How about a little background information on you? I know that you grew up in Savannah, GA and started in your fatherís band at a very early age.
Right, it was my Dadís band. Since he was in high school he always had a country & western band. After he got out of the Air Force and settled in Savannah, he started another band. I guess I had shown some interest in singing since I was about 3 years old. At 5 years old he had me on the stage standing on a chair because I was too little to reach the microphone! Back then they played a lot of barn dances and I would sing with them. Usually my Mom and my little sister, Norma Kay, would come too. My sister never really got into singing, but she had to go. I guess because they couldnít afford a baby sitter! So thatís how I got started.
My Dad managed the only country music radio station in Savannah for many years. He eventually left the station and went into television.
How did you get signed with Chart Records?
My dad recorded a tape at the station and took it to Nashville to 3 or 4 different labels and finally decided Chart was the one. One of the producers he had listen to it was Billy Sherrill. He said, and this is exactly what he told my dad, "I donít need her, Iíve got Tammy Wynette". Dad said, "But she hasnít had a hit record yet", and Billy said, "She will!" He was so right!
Yes, but it wasnít long after you were signed that you had a hit also.
Yes, but not to the extent Tammy did. I just never got the right material, I guess. However, Tom T. Hall was always bringing his songs over. One day he brought over Harper Valley PTA for me. I was about 16 or 17 years old and it was decided by Slim Williamson & Joe Gibson that I was too young to sing that!
Gee! Actually I could see that happening back then.
Today that would be nothing, but back then they actually tried to keep their artists pure, so to speak. I was only 17 and still in school and they thought it could cause some problems so it wasnít given to me.
How old were you when you cut "Pickiní Wild Mountain Berries"?
That was pretty risquť for a girl your age back then.
Yeah, there was a radio station in the mid-west that refused to play it! I remember Kenny telling me about it. Then Slim had us call and talk to them, but I donít know if they ever played it. The stations that could get you in the charts were playing it, though. They were the ones that really counted. The big markets were playing it.
I wouldnít have even known about Tom T. Hall offering that song to me, they didnít tell me Ė in fact my Dad was in on the conversation with Slim & Joe and decided not to show me the song. But, Tom T. told me about it a little later. I said, "WHAT! I canít believe that!" He had a hard time getting anybody to cut it because it was so controversial.
Well, I guess for Nashville and that time period it was pretty risquť too.
Yeah, I guess it was. Jeannie C. Riley was pretty smart though!
I went to Nashville in October, 1967 I think it was. I cut my first record and it was released January, í68, "Beggars Canít Be Choosers" written by Liz Anderson. It hit the bottom of the Billboard Charts a few weeks later. I didnít know how thrilled I should have been. I remember thinking, "Oh. Thatís easy. You cut a record and then get on the charts!" I remember other artists telling me "Iíve been recording for ten years and have never been in the charts". I said, "No kidding? Whatís wrong with you!" I was so naÔve! I just thought it was so easy!
I have had approximately forty-seven singles and five albums on Chart, Capitol, and Mercury and all my records except the last one I recorded for Mercury made the Billboard charts. I was very grateful!
I didnít realize you had released so many!
I recorded for Mercury my last few years in the business. I recorded for Capitol for five years and of course Chart Records.
And you said you had how many albums?
There were five or six of them. Three by myself and some various artists LPís where I was included. I didnít really realize how fortunate I was to have my records hit the Billboard, Cash Box and Record World charts. But you have to realize there werenít many females in C&W at the time. I remember after I joined Buck Owens, I heard "Satin Sheets" by Jeannie Pruitt. I said to Buck, "Did you hear that new record, Satin Sheets? That is a terrible song!" Buck said, "I know, but itís a hit!"
You know, I never really liked the song, but everywhere I went people wanted me to sing it so, I finally had to break down and learn it. It grew on me and became one of my favorite songs to sing.
It seems to me that most of the female artists were doing mostly cover songs back then.
Yes, when I went with Buck, he had me do a couple of original songs, but the biggest record I had on Capitol was a ballad, "Hello Out There". That was around 1974. I remember that I didnít want to record the song and Buck said, "LaWanda, trust me. It can be a hit". So I recorded it and went out on the road and didnít know the words. People started asking me to sing it so I had to learn to sing it again! Buck would laugh and say, "And you didnít want to record that!" It was hard to sing, even when my voice was in its prime. I donít even know if I could sing it today because I donít sing very much. It was a tough song! Buck Owens had a good ear.
How and when did the transition from Chart to the Buck Owens organization occur?
I had become real good friends with Susan Raye when she would come to Nashville to tape Hee Haw. She would call me every time she came to town and we would write each other. She married Jerry Wiggins and became pregnant. She knew that when she told Buck, he would have a fit because she was his only female artist on the road at the time. So she approached me with the idea, even before she approached Buck, to mention my name as a replacement at the same time she told Buck she wouldnít be able to work on the road as much. I said sure!
I had gone down to Savannah to see my parents and while I was there the phone rang late one afternoon and it was Buck. He said that Susan had approached him with the idea and would I be interested. I said sure and he asked when I could fly out to talk with him. I flew out sometime within the next couple of weeks and signed a contract with him and Capitol Records. He offered me so much more. He offered me Hee Haw, a lot more exposure, and Iíd be part of his road show. He was one of the hottest country artists at the time and I knew I would have larger audiences. Not so many nightclubs, but more fair dates and more auditorium shows where I could get more exposure. He offered me a great opportunity. I moved to Bakersfield in March 1972.
I can see why you would want to do it. And I think you made the right move at that time, too, because 1973 was when Slim sold Chart to Bill Worden and basically the label went down from there.
Everybody in Nashville fought me on it except Loretta Lynn. I talked to Loretta and she told me to go. It would be the best thing I could do with my career. A great opportunity. She & Buck were (and probably still are) good friends. She told me a story about she & Buck entering a Talent Contest in the Seattle, Wash. Area and they both won watches as first place prizes that never did run! Ha! Bet they have both owned better watches since then!
I was working with Buck at the Pennsylvania State Fair in the early 70ís and Loretta was on the Show. He asked me to go to her bus & tell her that she needed to hurry and be ready to go on stage first because he was the Headliner..She sent me back to our bus to tell him that she needed a little more time to put on her make-up, and besides, she was the Headliner. This went on & on until finally I realized they were playing a game. Loretta being the sweetheart she is, did the opening act! The first and ONLY time I ever followed Loretta Lynn! I was Buckís opening act!
Did you not perform on Hee Haw before you joined Buck Owens?
No. This is a great story! Wanna hear it?
When Buck called Sam Lovello at Youngstreet Productions and said, "Iíve got a new female singer and weíre filming in June. I want to have her do a guest shot." Sam told him, "Buck! We donít need another female singer!" Buck waited a few days and called Sam back and said, "Sam, Iím going to do a duet with the new singer." And that was how he got Sam to listen to me. I did the duet with Buck and from then on Sam had me do soloís. He was determined to get me on Hee Haw!
It really did help my career. My price for booking fees went up because they could bill me "From Hee Haw". I got a tremendous amount of air play after my first show.
Did you negotiate your arrangement with Buck or did your agent assist you?
My agent at the time of negotiations with Chart executives and Buck Owens was Joe Taylor Artist Agency. No, he did not get involved with the negotiations and sent me off to Buck with all his blessings! He was and still is a wonderful man. I will never forget his generosity and support.
I had heard from someone during my talks with the others involved with Chart that you had to sue Slim to get out of your contract.
Well, I did get an attorney because he wasnít going to release the contract. What finally happened was Buck bought my contract from him so we never had to go any farther with it. There was no lawsuit. I never wanted that anyway..I just wanted to move on. We had done all we could do there and Slim knew as well as I that we had accomplished all there was to accomplish at this level. He was in total agreement when it was all said and done.
When I talked to Slim I asked him that question and he said he couldnít remember ever being sued by anyone in the music industry except for Audio Fidelity and he won that one hands down.
In 1973/74 Slim sold Chart to Bill Worden and actually the label went down hill from there. I feel that you got out at the right time.
I didnít know he had sold it. It must have happened after I left.
Well you know, things just werenít happening. I love Cliff Williamson to death. As a matter of fact we still talk occasionally. He works for Reba McEntire you know, and Rebaís a good friend of mine. I had to call the office several times to get in touch with Reba about some things and discovered Cliff was there. Weíve talked quite a few times!
It got to the point that Slim wasnít producing and really wasnít that involved anymore. The last few records I had, Lloyd Green produced. I donít even know if Lloyd remembers doing that.
Iím sure he does. He seems to have the best memory of this era than anyone else Iíve talked to.
Well, Iím gonna tell you. I think Lloyd was most instrumental in getting Chart off the ground.
He was definitely the man who did that!
He played on all my records, and he produced the last two or three of them, I think. He did a great job. He came up with some great songs. As a matter of fact he found a song written by Jerry Williams & Gary Bonds called "Donít Take Her Sheís All I Got".
That was a great tune. Johnny Paycheck had a huge hit with it back in í71 or so.
He cut it right on top of me. They went into the studio and cut it and did a fast release. They had it out in less than a week. I thought Lloyd was going to have a heart attack! He was so proud of that song. We had a nice cut on it. Lloyd produced it really well. We had it cut just like Paycheck did, (actually better) Ha! same sound. We couldnít get it out quick enough.
Was your version ever released?
No, it never was. They had it out in less than a week! I remember Lloyd calling me. We were so disappointed. It wasnít right of them to do that. There was a (sort) of code of ethics in Nashville. When you gave a song to an artist and they committed to record it, it was their song. It didnít happen very often, but it happened that time and it happened to me!
Itís been released again and did very well by Tracy Byrd.
Yeah, itís done really well for him. He had a great cut on it. It was almost exactly like the original.
Itís is a great song. I still love that song.
Are there any other songs you recorded but were never released?
There were many songs on all 3 labels that I recorded which are still in the "can"! I couldnít begin to remember them all.
How did you get paired up with Kenny Vernon?
Oh that was funny! Someone in the office, probably Joe or Slim, was talking about us doing a duet. Slim & Joe told my dad that Kenny was a little hesitant because I was so young. They told Kenny, "Weíll bring her here in the office and you get your guitar out and get her to sing with you. If you donít like her voice, then weíll never mention it to LaWanda. But if you like her voice weíll go into the studio and do a duet"
I remember Dad & I going in and Kenny getting his guitar out and he started playing a few songs. He would ask if I knew the words to this or that and Iíd say yeah. Of course back then I knew the words to everything! So I thought! We started singing and after a couple of songs he turned around to Joe & Slim and said, "Yeah, Iíll do a duet with her!" I said, "What are you talking about?" and he asked me, "Do you want to do a duet?" So I said, sure! I was glad anytime I could go into the studio. I loved singing with Kenny! I would have been a background voice!
So thatís how that got started. I think Joe Gibson found "Pickiní Wild Mountain Berries" for us.
That was your biggest hit on Chart wasnít it?
Yes, I think it was. Then there was "The Crawdad Song". That also did very well.
Some of the stuff Cliff was producing seemed to be more in the rock & roll vein.
Cliff really loved rock & roll and pop music it seems at the time. Connie Eaton had a voice that lent itself more to the popular sound and Cliff tried to produce me the same way. I was just country. Kenny Vernon got me to do more with my voice than anyone else ever did.
Cliff wanted to do some more rock & roll sounds with me, but it just didnít work.
I know that "Pickiní Wild Mountain Berries" was a rock tune, but yours and Kennyís didnít sound like rock & roll. And Conway Twittyís and Loretta Lynnís sounded a lot like yours.
The rock version was the one we learned it from. When Loretta and Conway cut that song, they called and asked our permission! Now wasnít that nice of them?
It was indeed!
I asked, "Why would you call and ask our permission?" They said, "Because itís your hit." Every time Loretta & Conway would do that song on stage, they always gave Kenny & I credit.
Well thatís great!
Iíve done a lot of shows with Conway and we would sing it, too. Iíve traveled a lot with Conway.
Tell me a little about that. I read that Conway was responsible for discovering you.
It really wasnít Conway so much as it was his business manager. Conway was involved and instrumental in the early years. He let me do shows with him when, probably, no one else would. Iím going to tell you a great story. You will love this story!
To tell you what a great guy he was, we were booked in some little town in the south. I think it was Augusta, GA. When we traveled together they always had to book a separate band for me because Conway played his own lead guitar. You know he couldnít back me and then come out and be star of the show. So they always hired a local band to back me before Conway came on. When we got there I told the promoter that I needed to get with the band and rehearse my songs. He said, "Oh, I thought you were singing with Conway." I said, "Conwayís band doesnít back people up! He plays his own lead guitar!" Joe Lewis, Conwayís bass player, overheard what was going on and he said, "Hold on. Iíll be right back." He came back a few minutes later and said, "Conway said weíre gonna back her." I went out on stage with the other members of the band and Conway stood behind the stage curtain and played lead guitar!!
Thatís pretty neat!.
It was neat! Iíll never forget it! After the show was over we were standing back stage and I asked Joe how much the band usually got paid because I wanted to pay them for backing me. He said, "Not a thing! Not a single solitary dime!" And Conway says, "I want a $100.00!"
I was so young and naive I started digging in my purse for the money and everybody started laughing! That was one of the nicest things anyoneís ever done for me.
There was one other time I was working with Conway. The promoter came out to the bus and he paid Conwayís manager, who was Joe, and he turned to me and said heíd be right back. Conway looked out the window and said, "Heís leaving! Heís not going to come back and pay LaWanda!" I looked at him like "Oh no. No one would ever do that!" Joe jumped off the bus and chased him down and made him go back on the bus and pay me. I think he only owed me $200.00.
How did you meet your husband?
Billy and his Dad owned the Caravan East and they wouldnít book LaWanda Lindsey because she wasnít a big enough artist until 1974 when I had "Hello Out There" and it went into the Top 10. Then they said, "OK. Weíll book LaWanda Lindsey." Jack McFadden had begged and begged them for two years to book me. When I went back the second time to perform, then I met Billy. I was staying with Kenny & Mary Vernon and I got back home and Kenny was in Las Vegas, so I ask Mary if she knew Billy. She said she did and I asked, "Heís not married is he?" She said, "No, and I donít think heís ever been married." So I called back to Bakersfield and said "Jack, book me back in Albuquerque! I like this guy!" We knew each other eight weeks and got married.
Eight weeks! Wow!
We celebrated our 26th wedding anniversary last May.
Man, oh man. Thatís something else!
We got married in a small church in Savannah. You can imagine my motherís surprise when I asked if she could put together a small wedding in less than 3 weeks! She panicked but she did it!
I read in an old Music City News that you were planning on marrying Rod Bright on Oct 7th 1972.
I went with Rod Bright for about a year. He was a gospel singer. It was just a matter of months after we broke up that I went to California. I donít even remember us setting a date.
So I take it you never were married.
No. Where did you read that?
It was in the September 1972 edition of the Music City News. It was probably just some gossip that was heard and they thought it newsworthy.
Maybe. But then one time I got a call from Johnny Rodriguez and he asked me if I knew that he & I were getting married! I said, "WHAT!" He had picked up a tabloid somewhere that had announced this news. We had never dated at all!
I married in 1976 and worked with Buck about a year more. By that time Buck had ended his association with Capitol and I found myself searching for a record label. I remembered that Jerry Kennedy from Mercury had offered to sign me when I went with Buckís organization. I told him that I had made the deal with Buck and I was going to go ahead with it.
So there I was at home in Albuquerque and I called and asked for Jerry Kennedy. I didnít know if he would even remember me. He jumped right on the phone and asked how I was doing, I asked if the offer from 5 years ago still stood. He said "you betcha" and asked me how soon could I get to Nashville and I told him the next week. Billy & I flew to Nashville and I signed with Mercury. We cut quite a few records, but I think I only had 3 or 4 releases. I got pregnant with my son in 1978 and there I was running through airports carrying a small suitcase, and Iím thinking, "What am I doing! I should be home putting together a nursery." I was hiding the fact I was pregnant from Jerry Kennedy and I had signed with Lavender & Blake Agency, so I was hiding it from them, also. Billy picked me up at the airport in Albuquerque and I said, "You know, I donít want to do this anymore. I want to be home decorating the nursery and planning on having a baby." My heart wasnít in it. I was driving down the road and heard my new record on Mercury on the radio and I didnít even know it had been released. I just didnít care. I got on the phone and called Jerry first, then Lavender & Blake Agency and asked, "Do you really want an artist who doesnít want to be in the business?" They said no they didnít and thanked me for my honesty. I asked for a release and they said sure. I still had about 3 more years left on my contract with both of them.
My husband was so upset with me! He said, "You will go back into the business after the baby is born, wonít you?" And I was like, "Yeah, ok. I will." But I never did!
You never did?
No, never did. I think I went back to Nashville one more time after the baby was born, and that was for Fan Fair. I cried the whole time I was there. I wanted to go back home and raise my son. I have 2 children now. Trevor is 24 and Tara is 22.
Hmmm, I guess you totally lost interest, huh?
Yes. I had totally lost interest. But you know what made it easy for me? My husband owned the Caravan East. I got to see all my friends. It was if Iíd never quit because they booked all the big artists. If I wanted to sing, Iíd just get up on stage and sing for 45 minutes and get it out of my system. I really never had time to miss it.
That was good!
Yes. I got to stay at home and do what I loved to do, which was sing. I didnít have to travel and beat myself to death on the road to do it.
The road is always the hardest part of being a performer. On the go all the time. Finish a show and have to pack up and be on the road to the next show. It sounds really hard to me.
Yes, and Buck really pushed me. A lot more than Joe Taylor did when I was with Chart. Buck didnít believe in taking a break. I would come in after a month on the road and they would hand me a plane ticket and say, "Youíre going on a promotional tour". Iíd say, "What do you mean? I just got home from a month on the road!" They would have me booked in all the major cities. Iíd go around with all these regional Capitol promotion men to radio stations doing interviews. Buck really burned me out. He was wonderful to work for but he burned me out on the road. He was a hard worker himself. He had a tremendous amount of energy.
When you were recording with Chart, how involved were you in the selection of the material?
In the latter years, a little bit, but in the first 2 or 3 years, none. They thought I was too young. Liz Anderson jumped in there and brought a lot of good material to me. She & Casey kind of adopted me and I adored them! Lynn and I were 4 years apart in age. Lynn had grown up on them and they didnít really want Lynn to leave home. They tried to get me to move in with them when I moved up to Nashville. Lynn called me up one day and said, "Donít do it! My dad is so strict he wonít let you go out on a date or anything!" Joe Taylor was bad enough. I stayed with him and Joanne. Thatís where my dad wanted me to stay. Joe was really bad. Ha! He wouldnít let me do anything. I couldnít wait to get out of there. I couldnít wait to be old enough to have an apartment.
I donít blame you! I probably would have felt the same way.
When I did get my apartment, I thought, ĎNow what am I going to do. Thereís nothing here!" I was out on the road all the time. Not much time for boy friends.
How did you feel about Slim Williamson?
Well , Slim, being a Georgia boy himself made it very comfortable for me when I first moved to Nashville and I think Slim really, really believed in me as an artist. They had Lynn and she was starting to happen and I was really impressed with the fact that they took all the time they took with me.
Joe Gibson, his wife Betty, my parents and I became very close. Closer than we did with the Williamsonís. Joe took over producing me shortly after I came to Chart and we spent a lot of time singing and writing songs. Joe found a lot of good material for me.
Cliff was my age, you know. He was a kid too, maybe a couple years older than me. Cliff & I were too close in age and we had a lot of conflicts, early on. But that was just our youth. Just being silly teenagers. Today we are very good friends. I like Cliff a lot and I think he likes me too.
Lloyd! He was precious. I donít see Lloyd or keep in contact with him. I thought he was the greatest thing ever was! Itís no secret that he was the greatest steel player that Nashville has ever known!
I must say I agree with that!
My dad was such a big fan of his. A funny thing, after I got in the music business, Dad came to my very first recording session and afterwards he went home and put his fiddle under the bed and said, "Iíll never play again! I have really heard some good musicians today. I think Iím through!"
Lloyd took a real interest in my career too. I think he may have been a little disappointed that I made the decision to leave Chart and go to California.
Well, you know, I can see why everyone would be disappointed. Especially at losing you. At that time, who knew that Chart Records was going to basically dry up? And you were probably one of the top 3 or 4 artists at that time.
Well Thank you! I didnít realize that.
Oh sure. Lynn had already left, Kenny was gone. They had Red Sovine, Connie Eaton, Jim Nesbitt, A. A. Jones. They all left in í72, í73.
As far as the business part of Chart Records went, I never got involved. I never knew what Lloyd or Kenny might have known. I just recorded for Chart Records!
It was like a family because it was so small. We were all like one big family.
Do you still perform?
The only singing I do anymore is for the my good friends, R.D. and JoanDale Hubbard. They own several horse racetracks across the country one of which is in Ruidoso, N.M. They are also the founderís of The Hubbard Museum of the American West. Billy and I raise running Quarter Horses and that is how our friendship with the Hubbardís began some 20 years ago. I am on the Board of Directorís at the Museum. We have a big fund raiser there every year to raise money for the educational end of the museum. Both R.D. and JoanDale are former teachers and give away a lot of scholarships to children in New Mexico that otherwise would not be able to go to college. This is just one of the many areas where they make contributions to help others. Generally at these functions there is a country band so I usually get up and do a couple of songs.
Thatís very commendable. I think itís very important for children to get as much education as possible.
Thank you, and I also want to thank you for the website. I didnít think I was ever a big enough artist to catch anybodyís interest in such a way. I do appreciate your interest and the loyalty to the label.
Well thank you! I can tell you, it really has nothing to do with how big or famous the artists were or how many records they sold. It was the music itself. It was some great music.
You liked the music?
I loved the music, I still do! I love to listen to these old records. There was some great music produced by this label and Iím sorry to see it not available anymore.
I have to agree with you. We put some good music out. Every once in a while I like to get out one of our old records and listen to it. We might not have had too many "hit" records, but we put some good music out!
Do you have any regrets about anything that you did or did not do while associated with Chart?
I wished Iíd been a little more involved in choosing the songs I recorded. I was only 14 years old though. I was just happy to sing!
Would you like to try and release a "Retrospective" CD of some of your best material?
Wow! I hadnít given that much thought! Sounds fun though! But not if I have to go on the road again! Ha!Ha!