Interview with Deb Cavanaugh -By: Niki Kaos

Written by on November 7, 2022

I met Deb when she was performing in the duo Cavanaugh and Kavanaugh at the RPI
Community and Cultural Center. It was an eclectic music event, and I was drawn to
Deb’s easy-going vibe. We later grew closer when my son participated in her family
friendly Music Together classes. Over the years, I’ve enjoyed seeing Deb’s songwriting
flourish. She always challenges herself to create new music and take a fresh spin on
popular cover songs.

Variety and going with the flow are hallmarks of Deb’s lifestyle. She inspires me with her
free spirited, “say yes” approach to life. A 518 musician who has traveled to Germany
and China sharing her talents, Deb spends her life exploring musical creativity,
expression and education. You can learn about that and much more in her upcoming
memoir “Stories from A Free-Spirited Life”.

RRX: I’m looking forward to your memoir. You have many stories to tell! What can
people expect to find in the book?

DC: All of my adventures! I start off with my childhood, which was not an easy
childhood. I want people to see what led me to the choices that I made later, and the
crazy lifestyle that I had. So, we start in those early days. Then I took off hitchhiking in
1975 with the man who would eventually become my husband. Our goal was to go to
Mardi Gras, but we never made it because the rides kept taking us west. We ended up in
a hippie commune in San Francisco, where my mind was totally blown.

RRX: That’s a hallmark of your style, free-spirited hippie. And that’s what I love about
you. It keeps you open to new experiences. What are some of your favorite later
experiences from the book?

DC: There were so many crazy things! Like having a prophetic dream that got us out of
California, which ended up being true later. The Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD that is an
amazing work of art! Being in Portland, OR when Mt. St. Helen’s was erupting. Sticking
my kids in a VW bus with a cat and driving across country and breaking down in every
state across the way. My favorite things about my travels were the variety of people I
met and the unique things I saw along the way.
My favorite thing about the book is in the face of all these different horrible things that
happened, I was able to just kind of go with the flow and look forward to whatever was
coming up next. And those things led me down a path that I’m happy with.

RRX: That’s powerful. One of the things I admire about you is that you’ve always
invested in your career as a musician, in addition to being a mother, and a person taking
care of their family. I suspect this memoir would give some insight to the backdrop of
what you were going through while you were building your music career.

DC: Absolutely. I put all the struggles as well as all the wonderful, fun exciting things.
Because I think it is important for people to realize that you can get through those
struggles and maintain that goal and that focus. And one of my focuses was raising my
family, so although I never gave up on my music, it did kind of take a back seat to a
certain degree.

RRX: I can understand that! Pivoting to that music career, when I met you, I was
always so impressed with the different things you did musically. You have such a great
resume! Performer, music educator, singer-songwriter. Experimenting with new
instruments. You have great technical ability with pitch. One of the things that blew me
away is you took that trip to China. Tell us a little bit about how you got there and what
that experience was like for you.

DC: I really try to stay open to the Universe, I guess. I get gifts all the time, and this was
one of those. I join all the different social media sites and I joined Alignable. I never
really did anything with it and this woman emailed me and asked if she could observe
some of my Music Together and pre-school classes.
She came and observed and asked me if she could take me out to lunch. At lunch she
explained that she was a co-owner of two pre-schools in China and would I like to go for
two weeks to teach. I never say no.

RRX: Laughs

DC: And I think that’s one of the things that helps me along. I’m going to veer off for a
minute, but I went to Germany – same thing – I got this random phone call from this
woman asking if I wanted to be part of this orchestra. And then a couple years later we
took the show to Germany. I never thought I would leave this continent, and I’ve done it
twice now.

The hardest thing for me going to China was that I had to teach the adults and I don’t
have any degree in teaching, and I felt completely incapable of doing that. But I pulled it
off. And they loved it!

RRX: Wow! Your spirit of adventure has served you in life. And helped you get where
you are, which is amazing! You’ve been extremely successful lately. You just did a gig at
the Jive Hive with your band Dandelion Wine. You’ve got some new material you’re
releasing with your take on Electric Avenue.

DC: Jive Hive was amazing and I’m really loving these two guys I’m working with, Jared
Carrozza on bass and Ben Heart on drums. I was just talking to Joel about doing some
recording this winter. We’re going to use some of the tracks from Jive Hive and we’ll
also go in the studio, and hopefully put out a full-length release.
Ben, although he started out as a drummer, most recently has been a singer-songwriter.
So, he’ll jump over to guitar for a little while sometimes. It is a very different experience
playing with a singer-songwriter that plays drums. Because he understands the songs in
a different way, and he colors them in a different way.

RRX: I can definitely understand that. What’s coming up next that we should look out

DC: I have a few gigs coming up in November and December, but mostly I’m working
on new material.

RRX: On that topic – you like to pick unusual instrumentation. Are you playing the
electrified dulcimer exclusively now? Or are you switching to guitar or other
instruments during your performances?

DC: It’s basically dulcimer and guitar. I’m trying to write more songs on the dulcimer,
because for a long time I was writing on guitar and piano, and I really want to
incorporate more dulcimer. That’s the instrument I feel the most comfortable with and
that I get in an intuitive way. Whereas guitar has always just been a tool.

RRX: Thank you so much for sharing a taste of your adventures with us. I encourage
readers to check out and keep an eye out for your memoir and
upcoming shows!

Current track