I'm excited to have singer Laurie LaCross-Wright from the Rusty Wright Band on the blog today. I first met Laurie years ago when I was working for a newspaper and assigned to cover the band. From then on I covered the band when they had performances in the area and Laurie and I became friends.
Here's some info about the band: :The band’s 2015 album, “Wonder Man” reached #8 on the Billboard Blues chart, #4 in the Midwest Heatseeker chart, #3 on the Hit Tracks 100 chart (Europe) and was nominated for Album of the Year in Vintage Guitar Magazine’s Reader’s Choice Awards alongside Sonny Landreth, Jeff Beck, Pink Floyd, and Joe Bonamassa. The song “Gonna Come a Day” from that album was selected from approximately 19.000 entries as a top finalist in the 2015 International Songwriting Competition. Wright’s 2013 album “This, That & The Other Thing,” earned widespread radio airplay across North America and won Blues 411’s Jimi Award for Contemporary Blues Album of the Year."
Tell me about how you got your start in the music business.
I was probably 15 when I played my first *paid* gig. A friend and I performed at a ladies bowling banquet. They took up a collection and we each made about $30 for a 30-minute show. at that time the minimum wage was less than $3 per hour so making a dollar a minute was pretty exciting for us.
I was always one of those independent kids who figured out how to do things on my own. I was a choir geek all through school so I didn’t fit in with the kids putting together rock bands, although I desperately wanted to. I bought my own PA and guitar gear, lugged it all myself and performed as a solo act for a long time, eventually broadening my circuit to cover 27 states. I also played in local bands, duos, trios, etc. Throughout the 80s and 90s I made my living juggling music and writing jobs. When I was on the road playing the solo circuit I would spend my days locked in my hotel room working on freelance magazine articles and then I’d spend the evening performing. My first national magazine piece was for a music magazine and covered tax tips for musicians. They used a photo of George Bush Sr. holding an electric guitar, lol.
Rusty and I met in the early 90s when I interviewed him for a monthly entertainment publication I owned for a while. We started dating a few years later and it was two full years before we ever played a note of music together. We each had our own bands and were playing very different styles of music so it never occurred to us. Eventually I needed a guitarist to fill in for some shows and he said he would help out. That was in 1998. We’ve been working together ever since. We spent a few years playing cover tunes at private clubs but we weren’t very happy doing that and eventually we decided it was time to make a change - either quit playing music or make a major shift and put together the band we had always talked about so in 2004 we launched The Rusty Wright Band. We were both in our 40s by then but we figured it would be an interesting challenge to see how far we could take the band. After all, you’re never too old to pursue a new dream.
Since 2004 we’ve toured across the US, Canada & the US Virgin Islands, performing at clubs, theaters and some of North America’s top blues and music fests; we did an Armed Forces Entertainment tour that took us to South Korea and Japan, and we toured Italy, Poland, and the Czech Republic. We’ve put out five albums and our last one, Wonder Man, reached #8 on the Billboard Blues charts and was nominated for Album of the Year in the Vintage Guitar Magazine Reader’s Choice Awards alongside some pretty impressive names.
We moved from Michigan to Florida in 2015 and basically had to start from square one rebuilding our band and our brand. That kind of sucked but this business is like a roller coaster ride anyway, so we weren’t totally surprised. You just keep working, working, working. For every hour we get to spend on stage we spend 20 hours behind the scenes doing the grunt work that keeps our machine rolling. Eventually it pays off and things are finally beginning to pop again.
I heard you opened for Lynyrd Skynyrd. What was that like?
We had just put the band together and had only written a handful of the songs that would go on our first album. We were all experienced musicians but had played just one show when Rusty got the call from an agent. She’d heard we had a new band. The opener for the Skynyrd show had had to cancel. Were we interested in the opener slot? The show date fell on our third anniversary and I’d asked Rusty not to book any shows. He was hesitant to ask me about it but of course, I said yes. We had less than a week to prepare.
After the initial rush of adrenaline, reality set in. We had only played one show with our new band. Just one stinkin’ little show, and now we were going to play with one of our musical heroes. We rehearsed relentlessly for three days.
Show day arrived and so did a line of thunderstorms. Lots of rain. And tornadoes. Lots of those too. We arrived backstage to the sound of tornado sirens. The Skynyrd crew had arrived earlier and one tornado warning after another had kept the band and crew hunkered down in the lower level of the concrete amphitheater. Tensions were running high so we sat at a table and just kept quiet.
It wasn’t until 45 minutes before show time that the decision was made to go ahead with the concert - mostly because 4000 ticket holders had shown up. Undeterred by the weather they were sitting on wet bleacher seats in torrential rain peering out from the hoods of rain ponchos and even trash bags with holes cut for arms and faces.
There was no time for a sound check. We plugged in & did a quick line check. A brief introduction and Rusty kicked into a wild solo leading into an instrumental called Hell on my Heels. At the exact moment the band hit their first roll and stop a bolt of lightning struck behind the Amphitheatre, in perfect time with the music. The audio crew was magnificent and at the end of the song a huge roar from the crowd washed over the stage. We kicked into another song and then we noticed them. Offstage, just out of sight stood all three Skynyrd guitarists, watching. Arms folded. The percentage of headliners who watch their opening act is less than five percent - and probably more like one percent. Rusty’s first thought was that we must have set up in the wrong spot on stage. When we finished our short set we exited stage right so as to delay the ear chewing we figured was coming our way. We’d just gotten a full-on raucous standing ovation and we wanted to enjoy the triumph a little.
We had just finished packing our guitars into their cases when all three of them rounded the corner. Gary Rossington, Rickey Medlocke and Hughie Thomasson.
Rickey Medlocke stuck his hand out and shook Rusty’s hand, exclaiming “Dude, where the hell did YOU come from?”
I’m not ashamed to admit I had kind of a Sally Fields moment right then and there but I managed to keep my mouth reined in and didn’t say anything embarrassing.
After chatting for a couple minutes they left to go do their set. We thought we’d go watch Skynyrd’s set from the front of house sound booth. The security guard opened the gate and we stepped out but people from the nearest bleacher seats gave a cry and began lunging toward us. The gate guard pulled us back and snapped the chain link gate shut.
“Guess you played TOO good tonight,” he laughed. “You’re gonna have to watch this show from side stage.”
Who are some of your musical influences?
My first guitar teachers were bluegrass musicians, first JB King and later Michael McKellar. They had a significant impact on me but because I was immersed in choral music all through junior and senior high school I was drawn to ‘pure’ sounding voices like Barbra Streisand and Linda Rondstat. Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart were huge influences and I respected the way Pat Benetar integrated her opera vocal training into a rock sound. If Pentatonix would have been around in the 70s I would have swooned over their music because I love their harmonies, their arrangements and their crazy good vocal skills. Years later I developed an appreciation for earthier, raspier voices, voices that have character and sound like the singer has lived through some stuff. KT Oslin was an 80s country singer who had her first hit at age 40, an almost unheard of thing Her vocal delivery style was almost like a conversation. She definitely influenced the way I approach a song vocally.
What are some of the albums that have really spoken to you over the years?
Carole King’s 1971 Tapestry album was huge for me. I can sing every word of every song. Bad Company, by Bad Company was a favorite too. I remember playing Stevie Nicks’ Edge of Seventeen album endlessly. The soundtrack for The Commitments was a favorite for a long time. I loved the power of Whitney Houston’s voice but Dolly Parton’s version of I Will Always Love You hits me where I live when her voice breaks at the end. John Denver and Jim Croce were huge when I first started playing guitar so I knew all their songs word for word but I soaked up everything from bluegrass and classic country to Barbra Streisand to Bad Company, Heart, Lynyrd Skynyrd. when Melissa Etheridge released her first album I was immediately hooked on her songs because she could paint an entire scene in my head with just a few words. I loved singers like Etta James but didn’t truly connect with blues music until a little later in life. My first blues albums were Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Texas Flood LP and Bonnie Raitt’s Green Light LP. Right now I’m listening to Larkin Poe a lot and an Australian heavy rock/Latin music acoustic guitar duo called Opal Ocean.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Ugh. So many things I would say - but I know I probably wouldn’t have listened, lol. I was clever and I was mature for my age in a lot of ways but I have an impulsive streak that has landed me in hot water on and off for decades.
Quit trying to rush the milestones in your life. You don’t have to do it all in the next five minutes. Go to college. Not everyone needs to go to college but reining in my impatience to get on with my adult life would have have given me a much wider spectrum of choices. Realize there are no shortcuts to some things. Suck it up and do it right. You’ll be glad later that you did. No, you aren’t fat. Get a AAA card. Understand that you aren’t obligated to live your life according to the expectations or fears of others but if possible, be kind in rejecting their expectations. In fact, be kind as much as possible. The sound of one kind voice can keep a person from jumping off a bridge. Spontaneity is great if you’re jumping in the car for a trip to the beach, but not so great jumping into a marriage. Skip husband #2 - seriously.
Tell us about your latest album.
Our new single No Man is an Island, comes out October 4th. The song was inspired, in part, by a boy with autism but wound up being written to resonate with anyone who has felt like an outsider or set apart, through no fault of their own. I truly feel it’s our best work, to date. We knew that had to be the first single after the song received a standing ovation at Buddy Guys Legends, in Chicago. It will be available as a digital single and through streaming services, digital jukeboxes, etc.
Much has changed since our last album, Wonder Man, was released in 2015. People are moving to streaming services and CDs will eventually go the way of DVDs. People are picking individual songs for their streaming playlists so rather than putting out a full album we’ll be releasing a new single every six or eight weeks and then we’ll press the full album next spring before we start our summer tour runs. It’s an experiment we wanted to try.
Who were your musical favorites when you were growing up? Anyone you pretended to be singing into a hairbrush? Any music crushes?
David Cassidy and Donny Osmond. Major preteen crushes, lol. And I was always singing into a hairbrush - it didn’t matter what was playing. I used to record myself on a little Panasonic cassette recorder. I’d sit on a stool in the garage (because it echoed a bit out there) and I’d try to sound like Barbra Streisand. Oh the caterwauling! Eventually, our cat Boots jumped up on the stool next to me and literally put his paw across my guitar strings as if to say “Just stop. Please just stop!”
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