politely looked away.
- The year I won "Campus Entertainer of the Year" -- I was the only girl and the other winners were all guys. That was pretty cool.
- Opening for Billy Crystal in New York. After seeing his standup comedy act that night, I told him, "Gosh. you are really, really good. You should make a career of this." Since I didn't watch TV, I had no clue that he already had his own TV show!
- Feeling immensely patriotic and lifted by the crowd every time I sang the anthem. Standing at home plate, I could actually feel the love that the thousands of people around me felt for our country.
Why do you write?
I suppose the big part of the answer is because I want to make a positive difference in the world. In the case of Kissing Tomatoes, I really want to encourage people to keep their elders close and care for them at home. But the other part is that I just have to get the words out of my thoughts and down on paper. Otherwise my head would explode.
Plans for the future?
Well, considering that most of my life's "memorable moments" were not planned, I'd better keep it that way. We have two teenagers at home and right now, I'm headed towards a large basket of laundry and then the grocery store.
What's your favorite drink?
Every afternoon when the girls used to get home from school, I made "Ginger Jamboree" in the juicer. I throw in carrots, celery, apples, lemon, lime and a huge chunk of raw ginger. Of course, when I'm out and about, I also love a Starbucks quad venti latte 1/2 nonfat, 1/2 soy latte!