Rachel Harrington: Reared among the Pentecostal pines of Oregon, Rachel Harrington has been doing things in the wrong order for quite some time. She’d had extensive radio play before performing her first live show, and she was opening for Grammy winners before releasing her first record.
From families of Danish dairymen and Irish lumberjacks, Rachel’s only exposure to music as a young child was gospel – that, and her father’s secret Stax/Motown collection he’d amassed since his return from serving in Vietnam. She especially loved the black gospel groups and the secular Otis Redding and Sam Cooke.
“I remember being a little girl, 8 or 9 years old, and my folks would leave to go to church in the evenings and I’d beg to stay behind at home. When they left I’d turn out all the lights and put on the Otis Redding records and stand in front of the big window in the living room, singing into this broken little microphone I’d gotten somewhere.”
At the age of 12, after a stay with family in Montana, she fell in love with horses and began to ride in rodeo events. Out on the ranch one day, she met an old cowboy named Dutch who spent many hours giving the novice rider lessons – during which he listened to his favorite radio station that described itself as “stone country.” This provided critical exposure to the likes of Hank Williams Sr., Loretta Lynn, and George Jones.
“Hearing Loretta Lynn changed my life. Finally, I had someone I could actually sing like. And it was then I also realized the connection between country and soul. First time I heard Hank Williams I knew he was coming from the same place as Ray Charles – I could just hear it.”
As a sixth generation Oregonian, Harrington feels a strong connection to place and to creating music that captures some of the stories and heritage of The West. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Pacific Northwest Bioregional Studies from Fairhaven College at WWU in Bellingham, Washington, and a Master’s in Environmental Conflict Resolution at NAU in Flagstaff, Arizona. During her college years, Rachel also studied creative writing with critically acclaimed author Ann Cummins. “If anything, I think I’m actually a short story writer. The story always comes first.”