Lari White Biography
BORN: 1966, Dunedin, FL
I’m Lari White.
I’m a writer, so you’d think facing this empty page would be no big deal.
It took me 27 minutes to write that second line.
See, I’m trying to figure out how to tell my story. Before this, there were always people to tell that story for me – publicists, journalists, marketing gurus – professionals, who knew what they were doing and could put the right SPIN on it.
Well, I’ve been through a lot of changes lately, and I felt that maybe it was time to try and tell the story myself. I do this pretty well in the form of a song, but a BIOGRAPHY is another animal altogether. I’ll try to give you the high points. Tell me if you’ve heard this one…
My granddaddy was a Primitive Baptist preacher, and my Daddy was the electric guitar player in a rock and roll band, so I guess my internal conflicts are largely genetic. I have a Grammy for singing “Amazing Grace” on The Apostle soundtrack, but my signature song is “Lead Me Not Into Temptation (I Can Find It All By Myself).” I’m a classically trained pianist, I cry over the mathematical perfection of a Bach fugue, but what makes my palms sweat is a screaming Aretha vocal or Judy Garland’s raw live performance of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow.” I pray fervently to go to heaven, but He’s gonna have to drag me, kicking and screaming from this wild, delicious, terrifyingly beautiful human life.
Music runs in my blood. My whole family, parents and younger brother and sister, performed together as an act around the Central Florida area where I grew up in the seventies. As the White Family Singers, we sang at art festivals, church dinners, and community centers, covering John Denver, the BeeGees, Bread, and old southern gospel hymns – anything with good, close harmony. We even had choreography. My little brother & sister were an especially big hit doing their rock ‘n roll medley of “Splish Splash” and “Love Me Tender.”
I was the only one in the family that didn’t grow out of it and get on with reality. I ventured out of the family act in high school, bringing the house down at the high school talent show with Janis Ian’s “At Seventeen,” and forming my first rock band, White Sound. I still live in fear of blackmail photos surfacing. I actually wore white Spandex pants and a white tux coat on stage. On purpose. Every year I became more single-minded about becoming a star.
I got a full academic scholarship to the U of Miami, and got my degree in Music Engineering. MUEs got free studio time, plus, being an engineer went a long way towards busting the “chick singer” stereotype that I hated. I started getting studio work, singing background vocals on albums for Robin Gibb of the BeeGees and Julio Iglesias. I got turned on to jazz and got more serious about writing my own songs. I sang at lots of weddings and huge parties in the big hotels on the beach. I sang with pop bands, and big band orchestras and salsa bands – anything, just let me sing! There was lots of work, but no avenue to getting a record deal, so I knew when I graduated I had to make a move.
Then the Trio album came out. It was one of the first CDs I ever bought and I wore it out. And Foster and Lloyd. And Roseanne Cash. And Rodney Crowell. And at the time, I had sung one too many Madonna covers, and I just wanted to make music with real live musicians. I heard something that sounded like home, so I high-tailed it to Music City as soon as I finished school. I love Nashville. It’s a small town with big dreams. It’s nouvelle cuisine – deep fried. It’s cosmopolitan sensibilities with a Southern drawl. A walking contradiction, like me.
I drove north virtually non-stop for twelve hours, my Toyota mini-van bursting at the seams with my every belonging. I got a speeding ticket just as I crossed the city limit into Nashville, and the irony was not lost on me. Those were such heady, creative years. The songwriter community in Nashville is this super-oxygenated greenhouse of talent, challenging, refining every soul stubborn enough to withstand the storms of rejection and force down roots. I got my first publishing deal with Ronnie Milsap’s company when his song-plugger, Leslie Schmidt happened to catch my first set at the Bluebird Café. I started acting again, studying in The Acting Studio with Ruth Sweet, making over half my living as an actor with an improv comedy group called Avant Garage and the Tennessee Repertory Theatre.
Every Sunday evening a motley collection of songwriters, actors, playwrights, painters and other ne’er-do-wells would fill my tiny apartment on Murphy Road and share their latest work or argue over Unitarian theology. We called it The Hang. I lived below the poverty line, and I remember those three years as some of the richest of my life.
Then one magic night, the stars aligned, the signs were right, and my tools were sharp, and I played three songs at an ASCAP showcase at Douglas Corner. The bar was crowded with industry execs and I was ON. Within seconds of me stepping off the stage, one label head was making me a serious offer and another was waiting to take me to Jimmy Bowen’s house for a meeting. The next morning the phone started ringing at nine a.m. and I was in the catbird seat. A few days later, Larry Willoughby called from ASCAP and said he wanted to introduce me to Rodney Crowell. I remember jumping around the apartment while I was on the phone, trying to sound cool and nonchalant.
As the dust settled, a path became clear. Rodney’s music had been one of the reasons I came to Nashville, and his interest and support became a beacon in negotiating the murky waters of the corporate record deal. I started singing back-up for Rodney’s Life Is Messy tour, and his generosity went from handing over his spotlight and his all-star band to feature me on two of my own songs in the middle of his show, to finally offering to co-produce my first album with me. I signed with RCA records and we recorded Lead Me Not.
I think most artists suffer at some level from a deep loneliness that we try to heal by whispering or screaming “This is who I am…do you feel this way, too?” In introducing myself to the world, I felt like an addict at my first 12-step meeting. I had no boundaries, no sense of what was “appropriate. I wanted people to know everything about me, right off the bat, every influence, every personality quirk. We recorded some heavy gospel-influenced songs and a moody Broadway-esque tune and a torchy ballad and a Mexicali groove – in 7/8. The result was a beautiful, eclectic, passionate album that the critics loved and the marketplace mostly ignored. It is my favorite of my country albums.
Meanwhile, Soundscan suddenly revealed that Garth Brooks was the #1 selling act in any format, and the gauntlet was thrown. Having a critically acclaimed artsy album was cool, but it wasn’t as cool as selling double platinum, and I determined to join the party. My second album, I handed the production helm to Garth Fundis, a great song man, and the producer of Trisha Yearwood’s record-breaking debut album. I made it my mission to write some HITS, and I had been doubly blessed to find my ultimate co-writer and my soul mate in the same incredible man.
Chuck Cannon and I met at the Monday night writers’ night at a restaurant called Third Coast. I managed to resist his not-so-subtle overtures until I heard him play one night, and I realized I was dealing with forces way beyond my ken. We tried not to write together for the first few weeks of our dating – keeping “the biz” out of our personal lives and all that. But we’d be out at dinner and lyrics would be flying across the spaghetti, and songs got written in spite of us. Great songs. Wishes contains all the rarefied dreams and desires of that year – falling in love for the first (and last) time, and the deepest longings of the heart. My Christmas present was a Top 5 song and #1 video for “Now I Know.”
My next birthday present was a gold record. It was a very good year. Chuck and I got married and drove across the country on our honeymoon, stopping to call every radio station when we’d hear “That’s My Baby.” We went to LA for the ACM awards, and Chuck won “Song of the Year” for writing “I Love The Way You Love Me,” which he wrote about me. How’s that for romantic!
I was riding high, and the pressure was on. I started working on my next album, this time with veteran hit-maker Josh Leo. I had discovered the power of a hit record, the only problem was, I didn’t want to simply repeat the formula of the last success. …I didn’t want to get trapped by an image, to get lazy and keep pushing the same button. I wanted to step out, push the envelope, reveal a little more of the story…in other words, Don’t Fence Me In. That song became my anthem, in my live show, and in the process of creating a follow-up album. I wanted to design a concept album, a musical journey that would include instrumental segues between songs and subliminal spoken messages and hidden tracks. But I also wanted another hit. By the time those two conflicting goals had hammered it out, I had an album that didn’t quite satisfy either.
Shortly after the release of the second single, RCA pulled the plug on Don’t Fence Me In and asked me to return to the studio to make another album. When I balked, RCA let me go, and I became the poster child for “The Mid-level Artist.”
The next year and a half brought the deepest depression and the highest highs of my life. I missed singing and performing so much, it was a physical ache. But Chuck and I conceived our first child, M’Kenzy Rayne and I had never felt so complete and alive. A few months before M’Kenzy was born, Disney opened a new country label in Nashville, Lyric Street Records, and Randy Goodman signed me to be their flagship artist. I wrote “Stepping Stone” about the renewed faith and vitality that event inspired in me. That song became the title track of my next album, and generated a lot of mail from people across the country who had adopted it as their theme song in difficult times.
We got the fledgling label off the ground, but the lack of commercial success was very disappointing. My experience with Stepping Stone proved two things to me:
1) I am and always will be a music artist. And
2) I ain’t that country.
I got off the road. I grew an herb garden. I had another baby, Jaxon, my blue-eyed boy. I built a recording studio next to my house in the holler and started an independent record label for hit songwriters called Nashville Underground. And when I finally started writing and recording again, what tumbled out was an amalgam of soul, pop, jazz, rhythm and blues and dance music. I call it “green eyed soul.”
With this album I hope to take all my old fans on an interesting ride, and pick up some new friends along the way. I’ll finish the album by the end of April, and until I do I hope you’ll let me know what you think about the music as I’m making it. I’m making “sneak previews” available online during the recording process.
It feels like forces way beyond my ken have once again converged to bring me to this new place. Last spring I received a call out of the blue to audition for a Tom Hanks movie, and that’s how I found myself spending my last birthday at a funky little steak house in Pampa, Texas with Tom Hanks and Bob Zemeckis and the crew of Cast Away, talking about all the stars taking over Sun Valley and singing an impromptu version of “Lead Me Not” with an out of tune upright piano. Now I’m spending a lot of time in the City of Angels, exercising my thespian muscles and spreading the word on this new music that defies labeling. No pun intended. It will be the first release on my own record label, Skinny White Girl Records.
Thank you to all of you who have followed my music and me. You’ve inspired me, encouraged me, and put bread on my table. Thank you. I hope you’ll come with me on this next leg of the journey. I’m not sure exactly where it leads, but I think it’s gonna be fun…
As a country artist, I tried to So maybe it won’t surprise you too much that I’ve taken a radical left turn. It seems that all the currents in my life are carrying me into a new world – I’m just going with the flow.