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 Nashville. I am very influenced by Dolly Parton. 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 Nashville. 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 Kentucky 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 Korea, 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. Vietnam veterans would cry when they heard it. Harry was a Vietnam vet. When Harry’s son went into the Marines and was sent to Iraq, 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 civil liberties. 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 Germany. 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!”