From Hollywood To New Mexico, Eliza Gilkyson Loves The West
The daughter of a successful Hollywood songwriter, Eliza Gilkyson was born and raised in Los Angeles. Yet, Gilkyson, who has followed in her dad’s songwriting and travel footsteps, has become a New Mexico expert.
She recently sold her home in Austin, Texas, and moved full-time to a “rambling 100-plus-year-old adobe” in Taos. In the past, she also lived in New Mexico in Santa Fe, Cerrillos and Lamy.
“I have been going to and from New Mexico since I was a little girl,” says Gilkyson, whose father, Terry, was a Hollywood songwriter-folk singer best known for writing “Bare Necessities” for Walt Disney Productions’ 1967 animated film The Jungle Book. “In the early visits, it was mostly dirt roads and a small art community, but it has now grown to an international destination, a market for Western/Native American art and a retirement mecca.”
Gilkyson’s new album, Songs From the River Wind, is a nod to her love for New Mexico, Wyoming and Colorado. She lives in Taos at the foot of Pueblo Peak, an inspiration for her song “At the Foot of the Mountain.”
“I now find myself at the foot of this beautiful mountain,” she says, “appreciating its magnificent benevolence as our big snow and rain catcher that feeds the water systems that make this part of the West so beautiful and lush.”
Gilkyson, whose songs are mostly folk, rock, blues or New Age, says she hadn’t expected that her full-time move to Taos would be so fulfilling.
“I had no idea that the door to my past would open for me just by living here again — so many memories flooding in of the years when I wandered the West as a traveling musician and even farther back to my childhood adventures in Wyoming and New Mexico,” she says. “I was overwhelmed with the recollections of the iconic characters and loved ones — now gone — who influenced me early on, and the sweeping landscape that had always been my sanctuary. I wanted to make a record that captured this feeling.”
Gilkyson says “there’s a joy and a sort of bitterness” in the new album that everyone feels when they come home.
Among other places, Gilkyson sings on the new record about Wyoming’s Wind River and the Colorado Trail.
“The Wind River is a wild, scenic river that is born in the Wind River range and comes down through Dubois to Lander,” she says. “I spent my childhood summers at a ranch in that part of the world, and it hooked me on the Old West. The Colorado Trail was a south-to-north cattle trail in the old days of the open West and range lands, and the song was an old cowboy love song that I rewrote a bit to be more from a woman’s point of view, which was rare in music back then. I wrote it late one night after a show. I was driving a Colorado back road with the white line stretching ahead of me, a late-night moon coming in through the windshield and a broken heart.”
Her heart and mind have lately been filled with the magnificence of Taos, where she bought her adobe home nine years ago and rented it until the COVID-19 pandemic struck. She recommends various sights for visitors.
“There’s so much to see and do here,” Gilkyson says. “The Columbine Trail on the way to Red River is a nice gradual climb along a lovely creek with easy crossings that actually goes all the way up Lobo Mountain if you have the wind power. There are also the trails to Williams Lake or the falls in El Salto. If you come the second weekend of September, you can hit Michael Hearne’s Big Barn Dance. It has turned into a really special outdoor music festival with a place to sit down under a big tent, listen to the best singer-songwriters and musicians and dance on a dance floor. Visitors must go to Taos Pueblo, a feat of architecture and history. The Millicent Rogers Museum is my favorite, because the Native American art collection is first-rate, and the touring exhibits are world-class. Whitewater rafting on the Rio Grande is fun, and you have to try the blue corn enchiladas at Orlando’s New Mexican Cafe.”
When Gilkyson first left home in Los Angles in the late 1960s, she rented an old wooden boxcar that sat atop cinder blocks next to train tracks in Lamy. It’s a tiny depot town about 18 miles south of Santa Fe with a population of about 210 residents.
“There’s a song on the new record, ‘Hill Behind This Town,’ about that place and time,” Gilkyson says. “It seemed to fit with all these other songs about the West.”
Besides New Mexico and the West, Gilkyson looks fondly at Switzerland and Europe. She lived “off and on” for nearly two years in Switzerland where she wrote and toured with the Swiss harpist Andreas Vollenweider for his 1993 Eolian Minstrel record.
“That was an education!” Gilkyson exclaims. “Other than trips to Mexico, I had never been outside the USA before and was plunged into an alternate culture in a tiny country with such dramatic beauty and wonderful people. We toured Europe in grand style, and I had fun being a chanteuse in the crack band he put together. It was an entry into a whole other world of music, style and geography. We took trains that turned into cable cars and went up over the Swiss Alps. We looked out at the little mountain villages that had been there since Roman times and then played at night in fabulous, old European music halls where Mozart and others had played.”
Gilkyson says there’s “a special place in my heart” for the Netherlands, Great Britain and Ireland.
“There’s such lush beauty and historic architecture — all so connected to the past,” she says. “It’s a songwriter’s dream over there with lots of support for the kind of music I make.”