Katey Sagal has captured audiences for years. An actress, singer, wife, and mother, she has experienced much in her life, from singing backup for Bette Midler and Etta James to earning a Golden Globe and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In her rich and telling new memoir Grace Notes, she explores how she got to where she is today, and shares some of the wisdom she has gained over the years. Grace Notes is on sale now! Read on for an excerpt from Chapter 1.
When I was ten, my mother taught me to play the guitar. We were living in the Westwood section of Los Angeles at the time. Dark and cavernous, the house seemed to me an enormous Spanish hacienda. (I went back years later, and it was more like a casita.) Mom and I sat in the living room, the dark wooden floors and rich red tiles providing the effect of an echo chamber. My mom, as always, was dressed in her simple way, with her hair cut in a short, unstuffy style that I understood later was meant to avoid adding complications to her life.
“Darling girl!” She called me to her. “Let me show you. This is what I did at your age.”
I sat on her lap, the guitar in mine, with her arms draped around me, and we picked and strummed in tandem, like one person. My hands hurt as I stretched and pressed my fingers into the strings. She rested her hands, bird-like and delicate, on top of mine and helped to mold my fingers into chord formations with one hand while strumming with the other. If I concentrate, I can still feel her small hands touching me. I was so much bigger than her, even as a little kid. She was happy then and suntanned, memorable because it was rare that she had color. She stayed inside so much of the time.
“Down in the Valley” was the first song I learned. A traditional folk ballad my mom played every time she picked up her guitar. We sang loudly. My hands wrapped around the wide neck of Mom’s maple-colored Martin. Her nylon string acoustic guitar, the one she was given by Burl Ives. I never really knew why or how she got his guitar; that’s one of the heartbreaks of having dead parents: no one to fill in the blanks.
“Down in the valley, valley so low, hang your head over, hear the wind blow . . .”
Kent cigarettes, butts and burning, in an ashtray nearby. The smell of slept-in clothes, dirty hair, and tobacco—the smells of my mom—filling the space along with the low, rich tones of her voice. A deep alto by this time in her life, she still sang with the faint twang of the yodeler she was in her younger years. Long ago, when my mother was eleven years old, she had her own fifteen-minute daily radio show out of Gaffney, South Carolina. She was known as “the Singing Sweetheart of Cherokee County.”