Fate. Luck. Karma. Serendipity.
Whatever you want to call it, Americana songstress Shelley King is the walking, talking, singing, guitar-playing poster gal for serendipitous occurrences. Her life and career are brimming over with fateful decisions and fateful events that altered (and are altering) her path through life.
Such a fateful decision took place the day she made up her mind to tell her boss to "take this job and shove it." OK, that's not exactly how she quit - but she did think about doing it with that kind of flair. Even so, the decision to leave the security of her 9-to-5 job to pursue music for a living was followed by another fateful turn of events that very same day. More on those amazing back-to-back incidents in a moment.
King is currently bringing the music of her new album, "Building A Fire," to audiences across the country. The album was produced by the singer and John Magnie and Steve Amedee - members of the Subdudes, an American roots rock group from New Orleans that blends blues, gospel, funk and r&b. And King and her team are putting the finishing touches on a music video of the title song.
"I love playing different cities all across the country," declares the Austin-based singer-songwriter in an HNGN exclusive interview. "Each new audience gives me a fresh perspective on my music - even when the folks I'm playing for already know my songs."
In addition to the United States, King, over the years, has taken her music to Europe and Japan. She is, after all, the first woman ever named as an Official State Musician of Texas. That 2008 recognition by the Texas legislature is a testament to what the Arkansas-born King means to the music of the Lone Star State. She has been an active ambassador of Texas music.
She is also the author of a song recorded by Lee Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra. How the song came to be recorded by the pair is one of those serendipitous incidents that populate King's life. Hazlewood happened to be driving through Texas and he happened to hear King's version of her song "Texas Blue Moon" on the radio. The Hazlewood-Sinatra duet was the result of this turn of fate.
"Building A Fire" is the Americana music star's seventh album. The Aug. 26 release sparked instant rave reviews.
A cover story in Buddy magazine addressed the overall quality of the album by using one particular song as a focal point. "The slow, almost aching traditional 'I Know I've Been Changed,' delivered in King's strong, sultry killer of a voice over full-but-never-overdone music and backing vocals, defines 'Building a Fire.'"
The Alternate Root proclaimed, "She creates a spiritual-like connection that speaks volumes about the ways in which people live, love and relate to their environments. Drawing on her rural Arkansas gospel, Americana and blues roots, King writes song lyrics about relationships and personal experiences."
King wrote 10 of the songs on "Building A Fire," while she co-wrote another with her friend Floramay Holliday. She also included a spiritual on the album that she had originally heard Levon Helm sing when she performed with him. The song, "When I Go Away," was written by the late Helm's band director Larry Campbell.
And King's grandmother sent her a YouTube video of a traditional gospel song, "I Know I've Been Changed," that the singer admits "got stuck" in her head. She says she recorded it for the new album because the song "wouldn't leave me alone."
However, King probably would never have recorded any of her seven albums had it not been for the day - the incredible day - she quit her 9 to 5 job.
"I was a floor covering distributor. I repped hardwood and ceramic tile flooring to retail stores," she recalls. "I had a pretty big territory and I was making pretty good money. But, man, the work just wasn't doing it for me. And I could see the long run just getting dimmer and dimmer for me. I thought, 'I'm not going to be happy.'
"I was trying to do music and a day job. It's hard to do music unless you're in it all the way - and, even then, it's hard to do. I finally got up my nerve and stepped off the cliff."
Stepping off the cliff meant leaving that day job behind.
"I went in and borrowed a sheet of paper from someone, so that I would have a resignation letter written. I went into the restroom to write the letter. I was so nervous. My hand was shaking. I got to thinking that I should have typed it up. This is terrible, I thought. You can't even read it because my hand was shaking so bad.
"I was scared, but I just knew it was what I had to do. We were going to have a sales meeting with the whole sales team. I asked my manager if I could talk to him for a minute before the meeting started. We went into his office and I handed him that handwritten note.
"I really, really wanted to sing 'Take This Job And Shove It,' but I didn't want to leave on a bad note. So I didn't sing it. I just wanted to pursue my music. And the job was keeping me from doing what I wanted to do. So I went for it."
Almost immediately - literally in the few minutes it took to drive home - fate intervened to show her what it thought of her decision.
"All the way home I was thinking, 'What did I just do? Did that really just happen?' But when I got home I got on the phone. I called everyone I knew in the music business and - wow! - I booked 11 gigs the very first day."
Did she think the bookings were a sign?
"Yes. They were a sign from the universe that I'm on track - that I had made the right move."
When asked what year it was that she quit her day job, King answers with no hesitation.
"It was June 15, 1998. It was a Monday morning. It was 7 a.m. I remember that day so clearly."
King's brush with serendipity (or fulfilled karma, if you like) is ongoing. It was, and is, continually a part of her daily life - long passed that life-changing June 15 morning.
Even King's considerable charity efforts reveal healthy doses of fate. Her two primary philanthropic interests involve opposite ends of the age spectrum - children and seniors.
"I'm involved in a number of projects, but the Fuel Our Fire thing just kinda fell in my lap," acknowledges the acclaimed singer-songwriter. "I went to help them out and to be a mentor and teach these kids and work with them in this camp. A friend of mine, who was supposed to do the camp, had a family emergency and couldn't be there. So members of the organization came to me and asked if I could help.
"It was the week before 'Building A Fire' came out and my first thought was, 'Wow, I may really be over- committing if I take this on with all the things I'm doing tied to the album launch.' Then they told me the youth's group name was Fuel Our Fire and here I am getting ready to release 'Building A Fire.' So my second thought was that this is kind of a message from the universe. I knew there was no way that I could turn down helping them.
"I went to help them and it was an incredibly rewarding experience. The kids were amazing. They were talented. It was a week-long songwriting, collaborating, recording camp. Several groups of kids and mentors wrote songs, produced the songs and then went into the studio and recorded them. My group of kids were amazing. I am so proud of the song that they did. I think it will be out on iTunes by Christmas, and I'm sure all the money will go to that program, that charity."
King also helps the elderly.
"HOME is a non-profit organization that several Austin music dignitaries put together in 2010, originally to help out Miss Lavelle White, a blues musician who was facing being homeless," she explains. "I think she's 82 now. We couldn't let Miss Lavelle live under a bridge, so we had to raise some money. We started out with just her in mind and we're continuing our long-term fund-raising efforts with the hopes to help other aging musicians on an as-needed basis.
"We did a big concert at Antone's and performed Miss Lavelle White's songs. Tons of great artists came in to play, including Ricki Foster, Marcia Ball, Carolyn Wonderland and myself. We recorded the concert and released a CD. All the proceeds from the CD go to HOME, which provides housing opportunities for musicians and entertainers."
Even though her work with HOME is important to the singer, it was, perhaps, just another twist of fate that her 2012 album was titled "Welcome Home." Hmmm....
And how 'bout King's role of an Official State Musician of Texas - any fate involved there? Considering that a gazillion artists were nominated in 2008 for the position, maybe so.
"That title is given by the Texas legislature and the musicians are nominated by the people of Texas," she notes. "Any citizen of Texas can make a nomination. Then the Texas Commission on the Arts distills all of those nominations into their top 10 or top 20. Then the legislature makes the final selection. So it's a big honor. It's not a popularity contest, by any means.
"The legislature wrote a resolution into the books for me and they honored me on the floor of the House and Senate. It was a huge honor and it was something I'll never forget. It was very cool. It was a big honor and I try to represent Texas and Texas music well."
King's embracing of serendipitous events pushing her life in different - and wonderful - directions was present during this HNGN interview.
Just before the interview with the Americana songbird kicked off, a Pace Picante sauce commercial came on a TV in a room adjacent to the room where she was doing the interview. The commercial was the one where the cowboys are verbally taking to task picante sauce made in "New York City."
The irony of the situation - an Arkansas gal with Texas legislature recognition being in the concrete canyons of Manhattan to play her music - wasn't lost on King, who started laughing.
"Can you believe that commercial is on where I can hear it while I'm here in New York City?" She exaggerates with a twangy accent the "New" and "York" and "City" - mimicking the cowboys in the Pace commercial.
Indeed, what would be the astronomical odds that that particular TV commercial would be playing at the exact moment the interview was to begin and when King was within earshot?
Fate? Luck? Karma? Serendipity?