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by Brenna Fender
08/10/09

 

On Course with Janet McLaughlin

By Brenna Fender

For many of us, agility is such an important part of our lives that it creeps into our workplaces. We tell our (only barely interested) co-workers about our weekend successes, we hang agility photos in our offices, and we might even try to find jobs that are related to agility (like writing for an agility magazine).

For singer/songwriter Janet McLaughlin, her love of animals, and particularly dogs and dog agility, has certainly been demonstrated in her work. On the Alabama-born artist’s third and latest album, Shine in the Moon, two tracks focus on her love of dogs, and one is about doing agility with her mixed breed, Carson. That song, “My All-American Boy,” has been played at agility trials and is even available with your own dog’s name sung in place of McLaughlin’s!

Janet & her boys: Carson, Keenon, and Cooper
Photo © Paw Prints, www.pawprintspet.com

A career in music is never easy, but most artists don’t face the medical challenge that McLaughlin lived through. While recording an album in 2005, she suffered a brain hemorrhage. She spent five days in neurological intensive care and faced a lengthy recovery. With the help of family and friends she eventually was able to return to health. This experience is represented in her music though songs like “Whispered Prayer” and “Where I Belong.”

McLaughlin has played with many greats, including Emily Saliers of the Indigo Girls, and has written songs with some of the best in the business. McLaughlin’s music has been recorded by famous artists, including the great Loretta Lynn. But McLaughlin still finds time to play with her dogs and ride horses.

What does it take to pursue a demanding career in music while succeeding in a challenging hobby like agility? McLaughlin, who lives in Nashville, took some time out of her busy schedule to shares her thoughts on the subject with readers of www.cleanrun.com.

Brenna Fender (BF): How did you get started in the music business?

Janet McLaughlin (JM): I got started in the music business as part of the natural flow of things. I played guitar and began to sing. That led to playing out at restaurants and bars which led to touring, some solo, some with a band. Writing songs moved hand-in-hand with the process and recording projects grew out of the want to meet product demand for my audiences. My involvement in the music business took, and continues to take, root with all the processes and steps. Over the years it has allowed me some incredible opportunities and introduced me to some fabulous people.

We could do a whole interview on this question, but in a nutshell, involvement with the music industry has been my course since graduating college. Classical guitar was my major—voice my secondary and my music evolved from there and has supported me all this time.

BF: What is your career like now? Are you traveling a lot to play or do you have mostly regular gigs in Nashville?

JM: These days my career has me doing a bit of both—travel and regular gigs here in Nashville. I often play the Bluebird Cafe and a number of performance rooms here in town. I tour regionally as well. Eddie’s Attic in the Atlanta area, just did a show in Huntsville, Alabama at the Von Braun Center Playhouse...

Touring as the opener for the Indigo Girls a number of times and for Bill Maher’s live show have been some of the most fun and exciting aspects of what the music business path has unfolded for me.

I want to share a sweet moment with you. At the Huntsville show, the audience wanted to meet Carson. So, during the second half, Carson came out and lay down on the stage beside me and stayed right there with me as I played not only his song, but the remainder of the show. He’s been on the road with me for years—always the perfect gentleman!

Emily Saliers (Indigo Girls) and Janet

Traveling the country has been a big part of my career, but a little over three years ago, I suffered a subarachnoid hemorrhage, a bleed between the brain and the skull. This would be a whole other story, but I want to mention that my agility community helped me so much during that time and through my recovery. I can not begin to tell you how important they all were to me. After this medical incident, being on the road did not feel as good as staying home and being with family and friends. I have toured this whole wonderful country, but I wanted to be home. Besides, I had agility to work on with my boys!

I threw myself into my Guitar School of Nashville. I teach guitar here at my house, at several schools in the area, and have a studio in Brentwood, just south of Nashville. I volunteer at W.O. Smith Community Music School and teach one hour a week to young students whose parents are not able to afford lessons. I thoroughly enjoy teaching and the learning opportunities it gives me.

So there is a nice balance in my professional life. I teach, I tour, and I write songs. Right now I am writing songs for my next CD and working with a new artist as he puts songs together for his first project.

BF: Was it a difficult decision for you to write a song about an obscure sport like dog agility and to include it on your latest album?

JM: I like that you asked this because I’ve been asked that a number of times. It’s not like I sat down and decided to write a song about agility. I was in my music room ready to focus and writing and playing my guitar. Carson, my All-American Boy, curled up at my feet, settled in with me. The song simply poured out of my heart. Honest, it just wrote itself and I cried my eyes out as it came out of me. Happy tears, of course. It is the only song I have ever played, cover or original, that I have had to practice performing so I could get all the way through it without crying my eyes out! To this day, I tear up whenever I play it and I love playing it.

BF: Do you get questions about “My All-American Boy” when you play it live?

JM: I do try to explain a little bit about the song before I perform it. I feel like my listeners pick up on my connection with my dog and that is what reaches even the non-agility crowd.

BF: How did you get started in agility?

JM: That’s an easy question. My friend Kathy Dungan met Carson, who is an [Australian Shepherd/Border Collie cross], and said, “You have got to do agility with him!” I replied, “What’s agility?” and, obviously, found out, started taking classes, and got hooked.

BF: Please tell me more about your agility partners and accomplishments.

JM: I currently have two agility partners. Both are All-Americans and a third, a black Lab, is waiting in the wings to get started.

Carson, my Aussie/Border Collie, is 10 years old. Ten, I can’t believe it! He was already five years old when we got started in agility. Thank God we got going when we did. He has earned PD1 in USDAA. In NADAC, Carson has his OAC, OJC, TN-O, WV-N and his open title in Hoopers.

Keenan, my Border Collie/Aussie, is four years old. In NADAC he has earned his NAC, OJC, and TN-N.

BF: What is your favorite agility organization to compete in and why?

JM: My boys and I have primarily run in USDAA and NADAC and we have run in two ASCA trials that have been in our area. I might consider doing an AKC trial now that they are allowing all dogs to participate. I have watched a bunch of my friends run in these trials.

We are very lucky to have such a variety of organizations from which to choose. Each is good and carries its own merits. I so appreciate USDAA using my song, “My All-American Boy,” at their 2008 Cynosport World Games. Snooker has always been one of my most favorite events.

My favorite organization is NADAC. I went to my first NADAC trial pretty much because of Tunnelers. Keenan loves the tunnel. And at that trial, I knew this was the group for me and my boys. I prefer it for several reasons. It is laid back and I like that.

For my dogs, there are three big reasons I prefer NADAC. First, the jump heights—no dog has to jump more than 20". That’s better for my dogs’ bodies. Second, the contacts do not have to have slats because they have a rubber surface for the dog’s paw to grip. I believe that is safer for my dogs. Third, NADAC has three events, Hoopers, Tunnelers, and Weavers, that let my dogs run without having to climb or jump. This combined with the NADAC commitment to course flow means my dogs can run agility later into their lives.

BF: Do you travel to compete in agility? How often do you compete?

JM: Yes, I travel to compete and do it as often as I can within a three-to-four hour distance. I often miss trials, though, because of touring conflicts.

    

Photo © Paw Prints, www.pawprintspet.com

BF: Are there similarities between agility competitions and performing on stage?

JM: What a great question! Yes! The way my heart beats in my chest as I wait on the line to run an agility course is so much like getting ready to sing on stage.

BF: How do you balance the demands of your career with those of the sport?

JM: Most people running agility work through the week, so the weekend is free to plan agility trials. As a musician, weekends get booked up for gigs. That’s when I say that making a living is getting in the way of my agility! I make as many of them available as I can, and more often than not can only run on Sundays. But run, my boys and I do—as much as we can. We absolutely love agility.

 

Janet's Album, Shine in the Moon...

Janet's CD is available at www.cleanrun.com. Here's what we wrote about this CD in the Clean Run store:

So you're probably asking, "Why is Clean Run carrying a music CD?" We were contacted several months ago by someone who asked us to review a CD that contained a "song about dog agility." Having read one too many poorly rhymed agility poem and song submissions, we were skeptical to say the least... but we can honestly say that when we listened to Shine in the Moon, we were knocked out—not only by the song "My All-American Boy" (inspired by her agility adventures with her mixed breed, "Carson"), but by most of the album. So we wanted to share her music with other agility enthusiasts.

Janet McLaughlin is a voice to be heard and to be remembered—her acoustic-driven style is hers and mimics no one. Shine in the Moon is her third and most exciting CD. Janet's guitar work sparkles on this very engaging collection of her work. Check her out—you'll be glad you did.

Click here for a live video of Janet performing "My American Boy."