ONE NEW DAY AT A TIME
Claire Lynch Has Something For Everyone
By Sonny Edwards
To the careful observer, there are all manner of days. No one can count them all, but they include, in part, good days, bad days, great days in the morning, hot days, cool days, perfect days, better days (I’ve seen some of those), rainy days, bad days, hard days, hard day’s nights, days that should’ve been cancelled, and days you wish would go on forever and never, ever end.
I have always kind of scoffed at people who would state with a certain degree of philosophical wisdom, “Well, as for me, I just take one day at a time.” I scoffed because I didn’t think there was anything particularly remarkable about taking on day at a time, especially considering the fact that one day at a time was all you ever get. Well, I think I may have scoffed in haste. If one were to compare the recording and release of a new song as a new day, as I am doing now, then it is possible to experience the dawning of a dozen new days at once.
To quote a late brother song writer of mine, Don Grooms, “some days just go on forever,” but perhaps the one silver lining in having a bad day is that tomorrow you can wake up to a new day, a chance to start fresh, with a clean slate - an opportunity to re-invent yourself. In a matter of speaking it seems to me that Claire Lynch has done just that, repeatedly, with this “New Day” offering. Claire has just released her first new CD project in six years, entitled “New Day,” and it is awesome. There are twelve songs on this project, and while each is unmistakably Claire, each is uniquely different from the rest.
Many know Claire as the legendary female vocalist from the classic bluegrass group Front Porch String Band, the voice on Moonlighter and Lovelight, or the harmonizer from Dolly Parton’s bluegrass CD’s, The Grass is Blue and Little Sparrow. That Claire Lynch shows up for this recording. But she is not alone. She brings with her Claire Lynch the Jazz stylist, and Claire Lynch the Blues singer, Claire the Country songbird, Claire the Pop Singer, Claire the balladeer, and so much more. And each new rendering is more captivating than the one before. Claire Lynch, without doubt, has one of the most beautiful voices in the music business. Or maybe that should be several of the most beautiful voices. I guess I’ll have to let each of you be the judge of that for yourselves. At the very least, for me, it is wonderful to see her spread her wings and fly into new areas of her ability and versatility.
I was fortunate enough to catch up with Claire recently for an interview.
Hi Claire, it’s so good to see you. You know, we’ve known each other for decades, and I don’t want to say how many, but it goes back to Tuscaloosa, and later on the Birmingham days, and now here in the Tennessee Valley. It’s been quite some time since we had the opportunity to just sit down and relax and talk without a schedule or a deadline staring us in the face.
It sure has, Sonny, and it feels great. And these are really comfortable chairs, too.(laughs)
I listened to your new CD, New Day, a few hours ago. The first song, “Be Ready to Sail” blew me away, and became my favorite…until I got half way through the second cut, “Train Long Gone” and that one was my fave for a couple of minutes. Then “Love Will Find You Again” found me and I found myself in love with my new favorite song. I actually have about a dozen favorites on this CD.
Oh,thank you, Sonny.
Would you tell us a little about what went into the making of “ New Day”?
Well it took about a year from start to finish, and it took me a long time to pick the songs. I usually have more original tunes to include in this kind of project, but I haven’t written much in the past couple of years. I wrote one fresh new song for the album, and I pulled a couple from the catalogue. I decided to pick songs that I had tucked away for a long time and had always loved and never had the opportunity to record due to other decision-makers, but this time I had full free reign. So I decided to choose the songwriters I readlly admire, like Mac McAnally, Pierce Pettis, Pat Alger, Dennis Linde, Jess Leary, Scott McAleer, Peter Holsapple, Richard Staedtler. I hope I’m not forgetting anybody! That was the basis, mostly pulling from stuff that I’ve known and loved, and had never had a chance to record.
Well you sure picked a bushel of winners. Speaking of picking, who are the personnel doing all that incredibly clean picking on this “New Day”?
That’s my fantastic band. Jim Hurst on guitar and vocals, Missy Raines on bass and vocals, and David Harvey on mandolin and vocals, are the core of the band. We did all the tracking ourselves. We also had Rob Ickes in on dobro. He’s played on a lot of my recordings. Alison Brown has played banjo on all my solo CDs, and I was so glad she could steal a few moments from her busy schedule for me on two cuts. We also had Charlie Cushman on banjo this time, which was a new treat for me. He’s more of a traditionally-styled banjo player who really digs in -- a lot of space in between the notes. It’s very different than the light touch of Alison, but each of them were perfect for their particular application. I had Stuart Duncan playing most of the fiddle tracks, and you know you can’t ask for better than him. I also had a chance to work again with Andrea Zonn on a couple. She’s a busy girl, too -- playing with James Taylor these days. I mustn’t forget Larry Atamanuik on drums. All of these are all primo players at the top of their market.
Well aside from doing your own projects I know you’ve collaborated with a number of well known personalities in the business.
Well, that’s true. I guess it started with some MCA projects. Patty Loveless. I sang on her first record for MCA, and several albums since, including her Christmas album and her most recent project – she and Emory have been very supportive. I toured a couple of years with Dolly Parton after Larry and I came off the road. She did strictly promotional touring for those first two bluegrass albums which I sang on (The Grass is Blue and Little Sparrow). We did television specials and radio, maybe shows for press – and that lasted for two winters. It was a great honor for me, because when I was young, I had learned from her singing and tried to mimic her… so wonderful working with her. I’ve sung backup on CD’s with several other people like Linda Rondstadt, Emmylou Harris, Pam Tillis, and Skip Ewing. Do you know Skip? He’s one of the most successful hit song writers in Nashville. Back then he had an album deal, and I sang on a lot of albums with him. I’ve also worked with Ralph Stanley, singing harmony on one of his CDs,
Claire, I know you’ve worked on tons of major projects with a lot of really major stars over the years, and if I can interject my opinion, none more talented and delightful to listen to than yourself…
Oh that is sweet of you to say...
But you have also given back a lot and worked tirelessly, and without making a dime, on a number of events that were basically shows to raise money and awareness for others. I was just thinking of the Josh Graves Benefit... and I believe you and your band are involved in one of those kinds of projects later this month aren’t you?
Yes, in Huntsville, Alabama, which is my home town. I’m playing a concert to raise money and awareness for the National Ataxia Foundation. Ataxia is a sort of a rare disease, and the main reason for the concert is to raise awareness about this potentially fatal illness. The girl who is actually doing the promotion on this show is a health care professional and she has a family member who is suffering from Ataxia right now, and it is a slow downhill struggle. That is about all I know about it, but there is a web page, www.ataxia.org.
(Ataxia in a Nutshell: Group of rare neurodegenerative disorders which cause declining balance and coordination, slurred speech, swallowing problems, and eventual death, usually from a respiratory complication. Course of disease averages 10 years, depending on type. Some types are inherited, some not inherited with cause yet unknown. The spino-cerebellar ataxias are not Multiple Sclerosis, not Lou Gehrig’s, not Parkinson’s. Closest thing you would know is Huntingdon's Disease (Woody Guthrie's disease), which is actually a spino-cerebellar ataxia, but got it's own name because Mrs. Guthrie had the recognition to get research funds and they found the gene for HD some time ago.)
Well it sounds like a splendid way for people to hear some great music and help a very worthwhile cause, all at the same time. When and where is this all taking place?
It will be Saturday night, July 22, 2006, 8:00P.M at the Grissom High School Concert Auditorium, 7901 Bailey Cove Rd. in Huntsville, Alabama. I think the donation for the tickets $15.00 at the door, or people can get advance tickets for $12.00 at all the Railroad Bazaar Music stores around North Alabama.
Speaking of Railroad Bazaar Music, I know you have an upcoming workshop scheduled for there this month also. I imagine you must have a lot of fun in those informal kinds of settings, getting to share some of what you’ve learned along the way in your journey through the music business with up and coming songwriters and singers who want to take their music and go where you’ve been.
Yeah, that will be really neat. It will just be me with a guitar and like you said, that’s the week after the Concert for Ataxia. It’s on a Thursday evening, July 27, 2006, at Railroad Bazaar Music at 4321 University Drive in Huntsville, Alabama and I think that one starts at 6:30 P.M. It’s free to anybody who wants to come and join us. I’ll probably sit on the stage there and perform two or three songs and then I may teach a little about songwriting and will do questions and answers if they like. A lot of people just want to get up a little closer and talk to you, you know, and ask questions about people I’ve worked with. Some people like war stories from the road and some people want education. Many want to know how to break into the music business, and it’s never easy to answer that one!
I almost forgot that also in July, even before you do either of the two Huntsville dates, you are going on a cruise right? Have you been on a cruise before?
No, no, this is my first time cruising.
You don’t get seasick do you?
Well, I get sick in the back seat of a car on hills. One of the things I have to do this week is go to the drug store and get the patch. (nervous laughter). But yes, I’m going on a cruise to Alaska. It’s a Bluegrass cruise put together by an organization called Cottage Music out of Spokane Washington. We leave out of Seattle on July 9, 2006 and travel north along what they call the inside passage to Juneau, then to Skagway, on up to Glacier Bay National Park and Ketchican and back to Victoria British Columbia and back into Seattle on July 16th. There is a web page for the cruise at www.cottagemusic.net .
Will you be playing on the bill with any old buddies? Is this going to be a reunion of sorts?
Not really. I never had the chance to play with these other bands before this cruise. John Reischman and the Jaybirds are from out west, I think - Vancouver. But they are all great players and have a wonderful reputation. I think John was in the original Tony Rice Unit. Then there is a band called Lost Highway whom I’ve never met, but I understand they are very entertaining and have a good show… so I think we’ll all have a lot of fun. Jim and Missy, who are also in my band, have worked together as a duo for a few years and have gotten several awards along the way. They will be performing with me and as a duo on the cruise. We will all be teaching workshops -- everything from harmony vocal to songwriting and instruction on various instruments.
This goes back a bit, and I first heard you sing in Tuscaloosa back about 1974, and my question was, did you know back then that you were going to spend the rest of your life making music?
Was it a direction that you chose, and took aim at, or was it more like being caught up in the flow and carried along with the current?
Well , I did have a moment of realization before I joined the band. I was working at an insurance agency, and I was home visiting my parents..…I think I was pretty directionless at that time in my life, and my father and I were having a “heart to heart”. He said “Well what is it you really want to do with your life?” I didn’t plan to say it but I just sort of blurted out, with tears and everything, “I want to play music, I want to make music my life!” I didn’t know I was going to say that, but it came straight out of my heart without my brain knowing. I thought, “WOW! Did I just say that?” Yeah, it was just one of those moments.
Something like an epiphany?
An epiphany, yeah. But that was before I even ran into Larry with his band or got involved with playing music at all. Maybe that epiphany was something that caused me to make those decisions when the opportunities came along.
Well, we are all blessed because of your decisions.
It’s just something that God put in my heart. You can fight against that if you want to but it sure is easier to go with it.
Your new CD, New Day, is just so incredible, and it is your first new project in several years. There are, however, other bodies of work that you have given us in the past that are timeless in their appeal, but are they still available? Could you tell us what is still in print.
Well sure. Not counting collaborations with other artists, I’ve done nine projects which were my own or with the Front Porch String Band and seven are still available. I did four albums with the Front Porch Sting Band, and two of those are out of print. The two that are still available are on CD with RebelRecords. New Day is my fifth CD for Rounder Records… I guess I’m on a roll!
How can our readers find them?
You can always go to my website. www.clairelynch.com .
How hard is that?
It’s not hard at all, and of course you can always buy them at Rounder.com and amazon.com too, but if you buy them from my site, you help the artist.
Well I’d rather buy them from your site than anyplace I can think of.
I sure appreciate it.
I was browsing around your website a little earlier, and it’s a great site. I noticed when I look at your performance schedule that in some cases you are booked out for almost a couple of years. You’re going to be traveling a great deal this summer and this fall.
Yes. I’ve decided to stick with the touring and just go for it. My daughter has one year left in high school. She’s really a big girl, grown up, independent…so we have an arrangement. I’m going to tour as much as I can without killing myself. There are only thirty to forty dates a year booked so far and that’s probably not enough. I would like to get closer to at least 80.
Well, we’ll just have to talk to everybody we know, and since you have decided to go back out and tour after your hiatus, we’ll see if we can’t run you ragged.
Yeah. There we go.
I guess there is a contact link on your website, so people can check out when you’re gonna be in their neck of the woods.
Just go to my web site (www.clairelynch.com) and click on “Live Performances”, and it’s all right there. We keep it updated on a weekly basis, info on tickets and venues and such. A lot of them are festivals, but concerts too. And you can sign up for a regular newsletter if you like. It’s brand new and I’m excited about having it.
I suppose that after folks hear your new CD, and since you have let us know that you are available for touring once again, and if you are a promoter willing to pay top dollar, you might want to check out Claire’s performance schedule, and who knows, you might be lucky enough to snag The Claire Lynch Band on one of her open dates when she’s in your part of the country (both of us are laughing here)..
There’s booking information on there too!
So hurry to your computer, go to www.clairelynch.com and order yours today. Available dates are limited so act now.
Well we’re kidding around but in truth I have been unavailable for so long, telling people that I’m just not touring, or that I just go out on weekends, and so this is sorta brand new again, being ready and able to get back out there doing what I love. And with more workshops on the schedule, I’ve had a chance to really enjoy the teaching as well. I’ve been asked to come back to Nash Camp this year, which is one of the bigger better songwriting camps in the USA. It’s near Nashville and I’ll be there the end of July and first part of August.Well
Any recording projects on the horizon in the near future?
In May I had the privilege of singing a song for the Hazel Dickens Tribute CD. It’s going to be released on Rounder with Todd Phillips producing. It’s really an honor to be asked to be on a project with such great talents like Joan Osborne, David Bromberg, Madeleine Pexroux, Linda Ronstadt, Laurie Lewis, Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Alison Krauss, Rhonda Vincent, and Wynonna and Naomi Judd. I think it’s slated for a 2007 release.
You’ve been nominated for two Grammy Awards. You were IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year in 1997…
Yeah, that was a lovely boost to my career…. We’re trying to get back on the ballot this year.
I’m sure you will with this new, New Day project.
I hope. Maybe at least get a mention…
It is so sweet and so easy to listen to, and it’s all so different. Oftentimes on some recordings, one song sounds like the next, sounds like the next, and so on.
That happens a lot in bluegrass let me tell you
With this album it seemed like you changed gears with every tune.
Instead of “the Claire Lynch Band”, I really wanted to call us “Claire Lynch and the Chameleons” – not because we all look like lizards, (grins) but because we morph musically.
Would you like to do that now?
Yeah, should we do it officially?
Sure, just speak into the tape recorder, and it becomes a matter of record.
I’m seriously thinking about it, as a matter of fact Missy, who, by the way, has won five IBMA Bass Player of the Year Awards, would like to use that name for her band if I don’t. The problem is, I’m not ready to give it up yet!
Well we just decided. It’s on the tape.
You know, it’s so funny, I got an email from a fan the other day who said one of her nicknames for me “Chameleon” for the same reason. A coincidence, I know… but it’s true, we sort of change colors with whatever setting we’re in.
Do you remember when we both played the first Americana Music Festival in Ft. Lauderdale back in ’98?
Yep. I sure do. That was fun.
And I’ve been trying to determine exactly what “Americana” actually is ever since.
Isn’t that funny? Bruce Springsteen’s at the top of the chart now. It’s wild.
It seems to be a little of everything.
But it tends to be on the acoustic side. It’s a combination of styles,sort of folky/ bluegrassy/ rocky.
Do you think it would be fair to say this new project is Americana in nature?
I think you could. As a matter of fact, we’re showcasing at the Americana Music Association’s annual conference up in Nashville on September 22, so I’m excited about that. It is a genre that we belong in… of course, we belong in bluegrass too because I’ve been there for so long and it’s really “where we come from”, but I feel we have that and more to offer. Our music has always been palatable to other listeners beside bluegrass fans, although most of the “bluegrassers” like it too. It’s a little different from what they hear all the time…. yet it has an element of respect for the tradition.
Anyway, I think we’re a “shoo-in” for Americana. Playing bluegrass festivals is something we’ll always do but I think we can branch out in a lot of different directions. We’ll probably try and showcase at the Folk Alliance too.
Louis Armstrong was being asked about his preference for music. What did he like best; jazz, bebop, classical, folk, etc. He said “It’s all folk music to me. I ain’t never heard no horse write no song.”That’s right!. He did anything he wanted to do, but it was always Louis Armstrong doing it. And it’s the same with me. It’s just Claire doing whatever she wants to.
I like to stay with acoustic instruments because I just think that they compliment my voice. I don’t think I’d sound good with a big band, you know drums and wah-wah and fuzz. I just don’t think that’s me.
Well, I personally think you would sound great singing in front of any kind of band.
I don’t know if I could handle all the electronics and effects. I really like acoustic best.
Well, it certainly seems to like you too. We are thrilled, and it’s a blessing to us all to have you back rearing to go with a new CD, a great band, touring again. Ready to spread your wings and find out where they take you.
It’s cool. It’s fun.. It’s exciting. It’s new. Improved.
Claire thanks so much!
Sonny, if there’s some way you could put a link to my band and their bios in here… they are such world-class players and I hate to leave them out. http://www.clairelynch.com/the%20band.htm
Consider it done!
Sonny, thank you and Gritz. We’ll see you soon.
The pleasure is and always has been ours. Thank you for your wonderful music