How I Got Here: Laura Doherty (Billy Joel, The Beatles, Neil Young)

Laura Doherty_ELTrain_photo credit Phil Onofrio_lowres.jpg

Laura Doherty has a new album (In a Heartbeat, funded via Kickstarter) full of acoustic rockers for your favorite kindergartner, a new animated video ("Domingo the Flamingo"), a new band name (Laura Doherty and the Heartbeats) and a long history of making music for kids.

I've had a number of conversations with Doherty through the years -- she's one of the nicest musicians in a genre of nice musicians -- and so I was happy when she agreed to be the latest participant in my "How I Got Here" series of kindie artists reviewing influential albums.

Read on for not one, not two, but three albums of great importance to her on her El train to Chicago kindie musician.

Most of the music that influenced me when I was young, were pop and rock songs that had catchy melody lines, jangly guitars, and anything with harmony— the more parts, the better. I can’t remember ever not loving music and singing. I was the girl with headphones on, playing guitar with my tennis racket, in front of my bedroom mirror and singing into my hairbrush. Or I was often lying on the plush green rug in my yellow room, with my ear pressed up against my Emerson stereo speakers. (Thus inspiring the song “Yellow Room” from my band Sweet Hello’s album Well of Wishes).  

What album has influenced me the most in my own songwriting? I’ll break it down into one that has influenced my singing and one that’s influenced my guitar playing. And then a radio segment that rocked my world!

My parents did have a small collection of adult contemporary 60s and 70s records, such as Frank Sinatra and Barbara Streisand, which I liked, but it was really my brother’s record collection that I was drawn too. It was 1980, I was 10, and Billy Joel’s Glass Houses captured my attention. I stared at the teeny-tiny “hand-written” font of all the lyrics on the inside record sleeve, and I memorized every word. Growing up in NY, I had an instant connection to Billy’s voice. In “Sleeping with the Television On” I would sing it just like Billy, with a stronger NY accent that I actually had. To this day, if I’m in close proximity to a karaoke machine, you can bet I’ll be asking them to cue up “New York State of Mind”. “All for Leyna” was another favorites from that record. That driving piano riff and soaring vocal…pure 80s pop! I went on to collect all of Billy Joel’s albums after that. Of course MTV was in high gear with videos, and all the 80s music made an indelible mark on my brain.

Later in high school, I became completely obsessed with the Beatles, learning the words to every song, but oddly enough I never fully learned which songs are on which albums. This is because my introduction to the Fab Four came one Thanksgiving weekend, when NYC’s rock station 102.7 WNEW played EVERY Beatles song from A - Z. I popped in my cassette tapes and recorded the whole thing. My family must have not seen me too much that weekend as I was holed up in my room switching the cassettes! I remember it covered 3 days worth of Beatles music. And that’s how I learned Beatles songs…”Ob-la-di-bla-da”, followed by “Octopus’ Garden” followed by “Oh, Darling.”

Back to an album that greatly influenced my guitar playing. I discovered classic rock and folk-rock of the 60s and 70s right at the time I first picked up a guitar, around age 16. Neil Young’s triple compilation album Decade was one that greatly influenced me and I bought the accompanying guitar songbook too, and taught myself some chords. The chord progressions I play today, and the rhythmic way I approach the guitar, I believe have sprung from those Neil Young songs I was learning as a teen. “Old Man,” “Cinnamon Girl,” “Heart of Gold”…the guitar parts all have great melody lines. I could go on and on with influences after that, such as the Indigo Girls and all the female singer-songwriters emerging at that time. I immersed myself in this music!

Fast forward 20 years or so, I’ve been living in Chicago and music continues to weave through my life. Always a passion, then as a part-time career, and eventually 4 years ago, it turned full-time career of teaching, performing, and recording music for kids. You can hear those early folk and rock influences in my 3 children’s records and my adult records too — I’ve got one solo, and two with folk-pop band Sweet Hello. 

I began writing songs for kids in 2008, and it seemed a natural progression to the music I was playing already, and a nice pairing to the early-childhood music classes I was teaching (Wiggleworms), at the Old Town School of Folk Music. It’s a program that 15 years later, still brings me joy to teach. So thanks to Neil, Billy, The Beatles, and the Indigo Girls for acoustically rockin’ MY world!

Photo credit: Phil Onofrio