Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival
September 3, 2005
Image by Jan1020
|Born||September 28, 1950|
|Origin||Long Beach, California, United States|
|Genres||folk, bluegrass, country|
|Instruments||vocals, fiddle, guitar, upright bass|
|Years active||mid '70s—present|
|Associated acts||Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands|
Oh, it was so exciting. Every night there were concerts, and during the day you'd be in a eucalyptus grove listening to someone making music with nothing between you and them. Every day I'd hear something new, Doc Watson or the Greenbriar Boys. Something about it just invited me to start playing it.
In her early 20s, she discovered the Bay Area bluegrass scene. To her, it was . .
like opening that door all over again. Here were all these people making music together, and I could immediately see myself as part of it. It woke up all that excitement I felt as a teenager, and I knew this was what I wanted to do with my life.
The bluegrass scene of Northern California was a powerful mix of the region's historic progressivism and ardent devotion to musical tradition. Nobody minded that young Laurie was a woman, a non-southerner, or a novice. They didn't mind if she didn't want to learn, chapter and verse, the gospels of Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley. The scene gave her a rock-ribbed foundation in the rudiments of American roots music.
It really was a different deal coming to bluegrass in the San Francisco Bay area. There weren't a lot of cutting contests; it was all about making music together, a focus on interdependency rather than individual prowess.
In the early 1970s she played with The Phantoms of the Opry, a Bay Area bluegrass band that also included Pat Enright (later of the Nashville Bluegrass Band). When the Phantoms broke up she co-founded the Good Ol' Persons, an all-female bluegrass band with Kathy Kallick. In 1979 she founded the Grant Street String Band, also including Beth Weil, Tom Bekeny, Greg Townsend, and Steve Krouse, in which her own songwriting came to the forefront. In the late 1980s, she formed "Laurie Lewis and Grant Street". Since then, she has recorded solo and duo albums, usually accompanied by mandolin artist and singer, Tom Rozum. Nowadays, she often plays under different names with a fairly regular roster of musicians, calling themselves "Laurie Lewis and her Bluegrass Pals," "the Guest House Band;" in 2006, she renamed her group "Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands."
Many years ago, Lewis twice won California's Women's Fiddling championships. She is a versatile musician, having for many years played bass and sung with Dick Oxtot's Golden Age Jazz Band, as well as with the Bay Area band the Arkansas Sheiks. Lewis plays guitar and other string instruments. As a crossover artist, Lewis is comfortable with folk music and some pop music. She writes her own lyrics as well as composing the music. Her Songbook contains most of the songs she wrote in the twentieth century, as well as photographs from her from early life and the early days of her career. She has received a Grammy, and was previously nominated for that honor.
Recordings and performance
Lewis, accompanied by Tom Rozum, has appeared at the Grand Ole Opry and several times with Garrison Keillor on A Prairie Home Companion. She was the program director for a music camp on the Oregon Coast called Bluegrass at the Beach which she has done with Tom Rozum, from 1992 until 2005. She was the director of Bluegrass Week at the Augusta Heritage Arts Workshops for 10 years, from 1986 until 1996.
Lewis's songs have been recorded by others, including Kathy Mattea, and she has accompanied Holly Near. She has been invited to accompany many other artists, including Kato Sanden, Linda Ronstadt, and Ralph Stanley. Besides producing her own CDs, Lewis's skill in the recording studio has resulted in her being asked to produce recordings for a number of other artists, including Scott Nygaard, Erica Wheeler, The T Sisters, Alice Gerrard, American Nomad, Melody Walker and Jacob Groopman, Ray Bierl, and Diedre McCalla. She is also in demand as a teacher on fiddle and guitar, vocals, and songwriting.
Style and sound
She is newgrass in the truest sense of the word, in that she uses bluegrass instruments to create new original music: it's music for now. As a fiddler, she could be from the 1940s or from 2010; it's timeless. As a singer, she knows the rules of bluegrass and how to sing in her own voice. She's probably one of the few female singers who really knows the nuances of the Ralph Stanley vocal style.
Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands comprises:
- Laurie Lewis: Fiddle, Guitar, Vocals
- Tom Rozum: Mandolin, Vocals
Chad Manning: fiddle Patrick Sauber: banjo Andrew Conklin: string bass
Distinctions and awards
- Laurie Lewis twice won California's Women's Fiddling championships.
- Contributed fiddle and vocal performances for True Life Blues: The Songs of Bill Monroe that won a Grammy in 1997 for Best Bluegrass Album. Todd Phillips (musician) is credited for winning the award as producer of the album.
- She was nominated with Tom Rozum for a Grammy for their collection of duets, The Oak and the Laurel, in the category of Best Traditional Folk Album of 1995.
- Twice named Female Vocalist of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Awards, in 1992 and 1994.
Judging by the respect she has among fans and peers in the industry, Laurie is one of the pre-eminent bluegrass and Americana artists of our time. She spreads her talent over several genres - bluegrass, folk, country - and with the recognition she has within all those fields, I would certainly say she's one of the top five female artists of the last 30 years. And she continues to make great music.— Dan Hays, Executive Director, IBMA
- Grant Street String Band (1983)
- Restless Rambling Heart (1986)
- Blue Rose with Blue Rose: Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, Molly Mason, and Sally Van Meter (1989)
- Love Chooses You (1989)
- Singin' My Troubles Away with Grant Street Band (1991) Flying Fish Records — ASIN: B000000MOQ
- True Stories (1993) Rounder / Umgd — ASIN: B0000002L5
- Together with Kathy Kallick (1995) Rounder Select — ASIN: B0000002M1
- The Oak and the Laurel with Tom Rozum (1995) Rounder / Umgd — ASIN: B0000002N6
- Earth & Sky: Songs of Laurie Lewis (1997) Rounder / Umgd — ASIN: B0000002PL
- Seeing Things (1998)
- Laurie Lewis and Her Bluegrass Pals (1999) Rounder / Umgd — ASIN: B00000IP88
- Winter's Grace with Tom Rozum (2003)
- Guest House with Tom Rozum (2004) Hightone Records — ASIN: B0001LJCQ6
- The Golden West with The Right Hands (2006) Hightone Records — ASIN: B000H5V8T0
- Live - with The Right Hands (2008) Spruce & Maple
- Blossoms (2010) Spruce & Maple
- Skippin' and Flyin' (2011) Spruce & Maple Music
- One Evening in May (2013) Spruce and Maple Music
- Laurie & Kathy Sing the Songs of Vern & Ray (2014) Spruce and Maple Music (with Kathy Kallick)
- The Hazel and Alice Sessions (2016)