Authors: Carole King
In accordance with the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, the scanning, uploading, and electronic sharing of any part of this book without the permission of the publisher is unlawful piracy and theft of the author’s intellectual property. If you would like to use material from the book (other than for review purposes), prior written permission must be obtained by contacting the publisher at permission[email protected]. Thank you for your support of the author’s rights.
ver the years many people have urged me to write a book about my life. Each time my answer was, “I’m too busy living my life to write about it.” I was no less busy in 2000, when I was fifty-eight, but two years shy of sixty seemed as good a time as any to begin reflecting on the prior decades.
As I began to put together an outline, keeping track of all the bits and pieces was akin to herding cockroaches. Memories scurried out of sight as soon as they came to light, but I persevered. It was important to me to write this book myself, and it’s taken me nearly twelve years to do it.
In order to arrive at some degree of objective truth, I undertook some research, and I interviewed friends, family, and colleagues about shared experiences. But my primary purpose in writing this memoir was to entertain readers and share what I remembered. If any dates or facts are inaccurate, I will greatly appreciate your understanding that this is not a historical treatise. It’s a memoir.
Where the title of one of my albums is the same as that of a song within that album, the title of the album is always in italics. The song title appears in quotes.
A Natural Woman
includes stories to the best of my recollection about my life and my music, with occasional observations about how I perceived the cultural context for both. Just as I can only fit so many songs into one concert, I could only fit so many stories into this book. I hope you enjoy the ones I’ve chosen.
Custer County, Idaho
oundcheck isn’t going well. There’s a persistent hum in my monitor that no one seems to be able to fix. The lights are throwing a shadow from my microphone boom onto the keyboard, making it hard for me to see middle C. The piano bench is too low. It’s not adjustable. A few minutes ago, when I turned around to take off my guitar, I banged the headstock into the side of the piano visible to the audience. My guitar is cracked where the headstock meets the neck, and there’s a big ding on the piano.
But these are minor problems compared to the sensation I feel in my throat, the one I get when I’m about to lose my voice. How can I give my audience what they’ve come for if I don’t have a voice?
My bandmates, Rudy Guess and Gary Burr, try to dispel my anxiety.
“Hey, it’s okay,” Gary volunteers. “Your voice will be there for the show.”
Rudy adds, “Carole, don’t worry about the guitar. It wasn’t your fault.”
Their consoling remarks only make me feel worse. I know why
the guitar bang happened. It was because I was in too much of a hurry.
My mood doesn’t improve when John Vanderslice, our production manager, announces, “It’s 6:55, doors open at 7:00, and you need to leave the stage right now.”
“But, Slice, we didn’t check our vocal balance or get a level on ‘Earth Move’!”
Usually we play a chorus of “I Feel the Earth Move” in each new venue so the sound team can assess our likely maximum volume. Whatever level of “loud” we achieve, the sound guys know it goes to “louder” during the actual performance and prepare accordingly. But how can they prepare if they never got to hear where “loud” was?
“Sorry,” Slice says, handing me my backpack and beckoning to the piano tuner in one fluid motion.
As I head backstage, my manager, Lorna Guess, intercepts me.
“Don’t forget, you have a preshow with some radio contest winners,” she reminds me. “Why don’t you put this on?”
“This” is a lanyard with a hand-lettered laminated sign that says “Voice At Rest.” It explains to others why I’m speaking only in hand signs and whispers, and at the same time reminds me not to speak unnecessarily.
It’s unusual for me to meet radio contest winners before a show. Usually I try to conserve my energy for the concert and greet people afterwards. But we have a long bus ride tonight and need to leave immediately after the performance. Touring bands call it “play and wave.”
I have less than an hour to meet, greet, eat, and primp. I’m hoping the crew will be able to buff out the ding on the piano, raise the piano bench, eliminate the shadow on the keyboard, and get rid of the hum. I shouldn’t worry. In over thirty years of performing in concert I’ve never gone onstage and found a hum heard
at soundcheck still there at showtime. But tonight I am not in harmony with the universe. This is not a good way to feel before a show.
Lorna brings me to the room known as Hospitality where the radio contest winners are. These lovely people are longtime fans. Each has a story. They respect the “Voice At Rest” sign and do all the talking. I listen attentively and sign albums. By the time I’ve met them all, it’s 7:20. Showtime is 8:00.
Lorna walks me over to Catering. Gary and Rudy are at one table and some of the crew are at another. Lorna joins her husband (Rudy) while I stop at the crew table. From their wry jokes I learn that the air-conditioning on their bus hasn’t been working for the past few days. It’s midsummer in the Midwest. Ignoring my “Voice At Rest” sign, I ask if there’s anything I can do to hasten the arrival of a replacement bus. They tell me it’s already on the way. I tell them I couldn’t function on tour without them. They brush aside my compliments and urge me to enjoy my dinner and not worry about the bus, hums, broken guitars, or their ability to adjust for “louder.” Lorna signals me to stop talking. Like a flock of birds, the crew all get up at once to go back to work. Christian Walsh, the FOH (front-of-house) sound man, stops long enough to assure me that everything will be working perfectly by showtime. His upbeat mood makes me feel a little calmer as I walk to the buffet.
I sit down at the now vacated crew table with a plate of salad and just enough rice to sample the sauces from the meat and fish dishes. I always swear I won’t eat the cheesecake, and then I always do. I think if I eat half a piece and go back for the other half I’m not really eating a whole piece. I eat quickly, and then I look at my watch: 7:35. Yikes! I hurry to my dressing room, brew a cup of Throat Coat tea, pull a couple of outfits from my wardrobe trunk, and wait for the steamer to heat up. I check my hair in the mirror.
It’s frizzy. I daub some conditioner into my hands, add a splash of water, and scrunch the mixture into my hair. Much better.
The importance of hair: I’m feeling optimistic.
I steam my first-act trousers and my second-act blouse. Steaming my clothes grounds me. It gives me ownership of my preshow preparation. I take a sip of tea. It’s too hot. I set the cup down and begin to put on my makeup. I’ve finally figured out how much I need for a concert. It’s not much, and it doesn’t take long to apply.
Two short raps on the door announce the arrival of Brandon Miller, guitar tech and all-around crew member. He’s come for The Book, a loose-leaf notebook that contains each show’s set list, charts, lyrics, notes about songs, and the names of local people to mention. I am the keeper of The Book at all times on tour except when Brandon is transporting it to and from the piano. Without The Book I would have to depend on my memory, which has fewer available gigabytes every year.
I begin to dress, simultaneously creating and observing my metamorphosis into the woman the audience has come to see. I’m wearing a black beaded top with a matching jacket over my “security” black pants—“security” because they always fit comfortably and look good no matter how much cheesecake I’ve just had. I quickly choose some accessories from the accumulation of costume jewelry that I’ve carried on tour since 1989. It runs the color gamut and is still serviceable, albeit by no one’s standard except mine.
I look in the mirror. Ta-dah! It’s 7:56, and I look exactly like Carole King. Slice knocks on the door and calls out, “Four minutes!” By the time I open the door and peer outside, Slice has already left to round everyone up for our circle. Tonight “everyone” includes Rudy, Gary, Lorna, and anyone else backstage who isn’t doing an essential job at that moment. My own essential job will begin in what is now three minutes. As I wait for the others I
wonder if I’ll remember to turn on my light. The show is supposed to begin with me turning on the lamp atop my piano before I sit down to play—a gesture I created to set a welcoming tone and establish that we’re in my living room.
Lorna arrives at my dressing room with Rudy, Gary, and Joe Cardosi, our tour manager and lighting director. Slice pops in long enough to make sure everyone’s there, tells us they’re holding until 8:15, then dashes away to make sure everything is in order. The rest of us form a huddle and make jokes and quips about topics ranging from politics and sports to music and fashion. Gary is wearing a long-sleeved black shirt with images of gray rats of various sizes. He calls it his rat shirt. Rudy says he’s glad for the reprieve because he doesn’t have his blue Beatle boots on yet. Gary reminds Rudy that he’s not onstage for the first song. Joe tells me the name of the local baseball team in case I decide to play “Hard Rock Café.” Then Rudy spontaneously hums a low note. We all join Rudy and let the note rise gradually in pitch and volume until it turns into a roar. We end with a shout and break the circle. Seconds later, Slice opens the door and says, “Showtime!”
The others resume their preshow tasks. Slice stays with me. I rely on him to keep me from having a
moment. He has taped white arrows marked
on the floor, but the arrows aren’t registering because I’m already thinking about the show. Did they fix the hum? Will I feel comfortable playing the replacement guitar? Will I remember to turn on my light? Will my voice hold up??
I follow Slice past a series of long concrete-block walls filled with performance photos of other artists who’ve appeared at this venue. Suddenly Slice gets a call on his cell saying he’s urgently needed to solve a last-minute problem. He parks me by a wall, says, “Wait here!” and takes off. I look up and see photos of Bob Dylan, Barbra Streisand, Aerosmith, Jefferson Starship, Johnny
Cash, Reba McEntire, Joni Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel, Earth, Wind & Fire, Crosby, Stills and Nash, David Bowie, U2, and the Rolling Stones.
I well up unexpectedly at the realization that I am one of a select cadre of people who do this thing that I’m minutes away from doing. All have walked these corridors before me, and many will walk them after me. How did
The wiseass answer would be: on a bus from the hotel. But as I see it, the journey started with my grandparents.