music (2007-03)

Saving Grace

Doyle Lawson keeps it traditional

by Lisa Slade

Doyle Lawson didn’t have a hard time deciding what to do with his life. He never wanted to be a firefighter, or an astronaut, or even an accountant. “From the time I was four or five, I knew I was going to be a musician.” Growing up 20 minutes outside of Bristol, the city considered by many to be the home of country music, definitely aided Lawson’s introduction to the music world. “My father sang with an a cappella quartet from the time I was very young, so my biggest influence in gospel was him. There’s such a rich tradition of music in this area,” Lawson says.

And Lawson is nothing if not a traditionalist. With his latest album He Lives in Me , and various tracks with such titles as “There’s a Treasure in Heaven” and “In His Name,” it’s clear that Lawson is drawing inspiration from old-time bluegrass and gospel. “I think it’s the honesty of the music that attracts people, they want to lock onto something that has solidity to it, and it’s different than all the mainstream commercial stuff they’re throwing at us,” Lawson says. With a voice as pure as a clear Tennessee morning, and the mandolin chops to back it up, Lawson’s appeal reaches audiences that are more diverse than the ultra-conservative gospel set. Hell, even heathens enjoy his music. 

With 28 years of recording albums and playing live shows under his belt, Lawson has been forced to evolve his sound, but he’s also careful to hold onto his integrity and his values. My Life is His kingdom/ His heart is my throne/He lives in me. He’s most commonly called either a bluegrass or gospel musician, but his music is also a throwback to a time when that type of music wasn’t labeled, before the slew of Newgrass players, jam bands, hippie kids took over the country/gospel/bluegrass scene. “You try to make the recording material a little different, without losing the style and sound you’re known for,” Lawson says, “I don’t want the sound to be rock steady, and I tried to do things that would make people pay attention.”

His band, Quicksilver, has changed faces many times throughout the course of nearly three decades. Today there’s Lawson singing lead vocals and playing the mandolin, Terry Baucom on the banjo; Darren Beachley sings and plays bass, Jamie Dailey plays guitar, and Mike Hartgrove plays the fiddle. Though one member (Baucom) has been with the band only a year, the others have been around for longer. Guitar player Dailey has been a part of Quicksilver for eight years. Lawson says, “We have people come and go. Terry started with me in 1979, left for a while, and then came back about four years ago. Same with Mike, he started in ‘88 or ‘89, left for a while and then came back about a year and a half ago.”

Unlike most musicians touring in the year 2007, to whom life on the road means sex and drugs, Lawson seems to exist in a purer time, a time when touring was still synonymous with good music, good friends, and good times. “One funny thing happened to us a few years ago. We were playing at an outdoor venue, and we were on this stage that was at the very bottom of a huge hill. We had this song at the time that was our hit of the moment. It was a real hot song. We were about two-thirds of the way through that song, when we see this guy weaving his way down the hill. He was a happy camper, if you know what I mean. Anyway, he finally got to the stage and he had me lean down so he could tell me something, and he requested for us to play the song we were already playing. I think he was so focused on walking down the hill, that he didn’t even realize what we were doing. It sort of ended any seriousness we might have had about that song at the time.”

Named IBMA Vocal Group of the Year 2001 through 2006, Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver don’t seem like they’ll be slowing down anytime soon, despite years of on the road. Though he is based in Bristol again, after several years away, his tour goes all the way from Knoxville to Wyoming. “I decided since I was a road musician I could live wherever I wanted, so I moved back home,” Lawson says, “It really is a good place to live.”

Who: Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver w/ Blue Moon Rising and Robinella