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A Practical Angel

With all the pre-millennial hooey about angels, let's not forget that real life, as screwy and base as it can seem these days, does indeed have its angels. I'm not talking about divine apparitions announcing virgin births or offering words of salvation to help those near death somehow survive; if I meet one of them, then I'll believe. But there are those flesh-and-blood temporal angels, those people who do good for no reason other than the inherent goodness of doing so or to encourage and share the things in their lives that they love.

I'm reminded of the programs from my twice-annual childhood trips to the local opera, where up in the top of the pantheon of contributors to the company were the generous folks listed as "Angels." As the mystical types will tell you, angels walk in all realms of this existence and, similarly, so do the real-life human angels.

Just ask the San Marcos-based singer-songwriter Terri Hendrix. If it weren't for one angel, her recently deceased friend and mentor Marion Williamson, Hendrix might have been just another one of a million pretty girls with a guitar in the corner of some small cafe, singing with enough talent to show that she coulda been a contender, yet never will. Instead, Hendrix is a rather unique, charming and rapidly ascending starlet on the Texas circuit, assisted by yet another blessing from producer/musician Lloyd Maines, who oversaw her album Wilory Farm (named for Williamson's Central Texas spread where Terri milked goats in exchange for guitar lessons) and who has become her invaluable musical foil.

To wit, Hendrix is something of an angel herself: a healthy, apple-cheeked blonde whose beaming countenance and beatific smile wouldn't look out of place atop the giant Christmas tree at New York's Rockefeller Center with golden wings spread behind her. One Austin critic and wag tagged her stage presence as "a basket of kittens" for the way Hendrix brims with delight in the spotlight. But her hyper-positive attitude is matched by a steely determination. She's released two albums on her own label, Tycoon Cowgirl Records, and has sold close to 10,000 CDs overall, many through her web site (www.terrihendrix.com). She has no manager and books herself, making her own way in the music industry like some Hill Country version of Ani DiFranco.

"I've never been a starving artist," she says proudly. "I've always made a killing, because I'm solo, low overhead. It's all a matter of choices."

Hendrix grew up in San Antonio in a military family, but it was during a stint in her youth in Panama that she stole her sister's guitar from underneath her bed. "I always knew I would do music, but I thought it was going to be more opera," she recalls. "I never really had a choice to do anything else. Even when I was a kid, I was making up songs."

She studied classical music at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, but after finding it "so damn anal," Hendrix transferred to Southwest Texas State in San Marcos. Waiting tables, but wanting to make music, she took up an invite from a fellow waiter, "All Right Guy" Todd Snider, to get on stage at an open mike.

When Terri later started doing it seriously, her die was cast. "My first gig, when I made 50 bucks for playing for four hours, and I wasn't waiting tables, I was sold -- that was it, I was ruined," she says with a chuckle. "I don't know if I will do this in my next life, but for this life, I am pretty much sunk."

In order to do what she felt she must, Hendrix learned the essential nuts and bolts of being a musician and performer, thanks in large part to meeting Marion Williamson, a musician, composer, computer programmer and behind-the-scenes Central Texas philanthropist who helped instill an unshakable work ethic in Hendrix. "She said, 'If you know how to set up your own PA, and you know how to set up your speakers and work your chords and everything else, you'll always have a job,' and that's true," says Hendrix.

"She taught me how to read and write and do chord charts. I learned more from her than I ever learned in music school. But for her to keep teaching me, I had to do the work."

By the mid 1990s, Hendrix was steadily playing regular gigs in San Antonio and the Hill Country, succeeding at one of the hardest yet most basic challenges of the music game -- making a living doing it. "I always played what I wanted to. I always lucked into great people to play for. I did country and folk and originals and a lot of country-blues -- Mississippi John Hurt and Big Bill Broonzy."

But her ambition was greater than just to be a secure local artist. When her low-key first CD, Two Dollar Shoes, started selling like hotcakes from the bandstand, Hendrix started to see her way up and out. "I was sitting there at Biga [the noted San Antonio restaurant where she had a regular gig] with a glass of red wine and just looking out into the audience, saying to myself, Is this where I want to get off? I can always come back here. I can always buy another PA. I can always do this again. But I'm going to sell my PA and be scared again.

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