can't say that I've ever been the biggest fan of BARBRA STREISAND, but forty years ago, she released the moody slow burner PRISONER from the soundtrack to the IRVIN KIRSHNER suspense thriller EYES OF LAURA MARS starring FAYE DUNAWAY and TOMMY LEE JONES. Over the years, the film has become a favorite of mine and the moody theme song is a standout out musical moment that resonates with me whenever I think of the film. Little did I know that I would would be speaking with the woman who penned the song. KAREN LAWRENCE is a brassy singer and songwriter with an uncanny ability to make every song she sings a moment to be treasured. Throughout her rocky music career, she has run the gamut of pop and rock but it's the blues where the woman's voice is most at home. LAWRENCE got her start fronting the band L.A. JETS, who were signed to RCA back in 1976. When the band was dropped, she became the lead singer for the band 1994 under the tutelage of producer JACK DOUGLAS who secured them a deal with A&M RECORDS which lasted for two albums. As a songwriter, LAWRENCE penned a modest hit for STREISAND and managed a guest vocal spot on JEFF BECK's album BECKOLOGY and the AEROSMITH song GET IT UP from their album DRAW THE LINE, but her true artistry emerged with the founding of the band BLUE BY NATURE. With co-songwriter and guitarist FRED HOSTETLER, LAWRENCE put the signature growl of hers to good use and folks could hear it loud and clear on the band's 1997 live album LIVE AT THE LAKE. Now, the very finest cuts from that double album are remastered on the new album BEST OF LIVE. It's our sincerest hope that this is the first step toward more creative output from musical talent that's something the world of music could use right now - grit. ROCKWIRED had a chance to speak with KAREN LAWRENCE regarding the new release. Here is how the interview went.
I had no idea that the song PRISONER from the THE EYES OF LAURA MARS was in fact your song. It's one of my favorite movies and I always associate that song with that movie.
Well, who would know it? You know that JOE BONAMASSA did that song too. That was the coolest thing to me. In fact, I heard it one night driving around. That was cool! That was fun!
I can't imagine what it's like to wrote a song and then hear it getting picked up by this artist and that artist.
The thing was, I didn't write it for any of them. I wrote the song for me, so I have a recording of it too which I'm going to release. It's actually out there somewhere. I don't know how people have gotten a hold of it, but they get hold of everything these days with the internet and everything. I was looking on YOUTUBE, looking at my stuff and looking at other stuff and I saw a version of YOU BETTER RUN by the band that I was in called 1994. It was funny because we never released that. I don't know how they got it. I only have it on a cassette, which I just found the other day. Seriously! You can't hide anything these days and in a away that's the good thing about the internet. But I do have one thing they haven't found. It's our performance on DON KERSHNER's ROCK CONCERT where I sing that song. The archival museum in New York let me have it. I don't know how I knew it was there but I got a hold of it about ten years ago and I've made copies of it available to former band members. I just can't commercialize it, but it's so cool. I was so young and I was just right there with that hair and those pants. I remember the performance, but I don't necessarily remember the event.
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With your current band BLUE BY NATURE, you have released the live recording BEST OF LIVE, which features select tracks from a live album that you guys recorded years ago.
It comes from an earlier live collection called ALIVE AT THE LAKE back in 1997. That turned into a double album because we thought that everything sounded great and we had the freedom to put it out there because it was our own label and our songs are notorious for going on for twenty minutes. A song can start from a little granule and turn into this big moment. One of the songs on there is called IT'S BEEN SO LONG. I wrote it in the middle of the day and was written at a time when we didn't even have twenty minutes worth of material. This was when we first started and I remember the train wreck of trying to get through it that night. That was kind of our rehearsal. We'd go to our gig and I would call out a tune, call out the chord and signal with my hand. When we took this song onstage, it turned into a twenty minute epic. That is the beauty of having total creative control. This is the blues and we weren't interested in being anything other than what we wanted to be. We weren't going for anything commercial. We played at all of the coolest places and we did what we liked.
What ws the inspiration for releasing this collection of live cuts?
This was a big deal. We didn't go "Hey we recorded this off of somebody' i-phone or tape recorder, we had a mobile truck recording this. JACK DOUGLAS came out and recorded it. We were in a really good place. We were really tight and very creative and we thought that we were great. So we decided purposely to make a live album. It was a rally big deal and definitely premeditated. Once we had all of the tracks recorded, it turned into a double CD. Me and FRED HOSTETLER - the co-founder and co-songwriter for BLUE BY NATURE, and longtime partner - made this sampler of some of the stuff on that album, and of course we knew that some of these songs were twenty minutes long. This sampler was just for fans. We kind gave them away at gigs. Recently, FRED got the idea to remix and remaster and spruce up some of the edits on that very sampler, which we had never made available commercially or on the airwaves. He mastered remixed and repackaged - and thanks to me - added a song that is on our YOUTUBE channel. It's a performance at the Galaxy Theater, and it's one of my favorite performances. In fact, I had pulled the audio off of it and and dropped it off at a couple of radio stations in these last years. So I thought we should put that one on there too so it's not all the same stuff. We've got these seven tunes that have been remastered from ALIVE AT THE LAKE and IT'S ALL ABOUT YOU is from LIVE AT THE GALAXY THEATER.
With the release of this live album, have there been any reactions to it that have surprised you or that you didn't see coming?
No not really. We always got good reviews and there is no denying that there is a good band on the album. Vocally, I'm a little aggressive, if you ask me. But no, I'm not surprised by the reaction to the album. To be honest, one reviewer said that we were a rock band influenced by the blues and that surprised me. I kind of thought that that reviewer needed to go back to the drawing board or he oughtta listen to SIRIUS XM and hear what's going on here now. Anybody under eighty is influenced by rock whether you're into the blues or not. If you're over eighty, maybe not. Maybe your grandparents were in Mississippi in the fields and the crossroads on Highway 61. But most of us playing today have a rock influence. Except for JOHN HAMMOND maybe, whom I love.
In listening to you speak, you sound like a natural performer. Where does that drive come from?
"Natural" is my favorite word! I did an an interview with an Aussie station and I said natural like five times. I had talented parents who were self taught singers. My father was a beautiful singer but he was not musically trained. My mom self taught herself to play piano. She was a very good pianist, but I only found out later that she didn't teach herself to play piano until she was in her late forties. They would go to piano bars - not to drink - but to sing. They were very encouraging of my sister becoming a dancer and me being a singer. I was just a corny, show off. We'd do shows for them and they'd clap. Every night it was some goofy thing. I got a ventriloquist dummy when I was like nine. I also started playing guitar around then. We had all kinds of instruments in our house. We had two accordions, a couple of electric guitars. I still have that little SILVERTONE amp from SEARS. When I was four years old, I was learning to play the piano. Everybody played music. When I was playing piano, no one was supposed to talk and if I was singing, no one interrupted. It was a musical house hold and very encouraging. I'd play guitar and sing for people. I mean, talk about nerve! I could only play four strings and I'd be doing shows for the Ladies Auxiliary.
You're musical upbringing sounds so different from the one that kids get these days. It sounds enviable.
You're right, and I'm very upset about that. It's all because people prioritize things like that. It's because the arts don't pay. It's like crime in that way. But my parents didn't care because that was a dream of theirs. My dad wasn't a professional singer or musician. He was a professional salesman. I was asked one day to join a band after this heard me singing MR. TAMBOURINE MAN in the music store. This guy just came up and asked me and my parents drove me to the practice and I was in a band. I was thirteen years old. I played guitar already. The leader of the band made me play and he really pounded in this whole idea about theory. He was a senior and I was a freshmen. He was already musically on his way. He pounded this stuff into me and I loved it. It was just natural for me. We also had a cool dude named ZEL TATE. I've seen him on FACEBOOK. He would sit us down as a band and play us stuff like MUDDY WATERS and he would point out stuff. He was like this musical guru with his Persian rugs and his hippie stuff on the walls. He just gave us the 'edumacation'. We were a blues band but there was not a lot of blues stuff for me to sing. So unless we were doing things like ETTA JAMES or JANIS JOPLIN, there wasn't a whole lot to do. Singing like JANIS was just really uncomfortable for me so I ended up singing the JIMI HENDRIX songs. It was really hard to find material. That was how I started so I just kept playing and then later, someone saw us in a bar and they asked me to join their little crew and that was the band that got signed to RCA. That was the band called LA JETS. They came up with that name after we became a band. It was on the second album that we released that PRISONER song was written. It was never released because RCA was so disgusted with us. That was how it always was. When that second release came out, they were like "...this is over budget and you guys just spend all of your time jogging and we've had it!"
It's fascinating to hear stories about his kind of "mother-may-I" approach that record labels had back then. It is so different from the way it is now.
Here's the deal. It was even worse than that. We were signed to a production company and they in turn got the deal with RCA. I signed with that production company and I was twenty years old. They just took everything, all of our rights and all of our money. Honestly, I knew that that wasn't good but I was like "What did I know?", I didn't even think that I was a good songwriter. I was very musical, but I didn't think that I was a great songwriter, but I didn't care. I thought this was what you had to do. You sign on the dotted line. We signed and frankly it wasn't our fault that things got crazy on the second album. It was the post-production company's handling of it. Years later, when I went in there to get a deal, after the L.A. JETS were dropped flat by everybody, they put me and my manager in this big meeting room with over 10 people. At first we thought this was great. This is wonderful! We're going to get a deal here! This is quite a meeting here! Then the door closes and everyone comes to order and they look at us and ask us, "What happened to the money?" My face got flushed and the hair on my head went up. We had to explain the whole thing away. I was a bad meeting. It was horrible! It was awful! We were also really broke! That is the hardest thing. Someone asked me once "How come you had to get so many different deals?" and that's because we didn't have any hits. If you don't have a hit record, you're done. When you present a batch of tunes to a record label and you don't have prospect, that's bad, and I don't think that way. To me everything we had for them was natural. It's very hard for me to contrive things. So we moved on and started shopping for other thins and it was AHMET ERTEGUN from ATLANTIC RECORDS who turned us on to BOB EZRIN, but he was too busy and turned us on to JACK DOUGLAS. So I sang into his face and he got us a deal at A&M. Going from label to label was rough. I don't know if it's like that now. That was why BLUE BY NATURE came about.
1994 is an interesting name for a band.
Yeah, JACK came up with that name. I have no idea what he was on. We was on an airliner and he was looking at that book 1984 and he thought it would be a good idea to go beyond that. I myself am not very good at picking names for things and I just go along with everything. I'm not the only person in the band. In a band like that, it was a democracy. In a band like BLUE BY NATURE, it's not a democracy. There are too many chiefs. It just gets messy and unfocused and I get pushed around.
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In talking to you, I can't imagine you getting pushed around even in the early days. You did manage to write a hit for STREISAND. You would think that would've given you some clout.
Yeah, I have no publishing rights on that song. Talk about being a PRISONER. I begged for that. I went from California to New York to this big, high powered meeting and borrowed clothes. I walked in and tried to get our publishing rights back after we had been dropped by RCA and the production company. I could say it was probably like the casting couch situation. I might've been able to get the rights back had I used some feminine wiles, but that's not what I do. So I walked out of there with my pride and my self esteem but without my publishing rights. But I do get writer's royalties finally after many years of battle with the entertainment company. With the stuff I'm releasing these days, it's all owned by me. Having control over my music is something that I really care about. It's something that I've cared deeply about ever since 1980. It's not like the checks are just rolling in, but I'm happy with it. It's comfortable.
So it sounds to me like BLUE BY NATURE is where you've been the most "at-home" with, musically.
Absolutely! That's my story and I'm sticking to it. The first bands I was in were very bluesy and that's cool with me. I've had to do poppy tunes when I was in a cover band in high school. I've even done BARBRA STREISAND tunes for crying out loud. Frankly, I'm an incredibly good imitator but being in my later years now, I don't dig it. I finally feel more comfortable coming back to the blues. And full on and as an adult. Not as a thirteen year old learning about it. This is just the way that I naturally write. I write other stuff, but usually when I come up with something in my head, it's a blues tune. If people want to say that I'm rock influenced, I don't mind, but when people say it, I think it has to do with my aggressive delivery, but it's aggressive in a good way. I like to belt it. I'm a torcher. I like to get riled up.
And with the BEST OF LIVE, what is the big idea? What would you like for people to come away with after they hear it?
I would like for someone to reach back and pick up the other one if they hadn't before. We did this for our fans but others are starting to dig it. We're giving the music some new life. It's not THE BEATLES getting back together or anything like that. For me, I want to make another album. I've been on vacation now for a long time and it's been great and it's been interesting, but it's starting to bug me. I think FRED, who came up with this idea is feeling the same way. I've got a lot of songs right now an If I were to record an album now, I'd be chopping away at the song list and it's killing me. I've got so many good songs. I'd say over a hundred tunes. Not all of them are great, but a bunch of them are great. I do all new songs when I play. When I play solo I can go three hours with out running out of anything. So I wanna do a new album and hopefully this one can get that to happen, and with that band, be able to get out on the road and do some touring. I'd love to do Europe. There is nothing like Americans doing Amerian music in Europe. I'd love to get out on the road again.
CONTACT BRiAN LUSH AT: firstname.lastname@example.org