Toni Childs began her traveling early. Born in Orange, California, she grew up in small desert farm towns and moved to distant states such as Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Nevada. Raised in a family where movies and rock’n’roll were forbidden, she ran away from home at fifteen and hitched up and down the West Coast jamming with local blues bands.
She saw Pink Floyd at the Cow Palace in 1972 and had an epiphany that sparked her imagination and spurred her to seriously consider becoming a singer/songwriter. By the time she was 17, Childs was belting out songs in local Los Angeles bars. In 1979, after briefly becoming one of many singers for the group Berlin, she formed Toni and the Movers. “I didn’t know who I was, “she says now. “I was trying to grab the brass ring like everybody else.” The Los Angeles-based band lasted two years and at its end included Micki Steele, later of The Bangles, and Jack Sherman, a future Red Hot Chili Pepper. Childs says, “Then, I got out of town and went completely in another direction.”
In 1981 Toni signed a song publishing deal with Island Music which financed her move to London. There she lived in an empty office of a local recording studio, sweeping floors and dusting consoles in exchange for rent and recording experience. While in London Toni formed a band called Nadia Kapiche, which included Dave Rhodes (Peter Gabriel), Mike Cotzi (Shreikback), Martin Swaine (The Waterboys, World Party) and Steve Creese (World Party). It was during the four years of living in London that the seeds of world music were planted.
In 1985, after returning to Los Angeles, she was signed to A&M Records and soon began to work with songwriter/producer/musician David Ricketts (David+David) on the soundtrack for the film Echo Park.
Childs’ debut album, Union (1988), was recorded over a two year period in Hollywood, London, Paris, Swaziland. Time Magazine wrote: “In a year of auspicious breakthroughs for women writer-performers, Childs was the standout.” The New York Times called Childs “one of the most promising among a new generation of composers and performers.” Not unexpectedly, she earned Grammy nominations for Best New Artist and Best Rock Vocal Performance (Female). Her first tour was opening for Bob Dylan.
“It was all very scary-a roller coaster,” she says. “Music is such a personal thing for me and I’m a very private person. I thought I wanted to be seen and then I realized I didn’t want that at all.”
House of Hope (1991) had a very different take on life. “The first album was joy and love. But we’re not all light, and my darkness had to have a voice. Some people asked, ‘Why so dark?’ That confused me because I didn’t think it was a negative. I thought it was courageous saying what I saw, living past it and letting it go. I’m very proud of it.”
The album (whose title song was heard in the film Thelma and Louise) was dedicated to “people who are growing, people who are just getting by, and people hanging on for dear life.” Touring Australia, Childs found that description encompassed an audience even more diverse than she imagined. “This gray-haired older woman at an airport x-ray machine referred to the song ‘I’ve Got to Go Now’ and said, ‘You wrote my life!’” Toni says of her Australian shows: “There’d be a guy with long red hair and a beard singing his heart out to ‘Stop Your Fussin.’ On the other side of the stage a housewife, and up front two kids with spiked hair.”
It was while she was making House of Hope that she volunteered to join an Earthwatch excursion to the Kewola Basin lab in Hawaii. During her last week there, she saw a boy with terminal cancer swimming with dolphins. The joyous effect it had on him touched her deeply. She subsequently conceived Dream a Dolphin, an organization designed to create a care facility where such miracles can occur.
The Woman’s Boat (1994) brought her to Geffen Records. Released in 1995, the single “Lay Down Your Pain” earned Toni her third Grammy nomination, for Best Female Rock Performance.
Despite an exceptional early start, Toni Child’s career stalled unexpectedly at the end of the ‘90s, putting her on hiatus for more than a decade while she dealt with record company delays, retooling her personal life and taking the time to enjoy life in Kauai, where she currently resides. Ultimately, for a myriad of reasons both personal and professional, Childs opted to take her leave from the record biz and devote herself to personal pursuits. So it’s something of a surprise to find her suddenly resurfacing ten years later and making music that’s still vibrant and tenacious.
True to its title, Keep the Faith is a series of songs underscored by affirmation and determination. The title track sets the tone, its churning, determined melody bringing to mind Joan Osborne’s “One of Us” without the analogous circumstance. However, with track two, the raging, rallying “I Saw God in the Super Market,” Childs echoes Osborne in evoking an omnipresent Almighty. Happily too, the material finds her singing as authoritatively as ever, investing each number with a conviction that can at times provide assurance (“Heart that Matters”) and at others, a sharp rebuke (“Blind”).
Mostly though, Keep the Faith is a thoroughly uplifting endeavor, with an unbridled optimism that threads its way from the spunky sound of “Mama’s in the Kitchen” to the caressing strings of “Dream That We Dream Of.” And when the set wraps with its pair of longing ballads, “When All is Said and Done” and “Because You’re Beautiful,” there’s nothing to distract from that ultimate upward gaze. Consequently, Keep the Faith ought to be considered a much-needed antidote for these troubled times, a soothing yet stirring collection that’s destined to rank as one of the major comebacks of this still young year. That’s an accomplishment that goes far beyond mere Childs play.