Michelle Shocked is a traveling troubadour whose musical talent is so eclectic it is difficult to categorize. As a young feminist, she left Texas to travel, Kerouac-style, and was caught up in Reagan-era grassroots politics. Her musical career was ignited by a bootleg recording made around a Kerrville Folk Festival campfire on a Sony Walkman.
“Michelle Shocked” is the nom de guerre given at her arrest in a political protest called “The War Chest Tour” during the 1984 Democratic National Convention in San Francisco, California. The demonstration challenged the practice of U.S. corporations receiving lucrative military contracts from the U.S. government while giving generous campaign contributions to both political parties, thus benefiting from political favors regardless of election results. “Michelle Shocked” was intended to invoke the specter of “shell shock” as a result of Reagan’s Cold War policies.
A career veteran, Michelle famously escaped major-label indentured servitude in 1996, subverting the artist-label relationship that helped lead to the current trend toward artistic self-containment. She has made good use of her independence, releasing more critically-acclaimed albums on her Mighty Sound label. Shocked received her first international exposure in Europe, with her debut album, The Texas Campfire Tapes, a bootleg recorded around a festival campfire on a cassette recorder. She signed with Mercury in 1987. Her U.S. debut came with the release of her Grammy-nominated 1988 album, Short Sharp Shocked on college radio rotations around the country, which was met with strong acclaim from listeners. The songs of Short Sharp Shocked are mostly about what it was like to grow up in rural Texas. Every song on this album is a gem. Captain Swing, recorded in 1989, is almost perfect; the style is not exactly swing, because it’s also rock and roll. Arkansas Traveler, released in 1992, also nominated for a Grammy, is mainly bluegrass. Michelle recorded and distributed Kind Hearted Woman in 1994 at shows. In 1995, she contributed an original song to the soundtrack for the Academy Award-winning film Dead Man Walking called “Quality of Mercy”. In 1996, she released a studio version of the underground release Kind Hearted Woman. Starting in 2002 with the release of Deep Natural, Shocked established her own label, Mighty Sound. A 2005 trilogy called Threesome, and a 2007 bootleg of a gospel set called ToHeavenURide were followed in 2009 by her album, Soul of My Soul.
In 2010, she launched Roadworks, a 5-year touring project curating audience favorites while developing her opus-in progress, “Indelible Women.”
Michelle, three-time Grammy nominee/winner and crusader in the copyfight for artists’ rights, has created an as-yet unreleased studio masterpiece, the Cuban rumba-inspired “Musical Chairs: A Comparsa for Artists’ Rights.”
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