8 Mothers Talk Raising Musicians

Music Lists

Being the mother of an aspiring musician isn’t an easy thing to do. Sure, there are often moments where all the hard work and patience pay off; Gracie Carter—mother to Vintage Trouble’s Rick Barrio Dill, who lovingly refers to her as “Mamacita!” in email—just saw her son open for several bands he adored as a young musician. But it was Van Pierszalowski of WATERS’ mother, Barbara, who summed up the too-real other side of the situation: “I don’t think it’s every mother’s dream. Maybe it’s every father’s dream: Late nights, alcohol, headbanging, no sleep on the road.”

Aside from the complications that come with having a son or daughter as a touring musician, there’s also the initial, (and sometimes very loud) period after a child first picks up an instrument. After all, sometimes it can be hard to encourage a kid after hours of repeated squeaks, flat notes and too-loud guitars echoing through a home. After hosting weekly band practices that featured neighborhood kids playing instruments that were much louder than our skill warranted, it’s something I have to thank my own mother for. In honor of Mother’s Day, we talked to eight mothers of musicians about raising kids, musical memories and that moment it was revealed that music was a career choice, not a hobby.

1. Margaret Lowery (Mother of David Lowery, Cracker)
Paste: How old was David when he started playing music?
Lowery: He started playing the clarinet in elementary school. In junior high he was in marching band and sometime around high school he started playing the guitar.

Paste: Did you think he had a natural talent for it?
Lowery: As far as David was concerned, what stands out is everyone followed him. Ever since he was 6 years old all the kids followed him. He was the leader. Anything David said was fine with them. Not necessarily a talent for music but definitely a talent at being a leader. Anything he did everyone else wanted to do.

Paste: How did you first feel when David started working in music professionally?
Lowery: He called me from Santa Cruz, where he was attending college and said “I am not going to go to graduate school. I’m going on the road with my band” I thought, well it’s summer maybe he just needs a change.

Paste: Do you and David share any musical memories?
Lowery: I don’t play any instruments. We did play a lot of music in the house. His dad liked country music.


2. Dottie DeWitt (Mother of Keegan DeWitt of Wild Cub)
Paste: How old was Keegan when he started playing music?
DeWitt: When Keegan was growing up back in Oregon he participated in sports, but didn’t want to do them year round like so many did, for instance, in soccer.  So he loved playing music. I had an older man who was a great guitarist come to the house to teach him guitar. He had about six months of piano lessons, yet he taught himself piano.

He also loved to write and read a lot of poetry. He had Steno pads full of songs he wrote. He would spend up to four and five hours at a time in his room writing music and playing his guitar.

Paste: Did you think he had a natural talent for it?
DeWitt: I always knew he had a ton of talent, and he was always extremely focused. He started his own band in seventh grade and spent almost every weekend playing music. I think his first love though was film.  He loved to write screenplays. He graduated a year early from high school and was accepted at SUNY, the State University of New York for Film, for a screenplay he wrote. I always knew he would be an amazing man as he was just the most creative and loving little boy!

In honor of Mother’s Day, we talked to nine mothers of musicians about raising kids, musical memories and that moment it was revealed that music was a career choice, not a hobby.

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3. Gracie Carter (Mother of Rick Barrio Dill, Vintage Trouble)
Paste: How old was Rick when he started playing music?
Carter: Before he was two, he kept asking me to play all of my vinyl Beatles records over and over. As a toddler, he would bang on anything that made music. He practically wore out his xylophone!  I believe, Rick was 6 years old when he started taking guitar lessons and began playing what actually sounded like a real tune.

Paste: Did you think he had a natural talent for it? Did anything stand out to you?
Carter: Yes, It was a natural talent for Rick. Once he heard a song, like the Beatles “Let It Be” or Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” his enthusiasm and how he would not stop until he could play it from beginning to end, even when his little fingers bled from the blisters. He was a talented soccer player but when it came to his music, He never gave up on it!  Once, he came to me with a KISS album and said “One day Mommy, I am going to be like them.” And we are so blessed, Vintage Trouble opened for KISS a few months ago.

Paste: Did it ever drive you crazy having a son whose hobby was making noise?
Carter: No, I have to admit I really enjoyed all the noise Rick and his friends would make when they were practicing. It gave our home more energy and life. Although I can understand how a parent would get frustrated, especially if the music is not of their liking.

Paste: How did you first feel when your son started working in music professionally?
Carter: So proud, because I always knew that for Rick, music is and always will be his first true love. Although Rick earned his college degree from the University of South Florida and pursued a marketing career, his love was his music. Knowing that your son is pursuing his life long dream professionally is a mother’s wishes fulfilled.  Last summer when I was fortunate to see Rick on stage when Vintage Trouble opened for Jon Bon Jovi in Ireland at RDS arena. One word: Priceless! For a quick moment, it was difficult to tell who was more proud, me of him or him of me being there witnessing his accomplishment!  During JBJ’s performance, he spotted Rick in the audience and he hobbled over (JBJ had a torn knee) to Rick and gave him a professional heart-felt bow. This was Rick’s first big moment and one I will never forget.

Paste: Do you and your son share any musical memories?
Carter: Yes, Rick was 13 and a friend of mine and I took our boys to see REO Speedwagon and Survivor in Florida. The look on Rick’s face when the rock stars hit the stage said it all.  He could not sit still in the chair. He had tears in his eyes from all of the excitement. The minute we got home, he looked through my record collection, got his guitar and started playing their songs.

Years ago, I was taking a piano class and Rick and I would get together and play the keyboard. He was teaching me… It was so much fun. It seems like whenever we are together, there is always some sort of music involved.


4. Barbara (Mother of Van Pierszalowski, WATERS)
Barbara: Did I survive it? How many grey hairs did I get? (Laughs). We try to keep track of Van, that’s always the challenge with musicians: “What time zone are you in? What state are you in?” Van’s really intelligent, not that musicians aren’t, but he managed to get a degree from Berkley and pursue music. We were always amazed with how much energy that takes.

Paste: How old was Van when he started playing music?
Barbara: Definitely not when he was really young. He wasn’t one of those babies that had all sorts of rhythm or talent. And we weren’t musicians. I think it started in fifth grade with Green Day and Kurt Cobain. His class growing up was mostly boys, and they had a lot of energy. They wanted bands, they all wanted to learn guitar, so he gave guitar lessons for a couple of years. Nothing came really naturally for him, he just has such a passion for it. There’s nothing more important than music for him. We just wanted him to finish his schooling before he put 110 percent into school first. He still does have his first guitar, he takes it to the beach with him because it’s small and can be destroyed.

It just meant so much for him, and he said from a young age that this is what he wants to do. We might roll our eyes, but he’s got what it takes, he’s got the passion. He has the backbone for it. It’s not that easy anymore when music is pirated and they don’t really make any money.

Paste: How did you first feel when your son pursued music professionally?
Barbara: I think when he was applying to colleges. He did have one request, he wanted to go to Berkley, and right away he met up with people, Chris Chu (of POP ETC). I think it was important to stay in college, even if undergraduate degrees aren’t all they’re cracked up to be, but just to keep yourself intelligent and learning. I don’t think it’s every mother’s dream. Maybe it’s every father’s dream. Late nights, alcohol, headbanging, no sleep on the road, no, I don’t think so (laughs). Not that we want him in a cubicle, either.

Paste: Do you and your son share any musical memories?
Barbara: When he was in school, I used to record [the late-night music video block on MTV] because I didn’t want him to stay up and watch those. I would record them, and when he was done with his homework, he was allowed to watch them.

In honor of Mother’s Day, we talked to nine mothers of musicians about raising kids, musical memories and that moment it was revealed that music was a career choice, not a hobby.


5. Sally Wingate (Mother of Sarah Siskind)
Paste: How old was Sarah when she started playing music?
Wingate: Sarah was between 3 and 4 years old when she started picking out her own tunes on the piano.

A major influence in the nurturing of Sarah’s musical talent was Parkway United Church of Christ, in Winston-Salem, N.C. Sarah was on the list for providing special music from about the age of nine or ten. She would go to the piano and make up a composition, right there on the spot. With encouragement from church members, Sarah made her first album, Horizon Cries, at age fourteen. By this time, she had started combining her poetry with her tunes, thus the beginning of a songwriting career

Paste:Did you think she had a natural talent for it?
Wingate: She definitely had/has a natural talent. Pitch and rhythm have been right on, from the start. The ability to repeat a tune vocally or figure it out on the piano seemed to come easy. Learning to play the guitar didn’t come until much later, and involved Sarah making up tunings in order to be able to replicate the sounds she heard in her head. I’ve always been amazed!

Paste: Did it ever drive you crazy having a daughter whose hobby was making noise?
Wingate: I have always loved Sarah’s noise! She has never been afraid to try different things, unlike me. When she was in fifth grade, she started experimenting with unconventional harmonies, on a four track tape player that was her Dad’s. I don’t think he ever got the chance to use it!

Paste: How did you first feel when Sarah pursued music professionally?
Wingate: I knew it wouldn’t be an easy life for Sarah to pursue music professionally, but I also knew that she didn’t have much of a choice. Music chose her, not the other way around.

Paste: Do you and Sarah share any musical memories?
Wingate: The family attended bluegrass festivals and fiddlers conventions when Sarah and her brother, Brian, were growing up. One year, Sarah took her keyboard to the Galax Fiddler’s Convention and played along behind a jam session that Mark (her Dad) and I were participating in. Playing music together didn’t happen much until Sarah was an adult. There was a local restaurant/music venue in her hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C., that had regular Celtic and folk concerts, and we would attend often when Sarah was young (under the age of 10) where she would regularly spend the entire concert standing with her arms folded on the stage, watching the musicians play, instead of sitting.

In honor of Mother’s Day, we talked to nine mothers of musicians about raising kids, musical memories and that moment it was revealed that music was a career choice, not a hobby.


6. Trisha Kelly (Mother of Cason Kelly, Tiny Victories)
7. Judith R. Walters (Mother of Greg Walters, Tiny Victories)
Paste: How old were your sons when they started playing music?
Kelly: Cason began as a toddler on the kitchen floor with an array of pots and pans and a wooden spoon serenading me as I cooked.
Walters: When Greg was very young, like, three years old, he was obsessed with musicals. He would stomp around the house as a three-year-old waving a plastic pirate sword and singing Gilbert & Sullivan themes at the top of his lungs, “The Pirates of Penzance,” that sort of thing. It was adorable. He would sing very loudly and it was very cute but he was quite off pitch.

Paste: Did you think they had a natural talent for it?
Kelly: Yes, his sense of rhythm was instinctive from a very young age—in fact, much better than his mom’s!  When riding in his car seat, he would sing Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” while keeping the beat with his hands and feet.
Walters: When he was six, I think, he overdubbed a recording of himself singing all the lyrics to “Parents Just Don’t Understand,” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Prince. It was his debut recording. So, that was something. 

When he was even younger, I remember the other mothers were surprised Greg could sing all the words to the musical Cats just from listening to the tapes in the car during the drive to nursery school. He was never a good athlete growing up. He couldn’t really run or throw a ball very well, or anything like that, so it was nice that he was good at music.

Paste: Did it ever drive you crazy having a son whose hobby was making noise?
Kelly: No, our home used to be loud and active most of the time. He frustrated me with other things but music wasn’t one of them.
Walters: Greg’s two other brothers are also musicians, and as they got older the music got better. But they could make an astonishing racket. We had a drum set down in the basement, and you just wouldn’t believe it. Really, it didn’t bother me, though. When I could hear them down there, at least I knew where they were.

Paste: How did you first feel when your son pursued music professionally?
Kelly: A part of me was so proud because I knew how happy he was and how hard he was working, while another part of me worried about him being able to pay his bills.
Walters: Greg has decided to pursue music professionally? Oh no! I’m just kidding—it’s great. I get a kick out of it.

Paste: Do you and your son share any musical memories?
Kelly: We share a love of music but not the talent. His dad has the talent and shared his knowledge with him. I was always the cheerleader lending support. One of my fondest memories was watching him in fifth grade perform in a signing choir at the elementary school where I taught. Our school had several classes of deaf and hard of hearing students. The most recent memory was when I traveled to one of Tiny Victories’ concerts and surprised him!
Walters: Music was never really a passion of mine, and I used to sit back and wonder why all three of my sons were so crazy about it. I took them to New York to see the musicals Cats and Phantom of the Opera when they were little. That was fun.

From my point of view, it’s definitely better than his previous job. After he got out of college he spent a few years as a journalist in Russia, and I definitely prefer the music thing. It seems much safer. 

In honor of Mother’s Day, we talked to nine mothers of musicians about raising kids, musical memories and that moment it was revealed that music was a career choice, not a hobby.

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8. Gretchen (Mother of Katharine Whalen)
Paste: How old was Katharine when she started playing music?
Gretchen: Katharine was not one of those kids that always wanted to be a singer or musician. She wrote poetry from a very early age, and she is very gifted as a visual artist. She has always been able to draw in perspective, and her sense of color is amazing. When she was the age that many kids are emulating rock stars in front of their mirrors, Katharine was building elaborate houses for mice, decorated in every detail.

There was a lot of music around our various households when Katharine was growing up. Music was our life blood. It was the hippie days, and we went to festivals like the big one in Union Grove, and camped. At home someone always played and sang, but not me.  I know a lot of songs that little kids love, like “The Teddy Bear’s Picnic” but that is as far as my performing goes. My brothers and their friends played music and so did Katharine’s stepfather Chris.

In high school Katharine took guitar lessons, but probably her time hanging out with [rockabilly guitarist] Dexter Romweber had more of an impact on her. There was a budding music scene in Chapel Hill, and those kids were Katharine’s friends and cohorts. Actually, creativity was flowing in all directions at the time. Katharine’s first performance on a stage happened when I was away in Mexico. The first I heard of it was when Bryon Settle told me Katharine had played a gig and that she had an amazing voice. I thought he must be mistaken, that surely Katharine had not gotten up in front of an audience. It was not that I doubted her talent in any arena, but that she had always had such a private, reserved sort of existence.

Paste: Do you and Katharine share any musical memories?
Gretchen:I loved going on tour with the Zippers, getting to ride around the country in the tour bus, with baby Cece on my lap. I would say Katharine’s musical career is in line with her nature. The day she turned one year old, she walked from the front to the back door of the house without every previously taking one step. When she decides to do something, she just does it, and does it beautifully.

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