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Arts & Culture

From The TPRchives: Mary Cutrufello, Live At Cibolo Creek Country Club

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© Ben Thorn
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Mary Cutrufello knows just how much people in Texas like to dance. Before she relocated to Minnesota in the early 2000s, she spent ten years touring, creating, and learning the music of Texas. In the summer of 1997, she played live at the Cibolo Creek Country Club for TPR’s “Sunday Night Session,” which was broadcast on KSTX 89.1 FM from 1996-2010. [You can hear the full show at the bottom of the page]

But Cutrufello didn’t always play for two-stepping couples at joints like the Cibolo Creek Country Club or the 400 Bar. She graduated from Yale University with a degree in American history, then followed her heart to the Lone Star State to pursue the life of a country musician.

“I was in a band when I was a junior, and everybody else [in the group] was a senior. They went off to do all the stuff that people do when they graduate Yale, and I was like ‘Come on, we gotta keep the band together!’” she says with a laugh. “They were like ‘dude, we just graduated Yale, we’re gonna go be doctors and lawyers and stuff!’ I realized how seriously I was actually taking [music] and I never have been one to let anything deter me from what I wanted to do.”

Cutrufello says she immediately began making plans to move to Texas. Although born in Connecticut, Cutrufello’s years in the southwest helped her create music that would make any native Texan proud.

Mary Cutrufello has been a singer all her life, so when doctors discovered a vocal node in 2004, she was hit with new problems. “It was not a real pleasant time to be me,” she laments. “The real physical problem itself didn’t hurt, [but] I would open up my mouth and nothing would come out.”

“It really did a number on my head and that was more messed up than my throat.” The doctors gave her a decision: vocal surgery, or go silent for eight months. She chose the latter, and spent time fishing, and touring with Tish Hinojosa as her guitar player, all the while still wholly unsure of her vocal future. “The reason I opted for being quiet as opposed to getting surgery was because I was told you [could never be] sure what voice you would get after surgery. There’s a chance it might not be ‘you’ anymore,” she explains. “Oddly enough, when I came back [my voice] had changed anyway, but it’s definitely something I’m very happy with. I lost some of the high end and my falsetto is a little harder to control, but I got this great depth in the lower part of my range. It’s kind of the sound that I had in my head when I was in my twenties and I couldn’t get there. Now, after the nodes, there it was—and it’s really cool.”

In Minnesota, Cutrufello’s current home, she spends her days away from the guitar driving a FedEx truck. She began a career with the company shortly after being diagnosed with vocal nodes. She still tries to "keep an ear out for what's going on down in Texas," and plays as much as she can. But she’s far from the “gung-ho, 280 day-er, full-time” touring artist she was in the 1990s.

The difference between Minnesota and Texas was a welcome change for Mary. “Moving to Texas, I was moving to learn and explore something new, while moving to Minnesota was more of a coming home to the rock sounds I grew up with.” She saw a dramatic change in her audience as well. “People in Texas like to dance. And they do it really well! [At first] I didn’t realize that part of my job as a band member was keeping people dancing. Up in Minnesota there are some places where people dance—the older Scandinavian traditions of dancing. But by and large the sort of thing that happens in Texas doesn't really happen here. In Texas that’s what they go out to do, to dance. And it’s not like that never happens [in Minnesota], but it’s not so much a part of the culture.”

Cutrufello has an impressive list of collaborators and has toured with many other famous musicians, including Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Jonny Lang, Bruce Springsteen and the Allman Brothers. Her career as a musician spans nearly three decades and she has made two appearances on episodes of “Austin City Limits.” But all credentials aside, her talent manifests itself in powerful vocals, emphatic lyrics and bare-knuckled guitar.

Visit Mary Cutrufello online

Listen back to Mary Cutrufello’s Sunday Night Session broadcast in the audio links below, or choose some of our favorite songs to hear individually.