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Gashouse Annie answers requests

Shirley McMarlin
| Thursday, June 16, 2016, 8:55 p.m.
Evan R. Sanders | Tribune-Review
Shirley 'Gashouse Annie' Dragovich clutches her guitar for a portrait on Tuesday, June 14, 2016.

It's easy to understand why some area folks think Gashouse Annie is a solo musical act. Shirley Dragovich of Hecla is the face of — and the one constant — in the rotating group of musicians playing under that name. She's been doing her thing locally and across the country for more than 35 years. Upcoming gigs include the June 23 T.G.I.S. concert at Greensburg's Palace Theatre and the Westmoreland County Rib Fest on June 25 at the Westmoreland Fairgrounds. Her schedule is listed at gashouseannie.com.

Question: Where did the name Gashouse Annie originate?

Answer: It came from an old James Cagney movie. I think one of the guitar players from Pittsburgh came up with it. I kept the name even when the band parted ways. Now I play mostly solo, but everybody tells me I come more alive with a band.

Q: Where are you playing these days?

A: Local wineries, restaurants, fairs, churches and festivals. My favorite place is the Lucky Dog Cafe in Confluence. I play outside, and it's laid-back and you can bring your animals. My other favorite is downtown Ohiopyle. I do the House of Cafe and Falls City Pub.

Q: What's a performance like?

A: I play guitar, banjo and blues harmonica. I do original songs and I take requests. I tell the crowd I do everything from Patsy Cline to Jimi Hendrix.

Q: Have you recorded?

A: My CD (“Gashouse Annie”) came out in 2004. My song “Please Please Me” gets played on WYEP-FM (91.3) on the Big Town Blues show on Saturday. You can request it!

Q: Do you have anything new in the works?

A: I'm working on a new CD — it's taken me that long. My brother and I wrote a fly-fishing song, because he fly fishes. I play so many wineries that I wrote a wine song. And I have a gospel song. The songs have a Bonnie Raitt feel, sort of bluesy.

Q: Have you played with any big names?

A: We opened for Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn — who was wonderful and sweet — and Willie Nelson. Our band backed up Lou Christie on a tour of FOPs (Fraternal Order of Police lodges) on the East Coast, and we backed up Bryan Highland. You remember him — he did “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini.”

Q: How did you get started in music?

A: I was in the hospital for a whole month in my late 20s, and my roommate's husband was a famous guitarist in Pittsburgh, D.C. Fitzgerald. He would bring in his guitar and sing. Then my mom got me a guitar, and I started playing. Then we went on vacation at Cape Cod, and I got up at an open-stage night to sing, and a guy wanted to hire me for the next night. I said, “I don't even know how to hold a pick!” But when I got my first paycheck, I was hooked.

Q: Who are your musical influences?

A: Linda Ronstadt, Emmy Lou Harris, Stevie Nicks and Bonnie Raitt, and then Neil Young and Bob Dylan, because I'm an old hippie. My mom used to play on the radio on WHJB when she was younger — she was a champion yodeler and played accordion.

Q: Do you have a professional goal?

A: My dream is to sell one of my songs.

Q: Do you have a dream stage to play?

A: I watch the late shows, like Jimmy Fallon, and I'd love to play blues harmonica with one of those bands. And who wouldn't want to do the Grand Ole Opry?

Q: What are your non-musical interests?

A: My whole life is performing. I never wanted to lay down my guitar to get married.

Q: What are you doing when you're not onstage?

A: I work for Ralph Lauren selling fragrances at Macy's. I like to bike and swim. And I sing in the choir at the (Holy Ascension of Our Lord Serbian Orthodox Church) in Youngwood. I learned to sing in Serbian for the choir.

Shirley McMarlin is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-836-5750 or smcmarlin@tribweb.com.

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