I don’t remember not ever having music in my life every day,” declares singer/songwriter Shelby Lynne. From her stark lament on “If I Were Smart,” to the honky-tonk stomp of “10 Rocks,” Shelby’s most recent release, Identity Crisis, has been a critical and popular success that has brought her back to her hard-core country roots.
Shelby was born into a musical atmosphere that has had a strong influence on her career path. “I have been singing since I could talk. The first music I heard was Elvis Presley, The Beatles, the Everly Brothers. I used to sit and listen to mama and daddy’s old 45s on a little record player I had gotten from Santa Claus one year,” she reminisces.
Although Shelby confesses to being inspired by some heavy hitters like Willie Nelson, Frank Sinatra and Chet Baker, her strongest early influence was her father. As she recalls, “My daddy was a guitar player and played in various clubs around. But we sang and played music as a family, too. I started playing the guitar at age seven. I begged daddy to teach me E, B7, and A chords so I could play Elvis songs myself. My hands were too small to make whole chords on the 6-string guitar. Mama had a baritone uke lying around that she had from the ‘60s. Daddy tuned it like the bottom four strings of a guitar and I made the chords half-like so I could accompany myself. This is how I learned most of what I know today. Everything by ear and sheer determination were my main teachers, still are.”
And Shelby’s sheer determination paid off in 2000 when she won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist for her phenomenally successful release, I Am Shelby Lynne, even though she had already released five previous albums by that time. Her follow-up effort to that success, Love, Shelby, was produced by Glen Ballard, and led Shelby in a direction that seemed to stray from her artistic vision. When it came time to record Identity Crisis, Shelby took a leap of faith and reclaimed creative control of the writing, producing and recording of the project. She locked herself away in her Palm Springs home and wrote and recorded the whole album almost entirely herself before shopping it to the labels. The result is a deeply focused, masterfully written collection of pure country songs that leaves her fans begging for more.
While Shelby has always been known as a singer, she’s no slouch when it comes to guitar-playing either. She’s been developing her chops and style. “There were years when I went without ever picking up a guitar. I could always play enough to sing a song or two, but it wasn’t like it is now. I try and play every day unless I am stuck on a plane or something,” she explains. “I like to experiment with different people and see how their styles are different. Nobody that is really into playing guitar plays like anybody else. We all have our own style and way of approaching music.”
As this goes to press, Shelby is putting the finishing touches on her latest endeavor with producer John Porter (Elvis Costello, Ryan Adams, The Smiths, Roxy Music), which is set for release in 2005. The album will feature Mickey Raphael (Willie Nelson) on harmonica and Michael Ward of The Wallflowers on guitar. “Michael Ward is a great player,” she praises. “He is sensitive when necessary and melts the walls if called for. We make a good pair on stage and always have fun wherever we are.”
Both Michael and Shelby have found their VOX AC30’s to be a perfect complement to their personal playing styles. As Shelby explains, “We like VOX simply because it is the most dependable amp out there. The sound is not complicated and the power is untouchable. I am an old school gal and appreciate gear that is always there for me no matter what the gig. Willie Nelson has played through a VOX and sounds like no other. Who else but Willie Nelson can plug an old nylon string Martin into a Rock n’ Roll amp and get that tone and sound. There is a true example of classic meets classic. VOX. Classic.”
Find out more about what’s in store for Shelby at www.shelbylynne.com
By Laura Whitmore
Photo by Alex Hedison