Written by Carson James
America seems to be in a state of confusion right now, caught in a whirlpool of political divide and indecision, fatigue over the war in Iraq, and a troubling recession. So singer/songwriter Lisa Dudley caught me by surprise with her unflinching and sincerely felt patriotism, one that does not swing left or right but instead reaches into this country’s warm red, white, and blue heart.
Carson James: “Bring ‘Em Home, Lord” can be interpreted as being about soldiers currently serving in Iraq. Was this the basis for the lyrics? Or does the tune actually predate the current war?
Lisa Dudley: I wrote “Bring ‘Em Home, Lord” for the miners when they were trapped in the hole. It’s a prayer I used to say when I handed my husband his lunch box and sent him off to work. “Bring him home, lord.” Then I found myself doing it when I put children on a school bus. “Bring them home, lord.” When I found out all those men were trapped, I sat down at my piano and wrote the song, “Bring ‘Em Home, Lord.” If you remember, one man did get out of there alive. Prayer works. And miracles happen.
James: You have a lot of classic country influences in your songs. Is that the music you grew up on? How did you become exposed to it, and who were your biggest influences within that genre?
Dudley: I was raised on classical music almost exclusively and a little Joan Baez and the Kingston Trio when I was very little. As an adult, I bought a new car that had a new radio feature — scanning — and I heard a voice that blew me away. It was Vince Gill. I stopped the radio at that country station and never changed it again. I was completely hooked on Vince Gill, and he changed my life forever. The song was, “I Never Knew Lonely.” I was stunned that one song could do that to me. I was made so aware of how lonely I was in my marriage. Two years later, I divorced my husband and moved to. I am very influenced by . I have big boobs, too! The other influence was Townes Van Zandt. I met him before he died. We partied together. I don’t drink so I just watched him drink a whole bottle of something or another. But he kept asking me to sing more and more of my songs and telling me how good they are. I keep a photo of him in my office so I can remember how good my songs are.
James: What’s the story behind “Twenty-One Guns”?
Dudley: Harry Moore and I were living together in my pace arrow motor home in the driveway of Valerie Amerling’s home in Lebanon, TN, about a half hour east of. One night I went into the house to shower and found her husband Ray Shell had passed over and met his maker - right there in his favorite chair. We transported him and Valerie to to be buried, and he had a full military funeral for an officer of the Air Force. I had never seen a military funeral before and I was blown away by the white gloves and the way they move their hands across the flag as they fold it. We wanted to honor Ray because the last thing he had said the night before he died was, “I never got any respect for K and I never got any respect for Vietnam.” Originally we wrote the song for Vietnam veterans and we sang it that way for a long time. would cry when they heard it. Harry was a Vietnam vet. When Harry’s son went into the Marines and was sent to , he asked me to rewrite the lyrics to be more modern and reflect all war. Shortly after I did that, Harry died. Three friends of mine, all Vietnam vets, died a month apart that year. That was tough for me. All the songs on my next album, Angels Will Carry You Home, came from that experience. There’s only one more thing he asked me to do before he died. He asked me to get “Angel on My Shoulder” to Josh Turner. I haven’t figured out how to do that yet.
James: There are many young people who feel that patriotism is corny and outdated. Why do you think they’ve grown to feel this way and have you encountered experiences to the contrary?
Dudley: I don’t think patriotism is corny and outdated at all. I was raised overseas, and I have experienced martial law. It isn’t funny to always wonder if you’ll be put in jail and to live in fear in a world with curfews. We have incredible freedoms here and I for one appreciate them. However, let me say this. I do not believe we should curtail our. I am fiercely patriotic but it doesn’t mean I always agree with what our government does. But as an American citizen, I still have the right to speak how I feel. Unfortunately, now I can have my phone tapped if I say it too loudly. My grandparents on my father’s side were immigrants from . I remember them taking us with them to vote. It was a really important thing to do, especially after becoming American citizens. They held hands and it was a loving, patriotic, magnificent thing to watch. I wouldn’t have a man in my life who didn’t vote. Voting is important. In my town, we recently lost the election by 17 votes. If 18 people had gotten off their bottoms and voted we would have won. I don’t have kind things to say to people who think their vote and their voice doesn’t count.
James: You don’t make a political statement in your EP as either being pro or against the war. Was that a conscious decision?
Dudley: I feel I have to support our troops and their families and the returning veterans. But I have allowed my song to be placed on Neil Young’s site. And it was in the Top-10 three times. I could have put out a longer CD. I have lots of “soldier songs,” and I play them for veteran’s events. I chose to put out just the EP because I think it says it all. I pray for the troops to come home safely, I sing an anthem to my country (that contains the line “I will fight for their right to speak as they please…”), and I celebrate the life of a soldier who believed in his country enough to die for it.
James: How long have you been writing lyrics? Do all of your songs reflect real-life experiences or about people that you know? Is it easier to write that way?
Dudley: I started seriously writing lyrics after a bad car accident with a double head injury. Believe it or not, angels came to me and started speaking to me, and I was told to purchase an old autoharp and to write songs. Yes, all my songs are true stories. I wouldn’t know what to write about otherwise. For example, I am working on a demo of a new song called “Buford’s Heart.” It’s basically a true story in that my uncle stayed alive long enough to get to the hospital and have his parts harvested for transplant. We got a letter thanking us and telling us 16 people had benefitted – two retinas, two corneas, two lungs, two kidneys, his heart… but not his liver! So the new song is about Buford, a man who parties hearty and then dies in a car crash. His heart is transplanted to a librarian-type who starts dancing on tables. It’s going to make a great video. In the song, she sends “Buford’s babies” a letter “thanking them for…Buford’s heart!”
A New Kid In Town: Josh Lamkin & Automatic Heat
Written by Brooke Curtis
Bluesman Josh Lamkin is way beyond his years.
When the term “bluesman” is used, it’s usually describe someone older, often a well-dressed gentleman in his 40s or 50s, singing of his life’s regrets and heartaches. The Florida-based Automatic Heat, on the other hand, is fronted by handsome lad who may or may not be old enough to perform at a bar. Kids these days, right? Well, I’m impressed. I don’t usually hear blues guitarists with Lamkin’s rock & roll fire, especially at his age. What’s exciting is that this is only the beginning. Lamkin, if he plays his cards right, still has decades of musical evolution to offer us. In the meantime, Lamkin spoke to Twang Town about his youthful plunge into the blues.
Brooke Curtis: I don’t see too many bluesmen at your age. What was your attraction to that style of music and how did it come about?
Josh Lamkin: It was the slide guitar that really sparked my interest in the blues. After hearing a lot of Johnny Winter and early Delta blues songs that had a lot of bottleneck slide in them, I was addicted to the sound of it. All through school most of my friends were into punk rock, grunge, and metal. But for me, it has always been the blues. With the slide, you can’t just pick it up and play it because you know some licks. You have to feel it. It’s all in the way you touch the strings and make it talk. The licks just came easy for me.
Curtis: Is Automatic Heat really a band or are they simply your session men?
Lamkin: We really are a band. We have a three-piece arrangement with guitar, bass, and drums. I play guitar and sing while Evan Chiovitti plays bass. Evan has been with me since day one. We met in a guitar club at school. Evan switched over to bass, and that made our jam sessions more interesting. Over the years we have learned to read each other musically. Most times, Evan knows where I’m headed even before I do. We have several different drummers we can call on to play live shows with us, depending upon their schedules. But our friend, Dave Reinhardt, does all of our studio work. When we started out, we called ourselves “The Vintage Blues Band.” We played kicked up blues songs. We played local gigs and some school functions. One of the tunes we played in our show was “No Money Down” by Chuck Berry. A friend of ours started calling us “Automatic Heat” after one of the lines in that song. After awhile, other people started calling us that, too. So we became “Automatic Heat.” The name found us.
Curtis: What goes into your songwriting, your inspirations? Do you draw from real-life experiences?
Lamkin: Songwriting, for me, starts with the music. Once you let the music unfold, the feel of the song sort of lends itself to writing the lyrics. And yeah, sometimes real-life experiences can make their way into a song. A lot of people think the blues are just hot-licks played to a 12-bar pattern. I think Son House said it best, “There ain’t but one kind of blues. And that consists of the troubles between a man and a woman who are in love, and sometimes about being broken.” So I try to focus all of my writing around that perspective. I also have and uncle who has had terrible luck with women. Observing some of his problems has given me some great material. On the other hand, I believe I’ve already met the love of my life, and that makes for some great material, too.
Curtis: How long have you been performing the blues?
Lamkin: We’ve been playing together for about six years now and we love it. It’s great to be able to make music with your friends.There’s not a feeling in the world that compares to the rush you get on stage. Playing the music that you love, and seeing the people react, especially people who are skeptical towards the blues in the first place. I love winning them over with my music.
Curtis: Have you gotten any advice from older blues musicians? If so, what did they tell you?
Lamkin: Absolutely! I get advice all the time! There’s a blues club in south Tampa that we go to pretty often that holds an open jam. You never know who is walking through the door. A lot of heavy hitters come through there from out of town, and I’ve had the privilege of talking to and playing with some of the best. I remember Dean Germain telling me that when you’re playing the blues, it’s not what you play; it’s what you don’t play. Leave your ego at home, and always be humble and respectful in regards to your music. Be yourself. That’s pretty good advice.
Curtis: Have you had a difficult time earning credibility and respect because of your age?
Lamkin: Not that I’ve noticed, everyone that has heard us play have always been very supportive. I’ve been fortunate to meet other musicians who don’t mind giving us a chance to show what we can do. We’ve always tried to carry ourselves as professionals and as adults. And when we walk on stage, we feel very fortunate to be there. And the music speaks for itself.
Reviewed by Carson James
Matthew Alexander/Daredevil Angel
There are times when I found myself daydreaming while listening to singer/songwriter Matthew Alexander’s new album, Daredevil Angel. Credit that not to disinterest in the music or the lack of an attention span but to the mood-spinning qualities of his guitar playing. Alexander is no bland strummer; there is artistry in the way his fingers work the strings, creating waves of emotion and ripples of vivid imagery. On “New York City Backwoods,” Alexander’s guitar playing is absolutely spellbinding, weaving a network of melody and texture that grips the ears and refuses to let go.
You can categorize Alexander as a folk artist but that term has been thoroughly abused over the decades. It’s gotten to the point that anybody who is unplugged is labeled folk, giving birth to a small population of acoustic dullards. Alexander actually puts thought and feeling in his compositions; they switch tempo and evolve, providing full color to Alexander’s straightforward songwriting. “Didn’t Happen That Way” is robust, propulsive roots rock a la John Hiatt while “God Must Be Lonely” and “Nancy’s On My Mind” shine with the starry-eyed melancholia of James Taylor.