While it was a great struggle, and money was always in short supply, my mother was a hard worker who never accepted charity, and we managed to live a simple life in an upstairs apartment in Joliet, Illinois. My mom eventually met a wonderful man, fell in love, and when I was just turning 13, they married. Things got quite a bit easier then, with two incomes in the household, and they even managed to buy property in a rural town called Plainfield upon which we built our house with our own hands. I grew up surrounded by all kinds of music.
My step-father, who I call my Dad, was a hard core country fan and wasn't interested in having anything else on the radio in his presence. My mother listened to the lighter side of rock and pop (when Dad wasn't around!) and I was a typical midwest teenager who listened to all kinds of rock, pop, country, R&B, even disco. Anything from Heart to Elton John, Ricky Skaggs to Earth, Wind & Fire, The Go Go's to Warren Zevon. I absorbed it all.
Although I do remember Dad actually banning my Kiss albums from the house! The one thing that was missing from that period is the blues. Even though Chicago was less than an hour away, in our tiny little microcosm of small town Illinois I was completely in the dark about the musical form that would soon shape my very existence. My best buddy Brendan had an acoustic guitar. I played flute during concert season and drums during marching season in the school band, but this was totally different. Being curious, I gave it a try.
Oh my heavens, it was absolutely wonderful! I wrote my first song after learning only three chords. I was hooked. I can't tell you how many sweat filled hours we spent up in his un-air-conditioned bedroom in the hot, humid, Illinois summer heat literally trying to make beautiful music together! We would write songs and then go downstairs and play them for his family who was always so sweet and would cheer and clap. I could walk into his house any time of day or night back then, the doors were always unlocked.
We were, after all, in good ol' Plainfield. I was a busy kid in high school. In addition to being in the school band, I was a 3 sport athlete earning a total of 12 varsity letters during my four years there. I gained a lot from my athletic experiences, and was blessed with coaches who cared about us as people as well as athletes. My track coach, Kathy Kazmar, was a central figure in my upbringing and always preached to us, “You are ladies first, students second and athletes third.” Then she would go on to demand the absolute best of us in all three areas.
I thrived in that kind of challenging atmosphere. In February of 2000, I was inducted into the Plainfield High School Athletic Hall of Fame. At 18, I went off to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to attend the School of Engineering and get a degree in Electrical Engineering. I also attended the Institute of Aviation earning private, commercial, instrument and multi-engine pilot's licenses.
My sophomore year I was running out of money fast and I was also missing playing sports. I went to an Illini Women’s volleyball game and approached one of the coaches and asked if they “needed any more players.” She took a sideways look at me, said noncommittally, “You’re tall, you look coordinated, come on out and let’s see what you can do.” I couldn’t believe it! I tried out for the team and through a lot of hard work eventually won a full-ride volleyball scholarship. I now had a way to pay for my education and I loved playing volleyball. I would always bring my acoustic guitar on our road trips and it was quite common for me to pull it out and get the whole team singing while we were waiting for delayed flights to and from our games. I eventually bought myself an electric guitar, a beautiful, white Les Paul Custom with gold hardware and an ebony fretboard, that took everything I had and then some to buy.
Years later, it was sold for rent money back home while I was out on the road. I still miss that guitar. After graduating from college I took a job in aerospace and moved to Los Angeles. I figured I'd meet more musicians there than in Plainfield, Illinois.
I joined a rock & roll cover band as a rhythm guitarist and vocalist. It didn't take very long before I wanted to play lead guitar. Once I started, I progressed quickly due to my ability to practice for long, long hours and never get bored. The guitar is so fascinating to me, an unending source of inspiration and wonder, something no mere human could ever master.
It was then that I got my first Stratocaster: it was red and shiny and sexy, and I was home baby! I quit my engineering job, never to return, and joined a road band as its lead guitarist/vocalist, doing Top 40 covers. We traveled around California and Nevada playing 5 nights a week in clubs, casinos, hotels, pretty much any place that would have us. I would play guitar 4 to 5 hours every night at the shows and practice 3 to 4 hours every day in my hotel room. I was ravenous about that guitar. I was in the very early stages of developing my style, learning note-for-note parts off of CDs by all the great rock & roll players of the time, diving into their recordings like a starving woman after a loaf of bread.
I couldn't get enough! How did the structure of the song work? Why did the guitar player choose those notes to play at that exact time? What notes from outside the key worked to cause that beautiful tension? How on earth would I get that impossible riff under my fingers? Most bands had one person playing guitar and a different person doing the singing, whereas I would have to master the art of playing a complicated guitar part while singing the vocal line. I loved the challenge. All that intricate, detailed studying of some of the world's greatest guitar players paid off, giving me the dexterity and vocabulary which allowed my guitar style to organically develop its own unique voice. I'm as comfortable whipping off a rapid fire sixteenth note chickin' pickin' riff as I am bending a long held out note that begs for forgiveness. Aggressive double stops come as easily as delicate, single note, volume swell runs.
Sometimes it's fat power chords, sometimes it's one perfectly placed note. Playing lead guitar is a lot like doing a life-long dance of seduction with your true love. It's just as important to know when to shut up and listen as it is to hoot and holler, when to tease and when to please, when to be tough and when to be tender. At times, it could be very difficult to get a gig as a female guitarist in those days. I dealt with agents who were far more interested in finding out my height and weight and far less interested in what I could do on the guitar.
Club owners didn't want to book a "girl guitar player" because "they had one last year that didn’t do so well". Hmmmm. Did they quit booking boy guitar players after they "had one last year that didn’t do so well"? I remember one musician that I called trying to get an audition with his band said, "Girls have innies and boys have outies. It just doesn't work." How do you argue with that logic? After many frustrating and often disrespectful experiences, I decided to start my own band and make the boys audition for me.
I've been a band leader calling the shots ever since. Like many people, I discovered modern blues because of Stevie Ray Vaughan. My musical tastes had already been turning to the guitar-driven blues rock of the Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, 38 Special, Marshall Tucker Band, the Eagles, and by now I was playing lead guitar and singing in a power trio I had formed doing covers of Hendrix, Cream, Heart, Pat Benatar, Led Zeppelin, etc. Then I was introduced to SRV (the music, not the man - oh I wish). My whole life changed.
I fell head-over-heels in love with Stevie's powerful, electric blues! Stevie was also the gateway, the portal if you will, through which I was introduced to a world I'd never been exposed to before. Through his shining the light back upon those who had inspired him, I discovered artists I had never heard of: Robert Johnson, Luther Allison, Etta James, Big Mama Thornton…it goes on and on. It was like being turned loose on a feast! Once I started creating my own brand of red hot blues rock, I realized quickly that this was what I was born to do. My guitar playing style sprang forth as an evolutionary leap into life from that primordial soup of electric blues, rock, and country I was listening to.
Nothing had ever felt so real, so visceral, so expressive, so passionate, so sexual, so nurturing, so spiritual, so painful, so healing, so thrilling, so demanding, so all-encompassing and so perfectly suited to me. I genuinely feel most complete with my guitar in my hands and I don't expect that will ever change. The next step was to take the music I was writing and get it recorded. Recording was expensive so that meant raising funds which meant having to work at something besides music while still pursuing music. A terrible and painful sacrifice, but there was no way to get around it.
I got a Master's Degree in Applied Mathematics from California State University in Long Beach and taught math classes to raise recording money. Who would ever have dreamed that Calculus, Trigonometry and Geometry would become the rocket fuel of red hot blues rock? But it worked! My first album was Out Of The Woods in 1997, we were called Backroad Shack in those days. I wrote all 10 songs. Second, in 2004, came Find My Way Home, I wrote 8 of the 11 songs.
By then we had changed our name to the Laurie Morvan Band. The most recent and my proudest musical moment to date is Cures What Ails Ya, released March of 2007. I wrote all 12 tracks on this one. Every recording process has been a learning experience. Through trial and error and the school of real-life experience, I learned a lot about what to do and what not to do while working on my first two CDs.
My musical skills continued to mature, something I will strive for my whole entire life, and I was a much more experienced record producer., although I still have a lot to learn. On Cures What Ails Ya, for the very first time, I believe we've come the closest to capturing the raw power, dynamics, versatility and passion of a Laurie Morvan Band live performance. In addition to my own wonderful bandmates, I got to meet and record with some of the industry's most incredible musicians: Tony Braunagel, James "Hutch" Hutchinson, George Duke, Sammy Avila, Doña Oxford. These veterans have recorded and toured with Bonnie Raitt, B.B. King, Walter Trout, Coco Montoya, Shemekia Copeland, the Neville Brothers, and many, many others.
Several have Grammies to commemorate their musical achievements…some heady company for a small town girl from Illinois who's come to the big city trying to make her way in the world! One of my most cherished memories of the recording sessions for the Cures What Ails Ya CD is being at George Duke’s studio while he recorded piano on my most personal, revealing ballad, Family Line. I felt at my most vulnerable when I wrote that song and he captured it perfectly on piano. George and his wife sat and chatted with us about the music business and how much it has changed while he has been it it. They were both warm and encouraging.
George’s humanity is as amazing as his musicianship. I have always had confidence in myself. I know exactly who I am and what I can do with that guitar in my hands. The respect, compliments and encouragement I got from these experienced, totally professional musicians during the making of this CD was a really beautiful, gratifying, and validating experience.
It was like getting to test my musical creative waters, and finding out that everyone wanted to swim! Things are looking up. The band has great momentum and it seems like every week we meet someone else who takes an interest in us and steps up to help. I'm doing radio interviews, making contacts with industry professionals, and getting recommendations from other respected industry professionals. A real highlight for me was when Guitar Player magazine interviewed me for a two page feature article in their October 2007 issue (my name is even on the cover – does it get any better?).
I had been reading that magazine for so many years and now I was in it. Next came an interview with Vintage Guitar magazine, a feature spot on Dan Akroyd’s House of Blues Radio Hour with “Kickin’ Down Doors” as the Blues Breaker Song of the Week, and a flood of great reviews in DownBeat, Blues Revue, and many, many other national periodicals. In October of 2007, I was asked to perform at the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue concert in San Juan Capistrano, CA. I joined all the headliners, Tommy Castro, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Magic Dick and Deana Bogart, for the entire finale set, with the cookin’ Tommy Castro Band providing the rhythm section. I got to trade blistering guitar solos with Tommy and Ronnie.
Ronnie and I got a little crazy with our stage antics. The playing was hot and heavy and the audience erupted in thunderous applause. That moment will be galvanized in my mind forever. Magic Dick was kind enough to share his “ready” room with me and we had a great time.
Kudos to all of them for being classy people and making me feel welcome on and off the stage. In January of 2008, I got a call from Walter Trout inviting me to sit in with his band at a show in Huntington Beach, CA. It’s any guitar player’s dream to be standing on stage next to such a tremendously talented and accomplished player. And Walter is as great a human being as he is a player. The magnitude of these moments is not lost on me.
As I reflect on the good fortune that continues to come my way, I try to drink in and savor every great moment like a rare fine wine. In February of 2008, we advanced to the finals of the International Blues Challenge held in Memphis, TN. Our new CD “Cures What Ails Ya” made it into the finals of the Best Self-Produced CD competition. Out of 160 acts, we were the only one to advance to both finals. We met so many wonderful blues fans and made a huge connection with them.
The intensity of our audiences at Alfred’s on Beale Street during the semi-final rounds is something I will never forget as long as I live. For any band, this is the most important element, that we are getting incredibly positive reactions from audiences at our shows who are getting excited about our music and buying CDs. This is exactly how it is supposed to work. We are a made- in-the-USA band striving to live the American Dream and I can feel it coming like a firestorm racing up a kindling filled hillside! Laura Read more on Last.fm.
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