Local Cat gets Country Music’s ultimate nod

Cindy Cashdollar at Royal Albert Hall in London.

Two years ago, Cindy Cashdollar was contacted by the Country Music Hall of Fame, saying that they’d like to honor her as one of the Nashville Cats, the most elite group of side musicians in the business. “I was thrilled, of course,” says the five-time Grammy award winner, a Woodstock native who by her own admission has played “thousands” of gigs. “But, I said, I only lived in Nashville for six months, in 1992. They said, it doesn’t matter…”

And so, on May 14, 2022, in a ceremony in one of the Hall’s auditoriums, this most consummate artist of almost all things slide guitar has to offer, including Dobro, lap steel guitar, non-pedal steel guitar, Weissenborns, took her place in the Pantheon of Nashville Cats (yes, so named after the John Sebastian penned, Lovin’ Spoonful song) more than 40 of the finest side players and backup singers Country Music has offered the world. “As they put it,” says Cindy, “the sometimes nameless, faceless people that are creating the music behind the artist. It honors the side people, which is wonderful.” It includes people like James Burton, Buddy Spicher, Duane Eddy, Charlie McCoy, Leon Rhodes, Jim Horn, Weldon Myrick, Norbert Putnam…

Cindy, it turns out, is only the second woman to be so honored as a Nashville Cat. Seems as if the program has a bit of catching up to do. The first woman Nashville Cat, is Andrea Zonn, the stunning fiddler who plays with James Taylor’s All Star Band.

The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville says it “collects, preserves, and interprets country music and its history for the education and entertainment of diverse audiences. In exhibits, publications, and educational programs, the museum explores the cultural importance and enduring beauty of the art form.” It was chartered by the state of Tennessee in 1964.

The Nashville Cats program, with a permanent display, began at the Hall of Fame in 2006.

“The first steel guitar player was Lloyd Green, who has done so many sessions over the years, I can’t even begin to tell you whose, thousands…” says Cindy. “He was one of the great pedal steel sounds heard on the landmark Sweetheart of the Rodeo (by The Byrds) record…It was such an inspiration for a lot of us, I know it was for me, by the way it was country music but it wasn’t the country music like my dad was listening to on AM radio… so I met Lloyd Green, it was such a thrill to meet him….”

And Cindy found herself onstage at the Hall’s Ford Theater, with a moderator, Michael McCall, in front of “a giant screen that shows a montage of film clips and photographs from the early toddler years, on up…he asked me ‘how does this feel, to be looking at your life,’ and I said, I never really thought about it, I’m just always on that hamster wheel of work…and because you’re a side musician you’re on tour, you might be working with someone for a year, you might be working with someone for one night, you’re just going and going, and you don’t really have time to sit there and go, well, I did this and I did that, you don’t have time.”

In the preparation for the ceremony, though, Cindy was able to take a look back.

“My mom had taped every single television appearance I had done starting in 1983. I had been hauling around all these plastic tubs of VHS tapes thinking it was on the ‘someday’ list, like ‘someday I’m going to have these converted to digital.’ You wouldn’t believe how long it took us (Cindy and her husband, instrument maker Harvey Citron) to find a VCR that not only worked but that had a time counter in front, because I had to go through every VHS tape, find the performance of me — like here’s Cindy doing an intro, here’s a solo, here’s Cindy being introduced by Van Morrison at Ryman Auditorium, all those moments…”

Included was a clip of the Johnny Carson show with Leon Redbone…performances with Marty Stuart, Willie Nelson…

“It wasn’t so much of a surprise as it was just kind of wild to look back on everything in such a concentrated form. Photos…they wanted you as a toddler, there’s a picture of me with my first guitar when I was 11, my mom took. A picture of me with my first acoustic trio when I lived in Fort Lauderdale…just on up through the years. Harvey scanned 50 photographs and sent them to the curator at the Hall of Fame.

“It was very interesting…and also for me it was very emotional…to look at all these VHS tapes and photos…Charlie Ferrara, my Dobro teacher, there’s a great picture of he and I at a Bluegrass festival…he was one of the photos they used on the giant screen…and I sent it to his niece Rebecca, and he was really happy to see that photograph, and I said, see, me and Charlie made it to the Country Music Hall of Fame…yeah, there were a lot of emotional moments for me, and also a lot of very joyous moments going through these things…”

Of course, there was music to be played in the presentation.

“John Hall played with me…it was so nice to have a touch of home onstage with me…he’s living (in Nashville) now and it worked out. We played ‘Foggy Mountain Rock’ as a nod to Josh Graves, who was Charley Ferrara’s favorite Dobro player, and then the title track that I wrote for my album, Waltz for Abilene. And then I demonstrated different styles for steel guitar, and I did a little history on the Dobro, lap steel — I had the lap steel that Harvey made for me, and the National baritone Tri-cone, and the double neck eight string Fender steel I borrowed from Pete Finney. I played a little bit of Sleepwalka little Don Helms, a little Bob Wills swing style, kind of identified what a non-pedal steel sounds like.

“The other sweet thing is that there were friends there, Pat Alger came and Conor Kennedy was there. It was great that two, three good friends from Woodstock were there.”

Ask her about the number of shows she’s played and she laughs.

“Gigs? I couldn’t begin to guess…thousands and thousands…I forget when I started with The John Herald Band, was it 80, 81, before that was Whiskey Before Breakfast, and the acoustic trio in Ft. Lauderdale…So yeah, starting in 1978, maybe 77…

“Recordings, I’ve literally lost count…what I always wonder is how many miles has my body traveled…I should have kept track…and I should have kept a diary, that’s what my mom always told me…”

She describes her process, and lauds the program at the same time.

“I do so much research on line…if an artist hires me, I like to research them, even if I’m familiar with their music, I like to research their history, their albums, I’ll listen to their music…oh , who’s that on drums or that piano, it’s amazing, but it’s very difficult now online to get those album credits…you’re doing a search online for album credits and it always takes you to allmusic.com, it’s very elementary and doesn’t t really tell you what you want. All the more reason for Nashville Cats to be putting names and faces on people. The worker bees as I call them. People are always so surprised when they buy my album that I bother to put so many liner notes, but that’s what I like to read.”

And the work keeps on flowing.

Next? I’ve got some local gigs, July 13 at Falcon with Conor Kennedy and the One Star Band, and then July 23 at Maverick with Happy Traum and Friends…and then in beginning of September I’m recording with Leif Vollebekk, an incredible singer songwriter out of Canada. He played at the barn a couple of weeks ago…end of September I go on the road with Sonny Landreth, we do our duo show in New England and down south, then a little break and we go out west…two and a half weeks here, then a little break, and a little more, they’re still adding dates. Studio work has been pretty good…”

When Cindy, a native Woodstocker, moved home from Austin several years back, she wondered if the work would follow her.

“Yeah, it’s been pretty busy…obviously not a lot of touring. Last year I went out with Asleep at the wheel, then did their 50th anniversary tour with alumni…but I am glad not to be traveling and flying, air travel is not kind at this time. Even going to Nashville for this event in May, the flight was way delayed, coming back canceled and was still delayed.”

Cindy at age 11 with her first guitar.

Cindy Cashdollar’s journey

Dobro and lap steel guitarist Cindy Cashdollar, which is her real name, grew up in Woodstock, where she was part of the blues and folk scenes, playing with local legends John Herald, Paul Butterfield, and Rick Danko and Levon Helm of the Band. After working with Leon Redbone in the late 1980s, Cashdollar moved to Texas in 1992 to join western swing group Asleep at the Wheel.

During her ten years with the band, Cashdollar appeared on Austin City Limits, recorded seven albums, won five Grammys, and collaborated with legendary musicians such as Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, and Dolly Parton. Since leaving Asleep at the Wheel to pursue a wider variety of musical styles, Cashdollar has toured and recorded with a long list of notable artists including Ryan Adams, Marcia Ball, BeauSoleil, Bob Dylan, Sonny Landreth, Albert Lee, Van Morrison, Pinetop Perkins , Rod Stewart, and Dwight Yoakam.

In 2011, she was the first woman to be inducted into the Texas Steel Guitar Hall of Fame, and she was inducted into the Texas Music Hall of Fame in 2012. Her latest album, Waltz for Abilenewas released in 2020.

— Text from the Country Music Hall of Fame