Wednesday, July 20, at 7 p.m.
The Listening Room, 78 St. Francis St., www.thelisteningroommobile.com
Tickets: $10 artist donation
Over the past few years, the local country scene has been slowly but steadily growing. Local audiences have been getting acquainted with homegrown country hopefuls performing original material. Two years ago country singer-songwriter Nori Hendrix called Wichita, Kansas, home. As she began to grow as an artist, she found the regional music scene wasn’t helping her career grow. Hendrix’s manager in those days suggested a relocation to the Gulf Coast — specifically the Azalea City — might provide an environment more conducive to her musical aspirations.
“He was talking about all these different venues and the cruise ship coming back,” Hendrix said. “It sounded exciting. I thought that surely I could pick up some shows down here. At least I’d be doing something with my music, instead of going to jams.”
As she became familiar with her new home, Hendrix began to notice she had a rare commodity to add to the local music scene. Most of the country music she was hearing leaned more toward the pop side of the spectrum. While she notes that pop country is appealing to a younger audience, Hendrix also knows there are listeners out there who crave new, original country music that harkens back to the glory days of classic country that featured icons such as Porter Wagoner and Mel Tillis.
As she gained experience on stage, Hendrix collected a listening audience who shares her love for this era in country music.
“For me and my audience, we like the traditional or more classic country sound,” she said. “People tell me that they miss that. They miss the older artists. I’ve been welcome here, and I do feel a need that people want to hear real country music.”
Hendrix prides herself on an original style of country that is steeped in classic country overtones. She fills her songs with an abundance of twang and a trademark vocal style that is a soft baritone purr shaped by the sounds of her childhood home and life experience. While growing up on the farm-rich plains of the Midwest, Hendrix knew no other music but country. Her parents filled the house with the music of Glen Campbell and Conway Twitty. When she decided to start a music career, country was her only option.
Hendrix’s songwriting quickly found a muse in life experience, which resulted in numerous lines of poetic lyrics. From her children to the frustrations of trying to make it in country music, Hendrix has numerous creative sources from which to pull. She brought one song to life after a six-hour drive to Nebraska to visit her father after he suffered a heart attack.
“On the six hour drive, I was thinking about how at least he was alive and at least I can see him,” Hendrix said. “That’s the kind of thing that rolled into a song that I wrote for me. Like a lot of country songs, tragedies bring emotions which flow into my hands. I just got to write about it.”
Eventually, Hendrix made her way to Nashville to continue to fulfill her country dreams. While there, she met legendary singer-songwriter/producer Howard Lips. Lips’ reputation in country music began in the late ‘60s when he signed with the Owepar Publishing Co. owned by Porter Wagoner, Dolly Parton and Parton’s Uncle Owen. Since then, he has gone on to become a multi-platinum singer-songwriter who has worked with everyone from Gordon Lightfoot to Mobile’s own Tim Kinsey. Hendrix not only had appreciation for Lips’ talent, but she also was taken by his personality, which she describes as generous and kind.
“He wasn’t like any other musician that I’ve ever run into,” said Hendrix. “He was so genuine and wanted to help me, and he wanted to get to know me. He wanted to know what about music sustains me. It was such an emotional connection with him. I really wanted to sing with him, because I love his voice.”
After meeting in Nashville, Hendrix and Lips began to develop a close friendship that was maintained through Skype sessions and phone calls. Eventually, Hendrix and Lips decided to enter the studio for a collaborative effort that would evolve into “Memories of the Mother Church.” Lips also brought Grammy-winning engineer Tom Pick to man the console. Pick is known for his work with a long list of well-known artists that include Perry Como, Waylon Jennings and Jerry Reed.
Judging from the tracks on this album, the duo definitely shared the same philosophies concerning country music. Hendrix’s and Lips’ vocal harmonies were a flashback to the days when Conway Twitty sang with Loretta Lynn and Wagoner crooned with Parton. “Memories of the Mother Church” became an album that was filled with emotional waves ranging from humorously lighthearted to tragically bittersweet. Hendrix notes Lips’ guidance as a catalyst for bringing out the best in her.
“Howard knows great vocals, and our harmonies were really good,” Hendrix said. “He brought out a lot of the good qualities of my voice. He urged me to do more than I thought I could do. It was an awesome experience working with him.”
Hendrix and Lips were also joined by some of Nashville’s best session players, led by Music Row veteran Jimmy Capps, who has worked with artists ranging from J.J. Cale to Ernest Tubb. The late Mike Chapman lent a bass sound that once backed Garth Brooks. Pedal steel maestro Sonny Garish brought a wave of country twang to the album’s tracks. Gene Chrisman, who was Elvis Presley’s drummer, gave the album rhythm. Hendrix was taken by the extensive talent each musician brought to “Memories of the Mother Church.”
“We would run through a song, and Ryan Joseph, who is Alan Jackson’s fiddle player, would go, ‘Wait a minute! Wait a minute! I can do that better,’” said Hendrix. “I was like, ‘What was wrong with what you just did! That was awesome!’ They were very humble and down to earth. I just felt like they were genuinely interested in making the best product that we could put together.”
As far as her next album, Hendrix has been busy generating the money to finance a solo effort. Until then, those wanting to experience some of her latest compositions should take advantage of her performance at The Listening Room. For her, this venue is one of the Azalea City’s artistic treasures that she calls “a remarkable little gem downtown.” The Listening Room’s environment is the best for a singer-songwriter such as Hendrix. The venue’s stage will give her a chance to showcase her passion for her art and receive the audience’s total attention.
“It’s like being in your living room and playing for your closest friends,” Hendrix said. “It’s very intimate. You’re not background music.”