Ferron, born Debby Foisy on June 2, 1952 ) , is a Canadian folk singer/songwriter and poet. In addition to being one of Canada's most famous folk musicians, she is one of the most influential writers and performers of women's music, and an important influence on later musicians such as Ani DiFranco, Mary Gauthier and the Indigo Girls.
Ferron's rough-hewn voicing, chewy phrasing, and poetic songwriting have brought many favorable comparisons, including Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen (cf. Stephen Holden 1994). One wit aptly summed up Ferron's legendary status by calling her "the Johnny Cash of lesbian folksinging" (Bett Williams 2000). The reviewer Al Kaufman (2008) put the well-meaning comparisons to rest, finally, when he wrote, "Ferron is much more than the answer to the trivia question, 'What if Bob Dylan had been born a Canadian lesbian?' For one thing, unlike her nasal counterpart, Ferron's voice is rich and beautiful. Yet like Dylan, Ferron is a poet who is able to convey emotion without becoming maudlin, and beliefs without edging toward the pedantic. Like the great artist that she is, she paints a picture and has the listeners derive from it what they will, based on their own personal experiences." "Ferron ? is a real salt of the earth singer who approaches her art with both sleeves rolled up, ready to dive in. She walks her talk with heart exposed and performs with a courage and commitment that few other artists ever muster. The songs don't sound composed and sung as much as they feel wrung from the sweat and toil of hard fought experience. In Ferron's world, the contents of her songs appear as if they're lived out on the canvas of her life and not just inside the confines of her art?when she sings, no one can miss the gravity and weight inferred by her commanding alto voice" (Heselgrave 2008).
She learned to play guitar at age 11, and left home at 15. Ferron attended Total Ed, an alternative high school in Vancouver, graduating in 1973 (Thomas 2002). Of her earliest musical memories, she wrote, "my mother?s French Canadian family played music. I heard guitars and banjo and accordion and scrub board and my grandfather clogging. I put it together...music meant fun, meant love and laughter. I started writing songs when I was 10, never saved them after some kids at school found them and teased me about it. I wrote songs and remembered them and when I forgot them I felt they were not important anymore. The next time I saved a song I was 18. It was 1970." It was with that first saved song that she made her professional debut in 1975, playing the song "Who Loses" at a benefit for the Women's Press Gang, a feminist publishing house.
1970s and 1980s
Ferron subsequently established her own record label, Lucy Records, and released her debut album, Ferron in 1977. The album was recorded in a video studio on two-track equipment, and, as she stated, "the production quality was pretty poor". Nonetheless, all one thousand copies printed sold quickly.
1980's Testimony was her first professionally produced album, and brought her much interest in the United States, particularly in the women's music community.
Her 1984 album Shadows on a Dime received a rating of four stars (out of five) from Rolling Stone magazine, which called Ferron "a culture hero" and the album "cowgirl meets Yeats...a thing of beauty."
1990's and Beyond
Awarded a Canada Arts Council grant in 1985 to further develop her musicianship, she took several years off from touring, returning in 1990 with Phantom Center. The album featured backing vocals by a then unheard of Tori Amos, and consequently is highly sought after by collectors. It was re-released with a duet with The Indigo Girls on the first track.
Between 1992 and 1994, Ferron released three albums on her own Cherrywood Station label. Driver was then picked up by Earthbeat! Records, and was highly acclaimed by critics as a masterwork and nominated for a Juno Award in 1995. Warner Bros. Records signed Ferron which gave her great freedom in the studio to produce Still Riot with db Benedictson. She received an Outmusic Award for Lifetime Achievement at the Gay & Lesbian American Music Awards in 1996.
As a benefit for the Institute for Musical Arts (IMA), Ferron released Inside Out (1999), covering well-known tunes from the 1950s-1970s. She published a handmade book, THe (h)UNGeR POeMs, while she was teaching classes at IMA. She gathered some of her earlier, then out-of-print recordings to create Impressionistic (2000), a retrospective double album with a 24-page, autobiographical booklet. Her 57-page book, Catching Holy, Poems 2006-2008 is offered by Nemesis Publishing (2008) through www.lulu.com.
Ferron was featured in the documentary on women's music, Radical Harmonies 2002, and a filmography on the musician directed by Gerry Rogers, Ferron: Girl on a Road was released in 2009 at film festivals and in television broadcast.
In 2004 she returned to the very island where some of her earliest recorded songs were written to create Turning Into Beautiful produced by db Benedictson. In 2007 she began re-releasing a series of CDs as her Collected Works, and so far Testimony Driver Shadows on a Dime and Turning Into Beautiful have appeared completely rejacketed with previously unreleased photographs. Ferron's newest CD, Boulder was produced by indie out-musician Bitch (with JD Samson for one song) on the Short Story Records label and released in 2008. Boulder includes guest appearances by Ani Difranco, Amy Ray and Emily Sailers (Indigo Girls), JD Samson (Le Tigre), Sam Parton (Be Good Tanyas), Tina G (God-des) and Julie Wolf.
Ferron continues to tour and teach master classes in writing, and opened an artist retreat for women in Three Rivers, Michigan, called "The Fen Peace and Poetry Camp for Women." For Ferron, "artistic expression is not only essential, it?s revolutionary." "Art is really the expression of the soul," Ferron says. "I'm asking women to remember that if we remember our soul, we keep our soul, and we can do it through artistic connections. Art is connected to the soul, and the soul is connected to God, and God is connected to humility, so if you want to take control of a person's soul, don't let them have art. To me it's a revolutionary act to continue keeping your artist soul alive" (Esters 2007).