Local lesbian singer and songwriter Mary Tebbs has a voice to die for: powerful, passionate and just as capable of belting out a hard rock song as sliding through a silky jazz ballad.
"I’m quite happy to keep writing all sorts of stuff," said Tebbs. "I love all sorts of music, so why wouldn’t I?"
On Nov. 21, Tebbs will bring her love for all sorts of music to the Salt Lake Center for Spiritual Living for a one-night only performance with dance troupe Dance 76 and fellow singer Leraine Horstmanshoff, a close friend who sings with Tebbs as part of the duo Wifey. The center, for whose services Tebbs often performs, generously donated the space for her performance; the proceeds from which will go to covering medical bills and other expenses Tebbs has accrued after surgery in July to remove a brain tumor.
"I thought I could do a show and talk about my journey about the whole medical situation," said Tebbs, who has been unemployed since July and is not currently enrolled in Medicare (happily, her cancer is now in remission). "They were 100 percent on board."
"I want to share love," she continued. "That’s what this show is all about, that whole experience to try and share and commune and inspire and get people to get present with their life, to start living it, not just getting through."
Before the pituitary gland tumor upended her world this summer, and before Tebbs made a name for herself in the Salt Lake City music scene in the 1990s as the singer for Sweet Loretta, she remembers feeling the music within her. Although Tebbs wrote her first song at age 10 and played guitar as a child, she abandoned music until after college, when her "first run in with Jose Cuervo" and the company of some lively friends inspired her to grab a guitar and write an impromptu drinking song. Shortly after that, some of those same friends put together a rock band called For the Love of Mary. In a few years this group was superseded by the more soulful Sweet Loretta, which Tebbs describes "probably the biggest piece of band work I’d done in Salt Lake City."
Unfortunately, Sweet Loretta split up the night before they were to sign with a Minneapolis booking agent. Devastated, Tebbs moved to Las Vegas and gave up music for awhile to pursue a career in graphic design (her day job until recently). But discovering that she missed music, she soon moved back to the Beehive State where she now largely plays solo.
"I think it’s been really good for me," she said. "It’s a whole different ballgame when you’re up there all by yourself. It feels kind of naked."
Given her love for — and proficiency in — several musical styles, Tebbs doesn’t categorize herself as any particular kind of musician, preferring instead to suit her style to the type of song she’s writing.
"I think songs for me are something I feel compelled to express rather than [saying] I’m sitting down to write a jazz song," she said. Her favorite genres, however, are folk, rock, jazz and blues.
"I think my strength vocally and delivery wise lie in the folky, groovy kind of stuff," she admitted.
At first, Tebbs was also unsure about how to categorize the intense headaches she began developing this year. At first, chalking up the pain to getting older, she said she started to panic when she began losing her vision. Although uninsured, Tebbs got her eyes checked and was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor, which doctors removed during the same week.
After the surgery, Tebbs went through some scary times, including a "moment in the hospital where I totally crashed." Her pituitary gland ceased functioning and Tebbs came very close to dying. But rather than paralyzing her, Tebbs said the experience taught her not to fear the reaper.
"There’s nothing to be scared of in that transition," she said.
Overall, Tebbs said the tumor was a gift that taught her to listen to her body and to appreciate "what a gift every moment is."
It’s a message that she hopes to impart to her listeners.
"We’re here to have fun and enjoy and express love and not struggle. and I think that’s counter to what we as a society have been taught," she explained. "The truth is we’re evolving and in the Age of Aquarius and we get to be happy now."
Tebbs will be recording her Nov. 21 show and releasing it on DVD and CD—her first recording since 1999’s Home Made Phase.
"My vision is to get more [gigs] around the country doing this particular show. I figure I’ll need to hone it and change it," she said.
Mary Tebbs will play at the Salt Lake Center for Spiritual Living (870 E North Union Ave) on Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20. To order tickets, contact Tebbs at myspace.com/marytebbs or visit spirituallyfree.org.