“I wrote ‘Black Irish Indian’ in 1980, and released it in 1993, but maybe the song’s time and place is actually 2021,” Rose Moore intimates. Such staggering self-awareness and personal reflection should come as no surprise from an artist who has spent decades considering her personal identity, her place within her own various ancestral histories and how she is informed by these three seemingly-disparate backgrounds which unite within her own expression.
Performing under the name Cherokee Rose in the 1980s and ‘90s, Rose’s debut release - Buckskin - existed in a sort of suspended-animation: issued as a small run cassette-only demo tape and sold at shows direct to a smattering of fans in 1993. No record label, no distribution. Rose doesn’t own a cassette deck on which to play it today. In fact, Rose hadn’t heard her earliest recordings in over fifteen years when she was approached with the idea to reissue them.
Born in Nashville with familial roots in rural Tennessee, the Moore family relocated to Minnesota when Rose was only a few weeks old. After a young adulthood spent bouncing between New Orleans, San Francisco and everywhere in between, she returned home to Minneapolis where she married and started a family of her own.
It was in that life stage that the music of Cherokee Rose was fostered in its most elemental stages. Short phrases of poetry, single stand-alone stanzas penned over the course of a decade, were informally put to music as Rose strummed the guitar her father had bought for her when she was nine years old. Though Rose insists, “They weren’t yet songs.” It wasn’t until she put the lyrics that would become “Sweet Fire” to music, that she thought of herself to have actually become a songwriter.
“I would have never thought I would have ever recorded or played a show. I was a mom with three kids at home,” Rose reflects. “It was nothing other than my desire to express myself. Not a ‘career.’”
Thanks to a kismet personal connection to a session engineer at Prince’s storied Paisley Park, Rose booked piecemeal studio time at off hours, middle of the night and early morning sessions to get her songs committed to tape.
She describes the experience of being a child, and constantly being asked “What are you?” and not knowing how to answer, as “debilitating.” The songwriting was more an attempt to express the desire to be connected to her cultural and racial identity. “I wasn’t a pop writer, and I wasn’t writing for commercial success. I was trying to craft a song because I had something to say about the chaos and difficulties surrounding cultural and racial identity.”
Where Buckskin acted as her first demo tape, by the time she went to record To All The Wild Horses a few years later, Rose was fully immersed in a music career. With some support and plays from reservation radio, and consistent touring of coffee shops, art spaces, native cultural events and niche music festivals. However mainstream success still eluded Cherokee Rose. Culturally, there seemed to be an impenetrable barrier from the place Rose was operating, and what at the time in the 90s was considered to be popular by the mainstream. As formats for how music is released and consumed changed over the decades, much of Rose’s earliest recorded output was relegated to obscurity simply for the fact that it seemed to exist in a vacuum.
Hearing the music that made up Buckskin and To All The Wild Horse today, Rose herself was transported back to the time and place in which the songs were written and recorded. The catharsis of discovering her cultural and racial identity coincided directly with the desire to express those experiences through songs.