“I would knock on the schoolroom doors and announce, ‘We are here to do a show for you!’” she recalls. “And finally they had to call my mother in and discipline me, telling her, ‘This girl is interrupting our school curriculum.’ I guess a child’s gift shows up pretty young, and it behooves us to pay attention.”
But Perhacs — who plays San Francisco this week, backing her gossamer sophomore disc, “The Soul of All Natural Things,” her first album in 44 years — has lived one of the strangest stories in showbiz.
Adults insisted that a career in music wasn’t practical, that she should find a more stable pursuit. So she waived singing, attended college on a full scholarship, graduated as a dental hygienist and went to work for her old periodontist professor in Hollywood, where she tended the teeth of stars such as Cary Grant, Paul Newman and Henry Fonda.
“It put me in an atmosphere of very polished and sophisticated people,” she says.
One of those patients was the composer Leonard Rosenman, who had scored films like “Rebel Without a Cause.” Perhacs was in her 20s at the time, living in Topanga Canyon with her peace-and-love husband, when the patient discovered her secret singer-songwriter identity.
“Leonard said, ‘You live in Topanga, you’re writing little songs, with all this bohemia around you. And I need to understand the hippie influence, because it’s called for in these new movie assignments. So give me an example of that music.’”
Rosenman was stunned by Perhacs’ soaring, crystalline demo tape. “He phoned me at 8 a.m., woke me up on a Saturday, and said, ‘How fast can you get here? Your songs are beautiful!’” she says.
Soon, she was signed to Universal and tracking her 1970 debut, “Parallelograms.” But she so despised its tinny mix, she threw her own copy in the trash and swore off folkdom forever.
Remastered in 2005, “Parallelograms” began wowing artists such as Alt-J, Daft Punk, Devendra Banhart and Sufjan Stevens, who inked a rejuvenated Perhacs to his Asthmatic Kitty imprint.
Perhacs still works as a hygienist. She’s using vacation days to tour. But there’s a Zen-like, flower-power quality to her “Soul” ballads “Daybreak,” “Intensity” and “Prisms of Glass” that feels both tranquil and timeless.
She returned because — like any true child of the 1960s and ’70s — she really cares. “I am very concerned about the world today,” she says. “And since music crosses every physical barrier, I saw my opportunity, and I wanted to help.”
IF YOU GO
Where: Chapel, 777 Valencia St., S.F.
When: 8 p.m. Wednesday
Tickets: $18 to $20
Contact: (415) 551-5157, www.ticketfly.com