For Amber Digby, Country Music Is A Family Affair
Earlier this year, country singer Amber Digby teamed up with Justin Trevino to release a duet album brimming with old and soon-to-be classics. Titled Keeping Up Appearances, highlights include the Jack Greene-Jeannie Seely hit “Wish I Didn’t Have To Miss You,” Loretta Lynn & Conway Twitty’s “Lead Me On” and “After The Fire Is Gone.”
In this interview with Paul W. Dennis, Mrs. Digby talks about collaborating with the multi-talented Trevino, her musical family, and her foray into songwriting.
Yes, Justin and I have been working together for a long time. I probably met him when I was about 17 and really dug what he was doing musically down here in Texas–sticking with the traditional country music. We hit it off right off the bat, he’s a tremendous talent, not just as a singer but as a producer. He suggested that I cut an album, and I did Music From The Honky Tonks. Things just kind of snowballed from there. We’ve done a lot of shows together over the years and I’ve done a lot of harmony work on his records and on records he’s produced for other artists. We decided several years ago to do a duet record but it took a few years to make that a reality, but we finally did.
I understand that you come from a very musical family, and have an aunt and an uncle who are quite active in the music business.
I do, my uncle is Darrell McCall and his wife is Mona. They both sing and play music and record for Heart of Texas records.
Which one is the blood relation to you?
Darrell, he is my mom’s older brother. My mom has been in the music business for many years. She sang harmony for Connie Smith. My father is in the music business; he still lives in Nashville. He played with Loretta Lynn for a long time–almost 20 years. I’ve kind of grown up in the music business, among musicians.
It’s been very few years since you started recording. I have your first album here, Music From The Honky Tonks, I’d guess it came out six or seven years ago.
Music From The Honky Tonks has been out almost 10 years
Has it been that long? My goodness, how time flies. I know that one of the things I’ve liked about your albums is that you do a lot of covers of older material, but you make some unusual song selections, covering lesser-known songs and not just the usual suspects.
Yes, I do that on purpose. For example, there’s been so many people that have recorded “Heartaches By The Number.” I love the song, but wouldn’t record it myself since it’s been recorded too many times. I purposely choose more obscure covers, if at all possible. There are a lot of people out there like my husband and I who are out there performing the traditional songs, and it’s hard to pick classic material that hasn’t been heard too often. I also have gotten into songwriting the last few years, so on my last album I had several songs that I’ve written. I collaborate with a lot of people so I will have albums in the future that will contain more original material.
You mentioned your mom and dad both being in the music business. What are their names?
Dennis Digby and Donna Overbey. She remarried Dickie Overbey. He’s a steel guitar player and plays in my band.
I’ve seen his name on a number of recordings.
He’s a legendary steel player, he’s played for Connie Smith, Hank Williams, Jr. and many others. He’s played on a lot of records; he’s also a songwriter. George Jones has cut some of his songs and he is being inducted into the International Steel Guitar Hall of Fame this year. He’s a heavyweight as far as musicians are concerned.
When you were growing up, who were your favorite artists?
I’d have to say Ronnie Milsap, Loretta Lynn, George Jones. My tastes vary as far as music goes, but for country music it’s traditional artists. Ronnie Milsap is number one, Loretta, George, Tammy Wynette.
You wrote several of the songs on your last solo album. Why don’t you tell us about them.
I wrote three songs on my newest solo project. One of them is titled “Soul Survivor.” It’s kind of a three and half minute story about what happened to me in the last decade. Although I’m young, I’ve been through quite a bit for my age. I got out of a really bad situation, so I wrote “Soul Survivor” with my uncle Dennis McCall. There’s another song called “Lie To Him” that Justin Trevino helped to finish. It’s just a fun shuffle that I brought to Justin and asked him, “Hey, you want to help me finish this?” The rest is history.
Then the other song I wrote with a good friend of mine, Nashville singer songwriter Danni Flowers from Nashville. She’s young and she is a really big talent. She loves country music and it is really cool to meet someone in my age group that digs what I dig. We wrote a song together called “After It Breaks” which was a song I started a few years ago. I brought it to her attention, and we finished it together. I think it turned out to be a great song.
Indeed it did. I noticed that you did not have any self-penned material in your first three albums so are you just beginning to branch out in this area?
I’ve been going to Nashville and writing with different people for the last year or so and it’s taught me a lot. It has really proved to me that I have a knack for songwriting. I’ve been writing songs for a long time, but never brought them into the open thinking they weren’t very good. Once I started collaborating with people, I found that they wanted to keep collaborating. I’ve written about 20 songs in the last year, so it’s doing well for me. I’ve done original material on past albums, but nothing I’d written myself, so you’ll see more of my own song writing on subsequent albums. My cousin Guyanne McCall has written several songs I’ve recorded but it’s not like recording your own material.
Speaking of your cousin Guyanne, she wrote “Weak In The Knees” which you had on the Here Come The Teardrops album. I believe she co-wrote that with Justin Trevino. That’s one of my favorite songs on that album.
Thank you. When she played the song for me I told her it was an awesome song and I had to record it. It’s one of my favorites on the album, too.
Did you have any favorite songs when you were growing up?
Wow, it’s hard for me to say that there’s one song. When it comes to Loretta Lynn, there’s a song she did in 1980 called “A Picture of Us On My Mind.”
I remember the song.
It was a waltz, it was a Top 5 hit in 1980, but it’s really country and really good. A lot of her stuff I really love–you really can’t go wrong with Loretta Lynn.
With George Jones I really loved the Epic stuff like “The Door,” the stuff Billy Sherrill produced. Also the stuff with Tammy Wynette. “The Girl That Waits On Tables” by Ronnie Milsap is one of my favorites, also “Don’t You Ever Get Tired (Of Hurting Me).” He also did a song called “I Never Expected To See You” that he released in 1989 on his Stranger Things Have Happened album. That’s one of my favorites as far as his later records were concerned, but I love all of the older stuff, like “It Was Almost Like A Song.”
You had a song on Passion, Pride and What Might Have Been that, to be honest, I was quite surprised to see that you had covered, an Aubrey Mayhew/Johnny Paycheck tune called “We’re The Kind of People That Make The Jukebox Play.” As I recall, it was an album track on his 1966 album The Lovin’ Machine. Where did you come across that song?
Actually, my husband came across that song. I don’t know how he found it but he played it for me on his computer, just after we got married. He said I should sing it. The more I listened to it the more I wanted to sing it and record it. You can thank my husband for that song.
Have you ever recorded any of the songs that your uncle, Darrell McCall, had hits with?
It’s funny that you bring that up. I haven’t but there are several that I really love and would like to record someday. One is “Hurry Up” and the other is “Hello World.” Not too long ago I told my husband that I really want to record those two songs. Darrell is on my list of singers to cover.
The Justin Trevino duets album has just come out, so it will be a while before you release another album. Any particular future projects on the drawing board?
I’ve got a duet I recorded with Mark Chesnutt that is on his recent “outlaw” themed album–“I’ve Got A Couple More Years On You Baby,” a song Waylon and Jessie recorded. That album was produced by Pete Anderson, who produced many of Dwight Yoakam’s albums such as Guitars, Cadillacs. It was exciting to duet with Mark, who was one of my favorites.
Do you have any particular artists with whom you’d like to record duets, besides Justin Trevino?
George Jones and Vince Gill (laughs).
Okay, that’s a list I might have expected you to say. You said your husband also is a performer artist.
Yes, he is a guitar player and he does a lot of session work and plays on my records. He comes from a bluegrass background and used to work the road with a lot of bluegrass bands, but he’s in country now. He actually fronts my band for me, sings harmony and does all kinds of stuff, he is a really talented guy.
Any possibility that you might release a live album?
Actually, we are talking about doing a live album next, rather than a studio album. We are in the preliminary stages, deciding where to do it. That’s been the idea recently–that way people can hear what my actual show and my actual band sound like–that would be cool.
Do you use any of your band members in your recordings?
I use my husband Randy [Lindley]. He plays lead guitar, rhythm guitar and sometimes sings harmony on my my records, and he sang two duets with me on my Another Way To Live album. My piano player Damien O’Grady played piano on my Passion, Pride and What Might Have Been album. I definitely use my drummer Tom Lewis; he’s played for many different people. He’s a very talented drummer, probably my very favorite drummer of all time.
Is Houston still a hotbed of country music?
No it’s not–I wish it was. There are still a few venues here that cater to the kind of country music that I do. There’s still a lot of clubs that do Top 40 country music, but as far as the traditional stuff, it’s few and far between. We have a lot of fans here, but Houston is such a melting pot that country is not one of the main genres any more.
Who are some of the younger artists that you enjoy hearing?
Interesting, no one has ever asked me this question before. I’m putting myself out there on this one (laughing).
I really like Sarah Buxton, she’s a good songwriter and singer. I got to hear her on the Opry this year–she’s really a good singer. I like Lady Antebellum, I think they are really nice and they are talented. I’m not really that familiar with a lot of the newer artists. I like Miranda Lambert–she is who she is and I love her for that–she’s a talented singer/songwriter.
I have one last question for you. What do you see yourself doing in the next five years?
Hopefully, expanding my audience a lot more and doing more touring across the United States. We’ll still do tours overseas, but I want to play the eastern US so I can reach more of our fans. I’d like to continue making a living playing music, that and I still want to be writing songs, cutting my own songs and having other people cut my songs.
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