Bay Area music royalty, kicks off her own career By Jim Harrington

Jim Harrington: Sara Wasserman, daughter of Bay Area music royalty, kicks off her own career
By Jim Harrington
Oakland Tribune

Sara Wasserman, the daughter of bassist Rob Wasserman, will perform at a CD release party at…

SARA WASSERMAN can claim something that few others can: her first concert performance was witnessed by thousands.

The year was 1997 and the setting was the gargantuan Shoreline Amphitheatre at Mountain View. The occasion was the local stop of the Furthur Festival, the tie-dyed tour that featured Grateful Dead spinoff RatDog, the Black Crowes, Hot Tuna’s Jorma Kaukonen and several other performers.

In the midst of all the action, the Mill Valley-raised vocalist, just 17 at the time, was called out to perform with Bob Weir’s RatDog. Although she was surrounded by family and friends — most notably her father, RatDog bassist Rob Wasserman — it was still an undeniably high-pressure way of making a debut.

“It was my first performance,” Wasserman recalled during a recent phone interview. “There were over 20,000 people there. And I sang right after Bonnie Raitt, who is one of my favorites. But I was fearless because I was very young.”

The song that Wasserman sang that day was “Solid Ground,” a composition penned by her father and the late “Gentleman” Jim Capaldi, of Traffic fame. In a delicious twist of fate, it’s the same tune that Wasserman has picked as the title track to her recently released debut CD.

The 29-year-old vocalist, who now lives in New York, spent the better part of this decade working on “Solid Ground,” and she’s tickled that people finally can hear the results. She’llcelebrate the new album with a CD release party Tuesday at Yoshi’s jazz club in San Francisco.

The show’s being billed as “Sara Wasserman and Friends.” Thus far, it’s been confirmed that New Orleans piano legend Henry Butler and Rob Wasserman will share the stage with the young vocalist at Yoshi’s. Given the Wasserman family’s connections, in the Bay Area and beyond, the guest list might expand even further. (It wouldn’t surprise me if old pal Weir showed up onstage.)

Wasserman, for sure, is comfortable working in an all-star ensemble. Her lovely 11-song CD, which nicely mixes R&B, soul, blues, jazz and pop sounds, features tons of big-name musicians, including vocalist Aaron Neville, bassist Christian McBride, guitarist Vernon Reid, mixmaster DJ Logic, drummer Stephen Perkins, Lou Reed and, of course, daddy Wasserman.

Wow.

“It was just a gift to have those artists on this project,” Wasserman says. “It’s been wonderful putting these musicians together, who normally wouldn’t be on the same album.”

Working in that kind of high-powered artistic environment is probably second nature to Wasserman. That’s what happens when your dad has performed with everyone from Brian Wilson and Elvis Costello and Neil Young to Jerry Garcia, David Grisman and Stephane Grappelli. Plus, her mom, Clare, is now married to Dan Hicks.

Her extended family includes many notable members of the Marin County music scene. She literally grew up surrounded by famous musicians.

“My dad played with Grisman from the time I was 5,” Wasserman says. “His kid used to baby-sit me, as well as Maria Muldaur’s.”

Despite that environment — or, perhaps, because of it — Wasserman didn’t initially want a career in the music business. Her first ambition was to be an actress. The combination of nurture and nature, however, proved to too strong a force.

“I fought against being a singer for a long time, because I think you want to find your own thing,” she says. “Then I started singing, and it was the most natural thing.”

Wasserman resisted the lure of major label contracts and decided to go the indie route. She started working on what would become her debut album in 2001 and, understandably, can’t wait to share the “Solid Ground” material with listeners.

Show time for Wasserman’s Yoshi’s gig is 8 p.m. Tickets are $12 advance/$16 door. The club is at 1330 Fillmore St. For more information, call 415-655-5600 or visit www.yoshis.com.

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