Seeing as how she’s always owned the masters to every album she’s ever made, Terri Hendrix could have easily just marked the 20th anniversary of her recording career with a nicely packaged, special edition reissue of her debut album, 1996’s “Two Dollar Shoes.” After all, it’s been a while since she last had it in print, and given that it’s the one album in her expansive catalog that’s never been on any major download or streaming service outside of her own website, a good many of the fans she’s picked up in the years since its original release would likely be hearing it for the first time. Toss in some bonus tracks, new liner notes, and maybe a handful of special, career-spanning anniversary shows (in throwback overalls, naturally), and voila: a perfectly fitting way for a pioneering independent songwriter to celebrate two decades of owning her own universe with friends and fans old and new alike.
Only Terri didn’t do any of that. Instead of looking back, she kicked off 2016 with the brand new “Love You Strong,” her 15th release on her own Wilory Records label — and then got immediately back to work on three more new albums (“The Slaughterhouse Sessions,” “Who Is Ann?” and “Talk to a Human”), all of which she plans to release throughout 2016 to summer 2017 — along with a new book. She calls the thematically linked collection “Project 5,” and as crazy as the whole plan might sound to some, anyone who really knows this artist shouldn’t be surprised at all. That’s because Terri has never done “conventional,” and from Day One of her career, the only direction she’s ever known is forward. Not necessarily straight-ahead, shortest-way from here-to-there forward — her natural wiring, curiosity, and freewheeling creative spirit have always made her more of a zig-zagger and round-abouter — but ever forward just the same.
When three different labels turned down that first record of hers 20 years ago, the Texas trailblazer forged ahead by self-releasing it on her own. This was still long before the practice of artists putting records out on their own labels became an accepted industry-wide trend, but Terri’s little DIY experiment did so well for her that by the time she was ready to release her second album, 1998’s “Wilory Farm,” she was going-her-own-way not by necessity but by proud — and profitable — choice. Two decades on, all three of those labels that turned her down are long out of business. But Terri Hendrix and her San Marcos, Texas-based Wilory Records are still going strong. As music legend Al Kooper once noted in a glowing review of her 2010 song “Slow Down,” “Terri is truly a self-made woman … She makes me jealous.”
But Hendrix certainly hasn’t built her career on DIY business smarts — or even go-for-broke “can she really pull this off?” gambits like “Project 5” — alone. She’s an award-winning singer-songwriter, classically trained vocalist, and deft multi-instrumentalist (guitar, mandolin, and harmonica) who routinely holds her own both onstage and in the studio alongside some of the best musicians in Texas — including Austin City Limits Hall of Fame guitarist/pedal steel player Lloyd Maines. On top of that, she’s also an in-demand music workshop teacher (everywhere from her annual “Life’s a Song” retreat in Port Aransas, Texas, to festivals across the country and even the Berklee School of Music); the author of a book combining essays and a soup-to-nuts independent artist how-to-guide called “Cry Till You Laugh — The Part that Ain’t Art” (described by the Austin American Statesman as “equal parts spiritual and practical, honest, funny, useful, revelatory and moving”); and, most recently, the founder of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit community arts center project called the OYOU — which stands, of course, for “Own Your Own Universe.”
Above and beyond all, though, the secret of Hendrix’s success comes down to her unfailingly warm and sincere connection with her grassroots fanbase. Many of those fans have been with her since her original, pre-email mailing list, and they’ve followed her music faithfully from the winsome, youthful playfulness of “Two Dollar Shoes” and “Wilory Farm” through to the eclectic folk-pop sweep of 2000’s “Places in Between,” the strikingly assertive one-two punch of 2002’s “The Ring” and 2004’s “The Art of Removing Wallpaper,” 2007’s open-hearted “The Spiritual Kind” and the starkly confessional lyrical and musical maturity of 2010’s “Cry Till You Laugh” and this year’s “Love You Strong.”
No two of those records have ever sounded alike, let alone quite like anything else on the Texas or national folk/Americana scene, but the fact that everyone of them sold enough copies through pre-orders alone to cover their recording costs underscores the degree of mutual trust between Hendrix and her fans. The fans have always trusted her to make great music from the heart worth supporting and believing in, and that trust has allowed Hendrix, in turn, the freedom to follow her creative muse wherever it leads her without fear of losing her following by coloring outside the lines. It also gave her the courage to publically address her ongoing struggle with the serious seizure disorder that in recent years has led her to scale back of her once relentlessly busy national touring schedule and redirect her focus on building the OYOU to serve her beloved San Marcos.
The OYOU may be new, but it’s a dream that Hendrix has been working on for nearly a decade. And while still seeking land in Hays County, Texas on which to build the OYOU’s home — an all ages, handicapped-accessible, multi-purpose arts center — Hendrix is already taking a “get-it-done” approach to putting that dream into action via performances, instrument donations, workshops and other special events throughout Texas and beyond.