Born in San Rafael, California in 1951, Shari Ulrich’s childhood was one where she was brought up in music. The youngest of three children, her mother was adept at the piano, and her father used the recorder as an escape from the doldrums of his banking job. Influenced by the likes of The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, and Neil Young, she picked up the violin at age four, but her first foray into music was performing in the San Francisco Free Theatre with her older brother and sister.
She travelled the US west coast and moved to Vancouver at the age of 18. She soon became a regular on the local coffeehouse circuit, including the Naam, The Nucleus, and the Classical Joint, bringing her early beach/folk influences and soaking in the local vibes to mold her own style. She met Rick Scott and Joe Mock in 1973, another pair of fledgling folk musicians on the scene. They formed Pied Pumkin String Ensemble, releasing two eclectic quasi-folk albums on Squash Records from ’75 to ’76. They financed the first recording by collecting the names, addresses and $5 from fans, then recorded the album and mailed it off to those who’d pre-paid. Although she had yet to write, being in the trio afforded Ulrich the opportunity to showcase her musical versatility, handling guitar, violin, mandolin, flute, and the sax.
But by the end of 1976 she landed a full-time gig touring with Valdy, which morphed into his recording group The Hometown Band, where she stayed for the next two albums over three years – leaving Scott and Mock to carry on as the Pied Pear. During her tenure with The Hometown Band, they toured extensively throughout North America and won the 1979 Juno for Most Promising Group, the night after A&M pulled the plug while in the middle of a cross-Canada tour.
She signed a deal with A&M Records in 1980 and released her debut solo record LONG NIGHTS later that year. Produced by former Hometown Band-mate Clair Lawrence (also of Chilliwack, Collectors fame), the album showcased her songwriting skills, having penned all ten tracks, including the singles “Oh Daddy” and “Bad Bad Girl.” She was nominated for a Juno Award a year later for Most Promising Female Vocalist.
Her follow-up came in ’81 in the form of ONE STEP AHEAD, which featured the lead-off “Not Gonna Stop,” the title track, “Romeo,” and “She Remembers.” Her name was on the ballots at the ’82 Junos again for Most Promising Female Vocalist, and this time she brought it home.
Working with Lawrence for the third straight album, next up was TALK AROUND TOWN later that year, her first recording experience outside of Vancouver (done at Bill Schnee Studio in LA). Along with the lead-off “You’re Making Me Nervous,” “I’m Not The One,” and “Mad Money,” it also featured her first workings with Roy Forbes and Chilliwack‘s Bill Henderson. They both provided backup vocals throughout the record, and Forbes also contributed a pair of his songs to the project – the title track and “Love Turns To Ice.” The album earned her the first of two consecutive Juno nominations for Best Female Vocalist, but went home empty-handed both times.
Frustrated with management, she took the reigns of her career herself and spend time in both LA and Toronto forging a new path without a record label. She reunited with the Pied Pumkin in 1988 to celebrate the release of THE LOST SQUASH TAPES, live and studio out-takes from the band’s brief history, and again a decade later to promote the retrospective album, PLUCKING DIVINE. They did 20 live dates in western Canada, and the response from audiences was so overwhelming that they did another couple of dozen select dates a year later. Those sessions resulted in the 1999 release, PIED ALIVE.
In order to have full control over her own career, she formed Esther Records in 1989, and in between the Pumpkin reunions with distribution by CBS/Sony Music, released EVERY ROAD. A critic’s rave, it contained some of her most personal compositions to date, including the powerfully tender title track which also had her first video accompany it , “Someday,” a traditional jig tune, and “Only The Heart.”
In 1990, she teamed up with friends Roy Forbes and Bill Henderson again, this time as a full fledged recording trio dubbed UHF. They released a pair of albums in ’90 and ’94, around her greatest hits package of her solo material (that also featured a new recording of the Pied Pumkin hit “Fear of Flying.”)
After sporadic touring as part of UHF, a solo artist, and after the Pied Pumkin reunions, which included an award-winning children’s album called PUMKIN KIDS in ’07, she released her sixth solo studio album, VIEW FROM HERE in ’98. Older, wiser, and more mature, the album featured a collection of adult contemporary pop, including “Just A Word,” “If You Loved Me,” and “Secret Voices.”
Pied Pumkin reunited again at the end of the millennium, and the resulting shows were culminated in the 2000 release PIED ALIVE. In ’09, Ulrich joined Barney Bentall and Tom Taylor as BTU to release the album LIVE AT CATES HILL. That union led to the formation of a bluegrass outfit with Bentall called The High Bar Gang.
A year later, she was on the road in support of her new album, FIND OUR WAY, featuring the title track, “Why Can’t We Get Along,” “By the Grace of Goodbye,” and “Rolling River.”
Throughout her career, Shari Ulrich has become renowned as one of Canada’s most gifted multi-instrumentalists, playing the violin, mandolin, guitar, piano and dulcimer. Aside from her regular music career, she has also acted as co-host with David Suzuki for TV’s “Futurescan” and hosted BCTV’s award winning series “Inside Trax” for five years. Along with working on theme music for several small screen productions for CBC, Life, and The Knowledge Network, she’s also been a film composer, and actor, starring in Carole King’s “Tapestry,” and writing and starring in the play “Baby Boomer Blues.” She’s also lent her knowledge to other aspiring musicians, teaching at various workshop symposiums as well as at UBC and Humber College, and she became one of the people in your neighbourhood while working several times on the set of “Sesame Street.”
She’s also received a BC Entertainment star on the Walk of Fame and was a vice-president of The Songwriters’ Association of Canada. She has been producing their Bluebird North series in Vancouver for over 20 years.
In 2007 Shari teamed up with Barney Bentall (Barney Bentall and the Legendary Hearts) and Tom Taylor (She Stole My Beer) to form BTU. They released “Live at Cates Hill” in 2007. Bentall & Ulrich teamed up again along with Legendary Hearts member Colin Nairne to form the Bluegrass Band “The High Bar Gang” (including Wendy Bird, Rob Becker, and Dave & Kirby Barber) which released it’s first album LOST AND UNDONE in 2012 on True North Records and it’s second SOMEDAY THE HEART WILL TROUBLE THE MIND in 2016. The group appeared at San Francisco’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass and won the 2014 Canadian Folk Music Award for Vocal Group of the Year.
Daughter Julia, with former husband David Graff has also become a well-respected multi-instrumentalist in her own right, and accompanied Ulrich on tour since she was 12 years old. While at McGill in the world renowned Masters Program in Sound Recording she recorded and co-produced an album for her mother – “Everywhere I go”, on Borealis Records, which won a Canadian Folk Music Award for English Songwriter of the Year. In 2016 Julia again engineered and co-produced an album for Shari – BTU’s “Tightrope Walk”, also on Borealis Records.