Today we honor and celebrate one of the great talents in American folk music. Patty Larkin was born in Iowa in 1951 and grew up in Wisconsin. She moved to the west coast after high school, attending the University of Oregon and singing in coffeehouses in Oregon and California. After getting her English degree at U of O, she moved to Boston and began pursuing a music career.
Larkin became part of the burgeoning Boston folk scene and landed a contract with Philo records in 1985. She has recorded a dozen albums over the past 25 years for a number of different labels. A riveting performer, she is an amazing guitarist and singer and has a wonderful rapport with the audience. (Two of her albums are live, capturing the spirit of her stage persona nicely.)
Belieing the dour feminist folky image, Larkin has a wonderful sense of humor and records songs on a broad variety of topics. She addresses relationships and love, of course, but also covers politics, social issues, the arts, and whatever captures her fancy. She has written odes to coffee (Caffeine) and a car song (Dodge Dart) as well as a scathing indictment of industrial pollution (Metal Drums). Her love songs range from the grand (If I Were Made of Metal) to the whimsical (Inside Your Painting) to the direct (Pucker Up) to the intimate (Closest Thing).
Patty Larkin lives in Massachusetts with her partner, Bette Warner, a former dancer who is now her business manager. She talks freely about the joys and challenges of mixing business and professional relationships. It’s clear that she would not have her life organized any other way. The couple have adopted two daughters.
Larkin does more than just sing about social issues; she is also active in changing the world. One issue of particular importance to her is the marginalization of women in the music industry. One of her earliest songs is Not Bad For A Broad, a delightful dissection of a misogynist attendee at one of her concerts. Tired of being asked why there aren’t any great women guitarists (a deep insult considering her amazing talents), she mounted the La Guitara project to celebrate the contribution of women to the history of the modern guitar. Not content to look at the usual suspects, she looks at a broad spectrum of women with great ethnic and cultural diversity. Women are notoriously underrepresented in official accolades. Rolling Stone‘s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists includes just two women (Joni Mitchell and Bonnie Raitt; the first iteration of the list had Joan Jett instead of Raitt but apparently there wasn’t room to add a third woman to the revision), and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame routinely bypasses great women in music.
Patty Larkin is also one of my very favorite musicians. (Big thanks to my husband, Michael, for letting me grab Patty’s birthday to celebrate her here on TSM!) Her album Tango is one of the finest of all time. A brilliant student of human nature with a knack for character study as song, she’s a fine musician, a great singer, and a delightful entertainer.