Corrections or additions?
This article by Jack Florek was prepared for the December 12, 2001
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Maggi Hill: Musician & Mom with a Mission
As you sit in a church come Sabbath Day,
the collection plate slides down your way.
Think of hungry mouths you’ll feed,
thank your Lord you’re not in need.
For the faith and the hope and the charity
that drive you on and set your mind at ease.
One day I’ll find a way to believe,
and the will to embrace the faith in me.
— "Faith In A Seed"
Sure, singer-songwriter Maggi Hill is a person of
contradictions. Most people are. But perhaps unlike most people, she
has decided to embrace her contradictions.
So it’s not so unusual that Hill would choose to bookend her new C.D.
"Paradise Lost and Found" with "Faith In A Seed" —
her wistfully reflective song about the faithless seeking the comforts
of faith — and "Moan You Moaners" — her cover version
of Bessie Smith’s raucous barrelhouse tune that sports the defiant
line, "religion turns you inside out."
"When I look at people who have their faith and see how it gets
them through a lot of difficult times, I think to myself, Damn it,
I wish I could find that," explains Hill. "But take a quick
look around and see all that is going on in the world today in the
name of God, it’s pretty easy to see that taking your religion too
literally can make you crazy. That’s why I chose `Moan You Moaners’
to close the album. It’s really kind of a gentle jab at organized
A charismatic performer, Hill and her band will be appearing at The
Ernie White Band’s upcoming Christmas benefit show at Conduit Music
Club in Trenton, Sunday, December 23. She will also perform her
date at the Tap Room in the Nassau Inn in Princeton on an as yet
date in January. Updates are available at her website,
In an interview that took place in the cozy confines of her family
room, while sipping coffee and looking out at the dreary branches
and brambles of a late autumn afternoon, Hill describes the surprise
she felt in the recording studio when first discovering that the theme
of spirituality somehow crept into her new C.D.
"I didn’t even notice it at first," says Hill. "The band
and I had recorded four or five songs, not really thinking about it,
and my producer Ralph Liberto suddenly said to me, `Maggi, you’ve
got a whole Adam and Eve kind of thing going on in here.’ I just had
not made that connection."
In addition to the Bessie Smith number, "Paradise Lost and
offers a collection of 10 original songs with richly crafted lyrics
wound around breezy country-tinged musical arrangements spiced up
with a dash of blues in the vein of Lucinda Williams and Emmylou
Recorded at Graphic Sound Studios in Ringoes, New Jersey, where it
was mixed and engineered by Greg Frey, and backed by her five-piece
band, known as the Maggi Hill Band — Jerry Steele, Tom Reock,
John Bushnell, Bob Demetrician, Steve Demet — Hill has created
a CD every bit as polished as much of radio fare heard across the
"Paradise Lost and Found" is Hills’s second album, and
it close to home was an especially pleasant working arrangement for
Hill. About half of her debut album, "Keep The Label,"
in 1998, was recorded in Nashville. It proved a difficult learning
experience for Hill.
"In Nashville they have a preconceived sound that they think is
salable and they kind of foist it on anybody who comes into a
she says. "Consequently, that album has more of a country feel
to it than the new one. Don’t get me wrong, they have great musicians
in Nashville, but it wasn’t how I like to work. To me it’s much more
important to get at what each song is trying to say rather than an
But the important thing for Hill was that she didn’t need to sacrifice
quality or professionalism in order to work closer to home.
Lost and Found’ was recorded just down the street," says Hill.
"They have a 24 track digital studio at Graphic Sound Studios
and Greg Frey is brilliantly smart, he went to Princeton, he is
at what he does, he’s got a great ear, he works quickly, and he knows
when to interject his opinion and when to shut-up. Between Greg and
Ralph, my producer, we had a great balance of ears."
While admiting that songwriting is something that she
"just has to do," Hill claims to have a love-hate relationship
with the entire process of songwriting.
"In a way, I really hate writing," she says. "The process
is so difficult. You get excited because you get something going and
all of a sudden it just fizzles. I have four lines of a song that
I wrote a long time ago, I just love them. But no matter how hard
I try, I just can’t seem to write a song around these four lines.
Finally I wind up saying to hell with it — but someday I’ll do
Hill usually begins a song by first writing the bulk of a song’s
and then methodically searches for an appropriate melody. While the
process can be slow and arduous, every once in a while lightning
"One of the songs on the album, `Pain All The Same’ just came
to me in the middle of the night," says Hill. "I keep a
by my bed, and I often wake up and jot a phrase or two down. But this
time the song woke me up and said `get your damn guitar.’ I got up,
wrote the whole song, and crawled right back into bed. The next
when my husband asked me how I slept, I said, `I think I wrote a song
last night.’ And the thing is, `Pain All the Same’ is the best
most organic song I’ve ever written. It just flowed from some place
that I wish I could get to more often."
Hill was born in Plattsburg, New York. One of six children, her family
moved around often during her early years. "We lived in
Chicago, Virginia, Florida, and finally moved to New Jersey when I
was in the eighth grade," she says. Her father worked as a
for the Wall Street Journal before becoming what Hill calls "an
executive turn-around man. He would come into companies and kind of
turn them around. He’s a very smart man."
Her mother was 18 when she gave birth to her first child, Hill’s
brother, and she was in her mid-40s by the time she could get back
to her education, which she did at Rutgers. "My mother is
She wrote a book in the 1980s called `The Corporate Wife,’" says
Hill. "She had an agent and everything, but the book didn’t sell.
It was kind of a manual on how to be a corporate wife, and by the
’80s women didn’t want to be corporate wives, they wanted to be the
corporation. So her timing wasn’t so good. But she’s writing a novel
If talent can be inherited, Hill believes she received her musical
ability from her mother. "My mom’s a singer and plays piano,"
says Hill. "I grew up singing Irish songs, Catholic hymns, and
show tunes at the piano with her. I’d just sit with her, turn the
pages and sing."
Hill attended Rider and graduated in 1981 with a degree in business
administration. She worked at Dow Jones for several years before
the business track was not for her. It was a natural, she says, that
she married guitar player Mark Hill from a rockabilly band in which
they both played.
"My husband and I got married and I started having babies very
quickly," says Hill. "After the second one was born I decided
to stay home. Fortunately, my husband had a good enough job that
me to do that." Married 19 years, husband Mark Hill continued
to perform, intermittently, for many years. But now he is strictly
a commercial real estate broker, and they are the parents of three
Now that their children have reached the teen years, Hill has once
again been able to devote more energy to her music. While she hopes
for as much success in the music business as possible, she is still
able to keep her priorities in line.
"My priority is still my kids, but now that they’re big, I can
explore my boundaries a little bit more," says Hill. "But
up until now, I didn’t feel that was the right thing to do. If I had
knocked on doors and done more touring earlier on, maybe I would have
been further ahead than I am, but that was just not a concern for
me. What I’ve gotten from my kids, even just in terms of my
While she expresses an admiration for music artists like Madonna who
are able to focus on their careers with an eagle-eye and achieve
at seemingly any cost, Hill sees the importance of embracing the
and contradictions of life.
"I don’t know if music is something that I’m supposed to be doing
for the rest of my life or not," says Hill. "Who knows what
life has to offer? I just know it is what I’m supposed to be doing
now. I want to make the most of what I’m doing, make the best music
I can, and take it as far as I can. I feel lucky. I’ve met a lot of
rich people who’ve come up to me and said, `I wish I was doing what
— Jack Florek
609-656-1188. Ernie White Holiday Party extravaganza features a rock
‘n roll party with guests that include Maggi Hill, Joe Zook, Paul
Plumeri, Diane Chiorello, Billy Hill Band, Lisa Bouchelle, John
Joe Vadala, Glen McClelland, Bo Parker, Joe Grillo, Mike White, and
Chris White. Show benefits the Mercer Street Friends and the 9/11
Relief Fund. Sunday, December 23, 8 p.m.
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