Famed folk singer-songwriter Cheryl Wheeler to return to Maine for show April 25 at One Longfellow Square in Portland. Cathleen Joyce photo

I have interviewed this week’s artist many times over her long career, and when I discovered that Cheryl Wheeler was coming to one of my favorite venues in Portland — One Longfellow Square on Thursday, April 25 – I just had to chat with her once again. It has been a decade or two since last we spoke and with everything that’s happened lately with pandemics and the like, it made sense to see how she was doing nowadays. When she phoned on the 18th of March, she began by asking where she would be performing when she returned to Maine.

Q: The one up at One Longfellow Square.
Wheeler: Oh, Portland, yes, yes! I’m in Maryland right now. I had some gigs down here with Kenny (White), and now I’m at my sister’s for a few days until I do a gig with Tom Rush in New Jersey.

Q: Oh, man, talk about a show!
Wheeler: Oh, yeah, and Tom and I did one at the Birchmere in Alexandria, VA, and it was just a blast. I loved it. So I’m looking forward to that gig in New Jersey and I’m looking forward to all the gigs. When is the Portland gig?

Q: It’s on April 25th.
Wheeler: Oh, okay. Kenny and I are going to the mid-West in early April, so that show in Portland, I’m looking forward to. Kenny won’t be with me for that one, though. I love working with him. It’s been a while since I’ve toured.

Q: Due to COVID?
Wheeler: After COVID and during COVID I just lost it and I was very unhappy. I think it was because I wasn’t working.

Q: How long have you been working?
Wheeler: I started playing when I was 12 and when I was in the 15th grade, which some people call ‘college,’ I quit. I had to get a job so I started singing in places and here I am — and I love working. I love it!


Q: I understand that you do a lot of touring with Kenny White, right?
Wheeler: I would just be kind of lost without him, I just love him so much. He’s so brilliant and he’s my best pal … I must have done something really good in some life to get to have Kenny White, I’ll tell you that. I mean it, that’s the truth.

Q: How about songwriting — do you do a lot of that?
Wheeler: I haven’t. I’ve never gone this long without writing a song since I was 17; but I feel hopeful, I do, I just feel hopeful (chuckle). I can’t describe it, ‘hopeful’ hasn’t been in my wheelhouse for the last few years, but it’s there now, so I’m happy about it.

Q: Good, and it’ll come when it comes, basically.
Wheeler: Right, exactly. Songwriting for me was always (pause), I don’t know where it came from and usually it came really fast — you just find yourself singing a song and you have a lot of it, as fast as your hand will write.

Q: David Mallett told me once, when I asked him about songwriting, that he had to take the songs ‘to the woodshed’ and really work on them; and other people have said that for them, the songs just came so easily.
Wheeler: Well, it’s not like I haven’t ever spent time at it, I’m sure I have … and if I spent time writing a song, I’m usually pretty happy about it. But most of them, the nuts and bolts like a verse and a chorus, just come to you and then you write other verses. But usually it’s pretty quick.

Q: And I’m sure that the environment we live in, with everything happening at a fast and chaotic pace, has got to impact what anybody does nowadays. Do you know what I mean, or is it just my near-75th birthday catching up with me?
Wheeler: No, I do know. The one thing about getting old is that you appreciate just how amazing the world is and how things work and everything. Well, here’s a thing I think about a lot: I was born in ’51, so when I was in the 15th grade — or however old you are at the third year in college, I could never have imagined anything like the phone on which I’m now speaking with you. It’s this thing that you have in your hand that will answer almost any question and take a picture and communicate with people and tell you how to get where you are going, and that doesn’t begin to touch it … it’s unimaginable, man.

Q: But for all of this, you sound very satisfied with what you have done and still look forward to getting out and doing more with people and traveling and things like that.
Wheeler: I look forward to working so much and the rest of my life is difficult right now and unsure, but I love working. And I don’t know if I would still be doing it if it weren’t for Kenny, but I guess I would; I mean, he does all the driving and everything … I can do it, I drove down here to Virginia from Pennsylvania. We just have a good time together … he is as good a friend as anyone could ever hope to have.

Q: Is there anything, Cheryl that you would like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Wheeler: Well, I thank them for their interest. I’m completely looking forward to doing that show,. I love doing shows. I love talking to the crowd. I like singing the songs. It’s the best thing I do in my life.

Lucky Clark, a 2018 “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award winner, has spent more than 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at luckyc@myfairpoint.net if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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