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Amy LaVere

A Conversation with Amy LaVere

Puremusic: Well, this is a pleasure for me. Since you and I have a history as friends, our conversation will have a more personal slant than most of our interviews. But the last time you and I saw each other, I believe...nobody knew it, but you were about to elope to Memphis with a rockabilly guitar player.

Amy LaVere: Yeah. [laughs] And I did.

PM: And you did. How'd it go, by the way?

AL: It was wonderful. It really was. Gabe Kudela and I eloped to the wedding chapel at the corner of Chet Atkins and Music Row.

PM: Wow.

AL: Yeah, we were married right there. And Gabe was working at Katy K's Ranch Dressing at the time--

PM: Right. [Katy K's is a fantastic place for Western and other hip clothes and many other things.]

AL: --part time. And he had a key. So he went in there and borrowed a Nudie suit that belonged to one of Bill Anderson's band members.

PM: Wow.

AL: It was an amazing suit. Black with rhinestones down the sleeves and legs. It was such a hot suit. I wore a black hoop skirt with a petticoat and a western shirt and a cowboy hat. And we had one can of beer taped to the back of a '72 Cadillac.

PM: [laughs]

AL: And I lived in East Nashville just shy of a year.

PM: Ah, so you were in east Nashville. But we just weren't in contact at that moment.

AL: Yeah, I just kind of escaped to the other side of the Cumberland [River].

PM: Right, before half of the town did.

AL: Right.

PM: In those days it wasn't like that.

AL: And it was true love for a good long while. Gabe was playing in a band called The Shack Shakers, and another band called the Connoisseur Rats, so I got to be kind of the road bitch, and I jumped around with them a little bit. They played Wednesday nights and Sunday nights at the Bluegrass Inn. So I spent a lot of time hanging out on lower Broadway. Then I moved into that house. There were a handful of members of the Shack Shakers that lived there, a guy named Brian Berryman, the guitar player. And also Jason Brown, who played upright bass with Shelton Williams, Hank III. Gabe was playing upright for the Shack Shakers, and he was playing guitar and singing with the Connoisseur Rats.

PM: Oh, so Gabe himself was an upright player.

AL: Yeah, he was an upright player, and he was touring with them. So I moved into a house in east Nashville with two upright bass players.

PM: Wow. I mean, what are the chances of moving in with two upright bass players, just to begin with, in the world, very unlikely.

AL: And two very good upright bass players.

PM: Wow.

AL: Gabe had more of a functional graceful style of playing upright. And Jason Brown was a monster upright bass player. But they're both very good.

PM: Right. And is Hank III's bass player still with him, or is he playing somebody else, this Jason Brown?

AL: No. He's not with him. He's since married and has had a child, and is living in Wisconsin. I'm still in touch with him. He's going to school to become an engineer, and I'm pretty sure he still plays, but not professionally. I believe he and Shelton had somewhat of a falling out with the--I don't know that it was he and Shelton, or if it was he and the label, but he decided to move on.

PM: Right. So was it some combination of Gabe and Jason, where you got your first lessons on how to slap an upright bass?

AL: Most definitely. I mean, I almost remember the day that I picked it up at the house, and I immediately could slap. It was like I'd been slapping my whole life when I picked it up.

PM: Wow.

AL: And they were all just floored. And they more or less made me learn it, because they were like, "Holy shit! You can slap." And they just made me think it was kind of unique that I could do it like that right away. So I started--

PM: It probably is. [laughs]

AL: --I started getting tutored by both of them in different ways. And by the time I left Nashville, I had started sitting in quite a bit on lower Broad, here and there. But I really only had the endurance for a couple of songs before it would just wear me out.

PM: Right.

AL: It took me a couple of years before I really had the endurance to play. And Gabe and I started traveling around painting houses with a good friend of mine named Robert Cann who was a drummer. And the three of us kind of started a little band. We traveled around with this company called Liquid Vinyl, painting houses. And we would play on the street wherever we were. We were in Indianapolis for a while. We were in Rutherfordton, North Carolina, painting houses. We were in Kentucky.

PM: And you'd, what, play before you painted or after you painted?

AL: Well, we would move to these places, living in motels for a temporary period of time. We were training crews to do this Liquid Vinyl product. And when we weren't painting in the day, we would kind of find a place to sit in the middle of the town, and we would play on the street.

PM: Crazy.

AL: Or every now and then we'd get a coffee shop gig. We'd play unplugged, Gabe on acoustic and me on upright. And the upright bass was Gabe's that I still have. He bought it from Dave Roe. Do you know Dave Roe?

PM: Sure, he plays on a lot of sessions at our studio, I've known him a long time. [Dave played bass for Johnny Cash for many years, and lately plays with Dwight Yoakam.]

AL: Well, I still have that bass. It's a '70s model Englehart. I bought it off Gabe when we separated. But he never really picked it up after I did. I mean, I still definitely got instruction from Gabe all those years. [laughs]

PM: Wow.

AL: But we traveled around. And there was an office in Memphis for our company. After a while we just kind of begged the company to put us to work here. So we finally landed in Memphis. And we did that for about a year before we finally all quit the company. And Robert went on to play drums with another band called Speak Easy. And they toured a whole lot, but that band is defunct. Gabe and I played just as a duo in Memphis, with a regular gig at a place called Murphy's.

PM: And that act was called?

AL: The Gabe and Amy Show. And we did about half originals, and the rest was filled in with just anything, from the Replacements to Hank Williams.

PM: Right. [laughs] And so what were the first and early days in Memphis like? I mean, is it a hard town to find gigs in, or an easy town?

AL: It was easy for us. It was really easy for us. Memphis just embraced us immediately. We pretty much just walked into town and got a gig at Murphy's. That was the first club that gave us a regular Wednesday night gig. We played there for almost two and a half years every Wednesday night. And Gabe and I would play on Beale Street a whole lot. We were one of the few acts that the cops never bothered--I guess 'cause we were cute, and we didn't look like we were bothering anybody.

PM: Right. Now, on the street would you use amps?

AL: No. He would just play acoustic and I would play upright. And on the side, I would get us little paid gigs just through people I knew, just to kind of supplement our income. And Gabe and I lived in a house on a street called Harvard with a lady named Misty White. She kind of had this big beautiful mansion and beautiful gardens, but it was totally derelict. It was the one house on the street that she ran like a boardinghouse. We rented a room from her. And it was definitely a little party house, because she took in wayward musicians left and right. So it was a very musical environment. She was a drummer for Cat Soko and the Hellcats.

PM: Wow.

AL: I mean, she toured with Townes Van Zandt.

PM: Crazy.

AL: I'm actually in an all-girl band with her, also, call the Zippin' Pippins, she and her twin sister Christy, and I, and a saxophone player named Susie Hendricks, who plays guitar some, too.

PM: Now, is that a vocal band? Do people sing in that band?

AL: Yeah, we all take turns singing. It's my electric bass outlet.

PM: Ah. When you play electric, what do you play?

AL: Well, right now I have a little Danlectro Longhorn that I play, a short scale.

PM: Right.

AL: And I'm not quite as good on the electric bass, but that's part of the reason I make myself play it with the Pippins, because it suits the style better, and it's good for me to get a little more versatile.

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