Aug. 01--Melissa Etheridge is having a blast. So far, it's mostly been from the past. She's enthused about what that means for the present and future, too.
"It's going great," said the folk-rock singer-songwriter with the big, bluesy voice. "I can't believe it. I've found so much stuff it's unbelievable. I've been working on it for six months.
"It's been a treasure hunt. I'm ... finding songs I forgot I ever recorded. Lots of new material and new images."
They document Etheridge's longevity and the loyalty she's built as a musician and social advocate. Her scavenger hunt -- "super-rare collectibles" are being solicited at melissa etheridge.com -- will culminate in "Melissa Etheridge 25th Anniversary Box Set."
A compilation of music, video, souvenirs, concert films and Etheridge's reflections, she hopes to release it by November.
She might reveal some discoveries when she and her three-piece band play Friday at Ironstone Amphitheatre in Murphys.
"It's for the fans," Etheridge, 52, said during a phone conversation from her home in Calabasas. "It's very fan-connected."
Etheridge, one of the first major pop musicians to publicly express her lesbian sexual orientation (in 1993), always has been that way. She's never had big hits, but her 12 albums remain durable exemplars of the singer-songwriter craft. She's won two Grammy Awards and an Academy Award.
Recent Supreme Court rulings regarding same-sex marriage have re-energized Etheridge's non-musical commitments.
"No, actually, I haven't answered enough of them," she said, regarding questions about the U.S. Supreme Court nullifying California's Proposition 8 and the federal Defense of Marriage Act. "I've always felt we're moving in the right direction. Toward equality. We can't help it. It just evolved. The next generation absolutely doesn't have the same fears.
"They're still opening doors. They didn't blow the doors wide open. They did say, 'You can proceed through these doors.' "
Etheridge helped unlock many of those barriers.
"The biggest thing is how much people have come out," she said. "Almost everybody knows somebody who knows people who are (LGBT). I was around. I'm still around. There've been some great leaders who've inspired us. They've been doing it since the early '80s. I'll gladly claim a small part. There certainly have been a whole lot of us."
Etheridge can't wait for her musical re-discoveries to appear.
They include her "first album that was rejected by (Island Records') Chris Blackwell," she said. "It has an early heavy '80s keyboards feel. Then I made the (self-titled 1988 debut) album everybody knows. In four days."
Another CD will be "The '80s Mis-Takes" -- "a bunch of things I did when I was trying to get a record deal." She also found film of a 1993 show in The Netherlands during which audience members flicked their BICs in rhythm with "Like the Way I Do": "The audience was absolutely amazing."
Of course, the quarter-century collection also includes her "hits" and tracks from albums such as 2012's "4th Street Feeling." She'll play for 165 minutes ("maybe three hours") Friday during her first Ironstone appearance.
Born in Leavenworth, Kan., Etheridge's 25-year career is "just a path I started on when I was 3 years old and holding a transistor radio in my hand," she said. "I heard (the Beatles') 'I Want to Hold Your Hand,' and it was like hearing angels. Music. Music. I just loved it. I used badminton racquets to act like I was playing guitar. When I got a guitar, my parents said I was too young. My fingers would be bleeding. They were."
Her dad, John Etheridge, taught high-school psychology. Mom Elizabeth Williamson was a computer consultant.
Etheridge played '60s and early-'70s pop, country, folk ("kinda folksy"): "My first (one) was a country-western band. That's what they it called it then." Ironically, she'd "belt out" Tammy Wynette's "Stand by Your Man."
She "loved" Bob Seger, Fleetwood Mac, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye and Aretha Franklin. "I loved Rickie Lee Jones, Bruce Springsteen, Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon. I loved to see Janis Joplin performing. I liked a combination of them all."
She's always had that distinctive rough-hewn vocal quality:
"The church choir director said she'd put me in the very, very back row because I had such a strange voice. I don't smoke or drink. So it's not whiskey-soaked. It's years and years of doing it. I believe I'm becoming a better and better vocalist."
Her health has improved, too.
"I'm nine years cancer-free," said Etheridge, who overcame breast cancer. "I'm healthier than ever. I'm eating right, exercising and my stress levels are low."
Her enthusiasm is high for the future sanctity of human rights. Labels don't bother her:
"The more people all keep moving along, doing this on their journey, the more you realize diversity is the only thing we have in common. I have so many colors in my crayon box. Instead of a label, I think of it as a little sort of definition.
"Oh, my gosh. I'm loving being in the moment and seeing where the world's going. I think it's heading in a great direction. I'm lovin' life as it is right now."
Contact reporter Tony Sauro at (209) 546-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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