WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT LISA OLIVER GRAY
~ By Tommy Womack
I was playing a gig in Florida three or four years ago. A fan asked me to play that song from my new record, “the one with Emmylou Harris on it.” I said I’d never done a duet with Emmylou. My new friend was quizzical. Surely I had done so! No, I countered. You mean the other best voice in Nashville, Lisa.
“Dedicated to Love”, the debut record by Lisa Oliver Gray, is a triumphant celebration of a life well-lived, a showcase for a very special voice only now getting it’s due, and a studio collaboration of some of the finest names in underground Americana Nashville (including me!) By turns as sweet as the aforementioned Ms. Harris, as full-throated as Johnette Napalitano, and infused with a deep gospel brogue, with a drizzle of Billie Holiday, Lisa’s voice brings out the best in others and shines on her own.
An in-demand session and stage vocalist, Lisa has harmonized with Lee Roy Parnell, Marshall Chapman, Will Kimbrough, David Olney and, for the past 15 years, me; which makes me one lucky guy.
We met on a dance floor in 1983, fellow students at Western Kentucky University. We both sang in different bands. One night she got onstage with me to sing harmony on “Like a Rolling Stone”. I thought to myself, she’s got something. Then I saw her sit in with a house band on Patsy Cline’s “Crazy” and flat-out own the sucker. The kicker came around 1996 or 7, long after we’d both moved to Nashville. I saw Wayne Kramer one night call out to the crowd that he needed a female singer to join him on his next number. Lisa drew the short straw and proceeded to amaze me with her ease with which she not only riffed with Wayne musically, but parried his every verbal offering with one of her own like they were George Burns and Gracie Allen working the vaudeville boards for twenty years already. That’s when I knew I had to make her my own.
Lisa was born and raised in Elizabethtown, Kentucky to a large and loving family. Singing at home and in Church, she grew up never knowing a life without singing. After years of cover gigs in Kentucky bars, Lisa moved on to Chicago for a stint singing jazz, then on to Nashville in 1989. I followed to Music City some years after that, and our stars orbited, Then I saw her with Wayne Kramer, asked her to join my band, and it’s been Heaven on wheels ever since.
Lisa is a member of DADDY, my band with Will Kimbrough, and it is essentially DADDY who backs her up on “Dedicated to Love”: Will and me on guitars, Tim Marks on bass, Paul Griffith on drums, and the always entertaining fellow Kentuckian Michael Webb on keyboards on producing.
Lisa’s a Believer; let’s just be straight up about it. She’s not going to shove it in your face, but her songs are positive, life affirming offerings. “Be Still a While”, “My Pretty Song” (co-written with Irene Kelley) and Will Kimbrough’s “Open to Love” are sunshine made into sound. “Adam’s Rib” is a smoky, snaky blues the Staples Singers could have made their own. The whole stew is part rock and roll, part country swamp, and all love. It’s all about the love with Lisa. That’s why I love and I think you will too.