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Amy LaVere

A Conversation with Amy LaVere (continued)

PM: Now, when I knew you in Nashville, did you play some guitar, or were you just a singer at that time?

AL: Well, my mom played guitar when I was a kid, so I've always known how to strum some chords. Even still, when I write, I write with the guitar. But with the exception of just kind of sitting in, playing a tune every now and then, I've never played a show playing the guitar, and I'm not real confident at changing chords. I've always found learning the guitar very tedious.


PM: But slapping the bass came as something joyful and kind of natural?

AL: Well, yeah, it really was. In my first band, I was a drummer. When I was teen-ager, my first band was called the Poison Death Mongers.

PM: Ah.

AL: [laughs] And I never had any drumsticks. And I had this old used drum kit that some kid let me borrow--I was like thirteen--and I played with wooden spoons.


PM: That's fantastic.

AL: So I knew a little bit of guitar, and I could hold a beat on drums. The bass was like a percussion instrument, one note at a time.

PM: Right.

AL: So it was really natural for me. It was like, "Hell, I can do this!" It just came easy to me.

PM: Now, in the early days of starting to get some bass chops, do you remember what records you were listening to, or playing along with, or getting inspired by?

AL: Sure. I mean--well, it was a lot of rockabilly stuff. It was Reverend Horton Heat, and it was bands that use upright bass, like The Swinging Neck Breakers. It was real high-energy kind of punk rockabilly stuff that I was drawn towards, because that was where my natural ability lay, and it was what I was into. And always Hank Williams. He and Johnny Cash have always had a big influence on my life.

PM: So it's neat that you bought your bass from a guy who played upright for many years with Johnny Cash.

AL: Oh, yeah, and I wouldn't trade it for nothing.

PM: He's an outstanding upright player, Dave is.

AL: Yeah, he's incredible. And is he still married to Audrey Malone?

PM: He is, indeed, yeah. I've never met her, but I know my friend Jack plays gigs with them, irregularly. But yeah, they're still together.

AL: Well, that's wonderful. I did have the pleasure of spending Thanksgiving with them one year while I was living there. And I just think the world of both of them.

PM: Yeah. Jack says her tunes are very good.

AL: She was really great. She was a bit of an inspiration for me, just because when I was living in Nashville it wasn't an unheard of thing for a woman to play an upright in Nashville. You had Audrey Malone and a woman named Layla. She and her husband own Bluegrass Inn, Jim and Layla. And they had a really eerie kind of punk bluegrass duo thing that they were doing. And Gabe and I actually went up to New York with them to see them play at The Bowery. Well, we helped them drive up there. That was when I was just barely starting to learn. They were two women that I definitely looked up to.

PM: Yeah, and there are more upright ladies today in Nashville. But if they're decent, man, they're out on tour in a heartbeat.

AL: Really?

PM: Yeah.

AL: Who knew?

PM: Yeah, right. Well, you were ahead of your time. So before you and I get on to the record and film stuff, and all that, tell me about your cool day job.

AL: The one that I have now?

PM: Uh-huh.

AL: Well, I really stumbled onto it. I'm so fortunate to have it. It was kind of the untouchable job, as far as I was concerned. But I'm a tour guide at the legendary Sun Studio, it's at 706 Union Avenue. There's so much amazing history. I kind of kept a presence there, just because it's such a hip little place. When I first moved to town you could still sit in the cafe and have a cheeseburger and a beer. And it was the very first place I recorded when we first got to town. Gabe and Robert Cann and I went in there and recorded four songs. It was just like a dream come true, it was so fun.

PM: Wow.

AL: I would just stop in. And I ended up knowing a few people that worked there. And out of the blue they called me one day and asked me if I would be interested in being a tour guide. I just made way for the job. I really wanted to do it. I definitely have the gift of gab.

PM: Oh, yeah. I mean, you're a natural.

AL: And I love the history. It's just such an amazing tour. I really loved how they set it up. The guy who wrote the tour, his name is Mick Walker, and he's worked there forever. He fronted a band called the Porch Ghouls. And he now has a band called Eldorado and the Ruckus. He's just full of history; he knows it really well. It's been great to learn. I mean, I already knew how important Sun Studio was, but there are so many other stories about what went on there, that it's great to share it with the world. And people do come from all over the world.

PM: Of course, yeah. So what time are your tours? Because I want to drive out and catch one of those before this goes to print.

AL: The tours are on the bottom half of every hour. The first one is at 10:30 in the morning, and the last one is at 5:30.

PM: And do you do most or all of them?

AL: Oh, no. I think that there's about five tour guides. It would be way too much.

PM: Right.

AL: There are five tour guides. And there's usually three of us scheduled a day. And not only do they give these tours on the bottom half of every hour, but we do the bus tours. Like the Europeans that come over will take a southern music bus tour--

PM: Ah.

AL: --where they'll go to, say, Studio B and the Country Music Hall of Fame, things like that [in Nashville]. Then they bring them here. And they'll do Stax Records, and all of those things. So on the top half of every hour, we often have bus tours that come through. Senior citizens bus tours, high school groups, things like that. So I'll usually give three tours a day, average, or more.

PM: So bring me along further in the story. The Gabe and Amy Show is playing out as a duo, and then probably picks up a drummer, and--

AL: We were playing, doing our little duet on Wednesday night at Murphy's, and a guy asked us if we wanted a drummer.


AL: And we were like, "Well, yes." But it turned out to be a guy named Paul Buchignani, who was the drummer briefly for the Afghan Wigs. And he has been Todd Snider's drummer. In fact, he was just in Nashville last week recording Todd's new record. And he's just a really great guy. He's in bands called Impala, and the Minivan Blues Band. But anyway, he just saw the need. He started playing brushes on a snare drum with us. And that was pretty much it for a long time. It was just Gabe and I and Paul on a snare. He can make a snare sound like a whole drum kit. He's just great at it.

PM: Right.

AL: And then Gabe started really wanting to get bigger. And slowly it became the Rolling Thunder Review. By the time we fell apart, we had Huggie Mitchell, Willie Mitchell's son, playing with us on keyboards, and whoever Gabe could get to sit in with us. And it started to really lose its charm for me.

PM: Because it's loud.

AL: Yeah, for me it really lost what was so special about it musically. I was just not happy for a year or so.

PM: And as the band got bigger, what kind of a pickup and an amp were you using for your bass?

AL: Well, I have an Acoustic head and a Ampeg 410 cabinet, and a Fishman pickup. I really need some new gear. My dream rig was one of those old Ampeg B-15s with the flip-top cabinet.

PM: Yeah, yeah. I had one of those. We used to call it the Queen Mother.

AL: Yeah. It's great, because most of the studios in Memphis here, they have one. So when I get to do session work, I usually get to play through one of those.

PM: Okay. Well, I'll start watching Ebay for you on the B-15.

AL: Well, since I'm looking at doing some touring up ahead, I gotta find something to take on the road, and they're too old and precious. But I sure like the sound of tubes.

PM: Absolutely. But tube sockets get loose, and tubes get bad or break. They sound great, but they're a pain in the ass, no doubt about it. So you get to a point where the band has gotten a little too big, and some of the charm has gone out of it. And does that lead to the breakup of the band at some point?   continue

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