Songwriter is composing a ‘grand ole’ career in Sonoma
'It's never final,' the saying goes, 'until it's vinyl.'
Sonoma songwriter and instrumentalist Cliff Goldmacher is certainly not the first working musician to utter those words, though his long career as a successful crafter of songs has definitely convinced him of its truth. Goldmacher estimates that, to date, he has written over 1,000 songs, some of which never made it out of the recording studio and onto an actual CD or Pandora playlist.
Still, he's had a remarkable run of songs that have been performed and recorded, including – just to name a few – Ke$ha's 'Good to be Queen,' Lisa Loeb's Hanukkah-themed 'Light,' country-singer Templeton Thompson's 'I Remember You,' and Mickey Hart's 'Cut the Deck,' the latter co-written with Hart and Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter.
Goldmacher has also collaborated with such performers as Grammy-nominated jazz vocalist Jane Monheit, Grammy-winning blues performer Keb' Mo', and Chris Barron of the '90s rock band the Spin Doctors.
If all of this makes Goldmacher sound busy, it's because he is. He happily reports that he writes, records and performs six days a week, and trains for triathalons in his spare time.
'I like being busy, and I like working with lots of different people,' he says. 'And this past year was no exception.'
Just before Christmas, he appeared on the storied stage of the Grand Ole Opry, in Nashville, Tennessee, singing a song he co-wrote with Nashville's Mindy Smith. Considered the 'Carnegie Hall of Country Western music,' the Opry invited Goldmacher and Smith to appear as part of a special showcase of Christmas-themed songs, to sing 'The Snow and Three Thousand Miles,' a bittersweet charmer of a song about being separated from loved ones on Christmas Eve.
'That was a huge gift and a nice surprise, getting to accompany Mindy on the Grand Ole Opry's big, beautiful grand piano, as Mindy sang,' says Goldmacher. 'The fact that they asked me to accompany her was gracious on their part. The Opry has a great house band. They could have had them do it.'
Of the song itself, one of many Christmas songs he's written over years, Goldmacher says it was a pleasure to compose, with its simple piano line, and heartfelt, sneaks-up-on-you storytelling.
'We wrote the song in about an hour,' he recalls. 'We've collaborated on several songs, Mindy and I. In any collaboration, the chemistry is either there or it's not. When it's good, the songwriting happens quickly and smoothly.'
It's Goldmacher's fondness for musical collaboration, he says, that has largely propelled his 25-year professional career since graduating from Stanford University, encompassing a vast array of musical styles and genres, from country, classical crossover and folk tunes, all the way to rock, pop, and various forms of jazz. Goldmacher says he's genuinely excited by the special magic that happens when his skills and experience connect with those of another songwriter.
'Lately, I've been working a lot with jazz artists,' he says.
With Spencer Day, Goldmacher has co-written six songs, one of which – 2009's slinky-sexy 'Till You Come to Me' – reached the number one spot on the Smooth Jazz Top 20 Countdown, and made it to the number three spot on Billboard's 2010 jazz charts. Currently, some recent collaborations are being recorded by Day for an upcoming Capitol Records big band album.
'That's pretty rare these days,' says Goldmacher. 'I was delighted that we were writing songs for a project like that. It was a total thrill.'
Not that all of the songs, or any of them, will end up on the finished product. Which brings Goldmacher back to his original 'It's not final until it's vinyl' point.
'I don't get paid to write songs,' he reveals. 'I only get paid for a song if it gets on an album.' With a laugh, he adds, 'It's an unpredictable business model, that's for sure.'
Goldmacher works and records out of two studios, one in Nashville, where he once worked as a staff songwriter for a record company, and the other in Sonoma.
'That's where I usually end up doing most of my recording work,' he says, explaining that when he does session work as an instrumentalist, he will often record his part of the track solo, and then send it to the producers to integrate with the other musicians' tracks.
It was in his Sonoma studio that Goldmacher recently finished another record, co-written with Sonoma singer-songwriter Jennifer Grais, a longtime background singer for Jackson Brown. The album was inspired by Grais' 2015 young-adult novel 'Christa's Luck,' authored with her husband, screenwriter Michael Grais. A-coming-of-age story in which a teenager rebounds from tragedy by helping to save an endangered herd of wild mustangs, the story has been adapted for the screen by Michael and Jennifer, who hope to turn the screenplay into a film.
'We just put those songs out as an EP, available now on iTunes,' Goldmacher says. 'Hopefully, some or all of them will end up in the movie. But then, you know …'
It's not final until it's … projected onto a movie screen?
'Yeah, something like that!' he laughs.
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