Pure and Simple
Terrye Newkirk began writing songs in high school, and by 1965 she was a contract writer for Viva Music, the publishing company owned by Snuff Garrett and Leon Russell. Songs by her and co-writer Roger Tillison were recorded by Pat Boone, Gary Lewis, the Electric Prunes, and others. She had met Roger in Norman, Oklahoma, while briefly attended the university there. "Roger was working at a club in Lawton, the Gallerie, playing his and Dylan's songs," she recalls. "I'd been singing in a folk group in high school and fooling with songwriting. We started writing some songs together and trying to make money to go to L.A." She and Tillison also recorded as the Gypsy Trips for Liberty Records, with Russell arranging. They worked with L.A. session legends like James Burton and Jim Keltner. Terrye lived for a while at the "mission," Russell's home on Skyhill Drive, which housed Tulsa musicians and served as recording studio for J.J. Cale, Carl Radle, Tommy Tripplehorn, and others. She and Tillison even appeared on the cover of Cale's Leather-Coated Minds album, Take a Trip Down Sunset Strip. She was a member of a short-lived rock band led by Cale, and was friends with Levon Helm, sax master Bobby Keys, and fellow Oklahoma Cityan Eddie (Jesse Ed) Davis. "Of course, they all became famous after I knew them," she laughs. "It was a magical place and time." In late 1966, she met fellow songwriter Steve Young, back in L.A. from Montgomery, Alabama, and they moved together to an apartment above a Chinese grocery in Silverlake, chronicled in Van Dyke Parks's "The All Golden," on his innovative album, Song Cycle. Terrye was offered a new contract with Garrett and Russell, but Young was not keen on having a competing writer in the family. "He must have been very young to demand that I give up my writing, and I must have been very young to agree to it," she says now. Young had been in prior bands with Steve Stills and others, and he soon joined Stone Country, a group that played both of L.A.'s Ice Houses and venues all over the West. Terrye went to work as a telephone operator to help support the household. Steve soon grew tired of the musical constraints of Stone Country, and began performing as a solo at the Troubadour and other music clubs. It was evidently at one of these performances where an Eagles member heard "Seven Bridges Road," later recorded on their Live album. In late 1969, the couple relocated to San Francisco, eventually opening Amazing Grace Music in San Anselmo and living in the apartment behind the Druids' Hall in Nicasio. One day, Terrye was upstairs, secretly playing a new song. Steve came to ask her what it was. It was "My Oklahoma." Steve recorded it for RCA in Nashville, and others' versions followed. The Youngs' son Jubal Lee was born in San Francisco in 1971, and they realized they wanted to bring him up in the South, as well as to live a more rural life. They bought a farm in Leipers Fork, Tennessee, about an hour from Nashville, where Steve was now recording. Unfortunately, the marriage did not long survive the move, and Terrye moved into Nashville proper, where she worked at Gruhn Guitars and the original Station Inn. The separation seemed to unleash a pent-up wave of creativity. Over the next few years, Terrye wrote about sixty songs, some of which were recorded by Crystal Gayle, Riders in the Sky, Country Gazette, Country Gentlemen, Stony Edwards, and the Nashville Jug Band. At the same time, she was completing her degree in English and Journalism at the University of Tennessee-Nashville. This led to a job as a reporter at The Tennessean, Nashville's morning daily. Songwriting royalties were welcome, but they were inconsistent. Terrye put her music on hold once again to focus on supporting Jubal and herself. For the next couple of years she worked in journalism, writing for Nashville! Magazine and freelancing for local and national publications from Country Music to the National Catholic Reporter. In 1982 she was offered a teaching fellowship at Vanderbilt University-ideal because it permitted her to be at home after Jubal's school hours. She earned her Master's degree and completed all work for her Ph.D. short of the dissertation. "I was disillusioned with academic life, especially after several of my best professors were denied tenure, and two dissertation directors retired," she says. Two years of teaching full time in North Carolina further convinced her that academia was not for her. In fact, now that Jubal was grown, Terrye explored the possibility of entering a Carmelite monastery, something she had considered since becoming a Catholic in 1980. She visited several communities, meanwhile returning to freelance writing and editing, including proofreading Bibles for Thomas Nelson Company in Nashville. Her age, health, and family situation were obstacles to becoming a nun, and she returned to Nashville to take another unenthusiastic stab at the dissertation. She also published scholarly articles on Walker Percy and the Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne. In January 1996 she accepted a job with Catholic Answers in San Diego, where she edited a magazine, books, and pamphlets, as well as helping to start the popular radio program "Catholic Answers Live." In early 1998, her health having failed completely, she returned to Oklahoma to stay with her parents. Virtually bedridden, she attempted to continue freelance writing, but had to abandon it. In 1999, she was fortunate to meet Dom Antoine Forgeot, the Abbot of Fontgombault Abbey in France, and Dom Philip Anderson, who were in rural Oklahoma looking for property to found a traditional Benedictine monastery. After the monks arrived the following year, they encouraged her to try her vocation as a hermit nun, and in April 2001 she moved to a small travel trailer on monastery land in Cherokee County. Learning to read and pray in Latin was a welcome challenge, and living in close proximity to so much holiness and good example was healing and revivifying. In 2003, joined by two other women, Terrye founded a small community of nuns at Clear Creek. Sadly, under the stress of community life, her health began to suffer, and ministrokes, a broken ankle, and a severe flare-up of her autoimmune illness eventually forced her to leave Religious life, which was heartbreaking for her. "I really thought my life was over," she admits. "Taking off my habit was like peeling off my skin. I had an inflammation of the brain that left me subject to distortions of taste and smell, unable to read or even pray, and prey to profound depression." The next four years were spent at home, with home assistance five days a week and a visiting nurse to set up medications. Unable to drive, Terrye spent this period in a blur, one day much like all others. Very gradually, however, she began to improve-the physical condition as well as the related depression. Two things helped: getting her rescued German shepherd, Lindy, and the presence of her son, Jubal Lee Young, and her granddaughter, Sophie, after they moved to Oklahoma. Once again able to care for herself, she was discharged by the home health in 2008. Finally, an old classmate from Oklahoma City made her his "project," and with his encouragement and the welcome travel he offered, she slowly ventured once again into the world. New energy and interest led to her goal of organizing and documenting her songs. She had reconnected with Roger Tillison a couple of years earlier, and through Facebook she caught up with other music business friends. In August 2010 she traveled to Nashville to record twelve songs with Thomm Jutz, producer of Nancy Griffiths and Jubal Lee Young, among others. Intended primarily as a demo, the CD was released commercially in March 2011. "It was a gift to recover the musical me," Terrye says. "I was surprised to find that I had a catalogue of some sixty songs, and that many of them held up pretty well." As her Facebook profile declares, she is "ready for the next adventure."