Raised in a music loving family it was only natural that Lisa began experimenting with various instruments to try to play along with the music she loved from her parents’ record player. Lisa bought an upright bass and learned to play it in order to join Vintage Country band ‘The Reedy Buzzards’ as their powerful harmonies struck something deep within her. She then honed her bass slappin’ skill in Classic Country & Rockabilly band ‘Texas ‘55′ and played various instruments in an eclectic mix of Bluegrass, Classic Country, and Swedish Folk bands in Wisconsin. She used her ability to teach bass, guitar, mandolin, banjo, and fiddle to bring bluegrass music into school orchestra programs. In 2005 her lifelong dream came true when she was asked to join ‘The Tennessee Three’ (guys who backed up Johnny Cash - Bob Wootton and WS Holland) as their upright bass player. Since then she is working in recording studios, teaching private music lessons, working in the business side of the music industry and touring as much as she can. You can tell this hard working gal enjoys sharing the music within her as she grins, swings, dances her way through every show. She currently lives near Nashville, Tennessee. Please visit http://www.lisahorngren.com for more information.
Little more fun background on how I learned to play the bass to join The Reedy Buzzards band:
I got this call from Tom Schwark - a wonderful musician I admire in the greater Milwaukee, Wisconsin area and beyond. He was going to be playing and singing in a new trio at Daily’s Bakery on the East Side. Ruth Werner and husband Dean and Tom would be the trio. I had just met Ruth and Dean at a jam and enjoyed their merry music making and thought this might be a nice treat to hear what they’ve come up with. I get there and they are already playing and singing. My jaw dropped as my ears went crazy, so I had to get a seat very close to THIS! The harmonies, the delicate and intense picking were amazing. I mean amazing. This group’s got something. It went straight to my inner core. After the show I probably bubbled out some nice things to say but all the time I’m thinking I gotta hear this band every time they play. I mean every time!
I didn’t sleep a wink that night. I started to think how it was going to be to try to hear them play every time and thought, what if I was busy in some other band I was in and miss them. That’d be horrible! So I devised a plan to present to them, that I should be in their band. They had 2 guitars and a mandolin. Sometimes Tom would pick up the fiddle and Dean would put his guitar down (lead guitar) and pick up his mandolin. Nice change-ups. Ok so they didn’t have a bass. That should be easy, as I already play guitar and the bass is just the bottom 4 strings of a guitar, right? Riiiiiight. I waited until an appropriate time the next morning and called Tommy, told him they needed a bass player, and it should be me cuz I’m their best fan. He promptly informed me that they don’t make much money and liked their trio as a trio. Well for the next month or so I kept seeing them and bothering them with this idea. Finally on the Saturday of Bill Monroe’s Bean Blossom Bluegrass festival Ruthie told me they talked it over and they’ll try me out on bass and by the way, their next show is next Saturday. Am I free for that and can I make practice that Thursday? I said yes to both and was soooooooooooo excited! Now I was also apprehensive. I didn’t own a bass and barely knew how to play one, though I thought it should be sort of like the guitar, the technique would be vastly different but I’d get there, so I thought!
This was before cell phones so that meant I had to wait to call my friend, whom I thought might be selling his bass soon. I got delayed and didn’t get home until too late Sunday night and couldn’t call him. I had to wait until he got home from work Monday. When he answered and I bubbled out with ‘would you sell your bass to me’, he had to stop to think. I knew he was thinking of really getting into the fiddle and not playing bass much and I did my best to try to convince him of that. He finally said he’d sell it. I asked how much (getting more nervous as I couldn’t afford a really expensive anything). He told me the price and I breathed a thankful sigh of relief. “Can I pick it up tonight?” I ask. He was too tired. Rats! I’m thinking of the practice on Thursday looming soon! So Tuesday after work I camp out in front of his house waiting until he got home late from work! Ugh! But I got it and am sooooooooo excited I ran out of steam and energy and didn’t practice that night. Oh no - only one more night to practice before their practice. So Wednesday I noodled around a bit on it to get the distance between the notes (no frets!) in my noggin and my left hand and hoped for the best come Thursday.
At practice I was terrible and they played in unfamiliar to me keys like Eb and F and others not normal to the Bluegrass picking gal I was. But I taped the practice and told them I’d have the songs down by Saturday. Thankfully they somehow trusted me and I practiced hard and was ready for Saturday’s show. They turned to me after that and said they’d never want to play without a bass player again. That felt so good because I truly believed in the sound, the rich harmonies of Tom and Ruth with Dean singing the 3rd harmony once in a while and the strong picking they did, as well.
I’ve gotten so much experience from that group. I learned the patience of getting solid arrangements down even if it takes a year or more for one song, the importance of phrasing (timing in vocals and instrumental hand-offs) and the right key for the vocals to really soar in power and texture. I learned about the business end of things for bands and how it drags ya down but once on stage all that hard work melts and the music soothes all that when you get the powerful energy exchanges an audience give you and you give an audience. Nothing more powerful than that! Whew! I also learned more about microphones (we sang and played around a single microphone the old time way) and sound for different venues. I learned the importance of dressing for the band’s “look” (which for The Reedy Buzzards was 1940s dresses/shoes and ties for the guys to reflect the music time period we were honoring in our performances) and for the audience. My musical influences had all dressed up for their shows and I carry that to this day, the best I can. I feel if someone pays money to watch our band, I’d better give them the best show I can and dress the part in honor of them being there.
Anyway… that’s how I came to play the upright bass!
Country Music & Dance in Scotland (by Alex Birnie) Dec ‘09/Jan ‘10 Review of Whitehall Theatre Tennessee Three show in Dundee, Scotland
“… bass-fiddle player par excellence Lisa Horngren…”
Medicine Hat News, 2008
“… The five-piece outfit is steeped in family values and history, as Bob Wootton took the stage with his wife Vicky and daughter Scarlett, along with drummer Rodney Powell and bass playing extraordinaire Lisa Horngren.
Props to the fantastic styling of the bass player, Horngren really had the audiences (sic) toe-tapping in their seats. …”
- Medicine Hat News
Tennessee Three keep Cash’s torch burning brightly
.By Peter Rusland
News Leader Pictorial
Apr 25 2007
The pair of rockabilly hall of famers was nicely accompanied by guitar-slinging singers Vicky Wootton and Scarlett, plus upright bass ace Lisa Horngren.
Toronto NOW Magazine’s archives -
TENNESSEE THREE at Lee’s Palace,
… lively stand-up bass player Lisa Horngren rounded out the combo.
Nashville Now and Then - March 2008
by Barry Barnes
”…This trio (Adam Pope and The Rebel Roots) is a fantastic blend of personalities and musicians. Elaine Frizzell is a guitar great with influences like Joe Maphis and Merle Travis; Lisa Horngren plays an amazing upright bass, so good she traveled with The Tennessee Three, Johnny Cash’s former backing band; and Adam Pope is the voice, rhythm, and next big thing to hit this town.”
After recording a high-powered Rockabilly Session for Jonah Kraut’s “Boppin’ The Blues” CD at Cowboy Jack Clement’s Recording Studio with Fergie (David Ferguson) at the engineering helm -
Lisa : “Hey Fergie, on a scale from zero to Nashville, how would you rate my bass playing?”
Fergie: “Girl, you’re Memphis!”