by GSC Reporter, Daniel Reifsnyder
Dan Reifsnyder: How did you get started in music?
Carrie Cunningham: I’m going to just word vomit and give you a brief history of my life and we can go from there. Music was kind of like a life-saver for me growing up. I had a very abusive childhood. I got a clock radio for my 8th birthday, and I would go to bed listening to music all night long. There was one night when I was laying in bed and I heard the song “Maneater” come on the radio. I’m lying there, and in my mind I just saw this dark scene of this woman attacking men. And she turned into a tiger! I just found this fascinating…this song created this in my mind! The song really resonated with me because I was being abused by my babysitter. Next thing you know, I started watching Hee-Haw, and then Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell sisters. Barbara was amazing in how she could sing, and act, and the whole stage performance. I grew up thinking I want to be an entertainer just like Barbara Mandrell, and I wanted to create music just like “Maneater.” And then I bought “Born In The U.S.A.” with my birthday money – it was my very first cassette tape, and I had it in my walkman. I just remember sitting in Nebraska on my front porch and listening to “Born In The U.S.A.” and “I’m On Fire”. It just started snowballing for me, and music became a way out. More things started happening mentally and physically with abuse and music was a way to keep me focused and keep me going since I was 8. I did choir through Junior High and High School…and it wasn’t until I was a Senior in High School and my choir went to Washington State University for their music program. I already had in my brain that I wasn’t going to even go to school because I’m dumb, I’m worthless, and there’s no way a school would accept me. So we went to the auditorium for this program and out comes this a capella group singing “Africa” by Toto, Pentatonix style. This was back in 1993! The only person I knew back then doing that kind of vocal percussion style was Bobby MacFerrin. I lost it! I was like “What! I’m coming here, I have to be part of this group! Maybe I will pursue music as a career!” And of course, I couldn’t afford to go there, not even to drive for the audition. But my choir teacher knew that I couldn’t afford to go, let alone that my parents wouldn’t even take me. So he brought the choir director to me! He auditioned me in my choir teacher’s office. I got a call about a week later with him saying that I did wonderful and he’d like to offer me a vocal scholarship to Washington State! The evil step mom said no I wasn’t allowed to go. So I shifted gears and went to community college which turned out to be really great – I went to Hawaii, won awards with our group there. And I started working on developing this duo and starting singing…I was known as the next Shania Twain from all the radio stations that were promoting me, of course this was back when Garth and Shania were huge. So I’m like “Oh yeah, I’m the next Shania Twain! Woo!” Then I got married and wanted to move to Nashville…my ex-husband said “yes” until we got married and then he said “no.” So I continued to perform locally until 2003. He was making it really tough on me and me working at a software company was driving me mad. So I went back to school for audio engineering in Seattle. During this time I had two kids, so I would go to school, work at a store afterwards to pay for my rent, drive to Spokane from Seattle in the middle of the night on Fridays, to go visit my kids and also intern at a casino for their AV dept . During that time at school, I ended up meeting the label rep for Divulge records, so I was on their label from 2005-2011, all the while working as a lead sound engineer at the casino…just tell me when to stop ‘cuz I’ll keep going!
DR: No, this is good!
CC: Well, just when things were going good, my husband’s job as a US Marshal moved us down to Portland so I had to start all over. Finding a new AV job and building up a new fan base. A few months into Portland life, I found NSAI and left my husband. Two great things lol. In 2008 I became the NSAI coordinator for Portland until 2017 when my current husband’s job transferred us out here to California. In the Northwest I had been known as the go-to girl. I had opened up for over 50 national acts, all different ranges. From Chick Correa – who was the first person I shared a stage with! – to Collective Soul to Charlie Daniels, Sugarland, Diamond Rio, Kacey Musgraves… numerous country artists. When I moved down to California everything dried up. I wasn’t getting as many gigs and I couldn’t get a California band, so I had to keep using musicians from Nashville and the NW. Come November of 2018, I started having this breakdown. I left all the songwriting groups I was part of, became a person I didn’t like, and tried to just drive a wedge into everything I had loved. It wasn’t until I went to a dreamseekers event with Cathy Heller where I met my fear. After a few days of cleansing and getting to know the real Carrie, I was broken down even more. One night I called out to the universe and asked what I was going to do with my life. It was then when I heard my Grandfather whisper in my ear “Auctioneering, Carrie!”
CC: And I’m like “Yeah, why not?” The one thing I knew about myself is I have always been a helper. Many people say I help too much. I give away the farm with no money in return. It’s true. I’m working on that. Anyway, all the pieces started falling together. My grandfather was a cattle auctioneer, my great-grandfather was a cattle auctioneer. My grandfather, in WWII was selling war bonds, and he was able to auction off a blanket for $800 in 1942!
CC: I’m assuming that’s where I got my entertainment bug from, my grandfather. I knew that if I wanted to be on stage after my last tour of 2019, and still be able to touch lives as a helper, or even a healer for that matter, this was going to be my pivot.
So I went back to school – Mason City, Iowa to Worldwide College of Auctioneering. I’m with all these other cattle auctioneers and there were like 13 girls and about 50 men. So we’re there putting in rigorous hours doing this training. Like 12, 16 hours a day. By the time I was done I was certified as a Professional Colonel – when you go through auctioneering school, that’s what you’re called, a Colonel. I also got certified as a bi-lingual auctioneer, so I went through for Spanish and English. Then when I got through the process I decided I was gonna become a benefit auctioneer. In my heart of hearts, when I was singing up in Washington, I was still trying to give back to the kid I never got to be. The latchkey kid, or the kid that was being abused. I had already been a volunteer for Big Brothers Big Sisters for many years…I became a CASA which is a Court Appointed Special Advocate, which is the voice of a child in the court system. I was also part of the Lunch Buddy Program and Read Across America, and it made the decision easy when I decided to be a benefit auctioneer.
CC: So that leads me up to right now where 2020 hit and it was a perfect moment because I was able to pivot. I started working on making sure everything was right with my publishing, and I wanted to become the liaison between the music business and the auctioneering world. These auctions were starting to go virtual because we couldn’t get together. But they were putting these events on over the internet and putting on unlicensed music and getting in trouble. That’s where I saw my window of being in the music world for over 20 years and being an asset in the auctioneering world. So that’s where I am right now! I have spent the last 8 months digging deep into building my brand as www.soundbarnllc.com It shows me as an artist, my publishing side and also my auctioneering side. They all work really well together, or at least I work really well as the voice between the two worlds. It’s my niche. I also decided to make an album vs EPs. The new album is called “Showgirl” and I’m super excited.
DR: That is the most comprehensive answer I think I’ve ever gotten! That’s awesome!
CC: Thank you!
DR: Who are your musical influences?
CC: Well. That goes back. Starting off with Barbara Mandrell, and then Reba as far as stage performance goes. I was also heavily influenced by Diana Ross and the Supremes. Donna Summer and Lou Rawls, the Motown and the Disco scene, The BeeGees. Gretchen Peters as a songwriter! She was the first songwriter I knew or knew about. I fell in love with her in the 90’s…she was one of the reasons I felt like I needed to start writing. Patty Loveless is a huge component too. “Blame It On Your Heart” was the first song I sang in a Country competition. Her voice is so rich! She was able to cross over with Country music and Bluegrass – Mountain Soul and Mountain Soul 2 are two of the best albums out there. They’re so good! And Carl Jackson, he’s huge in the Bluegrass and Country world for being a producer and songwriter. I’ve known him and Sherrill Blackman since 2008 and their separate guidance over the years has helped me so much. There’s actually a ton of mentors over the years thanks to Nashville and just getting out there and networking. I don’t want to start naming people because I’m gonna forget somebody and next thing you know I’m in trouble! More recently, I’d say I like Old Dominion and Midland as far as music goes, but songwriters….geez, too many to name.
DR: Nice. How did you come to GSC?
CC: Well, like I said earlier I became the NSAI coordinator for Portland back in 2008, and Sheree was our mentor. She was our cheerleader for all the coordinators. So once everything started to fall apart, I stuck with her and I really loved her drive and determination. She’s infectious!
DR: She is!!
CC: Her and Debbie Cochran are awesome. And Trish Matthews!
DR: They all are wonderful! What are some songs you wish you’d written?
CC: I like some of the stuff Ingrid Andress is doing. I like her song “Lady Like” I think it’s so creative. “More Hearts Than Mine”would probably be the number one song I’d say I wish I’d written. I heard it the first time and I made my daughter listen to it as we were driving in the car. She looks at me and says “Mom! This is our song!” and I’m like “I know! Why didn’t I write this?” I fall in love with anybody my daughter brings home, even if she doesn’t. Im turning into a hopeless romantic. There are many more but that one resonates the most.
DR: And you talked a little bit about your projects…tell me some more about Showgirl.
CC: Showgirl really was a concept as I was driving home in 2019. Being the artist, I was the truck driver, hauling gear and musicians in my truck. We had just finished a tour that had us up in Washington, Oregon, North Dakota, Colorado. Doing this big loop. And we had just gotten home from the Pendleton Roundup, which was grueling – it was four shows a day for five days! I was driving home and I’m in Northern California thinking “I’m not gonna do this anymore” because I had just finished Auctioneering school and knew this was my last gig. So I started coming up with these words. “In fourteen miles I’ll have seven hundred more to go/I can’t wait til I climb out of these miles I’m wearing/at least until I’m back out on the road” and I was like “Yeah, I’ll always be a showgirl.” I grew up listening to Motown and Disco and Classic Rock and Country and I was influenced by all of it! And as I was thinking about this album I thought I’m not going to make this album be straight up Country – I’m going to take all those influences and put it in this album.
DR: Very cool. Where can people hear your album?
CC: Well right now, releases are by singles, everywhere. On all streaming platforms and my website. I’m not gonna release the whole album until sometime in the middle of the year when it’ll come in physical CD and vinyl. But the only way they can get those is through my website, www.carrielive.com, until the end of the year. That way the single releases still hold value digitally. I have a Showgirls series on my website and each month has a dedicated page. So right now I have January,- “Click” written with GSC member Diann Hammer and dueted with Clayton Jones. February- “Happy to me” with artist/writer Christen Cooper and March -”Showgirl” which is a solo write. People can check out all the interviews, press, social media links, streaming like Spotify and iTunes for each individual song, plus lyrics.
DR: Nice. Well, maybe this is a dangerous question, but do you have any closing thoughts?
CC: *laughs* I dunno, I just gave you my whole life! Except please visit my website www.carrielive.com and let’s be friends!
DR: Well, I’d say that about covers everything then. Thanks for sitting down with us!