Lesa Hudson: Laid Back In a Driven Kind of Way
(Photos Jim Allen; CD cover photo Jim Allen; CD cover design Joanie Dakai)
On my way to see the fabulous duo, Blue Mother Tupelo, at Mama Rue’s Blues Garden in Pawleys Island last week, I stopped off to visit with singer/songwriter Lesa Hudson, so we could talk about her new solo recording, her work with Rick Strickland Band and her plans for the future.
I’ve known Lesa for a couple years and have always considered her to be pretty laid back and mellow. During this visit, though, I was struck by just how driven she is.
Much like her bandmate, Rick Strickland, she’s driven to write, to create.
“I’m a songwriter first. I’m always writing. In fact, I’d like Rick to produce a
Praise and Worship album for me. I already have the songs for it.”
Hudson grew up in Darlington, S.C. as part of a musical family, with church as its centerpiece. Playing piano since the age of six, her first singing “job” was with a trio at church. N’Accord was very successful and traveled throughout South Carolina. She still sings with the group when time and opportunity allow.
She went on to front her own Lesa Hudson Band, a larger contemporary Christian group. She produces and performs several Christian-based showcases, and has also performed with the classic rock band, 3 Day Funk with Keith Hamrick (formerly with Billy Joe Royal and the Atlanta Rhythm Section).
Lesa tells me she’s been writing and composing for about 15 years. (“I still have my doodle sheets in a folder somewhere.”) Her very first completed composition was “Lukewarm Christian,” written and produced in 2003. It went to No. 8 on the Power Source 100 chart. “I was thinking about my life and where I wanted to be. I didn’t want my faith to take a back seat …” she explains.
She still leads a contemporary worship service in Darlington, but her current position as lead vocalist and keyboard player with the Rick Strickland Band takes up the bulk of her time.
“Rick Strickland is an incredible talent, and I don’t know if the world really understands that,” she tells me candidly. “From day one, he has been the person I could rely on and trust. We think the same way about music.
“When I write a song, it starts with a feeling … I’m just not passionate about singing covers,” she tries to explain.
This particular thread refers to the fact that so many deejays and booking agents prefer bands and singers who perform cover tunes.
“I’ve never really taken the easy road,” she laughs. “And I guess this is one of those times. I don’t want to offend anyone, but I’d just rather not play covers.”
Happily, the Rick Strickland Band is making a name for itself playing Strickland, and now Hudson, originals.
Tunes like “Something Smooth” (Rick Strickland/ 2004), “So Do I” (Rick Strickland/2008) and now “When You Look At Me” (Lesa Hudson/2010), the immensely popular Hudson/Strickland duet on Sweet Wonderful You, have been huge hits with fans and deejays alike.
Sweet Wonderful You is Lesa’s second solo project. According to the artist, the ten original songs each tell a story about love and being thankful for the people you love. Hudson either wrote or co-wrote eight, with the other two penned by Rick Strickland.
“The current breakaway hit,” she says, “seems to be the duet with Rick, “When You Look at Me.” I intended for this song to take people back to the moment they fell in love … when they weren’t quite sure the other person felt the same way … I shared it with Rick and he loved it. He said it had to be on the project.
“Track two, ‘Can’t Help Lovin’ On You,’ is a little different for me. I love the bluesy, laid back feel. It’s a little more romantic. It was a way to stretch my songwriting and my vocals.
“On the title track, ‘Sweet Wonderful You,’ I love the harmony vocals by Debbie Anderson … and for the whole CD … the amazing keyboards from Art Benton and incredible guitar work of Rick Strickland.”
The truth is, although I think Lesa comes alive when she’s under the Rick Strickland spell, she was making a name for herself long before they met.
A few years ago, one Chamber of Commerce prez said, “It wasn’t just fireworks that sparkled and lit up the sky at the July 4th Hartsville Family Fireworks Festival. It was also Lesa Hudson and her band who kicked off the holiday event with a bang!”
Kevin Stokes, songwriter for G3 Productions in Nashville, said, “Lesa’s sound is progressive and honest. A lot of times, artists deny their own passions creatively in order to squeeze into a marketplace that’s already crowded with artists doing the same thing. Taking a different road may seem like a harder route, but applaud Lesa for coming up with a sound that is as commercial as it is unique …”
David Wade agrees. He has recently signed both Lesa Hudson and Rick Strickland (as solo artists) to his Shanty’s Records label. Wade will be booking the two artists and promoting them on radio in some expanded markets.
“I don’t want to put myself in a box. I want to write a song, express myself and create music the way it comes to me.”
Lesa Hudson is definitely driven. In a laid back kind of way.
CD Tracks: 1. Only You (Lesa Hudson); 2. Can’t Help Lovin’ On You (Lesa Hudson); 3. Falling For You (Lesa Hudson); 4. Baby Baby (Lesa Hudson & Rick Strickland); 5. When You Look at Me (Lesa Hudson); 6. Win My Heart (Lesa Hudson & Rick Strickland); 7. Try (Rick Strickland); 8. You Make the Good Times Better (Lesa Hudson); 9.Just To Wake Up Next To You (Rick Strickland); 10. Sweet Wonderful You (Lesa Hudson).
Players on Sweet Wonderful You include Lesa Hudson (lead & background vocals, keyboards); Rick Strickland (lead & background vocals; guitar, bass & drum programming/producer); Art Benton (keyboard); Debbie Anderson (background vocals).