"I remember putting them on my dresser and thinking, 'I don't want to copy them over,' " she said. "And that is still exactly who I am. I wasn't feeling rebellious — I just didn't care if they were in 'Highlights' magazine. And I didn't think they needed to be copied over. They weren't sloppy."
Also as a child, Wheeler picked up first the ukulele and then the guitar at 12 — she still plays both, by the way. She didn't begin actual songwriting until 17, but once she found her voice as a singer-songwriter, that's all she wanted to do.
Even when she headed off to college to major in English (in other words, "nothing," she says) the college part was just there to fill in when she wasn't performing. Finally, she decided her junior year that she needed to quit and focus on her music.
It might seem a gutsy move now, but at the time Wheeler was young and didn't care about making money. In 1976, she moved to Massachusetts and started finding gigs.
"I jokingly say my goal was to not get a job. But that was my goal," she said.
She said songs come to her in moments when she's relaxed, and the best ones are the ones she doesn't over-think.
"My job is to stay out of the way," she said.
One morning, she awoke with an idea for a song called "Northern Girl."
"I got up in the morning and I didn't even go to the bathroom. I sat down with my guitar and I sang the whole thing from beginning to end," she said. "That was quite an experience."
Wheeler has visited West Virginia several times in the past — including for Mountain Stage. Last year, she performed about 90 shows, which kept her on the road a fair amount.
"The only part of my job that I completely despise is flying," she said. "I hate that with every fiber of my being. I hate giving over my instruments. I hate putting my ukulele in the overhead compartment.
"But this week, I'm driving 670 miles down there, and I don't mind that at all."
Contact writer Monica Orosz at mon...@dailymail.com or 304-348-4830.