INTRODUCING New Indie Artist-Jay Lankford
After more than four decades of performing before audiences in venues large and small, even as he deals with a disease that’s robbed him of his singing voice and thrown off his timing, Jay Lankford continues to work in a profession that’s almost as old as music itself.
Lankford is a sideman. Although he’s led his own bands over the years and spent plenty of time in front of a microphone, that’s how he sees himself – as one of those backup musicians who, he says, “make the star shine a little bit brighter.”
Lankford, who plays guitar, bass and keyboards, feels so strongly about sidemen that he’s written a new novel, much of it drawn from his own experiences. In the self-published Sideman, he tells the story of a kid from Stroud named Jason James, whose childhood dreams of playing the Grand Ol’ Opry and youthful days of performing Merle Haggard tunes along with rock music at high school proms and teen dances lead to a life as a professional traveling country musician.
Writing the book, Lankford says, was therapy for him after he left the road in the late ’90s. He also thought it was important to present a view of life from the edge of the spotlight rather than its center, as is usually the case.
“Sidemen don’t make the money the stars make, and that’s fine. The stars deserve it. But sidemen deserve a little credit, too, because they’re the ones that make it happen,” he says. “I’d talked to a lot of ’em throughout the years and I had a lot of stories. Jason James is kind of composed of a lot of the sidemen besides myself. It’s not just about my experiences; it’s everybody else’s, too.”
Still, Lankford adds that the first part of the book is “extremely close” to his life as a music-loving kid growing up in Stroud. That’s true right from the opening scene, a nice evocation of small-town Oklahoma life in the ’60s as Jason’s 9-year-old cousin, Kate, brings him to the stage of the Opry, which is in fact the top of the storm cellar in his family’s backyard. Some 300 pages later, after lots of highs and a few harrowing lows, a highly successful Jason James reflects on his life as a top sideman and hit songwriter, thanking God for his blessings.