Singer-Songwriter Builds Creative Communities
Connie Mims Pinkerton might be the most well known singer-songwriter in the region who much of the local listening public isn’t familiar with. If that sounds like a contradiction, so be it. She was surprised that she was named best singer-songwriter in County Line Magazine’s annual poll of “bests” in the Upper East Side of Texas, published in the January-February issue.
People at Marvin United Methodist Church in Tyler know her as part of the group that uses acoustic instruments to retool classic hymns into short meditations.
People in the folk music world know her as part of the band Wheatfield with Ezra Idlet and Keith Grimwood of Trout Fishing in America. That band originally formed in 1973 with Mims, Idlet, and Craig Calvert before disbanding in 1979 and coming back to life in 2004 with the addition of Grimwood, touring every year.
Other singer-songwriters in the region know Mims for her work in helping build creative communities. Since relocating in 2013 from Nashville via Houston with her husband, Jeff Pinkerton, and their big yellow Lab, Boomer, to their We Hope Ranch in New Chapel Hill, she’s launched four creative groups: Nashville Songwriters Association International of East Texas, Psalmwriter, Texas Songcrafters, and The Creator’s Call. She’s also facilitated songwriting workshops for NSAI, The Recording Academy, the Kerrville Folk Festival Foundation, The Ozark Folk Center and Songwriters LAB.
The ranch “was part of Jeff’s family’s heritage, and we want to share in that gift that we received,” she said. “We produce hay and a man grazes cattle on the ranch. We want to share the space with people, sharing our special event knowledge, counseling and encouraging other creatives.”
Among the regional songwriters Mims has worked with are Randy Brown, Jaden Farnsworth, Ramoth Gilead, and Dave Sherman, who have brought her their songs for feedback – not full co-writes, she emphasizes – to make them better.
“I have my little thumbprint on lots of people’s songs, just giving feedback, I like to creatively stump people. It makes them better writers.”
She’s also co-written in Nashville with, among others, Aaron Scherz and Lance Carpenter, both of whom co-wrote #1 country songs last year, Scherz with Maddie & Tae’s “Girl in a Country Song” and Carpenter with Kelsea Ballerini’s “Love Me Like You Mean It.”
Mims believes one trait is vital to a good song: truth.
“It has to come from a true perspective,” she said. “That true perspective can come from a sincere feeling or a thought. If it’s a story type of song, I try to make it a story that people can relate to. I do lots of relationship songs, a lot of songs in the first person where you’re seeking an answer to something or asking a question, trying to figure things out. That makes it more universal.
“A lot of songs I hear are typically ‘you and me’ kinds of relationship songs. I can only write so many of those, and from my age group when I perform these songs, it has to be something that relates to where I’m at in my life. The people who typically come to listen to me are around my age and come from the same tragic ’70s era I came from growing up.”
Her sound generally is a mix of folk and hard-to-define Americana, “leaning toward Texas. There’s a sound, a spirit of Texas in it.”
In performance, Mims does mostly her own songs and, when they fit into her shows, some of the songs she’s co-written or others that she likes.
“I like to do all my songs if possible, but depending on where I am — what type of audience — I’ll pull something out like a song from another writer friend of mine or something fairly well known that sounds like I wrote it, because it blends. The audience wants to hear something familiar every now and then.”
For example, she does the Brooks & Dunn’s hit “Every River” the way Kim Richey wrote it instead of the way that duo recorded it.
“I evoke the mood of the women, which presents a different perspective. Are we more intuitive? We might come from a different level of pain if the song has to do with pain, dig a little deeper, just inflect a certain tone or a different sensitivity if the lyrics need it.”
Mims said listeners’ attention spans are short now.
“The days of the six- or seven- or eight-minute songs are over for now,” she said. “Maybe they’ll come back, but now you’ve got to catch people in the first couple of lines, something they can sing along with or recognize when they hear it on the radio and it gives them a certain feeling.”
Mims plans another of her songwriter’s retreats sometime this spring, although she hadn’t set a date by deadline. Check www.conniemims.com for updates.
“We max out at 20 writers at the ranch, and take them from the art and architecture of how to build a song: the whole design and melody and lyrical construction, left brain in the morning, then right brain in the afternoon,” she said. “People leave with different attitudes, getting fired up on the writing.”
Mims first discovered she could write a song “from the groove up” in the ’70s.
“I went to keyboard and wrote almost exclusively on keyboard in the ’80s, very pop driven. In the ’90s, I was honing my skills more as stage performer and vocalist. I was a mom and that’s where I threw my creativity mostly.
“When I got back to songwriting in the early part of this millennium I began listening to well crafted songs by Texas troubadours like Guy Clark, Tony Lane, and John Defoore. I love that style of writing. And I soaked up the Nashville writing like Jim Collins and Alan Shamblin and Tom Douglas.”
Mims grew up in Laredo, influenced by the Beatles, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Buffalo Springfield, and more including “the whole Texas cowboy scene with B.W. Stevenson, Michael Martin Murphy, and Gary P. Nunn.”
She performed “everywhere” from Armadillo World Headquarters in Austin to The Troubadour in Los Angeles. Wheatfield performed in the first season of the PBS TV series Austin City Limits and had regional and national success as a touring and recording band as well as scoring and performing two original ballet scores, “Caliban” and “Rasputin” for the Houston, Dallas and Chicago ballet companies.
During the ’80s, Mims developed a solo career as a performing songwriter and studio vocalist, appearing in numerous radio ads and in the classic Blue Bell Ice Cream TV commercial “Texas Musicians.”
She served as education chair for the board of governors of the Texas Chapter of The Recording Academy, producing the annual Grammy Career Day for high school students.
Her most recent CDs are Wheatfield’s Big Texas Sky and her own Gettin’ There, featuring Texas standouts Gene Elders on fiddle, Lloyd Maines on dobro and pedal steel, and Chris Gage on keyboards.
That’s good company. As are the people in the rest of Mims’ creative communities, whether performing or sharing or otherwise giving back some of the gift.