I met Lenny long ago when I was still a cop in Atlanta. Immediately, we were both rivals and the best of buddies. We loved all the same things: fishing, music, good times, dancing, and women. Friends for going on 30 years now, we have born witness to many changes in one another. As our friendship has grown, so has our mutual admiration. Once upon a time we partied hardy, now we hardly party. At least, not in the same way.
Lenny, a soul born with an incredible vocal range, she and I performed together first with the Atlanta Feminist Women’s Chorus back in the 80’s and 90’s. She was often asked to sing solos in her deep alto voice. I was not. She was the star of many shows back then and I loved watching her. I called her poetry in motion before I even knew the depth of my love for poetry, or for Lenny. A big woman, she could move across the stage with uncanny grace, and she won the hearts of many with her piercing blue gaze and perfect pitch.
But Lenny, like many creative and talented artists, had a monkey on her back. When we were young, we thought of them as habits. They were just the way we partied As we grew older we recognized them as the addictions they were. Lenny was in and out of sobriety a couple of times, visiting different rooms but for the same reasons as me. Yet it wasn’t until her early 50’s that Lenny finally let go of the addictions that were destroying her body and holding her back. When she got clean and sober over 5 years ago, the musical talents which had taken a backseat for so long, leapt to the forefront.
This is such an abbreviated version of a complex friend that it’s hard to write. But here’s the short version of how it went (sorry, buddy. Lenny’s not big on short versions): As Lenny was heading down the rocky road to sobriety, she picked up a bass guitar and began to thrum out a rhythm. She hummed some lines. She has the most diverse taste in music of anyone I’ve ever known: from hip-hop to gangsta rap to old country and bluegrass to jazz and rock and roll. She keeps thousands of songs, (no kidding) on her Ipod. She hears a beat in the clip-clap of the windshield wipers, a toe tapping in the click of her ring on the steering wheel of her old Camry, music in the wind and rain. She would arrive for a visit in Arkansas after the long drive from Atlanta with a song in her head that had to be written before we could sit down to dinner.
In these five years–and let me tell you watching Lenny achieve her clean and sober status after 50 made me oh-so-glad I made that change in my early 30’s–Lenny’s creativity has busted through like water through the floodgates of all those blocks she threw up during the hard years. She formed a band with long-time friend Beth Wheeler. First it was just the two of them playing on mandolin and bass covering some of their favorite bluegrass artists. Later they were joined by fine musicians, Becky Shaw, Linda Bolley, and Sonia Tetlow, writing their own songs and becoming the band many of us know as Roxie Watson.
Lenny, a master electrician in her day job, also bought her first home in Decatur, GA. Her father was dying and her mother needed her. She was there for them. She was instrumental in her brother getting sober. She became a better friend and also invited me to collaborate on songs for the band. Leigh and I love to work with Lenny on lyrics for a song. It is always a great time spent with a great musician. In between girlfriends, gigs, and the daily grind, we would head out to the lake, float a boat and some bobbers, catch bream and catfish for a supper fry, and discuss Life.
Lenny has always inspired me, but in the past five years I’ve been in awe of what she has been able to accomplish. It’s not easy to start out late sharing your life in relationship with people, music, an audience, and romance. Being in a band and collaborating with others is a tricky and difficult business. If you’ve attempted it, you know what I’m talking about. She has struggled with facing her demons head on instead of hiding behind a cloud of smoke or in the easy fog of alcohol. This shit is hard people. Really.
And yet, you watch Lenny onstage and she shines. Her song, “Shine a Light” on their new CD, Songs from Hell’s Hollow, tells the story. It is an anthem, a prayer, a boon to me in times of struggle. The song we co-wrote on this one is poetically sound and sad as hell. “No Good Way” is a really fine collaboration between two hearts that understand one another. I’m proud of every song we ever wrote together. And I’m proud to be a part of Roxie Watson in my own way, as contributor to songs and a promoting fan. Each musician is amazing and talented and watching them live is like seeing a work of art come to life. Audiences leave their concerts exhilarated, uplifted, thoughtful. They are original, as Lenny herself is original. She is truly one of a kind. I am proud to call her friend and the source of so much of my inspiration.
Roxie Watson has their 3rd CD release party for Songs from Hell’s Hollow coming up at the Variety Playhouse in Little Five Points, Atlanta, GA. Shamelessly, I promote both Lenny Lasater and her band, Roxie Watson, for the Georgia Music Awards this year. I’ve gotten a group together here in Asheville as part of my 60th birthday present to myself to go hear them play this Saturday, March 15. Because if you haven’t heard this band perform live or heard Lenny herself sing in that amazingly deep voice with complete clarity, then you haven’t really heard them at their best.