Laura Cheadle answers the phone with all the enthusiasm of a pizza delivery guy at midnight. That is to say she’s not trying to impress me because, to her, I'm nothing new. After all, Cheadle, a singer-songwriter who appears on Friday, November 20, at the Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse in Newtown Square, has been fielding autograph requests since age four. I quickly learn that she loves Stevie Wonder, drives a Chevy Malibu, and thinks Princeton might just be her favorite spot in New Jersey. Well, as long as she’s got a guitar in hand. She chatted with me from her Swedesboro, NJ, home.
U.S. 1: I think we can learn a lot about you as a musician by what songs you cover. What’s your go-to cover for a bar at last-call?
LC: Oh, man. “Son of a Preacher Man.” I don’t do many covers but I’ll throw them in there. I did it once at a show in Manayunk when everyone was drunk. We wound up with a hundred person dance party.
U.S. 1: And if you were going to open a set with a cover?
LC: “Chain of Fools.” I do a funk version of it. I also do a funk version of “Come Together” by the Beatles.
U.S. 1: How about a song you could never cover?
LC: Stevie Wonder comes to mind. I’m obsessed with him. I don’t know if anyone knows this song, but “You and I” by Stevie Wonder. I’d never cover that.
If these selections are a refreshing change from the celebrity-obsessed pop blips that dominate radio stations today, it’s no coincidence. At 23, Cheadle has racked up an impressive 21 years of experience as a musician. The self-proclaimed “funky soul” singer-songwriter grew up in Pitman, New Jersey, and has managed to keep herself busy playing, recording, and writing music since the moment she could pick up an instrument. Touring began at age four (more on that in a minute) and, with the exception of time off to sit in classrooms at Pitman High and later at Camden County Community College (where she earned her associate’s degree), she hasn’t stopped. “I’ve been touring around with my own songs since high school. I’ve gotten the best music education on tour.”
So who exactly sends their four-year-old out on a national tour? Well, no one; but you could hitch a ride if your dad happened to be promoting a song that required young voices. Cheadle had just finished learning to walk and talk when Desert Storm began. In an effort to honor American troops her father, Jim Cheadle, a professional musician who also owns and operates 9 South, a recording studio in Swedesboro, composed “In a Desert Land.” When the song began to gain popularity he packed up his twin sons, their fifth grade friends, and his young daughter and hit the road. He called the group “The Appreciation Choir” and they toured the country as the song hit radio stations nationwide. Father, daughter, and brothers also all appear in the video, which was put into rotation on VH1 and MTV. (I recommend a glimpse of the video on YouTube, if not for the timely sentiment, for the fantastic hairdos.)
Cheadle doesn’t remember much about those days other than having trouble signing the autographs requested of her. She does, however, remember the lifestyle: “We would move from hotel to hotel and I remember just loving it.”
I ask her, If you had to do something other than perform as a musician, what would it be? “Oh my God. I would love to do improv comedy! I’m a ridiculous person — I got class clown in high school. That’s just how I am. Man, SNL would be the coolest thing! Of course I picked another performing profession,” says Cheadle, who claims she supports herself by performing.
To be fair, performing is what Cheadle knows best. Before she could even be considered a teenager, the band “Sibling” was formed between, you guessed it, Cheadle and her twin brothers. Besides boasting what I happen to think might be the best ever name for a band, they also had the distinction of an 11-year-old drummer. “I was a big fan of the movie “That Thing You Do” so I wanted to learn to play drums. We actually got pretty popular in Pitman,” says Cheadle. “Then, when I was 16, I taught myself to play the guitar.”
She then began to write her own songs and ventured out as a solo artist. Her unique method of playing and her ear for uncommon melodies drew audiences night after night. When the novelty of selling out coffee houses wore off, she recruited her dad and brothers to form a full band. “A lot of bands I know have to rehearse all the time and we just know each other so well. We get how each other plays.” The family is also featured on her debut album, “Falling In,” which was released in 2006. This was quickly followed by two live albums (“Live On” is her newest release) as well as a Christmas offering.
It helps to have a father who is a musician and has a recording studio but the place of family in Cheadle’s life and music runs a bit deeper than convenience. Her father’s influence is especially evident in the theme of her newest work. (Her mom is an elementary school teacher at Walls school in Pitman.) “I just released a song called ‘Change (It’s Alright)’ about the world’s problems. It was inspired by Hurricane Katrina and the idea of all the people out in the world suffering. I’d like to make a difference with this song.” The song, which features rich, delicate vocals, can be heard on both myspace.com/lauracheadle and facebook.com/lauracheadle.
The television interviews viewable on her website (lauracheadle.com) give one a taste of the Laura Cheadle you might encounter at one of her shows; confident, relaxed, and passionate. Cheadle’s next show in the Princeton area is on Friday, November 20 for an all ages appearance at the Burlap & Bean in Newtown Square, but not for lack of trying to get closer, which leads to a discussion of favorite places.
U.S. 1: What’s your favorite place in the world?
LC: I’d have to say anywhere with my guitar. Oh, on a beach with my guitar. Any beach. I love the beach, and I hate cold weather.
U.S. 1: How about your favorite place in New Jersey?
LC: I have to say Princeton! It’s hilarious but it really is. I’m not trying to suck up to U.S. 1, I just really like the town. I played Alchemist & Barrister back in July and it was packed. I’ve been trying to get booked at Triumph for a while. I’ve played the Triumph in New Hope.
U.S.1: You should show up in person and try to get them to talk to you.
LC: I have.
U.S. 1: Well, I’ll publish this part of the conversation in the paper and we’ll see what happens.
U.S.1: What kind of car do you drive?
LC: A 2001 Chevy Malibu.
U.S.1: And what stations are saved on the radio?
LC: 90.1, 88.5 WXPN, 93.7 ('cause they play me all the time) 105.3, and Oldies 98.
Cheadle and her band play regularly at venues spanning from Delaware to New York City. Triumph Brewery, take note: She’s up for the road trip to Princeton and you can be pretty sure she’ll pick a good cover song or two.
Laura Cheadle, Burlap & Bean Coffeehouse and Roastery, 204 South Newtown Street Road (in the Shops at Springton Pointe), Newtown Square. Friday, November 20, 8 p.m. Singer-songwriter. All ages show. $7. 484-427-4547 or www.burlapandbean.com.