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 covering the band for a newspaper. From then on I covered the band when they had performances in the area and Laurie and I became friends. I have loved watching her (and the band's) career and just this week the band's new album, Hangin’ at the DeVille Lounge, debuted on the Billboard Blues chart at #9.
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 us about your latest album.
Our new record Hangin’ at the DeVille Lounge has been percolating in the back of our minds for almost 20 years. Sometimes it’s the odd tidbits in life that stick in a person’s memory. The inspiration for this concept album came from a now defunct dive bar in Flint, Michigan that used to take delight in aggravating the church just up the road. When the church’s marquee sign boasted “Sinners Welcome!” the Deville Lounge changed their flashing sign as well. “Sinners Welcome! We have beer!” We drove past the bar one night heading home from a gig and darn near laughed our fool heads off when we saw that sign on the roof of the bar. Across the decades the culture of Blues music has been filled with references to ‘selling your soul’ and the ‘devil at the crossroads’ mythology. The wordplay of The ‘DeVille’ Lounge was just too good to ignore.
For years Rusty has been penning tongue in cheek tunes that boogie their way around that ‘devil at the crossroads’ theme – but I guess ‘DeVille at the crossroads’ is more accurate in this case. Anyway, we have re-imagined OUR DeVille Lounge as an unusual bar tucked out of sight at the edge of New Orleans, a true juke joint with decades of human dramas, energies and memories embedded in the walls.
Rusty’s songs run the gamut. Songs like Trouble’s Always Knockin’, Devil Man Blues, and Goin’ to NOLA follow a more traditional Blues path, while the powerful No Man is an Island was inspired by a story about an autistic child. House of Spirits summons memories of juke joints and theaters the band has performed at that had a reputation for being haunted. No One Cares at All touches on human trafficking while Devil Music and Burnin’ Precious Time unleash the more rock-oriented side of Rusty’s personality.
The record just came out October 7th and reviews that have come in so far have been overwhelmingly positive so we’re breathing a sigh of relief. With a concept album you never know if people are going to ‘get it’. This is a very loosely connected collection of story songs. I’d love to create a theatrical blues revue from this music, adding actors and dancers to the production. We could take the show to theaters across the country. I think that would be great fun.
I heard you opened for Lynyrd Skynyrd. What was that like?
They were awesome to perform with and were very gracious. They watched most of our set from the side of the stage, just out of sight. We later learned how unusual that is. Over the years we’ve been privileged to share stages with a number of legendary bands and performers. The thing that has been most surprising to me is how many performers are quite introverted and even shy once they’re out of the spotlight.
Tell me about how you got your start in the music business.
I was 14 years old the first time I sang on stage by myself, playing my guitar for accompaniment. I sang ‘House of the Rising Sun’ at our high school talent show. I think I was the only freshman competing. I’d decided to enter because I wanted desperately to be a singer and knew I needed to get used to performing in front on people and I thought this would be a good way to push myself, lol. I hadn’t expected 1100 people to cram themselves into our school auditorium. I managed to control my nerves with the exception of my left knee, which I couldn’t keep from shaking uncontrollably. I didn’t win the talent show but I made it through the song without falling down or puking and no one threw anything or booed me off the stage so yeah, I became a singer that night, although it was still a few years before I started getting paid for singing.
I wasn’t a naturally gifted singer. I had to work hard to develop my voice. Once I left high school I found I had to retrain my voice, changing my vocal technique so I sounded like a pop and country singer rather than a choir girl who over enunciated everything. I didn’t wait for someone else to make things happen. I took out loans for equipment. I was aggressive in auditioned for singing jobs. I juggled multiple jobs and stayed with them as long as I could continue singing most nights of the week. I worked a day job as a newspaper reporter on and off for years and later freelanced for regional and national magazines. Eventually I became more of a music writer which meshed nicely with my singing ‘career’. I joined a local band for a few years early on but continued to perform on my own. Once I left the ‘weekend warrior’ band I performed on my own for a very long time. Eventually I found booking agents willing to work with me and I put my belongings in storage and went on the road, spending a number of years traveling as a solo lounge entertainer. I had a 27 state radius that I traveled and spent most of the year living in the high end hotels I performed at.
I look back now and shake my head. There were no cell phones then. No GPS. I drove across the country with a Rand McNally atlas flopped across the passenger seat beside me. I made great friends but it was a lonely lifestyle at times. My long-distance phone bills were enormous. The phone companies charged by the minute and I called my mother every day and we’d talk for hours. My mother was brought up to believe the unknown was something to be feared. She was always afraid to follow her dreams – I think she was afraid to even have dreams of traveling and doing exciting things and living life differently from the narrow world she’d grown up in. It was hard on her when I started traveling extensively but I decided early on that I was not going to live in fear. If I wanted to try something, I tried it. My adventures weren’t always successful but I never regretted trying.
In the late 90s I was settled back in Michigan and had started an all-girl band. Rusty Wright and I had been together for a couple of years when I parted ways with the guitar player in my band. I asked him to step in on guitar so we could fulfill the performance contracts I had yet to fulfill. That was in 1998 and we’ve been performing together ever since.
Like me, Rusty started performing at a young age. Playing music and creating music were always foremost in both our minds so it wasn’t long before we realized we were well suited to making a musical life together. It takes a certain kind temperament and a whole lot of tenacity to continue pursuing a livelihood that offers zero security and no guarantees that if you do A, B and then C you can expect success to follow.
We started the Rusty Wright Band in 2004 as an original music project. Within a few years we were touring across North America and headlining smaller music festivals and playing some really big festivals. In 2009 we began touring internationally. We’ve seen a lot of really cool places and met a lot of really interesting people over the years. Our first record came out in 2004 and we just released our 8th album a couple of weeks ago. Technology and marketing trends change so quickly we have to reeducate ourselves every time we put a new album out but we’ve managed to keep up with it all okay. This is our third time making the Billboard charts. We’ll never make enough money for a mansion on a hill but we’ve been able to spend decades doing what we love and that’s what I consider a pretty darn good life.
Who are some of your musical influences?
My musical tastes are all over the map. Of course I love blues music but I grew up hearing nothing but country and bluegrass. I loved Patsy Cline’s voice because my parents played her albums on our console stereo when I was little. I learned a lot of the folk songs of the 60s because that’s what my first guitar teacher taught me. I really connected with early 70s singer songwriters like Jim Croce and James Taylor because I could easily play and sing those types of songs with just my guitar. Heart was a huge influence, as was Linda Ronstadt, Barbra Streisand and Carole King; Later, I latched onto the music of Bonnie Raitt, Pat Benetar and a country singer name K.T. Oslin who was very popular in the early-mid 1980s.
I also enjoy some medieval music, accapella vocal groups, hard rock, classic and southern rock, and some older, melodic metal but I’m not into the growl-y cookie monster vocals so common in today’s metal scene – and I’m not into rap. To be truthful, I haven’t listened to much music in the past few years. I had Covid very early on and it left me with Tinnitus. I hear a constant high-pitched hum in both ears and it sometimes clashes with the music I’m listening to so audio books have been my go-to jam for a long time now. I’m trying to get back in the habit of listening to music. I really like a sister group called Larkin Poe and I’ve enjoyed watching the Michigan’s War & Treaty as their star rises. There are also dozens of contemporary blues artists I listen to and follow since a lot of them have become friends.
What are some of the albums that have really spoken to you over the years?
Tapestry, by Carole King. Bridge of Sighs by Robin Trower. Stardust by Willie Nelson. Photographs & Memories by Jim Croce. 21 by Adele. True Love by Pat Benetar (blues album!) Anything by Stevie Ray Vaughan or Etta James or Linda Ronstadt, Melissa Etheridge’s first album… these are just a few that come to mind at the moment. Some of the songs Rusty has written really touch me deeply as well. Pen or Sword and No Man is an Island are two songs that still bring out my emotions when I listen to them.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I was one of those kids who always felt/acted older than I was and I always suffered acutely from FOMO (although we didn’t know what to call it then). I started working at 15 and juggled 2-3 jobs my entire life. I raced from one thing to the next, constantly jumped headlong into experiences that I really wasn’t ready for and relationships I really wasn’t cut out for so I would advise my younger self not to be in such a rush to be an adult because you’re going to be an adult for a really, really, really long time.
Who were your musical favorites when you were growing up? Anyone you pretended to be singing into a hairbrush? Any music crushes?
I used to sit in my parents’ garage with my guitar, singing. I chose the garage because it echoed out there and I could hear a hint of natural reverb when I sang. Anyway, my 14-year old self would attempt to sing Barbra Streisand songs. I had a little Panasonic cassette recorder and I would tape myself singing. I must have been pretty horrid because one day our old cat jumped up and literally put his paw across my guitar strings as if to say ‘enough already!’ Of course, I just realized this totally contradicts my earlier declaration that no one has been able to shut me up since that first talent show performance so, for the sake of a good story, let’s just pretend that the cat shut me down before I wailed my way through that song in the high school auditorium.
As for musical crushes, not really. When I was 10 or 11 I hung the pretty boy posters from Teen Beat magazine in my room but as far as musical crushes I can’t remember any. It’s been a while and I’m kinda old, y’know. Does Rusty count? I’ve been hanging pictures of him on our walls for 25 years now, lol. That’s a pretty long crush.
Also I wanted to note that Laurie shared that, "Rusty created all of the artwork. He also wrote the songs, did all of the recording, and mixed and mastered the record."
Pick up a copy of the new album here or find it on Amazon
You can find more info on the band here: rustywrightband.com/
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Author of the Landry's True Colors Series, the Cecily Taylor Series, the Star Series, and Dating the It Guy.
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