By Johnny Griffith
The world we live in is becoming more complex by the day it seems. With technology advancing at breakneck speed, the things that surround us are more capable of automating every aspect of our lives and are, by necessity in most cases, seldom simple. Yet, when it comes to music, even in a landscape dominated by electronic effects, some of the best music being made is a throwback to a much simpler style. These stripped down styles are remnants of what you might have heard 70 or 80 years ago. One of the more talented, and certainly more interesting, of the musical projects in this area is “Lulu and The Black Sheep.”
The Black Sheep is fronted by local artist, Lauren Nichols, who takes the stage name Lulu VanTuckett, Lulu’s husband, Allen Wayne Nichols, and upright bassist Dave Stopani. Lulu was born in Longview, graduating from the Trinity School of Texas with a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree with a focus on communication design and illustration. After college, she undertook a tattoo apprenticeship and has been tattooing in East Texas for 8 years now. A veteran of previous musical projects, The Black Sheep was a return to music after a brief hiatus; the return has been a successful one with old and new fans alike flocking to Lulu’s unique and raw delivery of musical message.
We recently tracked Lulu and The Black Sheep down on the road during a trip to Nashville and were able to get some more info on the talented songstress:
Johnny: You’ve got a lot of irons in the fire these days with work, music, touring, family…what’s a day in the life of Lulu like?
Lulu: My days consist of tattooing, design work, playing shows, and spending time with my husband Allen and our one-eyed chiweenie Rooster Clem Eastwood The First.
Johnny: When did you individually first get into music?
Lulu: I’ve loved music since I was a kid. Growing up my family listened to the Beatles, but I remember as a young teen the first two CD’s I owned were Acid Bath and Beethoven. My taste in music is still pretty diverse. I’ve always loved to sing. When I was young, I’d run around the yard in a tutu and sing about the things I saw around me like I was in some kind of cartoon musical. When I got to college, I taught myself how to play basic guitar to accompany my singing. Not much has changed since then.
Johnny: You’re not new to the music scene in this area, how were the “Black Sheep” born?
Lulu: I wanted something a little more simple with “The Black Sheep” and right now it’s perfect. “The Black Sheep” can be singular or plural, so it can be just my husband Allen accompanying me, or David “Dog House” Stopani on upright bass, or anyone else for that matter. It’s really great for traveling when you can interchange pieces.
Johnny: You’ve got a unique sound that could be described as one part bluegrass, one part outlaw country, one part folk music. In your own words, what are you trying to construct with your sound?
Lulu: Our sound is an organic representation of the music that moves me. My inspiration comes from a wide variety of genres and I simply try to channel the feelings they invoke in me. A lot of the songs I perform are old honky-tonk songs from the 30’s and 40’s. I try to portray what it is that moves me in the song and tell the stories as if they were my own.
Johnny: Are there any unique challenges that come along with playing with your significant other in the same band?
Lulu: Oh yeah, not very often, but occasionally personal emotions find their way on stage with us or in practice. We’re very fortunate that we make such a great team. It’s taken a lot of learning how to reflect and understand our own individual nature to keep from taking things so personally with one another.
Johnny: Who are some of your influences musically?
Lulu: I like 30’s-50’s blues; Ray Charles, Bo Diddley, Fats Domino. I just recently visited Memphis Minnie’s burial site in Walls, Mississippi on one of our tours. It was a very enriching experience. Jake LaBotz is a modern inspiration. I was moved by his music long before meeting him and then he gave me great advice on working with my imperfections and insecurities as a musician. He is a great guy and fantastic musician. Then I have my honky-tonk heroes. Hank III was my introduction to country music I actually liked, which opened me up to Hank Sr and eventually Hank Jr, Waylon Jennings, and Merle Haggard. I also like the old train songs of Jimmie Rodgers and I went through a Cab Calloway phase for a couple of years. Like I said earlier, I have a pretty diverse tastes in music.
Johnny: What has been your best musical memory to this point?
Lulu: This past summer we went to Muddy Roots in Cookeville, Tennessee. We didn’t perform on stage but we camped with several Texas musicians we’d played shows with in the past. We got to meet other musicians and like-minded people from all over the United States as well as other continents. It was definitely a life changing experience for me.
Johnny: How was 2017 for LuLu and The Black Sheep?
Lulu: 2017 has almost been a rebirth for Lulu and The Black Sheep. I took about a 6 month break from music in general to focus on some health issues. In dealing with these issues my mindset has drastically changed and I’ve become more spiritual and enlightened to my place in this universe and what really matters in life. I think before it was as if there was a veil draped over my eyes and I was being held back by my insecurities. Now that it’s been lifted, I feel like I’m able to express myself better and I feel more comfortable getting out and sharing what I have to offer.
Johnny: What’s in store for 2018?
Lulu: Lots of touring for 2018. I’m working on a tour out West for the Spring, then East to Florida in March, and New Mexico in May. I’d be really pleased if we at least have something in the works for Europe by the end of 2018.
You can find LuLu and The Black Sheep at: reverbnation.com/luluvantuckett