Current Home: Houston
Musical Influences: Loretta Lynn, Connie Smith, Tammy Wynette, George Jones, Ronnie Milsap, Conway Twitty
Artist Bio: You'll hear a lot of musicians say that they were surrounded by country music when growing up. But few can say it and mean it as literally as Amber Digby can. When she was born, her father, Dennis Digby, had just left his job as road manager and bassist for Cal Smith to start playing bass for Loretta Lynn. Whole growing up, she'd go on the road with her dad, ride the band bus (the one used in "Coal Miner's Daughter") and watch the shows from the side of the stage. Meanwhile, her mom, Donna, was a backup singer for Connie Smith, a slot she relinquished when Amber was two, and she later went to work for Ronnie Milsap Enterprises. Amber's uncle is well-established country artist Darrell McCall, and her aunt Diane McCall had her own solo career in the '60s and also worked with Charlie Louvin. The youngest McCall, Amber's Uncle Dennis, played bass for Barbara Mandrell in the '70s. And when Donna remarried when Amber was nine, the groom was legendary steel player Dicky Overbey, who was in Milsap's band at the time and who had played with the likes of Faron Young, Johnny Bush, Sammi Smith, Connie Smith and Hank Williams, Jr.
"I was able to witness and grow into being a part of the camaraderie among the pickers and artists. It was like having family and friends around everywhere, and they were all involved in country music," Digby says of those years. "Those childhood experiences definitely influenced who I am today."
So, when it was time for Amber to start performing, she, of course, started making speed metal records. Okay, just kidding. Her three releases ("Music from the Honky Tonks," "Here Come the Teardrops" and the brand new "Passion, Pride, & What Might Have Been") are as pure country as anything you'll find in the '00s.
CST's Take: True-to-her-roots country music, with a voice and a presence that deserve the expert veteran accompaniment on the record and on the road.
Country Standard Time: Did you have a rebellion period and then return to the country-music fold, or have you never left?
Amber Digby: I wouldn't say I had a rebellion. I was a typical teen in that I went to punk rock or alternative rock concerts with my friends. And as a teen, I listened to that type of music more, but simultaneously still going on the road with my dad and watching Loretta's shows. I never really knew country music was what I wanted to do until I was about 16. Even then I was still listening to other genres of music.
CST: In addition to your success in the U.S., you have a huge following in Europe, and you've performed all over the world. What do audiences have in common no matter where you go, and what are some of the big differences between the audiences in the U.S. and elsewhere?
AD: Audiences in the U.S. and Europe love the old-school country music, and they really love to dance. But, the difference is in Europe there is no separation of old country and crossover country. The two are able to co-exist, believe it or not. For instance, the same audience that likes the kind of country Miranda Lambert or Carrie Underwood does seems to be just as interested and open to hearing the type of music I do. That kind of co-existence hasn't occurred here in the U.S., yet. At least, I haven't seen it.
CST: Can you talk about those who play on "Passion, Pride, & What Might Have Been"? For starters, having a pedal steel legend (who also happens to be your stepfather) in the band must be awfully nice on a couple levels. And how about the gentleman who has such nice things to say in the liner notes....
AD: It's awesome having Dicky Overbey playing steel guitar on my albums. He plays with us live, as well. He's not just an incredible player, but he holds a passion for music that cannot be measured. He's such a musical inspiration.
I had a great group of pickers on this record. I also had a couple of other steel players: Dave Biller, who put the cool and funky break on Deep As Your Pocket, and Rick Price, another seasoned picker who worked his magic on How You Drink the Wine and Love Is The Foundation. Jake Hooker, the best upright bass player in Texas. Damian O'Grady, a very talented piano player, who I'm proud to say loves Pig Robbins. My favorite drummer, the most dynamic country drummer I know, Tom Lewis, brought the perfect touch to this album. Reggie Rueffer, my favorite fiddle player, brought the emotion and the freshness this record needed. My wonderful husband, Randy Lindley, the most tasteful guitar player...ever, added his magic to the project as well as playing the rhythm guitar and tic-tac to give the album the "phat" sound. Randy also co-produced along with me and Justin Trevino. When you have Justin as a producer on a country record, you can't go wrong. He's got an amazing ear for what country is supposed to sound like.
Having liner notes from Ronnie Milsap is a dream come true. He is the artist who influenced me the most, musically. His vocal abilities are so astounding. He can sing anything, really, and has been smart enough to not limit himself in his career. I find that most inspiring. Of all the ones who think they can do it all, he really can if he wants to. He's extremely passionate about music. It really is special to him. In a business that seems shallow at times, that's refreshing.
CST: It's a bit staggering when you think of how vast the country music catalog is. With that in mind, where did you start when identifying songs to record for "Passion, Pride, & What Might Have Been"? In the songwriting credits, there are some of the biggest names in the country music universe - Buck Owens, Loretta Lynn, Conway Twitty, Johnny Paycheck - as well as names that won't ring many bells. It's a nice, and interesting, blend.
AD: I'm always listening to songs and looking for songs. I already know who my favorite artists are, but sometimes I find a gem from someone I never really listen to. My husband, Randy, has a vast country music collection, so he's always finding stuff for me, too. I'm also looking for original songs and writing some of my own, too. The timing wasn't right as far as adding my own compositions or other originals to this project, and I'm not going to add an original song just for the sake of having an original. If I'm not knocked out, it's not going on my project. With that said, I do love a mixture, and I think once I start putting more original stuff on my albums, the blend will get even more interesting. That's what I'm going for anyway.
CST: On a related note, how do you approach interpreting a song that many listeners are familiar with? Do you say "I'm going to put my own stamp on this?" Or, on the contrary, is there a sense that you need to show reverence?
AD: The familiar songs I do are ones that I truly love. It really depends on the song as to what I might do differently or want to change. Some songs may be great vocally, but the instrumentation is lacking, so I'll choose to have different instruments play lead lines than what's on the record. Or maybe the music is awesome on a record, but I'll change the phrasing in the song or do a little something different with the melody than what was originally recorded. Then there are some songs I just don't want to change at all. They have a "magic" sound that I want to try and keep.
CST: Okay, here's the one semi-ridiculous question: you're on a bill with 25 other singers, and there's only time for everybody to perform just one song. Which song are you going to do and why?
AD: It would most likely be a ballad because I feel ballads are my strength. Currently, the song I would choose to sing, if I had to pick just one, would be Bitter They Are, Harder They Fall written by Larry Gatlin. I had recorded it on my previous record, "Here Come the Teardrops." That song speaks to me because I've felt that kind of sadness and loneliness. There was a time in my life when I told someone to leave me alone - and they did. Many people relate to this song, and I get lots of special requests to sing it.