We had the good fortune of connecting with Kiki Ebsen and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Kiki, what role has risk played in your life or career?
Well, frankly, risks are exhilarating! A lifelong fan of “the path not taken,” I have made almost every major career decision thus far by weighing ordinary vs. extraordinary outcome possibilities. The greater the risk, the more exciting. It might have been easier to follow the family business—acting, but I chose music because it spoke to my heart.
I was determined to earn my place in the entertainment world without doors being opened for me. Growing up in a family with well-known parents brings with it a set of unique challenges ranging from exhilaration to deep sorrow. I approached new creative projects in songwriting, painting, and natural horsemanship concurrently. Each one brought joy and renewed creativity. I found peace and harmony through my yoga practice and the intersection of all of these facets formed the pattern I approach new work with still today.

In 1985 I graduated with a BFA in music from CalArts in Valencia, CA. The following year I won “Entertainer of the Year” through the American Collegiate Talent Showcase. That same year I co-founded a music software company with some high school buddies, which became quite successful in its first year. A major risk is that the workload for a startup company is tremendous, and eventually the company folded after due to internal management problems. It was in essence my first big failure, but it allowed me to return to what I really loved, which was performing music. I saw color through music and vice versa.

Another risk was taking a two-year-long tour with the band Chicago as an off-stage keyboard player and Musical Instrument Digital Interface (MIDI) tech. Not exactly the most visible place to show others your talents. However, this tour opened the door to my continued touring with artists for the next 28 years. Ultimately, I risked the security of traveling as a band member and struck out on my own solo career and have enjoyed success for 11 years now.

A final risk was to create and produce an appropriate tribute to my father, whom many consider a national icon. How best to present the story of my father’s lifetime and career to audiences who only knew one aspect of his life and career? To do that project justice, to all of us, was the greatest risk of my life. People who grew up watching him on television have fixed ideas and opinions of what family life must have been for me and my family. To say that this project, “My Buddy: To Dad With Love” has opened major new vistas for me and created even more opportunities to set goals and achieve dreams is an understatement. This project began in 2013 and continues through today as one of four different levels of entertainment showcases I present to audiences on now a national level.

As I write in one of my songs, “Take a big leap and the net will follow you.”

Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.

I am a singer, songwriter and musician as well as a lifelong horse person. I have spent forty years in the music business and along the way, I have created a sanctuary for a small herd of rescued horses on our family ranch in the Santa Monica mountains. I founded The Healing Equine Ranch, a 501(c)3 organization and created instruction modules for Natural Equine Interactive Growth and Healing. These modules combine the principles of natural horsemanship with yoga philosophy and neuro-somatic mindfulness. We encourage and support connection and attunement in relationship to ourselves, others, and the world around us.

In 1987 I was one of the few people who knew how to use MIDI technology, so I was chosen for the job. I hit the road with Chicago and my first venue was the Budokan in Tokyo, Japan. Two tours and one album (Chicago 19) later, I received my first Gold and Platinum records and the experience I needed to move forward. My next tour in 1989 was with jazz singer Al Jarreau. Again the right person introduced me to his management company, and I put my name in the hat for the keyboard/background singer position in his band. It took a year of calling and staying in touch, but I landed the gig and toured with one of finest artists and group of musicians in the world. A 35-year anniversary reunion will happen later in 2024.

I spent the next three decades recording and performing on tour, on television, in movies with artists I greatly respect, including Boz Scaggs, Christopher Cross, Michael McDonald, Wilson Phillips and Tracy Chapman. I was in the TV band for “The Wayne Brady Show.” I worked as a vocal director and co-music director for Lifetime’s “Women Rock ” working with singers including Dolly Parton, Mandy Moore, Chrissy Hynde, Lee Ann Womack, Pat Benatar and so many more. My first single “Dreaming” (1987) was re-released on The Numero Group label in 2023. My first full-length CD, “Red,” (Sin-drome) came out in 1994 and was reviewed as “a debut album an artist could only dream of creating.” I have released seven other recordings as well including my originals, classic remakes, the music of Joni Mitchell, and classics from The Great American Songbook.

My father is the late, great actor Buddy Ebsen. My life growing up was filled with creativity, yet the family dynamic was complicated as most show business families are. In 2016, following the release of my record “Scarecrow Sessions,” I created a loving tribute to my father that showcased his extensive career. Using song, story, and projected images, I outlined his career dating back to 1928 when he rode a train to New York to ultimately become a professional dancer. Later he moved to Hollywood in 1935 to become an MGM contract player. After being selected as the Tin Man in “The Wizard of Oz,” he suffered a near death experience from the toxic makeup. Ultimately, his career shifted, and he went on to be cast as one the most famous characters of the 20th century, Jed Clampett from “The Beverly Hillbillies” and then a beloved detective, Barnaby Jones, whom he portrayed for eight years more. I explore his personal and professional triumphs and losses especially as they relate to my career and my experience growing up with him.

Our relationship was complicated—strained and tense at times. I wanted to follow my own career path and that put us at odds for a while. We reconnected beautifully in the end, which lends itself to a very heartfelt ending to the show.

 

The response to the show was so amazing and the reviews were stellar. Today, I perform my one woman show “My Buddy, The Other Side of Oz” for fans longing to connect to their own parents who may no longer be with them. His messages to us as we were growing up still ring in my ears. “every day is a new ballgame” and “nobody counts you out but yourself” and my favorite, “failure is just a temporary postponement of success.”

I never thought of myself as a risk taker. I like to feel safe and secure, but I found that as I followed my heart’s truest desires, those risks naturally presented themselves. As I followed that road, here was no question that I would take them, even if it was frightening. It seems that there was always a feeling inside that could discern whether the risk was heart-centered, egoic desire or someone else’s desire for me. There are key moments in my life where I said “yes” to an opportunity, and it changed the course of my entire life. Saying “yes” even when I wasn’t sure I could do the job allowed me to learn, grow from the discomfort and trust my instincts.

I started rescuing horses over two decades ago. I am a big fan of the universe sending you what you need. In 2001 I saw an opportunity to adopt a discarded four-month-old filly from North Dakota. I named her “Rose.” She is now 24 years old. Soon after that adoption, I became interested in Equine Assisted Growth and Learning to help people understand, experience, and shape their energy, body language using horses. The lessons in mindfulness, breathing, grounding, and life skills were quite extraordinary, and each horse unveils a new piece of the puzzle.

As my herd grew, I created Natural Equine Interactive Growth and Healing to infuse everything that I had learned about horses and my own healing into my own unique modality. I started working with private clients, treatment centers, wellness groups and leadership programs to promote healing, attunement, emotional regulation and creative problem solving by being in nature with horses. This experiential learning process combines basic natural horsemanship principles, breath work, somatic meditation and mindfulness. The Healing Equine Ranch and its herd of horses run regular sessions throughout the year. I often think back on the leap of faith I took in adopting a young horse from a website photo on a rescue site, having her shipped out here from five states away just to save her life. I had a desire to help one horse. That one step led to another, then another. It was as if the next step would light up in front of me as I took a leap of faith based on feeling in my heart, not necessarily my head.

I have been writing songs for over 40 years now. I have always written from my heart and express my emotions through music and lyrics. This became a healing process, not only for me, but for my many fans that live all over this world. By risking being vulnerable, my music has helped so many other’s tap into their own feelings. My fans are kindred spirits, and many have been with me since the beginning of my recording career back in the 80’s.

I recently turned 66 and feel just as excited to perform, write songs, sing, and play with my horses as I did when I was 10. In yoga we like to view each moment of each day as an opportunity to begin again. When I wake up in the morning I look at the day as a blank canvas, one in which I can choose my actions and each step based on a true desire of the heart and how to best serve in the healing of those who are seeking answers. It is what keeps me young, healthy, and excited about living.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Well I actually have a friend coming to visit soon. She is trailering her horse in as well to stay at my ranch. So we might start out with fresh pressed coffee and homemade gluten-free pumpkin bread in my kitchen, where we can look out and see the horses grazing. Then we’ll saddle up and ride our horses into Malibu Creek Park and maybe ride the Chaparral Trail or the Tapia Trail (These are all hiking trails, too). Come home and head over to The Blue Table in Agoura for lunch. My favorite there is the roasted carrot tart with goat cheese. For dinner we’d head to Green Basil in Calabasas for some great Thai food. Their Khao Soi soup is amazing, especially on a cold, winter night. The next morning we’d have breakfast at The Side Street Cafe in Newbury Park. The Veggie Benedict is a must. Take a drive over to Charmlee Park in Malibu for a hike in the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean. From there I’d head down to PCH and get a snack at the Country Mart. Go back to the ranch for a nap or a ride on the horses then go over to the Canyon Bistro for dinner in Topanga. On Fridays they have some great jazz players doing their thing. We would probably head up to Ventura the next day. Lunch at the Ventura Harbor, then a visit to The Wharf, a western clothing store to get some new jeans or boots. We’d end up at The Grape for a glass of wine and some more jazz music. We’d find time to do some yoga out on my deck or at my favorite studio, Power of Yoga in Agoura.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Most of my horses have been adopted from a great organization called Valley View Equine Rescue (valleyviewranchequinerescue.org) in Monterey County. Marlene Dodge, the founder, is an amazing being who travels the US rescuing horses and placing them. She is a huge inspiration to me.

Natural horsemanship trainers, Jody and Dave Ellis from the LS Ranch in Porterville, CA (lsranchnaturally.com) have mentored me as I developed each young horse that I have adopted. Their guidance and training has much to do with my foundation in working with young horses and horsemanship in general.

On the music side, my life changed when I met a singer/teacher Rhiannon (rhiannonmusic.com) and took her year-long “All The Way In ” course on group vocal improvisation. It not only completely transformed my performing skills but taught me how to improvise in singing and in life, deepening my connection to everything, as well as allowing me to befriend the unknown.

A big shout out to the late Henrietta Pelta, my vocal coach at CalArts, who heard magic in my voice and encouraged me to develop my gift through the concert vocal dept. Also, David Roitstein, currently the CalArts jazz program director, who has always been very supportive. The school’s flexible curriculum gave me the freedom to major in voice while continuing to study piano, composition and electronic music.

Website: https://kikiebsen.com/kiki-ebsen

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/kikiebsen/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KikiEbsenOfficial/

Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/user/kikiebsen

Other: https://www.thehealingequineranch.com/ https://www.instagram.com/the.healing.equine.ranch/ https://www.facebook.com/thehealingequineranch/

Image Credits
Cliff Lipson Photography Jill Jarrett Sheryl Aronson Sylvie Belmond

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