My Roots is the first in a regular column by Glide contributor Leslie Michele Derrough where she candidly chats with artists about their background and roots.
Lajon Witherspoon has the raging supersonic vocals that power the amazing heavy duty band Sevendust, yet when you sit down and talk with him, he has an easy, fun sense of humor. He laughs often and when their former light tech Scott jumps on the bus to sneak into a bunk with bass player Vince Hornsby, Witherspoon is almost on the floor in tears laughing so hard. “He’s a muskrat”, Witherspoon jokes. “He sniffed the bunk down top to bottom. It’s so funny.”
To help launch my new column, Witherspoon took some time recently while sitting on the Sevendust tour bus during a rainy Uproar Fest day in Biloxi, Mississippi, to call and talk with me about his youth and his beginnings in rock & roll.
Where did you grow up, what kind of kid were you and what did you think you would grow up to be before music took over?
I’m from Nashville and I was a good kid, didn’t get in trouble. I loved being around the horses. My family had Tennessee Walking Horses and that was something we were always around and were always learning and knowing about, but music was always around too, so I always wanted to be in music. So music and a horse, man (laughs)
Like a singing cowboy, like Roy Rogers.
I’m kind of like that a little bit (laughs). I ride on a steel horse, like fucking Bon Jovi (laughs)
What was the first band that got you off and why them?
The first band that got me off? Oh you know I’m going to tell you. A band called Skin Deep in Atlanta, Georgia. I saw them at the club Roxy and I tell you, you have to look them up, they were great. The Roxy has a spiral staircase and I remember the singer coming down and I remember he was so cool. He had this pirate shirt on and this long black hair. I was like, man, this is like Prince’s cousin or something (laughs). But they really amazed me. The bass player went on to do great things. He’s the lead singer for a band called Fusebox, a Christian rock band that’s pretty big, and his name is Bill Buchanan, and he’s the lead singer and guitar player. But Skin Deep, you know, that was a band that really was like WOW; besides the obvious like Ozzy Osbourne, Thin Lizzy and Jimi Hendrix and stuff like that, but that was like the first band that I saw that I was like, Oh my God, they’re great. At that time I had to be like seventeen and I was ready. Right after that I had a band and Lee Rakes was in the band with me and he was actually the guy that started with me, Morgan, John and Vinnie. He was my guitar player from Body & Soul.
And that was your first band?
Yeah, it was a funk band. We were rocking, man. We were playing with bands like Mother’s Finest, which was a very big band, best in the world for awhile there. But we had a really good time and Vinnie and them would come out to see me play and then I would go see Vinnie and them in like Snake Nation and their band, and John was in a band called the Piece Dogs with Energy Records in New York, which was incredible … that was so long ago. He used to sing this song called, (singing) “They were the worst” (laughs). I’m sorry, (singing) “We were the worst” (laughs)
Do you remember the first concert that you went to?
Oh my God, the first concert I went to was, now this is the way things change a lot in my life compared to the guys in the band. My first concert was New Edition and Al B Sure at the Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee (laughs). It was awesome, let me tell you. It was rocking. I thought Al B Sure was crazy. He ran on the stage and he had like fifty cops run him on stage, well it was security guards dressed like cops, but I was like, what is going on with this guy? But it was a grand entrance. It was fun. I was probably like twelve.
Do you remember the first song that you ever wrote?
Well, no, but maybe one that really meant something really cool that we did was “Bitch”. It was on our first album, a million years ago.
Do you remember your first time performing in front of an audience?
It was in grade school, we did choir and all this stuff, but the first time I ever got in front of an audience that screamed and I thought oh man this is crazy, was in the eighth grade talent show and we had a dance routine, we had a rap song we’d made up and we danced, had white pants; remember how you used to roll your pants down at the bottom real tight, for whatever reason we did that I don’t remember (laughs) but that was what was cool (laughs). And we rocked it and the kids screamed and I remember the girls screaming and the guys screaming. I was like, this is what I got to do, man. My parents have it on video, it’s great (laughs).
Do you remember the first real rock star that you met?
Hmm, I would say Lemmy from Motorhead. Yeah, I got to hang out with him several times in the past. He showed up for a show while I was at the Barfly in London. We were in this little bitty dressing room that is smaller than the back lounge of our tour bus. He sat beside me and said (in Lemmy accent), “I really like this band and don’t you f it up” (laughs). Then Lemmy hung out for a long time. We even did that song …. What song is that? The Motorhead song? It was Ozzfest. Well, we had a great time and hung out and I remember being over in London and he saw Alice Cooper and he was (in Lemmy accent), “I want you to meet my friend Alice” and I’m like, “What !!” (laughs). So I met him over there. That was cool.
What is your all-time favorite album and what makes it so special?
I don’t know, there is so many favorites. The Best Of Stevie Wonder is one of my favorites. I listen to so many different types of music: country, R&B. Nowadays I just listen to so many different things from Iheartradio on satellite to certain songs that I listen to over and over again. Makes the guys really upset but (laughs) but it’s my ritual.
Most memorable moment on stage?
Who would you say has been your biggest influence as a musician and why?
My dad. I don’t know, for him being so wise.
So what’s next for Sevendust? Is a new album in the works?
We’re trying to figure that stuff out right now. So much stuff has been going on. Not too long ago being in Australia for Soundwave and then turning around and going back and doing Download and Rock On The Range and then getting back here. AHHHH (laughs) It’s been crazy … That’s what’s kept us really busy and it’s been great, you know, to get out there and to be in front of these crowds and the Disturbed tour was great and just things we had to make sure to make time to do and have worked out great for us. But yeah, that’s in the works right now actually. We’ll be winding down after this tour and then start writing again. The guys have been doing things right now, coming up with ideas, kind of taking our time … We just play every day of our existence (laughs).
Coming up in next week’s installment, old friends Bobby Schneck of Slash’s band and George Potsos of Devon Allman’s Honeytribe talk about their roots in rock & roll.