There are certain words and descriptions that enter this writer’s mind whenever someone mentions the name Nisha Catron during the course of our conversation. Aside from the obvious physical characteristics that readily identify Nisha—her flowing, flaxen locks, and statuesque frame—she carries herself with a regal, stealth confidence born out of the many seasons she has honed her craft as a musician. She is an independent, strong-willed woman, albeit free-spirited Earth Mother, who possesses the kind of maternal warmth that so lovingly encourages her seedlings to germinate and flourish into full, splendid blooms. She also harbors an internal fire that smolders just beneath the surface, which, in turn, ignites her deepest passions to create and to do so, abundantly.
Then there’s this other word that is synonymous with the woman who also easily comes to mind and resigns itself to the notion that not only is Nisha indicative of all the aforementioned, she is a prime example of what it means to be truthful-to others and herself, regarding life, love, and the desire to be nothing less than honest, especially when it involves songwriting and making beautiful music.
When I met up with Nisha for lunch this past July, to reflect on her life’s rich history as an artist and lifelong musician, I discovered that her journey, to get to where she is now, is a most fascinating one. And seated at the table, alongside us, was truth. This is exactly what Nisha wished to convey and have present during the course of our time spent in discussion on that breezy summer afternoon. Although she was upbeat, she was somewhat tethered to her grief, following the recent death of her beloved “Oogy,” a Cairn Terrier breed, just like Toto in The Wizard of Oz. Oogy lived for 17 years, which is equivalent, age-wise, to that of a 105-year-old human.
Oogy was a gift from her husband. They cherished their beloved fur baby, just as any other set of parents would love their own child. Nisha pointed out that Oogy had passed away “on a very rare, Summer Soltice, full strawberry moon.” The lunar anomaly was symbolic of so much, adding, at the time Oogy left this mortal coil, “the moon was the color of his fur.”
Although Oogy has crossed over the Rainbow Bridge, the memory of this precious dog will forever be celebrated by Nisha and those whose paths he encountered. However, it is moments such as this that she finds strength and solace through music to heal from the pain of loss and anything else life’s trajectories might throw in her direction. However, no matter what befalls her, it is music that has remained the one constant and which has always been there for her.
Born on June 2, 1958 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Nisha entered this world with music very much present in her household. She said, “I was always surrounded by music. My mother sang jazz and rhythm and blues. My grandmother sang old-timey songs and sounded like Peggy Lee. The first song I ever sang was “The Crawdad Song” with my brother, Johnny, and Grandpa, while in the car, when I was about five years old.”
Being exposed to music at such an early age definitely left an indelible mark on the young Nisha, who mentioned that she was raised on her mother’s love of such musical giants as Aretha Franklin, Nancy Wilson, Otis Redding, Ramsey Lewis, and Blood, Sweat and Tears, the latter, whose records were played “over and over and over again.” These icons heavily influenced her, as a lyricist and a singer, as their incomparable artistry and deliverance of their songs was the driving force and a major component behind the sound of Nisha’s own music.
When her mother decided to learn how to play the guitar, it was just the beginning of Nisha’s lifelong journey into the world of music and ultimately writing her own songs. It was a mutual, musical love affair for both mother and daughter. Nisha recounted that chapter of her life—how she came to master the guitar and when she began composing songs built around the works of classic authors. Though her mother encouraged her to take up the guitar, she also drove home the importance for Nisha to leave the confines of her bedroom and go outdoors to play—like any other kid her own age.
“From the time I was 12 years old, I spent several years, practicing for hours in my room, teaching myself guitar from Mel Bay instruction books, writing and singing melodies to Shakespeare, Edgar Allen Poe, and Emily Dickinson. The first song I wrote, with my own words, was for my dog who died.”
“One Sunday morning/Sun in the sky/I lost a dear friend/I wonder why, why did he die?”
All those long hours of “practice makes perfect” eventually paid off for Nisha, as she made the leap from sharing a guitar with her mother, while threading her own melodies through prose penned by renowned authors from centuries past to ultimately exiting her childhood years to eventually landing a paid gig as an 18-year-old, professional musician in a disco band called the Electric Sun. She and her bandmate/musical foil, Vicky, were the two, lone she-wolves in the all-black male line-up.
Nisha proved that she had the vocal chops to sing lead in the Electric Sun and was able to get down and dirty on a fried-funk version of the Stevie Wonder classic, “I Wish.” It was the lyrics, “Lookin’ back on when I was a little nappy-headed boy,” that still, to this very day, endear her to those fond memories of the short-lived stint in a band that drew a crowd but, unfortunately, no paycheck for their time on stage. The band members, including Nisha, all went their separate ways.
Left without an anchor and any potential prospect of a musical future, Nisha was not quite sure what to do next. It was at the crossroads of this juncture in her life that a pivotal shift in her bleak outlook took hold. She remembers that turning point very well.
“One day, while walking the streets of downtown Cincinnati, feeling quite bewildered and heartbroken, I came upon a large sign posted in a window, with a photo of a very happy woman. The caption read: JOIN THE NAVY. IT’S AN ADVENTURE! That was when I realized what I needed to do, so I went right away to the naval recruiter and asked if I could be a musician in the Navy. He told me, while grinning from ear-to-ear, ‘Of course!’”
Once Nisha joined the ranks of those enlistees who chose to go through the grueling rigors of boot camp, only to eventually find themselves stationed in a city far away from home, she ended up in Lakehurst, New Jersey, where she was employed as a parachute rigger. Her first duty on the job included “an eight-hour watch of the gigantic, empty hangar, next to where the Hindenburg had exploded.” A lone pigeon that paced back and forth kept her company, although this was of no consolation to Nisha, who, by this point, was crying and questioning everything about her life and the decision she had made to join the military.
“What have I done with my life?” she sobbed.
Somehow, Nisha managed to keep it all together and wrote lots of songs during her time spent in the Navy, all the while focusing her sights on California. She cites the legendary singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell as the catalyst who inspired her to eventually make the move out West. Nisha’s love for Mitchell, as a mainstay of rock ‘n’ roll, is more than evident, when she counts her as one of the most important influences in her own career, as a singer-songwriter.
“Earlier on, I used to pine away with Joni Mitchell. I loved so many of her albums: Court and Spark, Blue, Mingus, Hegira. She accomplished so many different genres of music that she truly has developed and branded her own unique genre,” recalled Nisha.
As destiny would have it, Nisha’s next tour of duty landed her in California, where she would be stationed. The moment she hopped into a waiting taxi, which drove her over the arc of the bridge into Coronado, was the exact moment she thought, I am headed toward Heaven.
Besides being stationed in a region of the country many call “paradise,” Nisha had finally landed on solid ground in a location that had truly captured and released her rock ‘n’ roll heart. With its burgeoning music scene, she became entrenched in the happenings of the seaside community and attended many of the local shows around the area. She reflected back on the time spent in Coronado and how certain people had truly made a profound impact on her as a young musician.
“My dream of living in California came true. Along the way, I was gifted with unexpected teachers. While living in Coronado, I was impressed by the singing and songwriting of locals, such as Joey Harris and Paul Kamanski. Later on, I heard a song on 91X called “Delta Sleep,” written by Dane Conover, from his album Trees. I would end up meeting his girlfriend, Ana Carlacci, at the Spirit Club, along with Irene Liberatorre and Sue DelGuidice. We all became fast friends. I felt so incredibly lucky to have been able to play my original songs to them and be welcomed into this family of wonderfully talented and sweet souls. My first studio recordings were produced by Dane. Ana, Dane, and I made weird and wonderful, little, short comedic films that Dane has store somewhere! I plan on remixing some of these old recordings for fun.”
In 1979, Nisha witnessed a life-changing concert performance of the San Diego, all-girl group, the Dinettes, at the American Legion Hall. It was a very powerful moment for her, because she had never seen anything quite like it before in her life. During that era in music, there were just a handful of strictly all-female bands and watching these fantastic women rockers rule the stage the way that they did certainly left an impression on the young girl from Ohio. As time went on, she forged friendships with two members of The Dinettes, Sue DelGuidice and Irene (Liberatorre) Dolan. They all got along so well that Nisha partnered with Sue, years ago, in the band A Year from Yesterday, and, more recently, Patrons of the Moon, along with bassist David Ybarra. When Nisha lived in Hollywood, she formed Out of Nowhere with Irene.
Stay tuned for part two of this story, which will appear in next month’s Troubadour.