When I ask Austin singer/songwriter Terri Hendrix how she's doing, it's more than just a courtesy.
Eight weeks ago, our last phone interview began and ended with her telling me that she needed to reschedule her January performance due to a recent change in the medications she uses to manage her epilepsy. She did not want to cancel, but it was clearly "doctor's orders."
Typical of how she no longer sees herself as a victim to her condition, she responds by asking, "Well how are you all doing?" in reference to the mass shooting on Jan. 8.
It was not always this way. In 1989, Hendrix suffered her first significant seizures and was somewhat overwhelmed. "There were problems when I was a kid, but we never put it together. Even after I was diagnosed, I never told anyone. I denied having it and ran from it."
Even though she's "considered a mild case," she says, there have been instances when she's been onstage and struggled mightily to make it through a show. "Finally, in 2003, I had one (episode) with Lloyd," she said, referring to the legendary producer Lloyd Maines, who is her performing and business partner. "He didn't know (about my condition), and it scared him. That's when I realized it was selfish to not make him privy to what was going on."
She came to understand there was an upside to embracing her condition that far outweighed the stigma of having epilepsy. This included the need to strategize and rethink what was developing into a promising career. Hendrix was becoming something of a sensation—an independent artist having sold close to 30,000 CDs.
"Unfortunately, I had to cancel the Austin City Limits Festival and all these other great gigs. And then a lot of people stopped booking me, because they did not want to have to cancel. I definitely took a hit. But to have the potential to talk about this and raise awareness with the potential to save lives ... any worry or fear I have about booking is on the backburner."
Hendrix uses a number of different coping strategies, including acupuncture, which "works great," as well as her ever-present sense of humor. Mostly, however, it's been her ability to be proactive with both her attitude and her deeds that keeps her on track.
Last October, she took steps to establish O.Y.O.U., short for her longtime motto: Own Your Own Universe. According to the website (www.wiloryrecords.com/Wilory_Records/O.Y.O.U..html), "If you like the idea of rehab through music with a focus on hands-on music lessons for patients in a health crisis, and a small eclectic venue for all things arts, this is your place." As this article goes to press, Hendrix will have just run a half-marathon, raising money and awareness for the Epilepsy Foundation of Central and South Texas.
None of this should obscure the fact that she is the consummate triple threat, excelling as a songwriter, performer and recording artist. With more than a dozen albums in her catalog, she seems equally comfortable with blues, folk, story songs, ballads, folk-rock, country and a surprisingly fresh take on New Orleans-style jazz and jazz swing.
While Hendrix is the driving creative force, enough can't be said about Maines, who during almost 40 years in the business has played on or produced literally thousands of sessions. "By the time Lloyd came onboard, it was 1997. ... I needed help with managing my music and income." She said the first thing he did was help her to repackage herself, which led to the establishment of her label and company, Wilory Records.
Hendrix's most recent recording, Cry Till You Laugh, was conceived as a companion project to a similarly named book, Cry Till You Laugh—The Part That Ain't Art. The latter is a collection of stories and essays, some that date back to her initial communiqués with her mailing list in 1997. There are also stories about dealing with epilepsy and tales about how to make it as an independent artist.
She and Manes, in fact, will be conducting a workshop, "Music Business for Musicians—The Part That Ain't Art" ($35) a few hours before their show. The performance itself will feature Hendrix on guitar, harmonicas and mandolin, with Maines on Dobro, mandolin and guitar.