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Progressive Rock Interviews

Lisa LaRue

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Lisa LaRue from 2012
MSJ: Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music?

I’ve played keyboards since the age of three. My grandmother used to book me to play shopping malls and various stores. I started writing songs at age seven. After playing in a couple of local cover bands, I decided I wanted to write my own music and record it. I did lots of that for years!  Upon meeting Carl Palmer on a chance meeting in 1982, I really moved forward with that. My friend Mary Ann Burns introduced me to keyboard technician Will Alexander, and I decided I would make an album – on my birthday in late December, I set a New Year’s Resolution: to have a record contract. By January 22, I had signed one with a Native American recording company. Speed up to now, I have had the pleasure of working with and becoming dear friends with John Payne, Michael Sadler, Steve Adams, and am now operating a small progressive rock record label with my husband (John Baker of Mars Hollow, Forever Twelve).

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?

Probably the things I do now, in addition to music. I am a photographer, with a current photo exhibit running in West Hollywood called “Open Doors” (it consists of eclectic photos of historic sites in Los Angeles associated with The Doors), and I wrote a book on a Cherokee historical figure named “Ned Christie” (He Was a Brave Man) and I am working on some other books. I am also a graphic designer by trade, and my day job for the last 15 years is in tribal historic preservation. Oh yeah … and we’re renovating our Victorian house, and collect vintage and antique items. Sometimes I sleep.

MSJ: Can you tell us a bit about your connection with Native American music and culture?

I am a tribal member of the federally-recognized United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians, and have been involved in traditional ceremonies and lifestyle, and worked in cultural preservation. Because our ceremonial music is not meant to be used commercially, I do not use portions of it in my own work, although the track “Kituwah” on World Class fits right in with our dances! I have been the Oklahoma Music Awards’ “Native American Artist of the Year” two times, and have been nominated for two NAMMY’s. (Native American Music Awards) One of the albums I did was called “Children’s Songs in the Cherokee Language,” which I performed all of the music and even did some singing (yikes!) along with Anna Sixkller, who also did the translations. That was a fun project!

MSJ: Who would you see as your musical influences?

Gosh, almost everything I’ve ever heard. Particularly musicals. Camelot was my first big influence, and remains a favorite. I was raised in Topeka, Kansas, and the group Kansas (who used to be at the local music store, rehearse at a local church, and played all of the bars there) were a huge influence, as well as the first album I ever bought which was Yes’ Close to the Edge. I think a real influence, though, was the strings of Lee Holdridge in the 1970’s.

MSJ: What's ahead for you?

Making more music. My husband and I plan to record a project together, and I plan on finishing a project with Italian prog keyboardist Federico Fantacone. More book writing, more photography, and living a happy, peaceful and healthy life.

MSJ: I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?

Symphonic prog, melodic new age. Ha! My first album was classified as new age, simply because it was all keyboards and back in those days with plastic dividers in the bin, they didn’t know where else to put it.

MSJ: Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?

My son, vocalist Corey Brown, and the 1980’s band Art in America.

MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?

It is both, but more so, a hindrance. Music is not totally about financial gain, but neither are most of the items a person holds precious. And when somebody steals something that belongs to you, it is harmful. The very term “illegal downloading” sort of says it all!

MSJ:  In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?

I think that is okay (unless the tickets specify “no recording”) As long as they don’t sell them.

MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?

I would hope I wouldn’t have any! If I were a superhero, I would rather be part of a superhero team that would stand up for justice.

MSJ: If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?

The players of all the great 1960s TV show themes in one band. They would make music nobody would ever forget.

MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?

I’ve always dreamed of putting the bands of all my guest artists into one festival. So, along with my band Lisa LaRue 2KX, there would be Asia (featuring John Payne), Saga, Spock’s Beard, Mars Hollow, Forever Twelve, Visions of Atlantis, Beyond the Labyrinth, the Oliver Wakeman Band, and several more.

MSJ: What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?

The last CD I bought was the new solo/live album by Ray Manzarek and Michael McClure, entitled “The Piano Poems.”

MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?

I’ve started so many, and not finished them! So, book wise, I’d have to say the one I’m currently enjoying is the one I am editing… “Words and Birds,” by Maye Zart LaRue, a collection of poetry by my late grandmother in honor of the 100th anniversary of her birth. It will be available in 2013.

MSJ: What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

Yes/Styx/Kansas. We were guests of Yes and watched all of the bands from backstage. It was a great show, and let me tell you, Steve Walsh still has some major pipes!

MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”

Pianos. Our living room has both a 1910 acoustic baby grand and a 2010 digital baby grand sitting in the bay window side-by-side.

MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

Probably the big group dinner held in Santa Monica after my first album Beloved Tribal Women was recorded. A group of us were seated looking forward to a pleasant meal, and Keith Emerson is sitting next to me, and suggests I try a certain variety of sushi he had ordered. I really didn’t want to, so I thought, maybe if I just smoosh it in my mouth and swallow it real fast, it won’t be so bad. So I proceeded to put it in my mouth and smoosh – and it was as hard as a diesel tire!! I started gagging, and Keith says, “Oh my God, are you going to throw up?” Somehow I got through it, and didn’t throw up on my hero.

MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?

Koko the Gorilla (I know, you said “people”), John F Kennedy and my grandmother.

MSJ: What would be on the menu?

I imagine a salad for Koko, New England fish chowder for the former president, and Dr. Pepper and Brownies for my grandma. I’d enjoy all of it.

MSJ: Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?

Everyone can reach their dreams. If you touch one person with your music, you have accomplished a wonderful feat. Don’t try to make a lot of money doing music, because you most likely won’t, but also look out for yourself, and don’t let other steal your dreams or your music. Live, laugh, prog.

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
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