By Ralph Burnett
From the asthmatic blues of the opening cut "All That I've Got," through the melodically hunting ballad "Don't Stop" fourteen songs later -- Wendy MaHarry is hard to ignore.
I noticed three things right off the top that proved I wasn't dealing with just your ordinary mindless ditso wanna'-be. First, was the legal line "All songs written by Wendy Maharry" (it didn't even included the "e" word that follows in most cases--you know..."except for..."); second, the credit "ALL ACOUSTIC AND ELECTRIC PIANOS: Wendy MaHarry" (that was actually her playing those cool piano riffs); and third, the credit "COVER ART: Untitled, 1988 Wendy MaHarry Pastel on paper From the collection of Aaron Jacoves"...(after you see the cover you'll know why Wendy safely titled the work "Untitled"). This puts 26 year-old Wendy MaHarry in a creative/artistic category that surpasses most of her mentors.
Though Wendy MaHarry admits to having "recurring nightmares about facts", we know she was born in Indianapolis, raised in Rochester, New York, and schooled in Buffalo.
Wendy comes from a creative family (her brother Joel and sister Jennifer both appear on her debut) and her artistic inclinations were refined at a very early age. Wendy started writing songs in third grade, she recalls. "I took over our music class...(I was a real bossy little girl) and I made everyone play their glockenspiels and recorders and triangles. I made this song up and we played it in a concert for our school."
Along with piano, Wendy also played the flute in grade school and french horn in her high school band. When Wendy wasn't playing music she was running track, playing basketball, swimming, ice skating, and pursuing her other artistic outlet--painting. The highlight of her high school musical experience, though, was playing original compositions in front of 3 to 4-hundred people at a spring festival in which Wendy received two standing ovations.
The story of the culmination of events that led to Wendy's record deal is rather unique. When Wendy was about 16 years-old and living in Rochester, she recorded a simple piano/vocal demo on a little cassette recorder of a few songs she had written. Her father suggested that she give the tape to Dwight Marcus (the producer of her A&M debut) who, at that time, was doing commercial jingles for the same advertising agency her father was the Executive Vice President. So, Wendy mailed off the demo and shortly after received an encouraging 5-page letter from Dwight but that was the extent of their first encounter. Finally, about four years ago, Wendy decided that she would go and actually meet Dwight, toting along another tape and her synthesizer. This time Dwight wound up producing a studio demo of one of the songs but shortly after moved to California to become a partner in a studio in Los Angeles called Salty Dog.
Meanwhile, Wendy had given a friend in Buffalo a tape of the song, who, without her knowledge, passed it along to a D.J. in Rochester. Later, Wendy received a call informing her that she had been selected as one of the top 5 out of 150 bands to play live at the local "battle of the bands." Wendy recalls, "I was so surprised...I didn't even have a band...It was just Dwight and I playing [on the tape]. So I took a week and I got a band together and we went out and played and it came out just fine." Even though Wendy has played the piano since she could reach the keys and taken formal piano lessons beginning at age five, music has been only one of two artistic passions, painting being what she dedicated her formal college education to. "I tried out for Crane music school...I had an audition and I brought in all these songs that I wrote and he looked at me after I got going and he said, 'you'll never be a song writer.' But I was the kind of kid that had this huge imagination...I pictured myself really clearly, even before I had that audition, playing in front of a large audience...and it was always really comforting to me." After taking a variety of art classes at several colleges and changing majors as many times, Wendy finally quit school and took a job as an illustrator. After an unfulfilled stint there, Wendy concluded, "this isn't what I want to be doing...I want to be playing music."
This resulted in Wendy taking several trips to L.A. to record more demos with Dwight before settling in California in early 1989. "When I finally decided to move out here for good, all I had was fifty dollars because I spent all my money having my paintings photographed. I only had a suitcase...that's how many things I owned. I've lived in Hollywood, Burbank, Westwood, Beverly Hills, and Agora Hills. I was a waitress for awhile and I worked in an art store."
Demos that were made during this time, "Happy Holidays" and "Headless Horseman" drew the interest of Aaron Jacoves in A&M's A&R department, who later took interest in Wendy's artwork as well. "I took the photographs [of my paintings] to Aaron and he bought two of them (one of which wound up being the cover of my album) and I had to count the zeros...It was more money then I'd ever made... so I was able to live on that." Eventually, the album Wendy Maharry emerged with "Don't Stop", along with the two above mentioned songs, appearing in their original demo form.
Wendy Maharry is a very tasty song writing pianist who displays her strongest musical talent as a lyricist. She spreads lacy vocals over otherwise predictable musical structures to achieve a fresh approach to a coinciding feeling of deja-vu. It is the anecdotal lyrics, however, that snag your attention and needle your emotions. In expressing the images she tries to portray musically, Wendy states, "when I listen to music I'm not so crazy about having everything right out in front, I like subtlety...My music is for the kind of person who likes to sit down and think about things...It's pure music...I feel sort of like it cleanses my soul to write [songs]." And after several frustrating attempts to categorize Wendy's music, I handed the task over to her: "I have never been one to categorize myself...there's so much of me that doesn't match...I like it that way. I like to experience a lot of things, meet all different types of people, go to different types of places. I like living in an atmosphere that's always changing and I just don't ever want to loose that. I don't want somebody to put me in a category...I just don't."
Even Though Wendy has been practicing with a set band, "The Chamber of Poets" (Dwight's newly formed band, comprising musicians who met doing Wendy's project), she plans on playing venues in Europe from the 16th of April through May 6th with just her piano and microphone. Some might say she's crazy, or at least a bit bold...but that's exactly the stuff that won my heart.
If radio gives the debut form Wendy MaHarry enough spins on the ol' laser-player she's sure to win your heart too.