Women Making Music: Sharon Lewis & Sandy Howard

Making Old Songs Feel New Again

For those who have grown weary of what the music industry now refers to as ‘Commercial Country’ music, a dim shadow of Country and Western music’s former greatness, you’ll be pleased to learn that the founding members of Deep River, Sharon Lewis and Sandy Howard, are successfully making what is considered old, new again. After spending ten years in Nashville chasing dreams, during a time when their more traditional ethic was pushed aside to make way for “rockin’ country” artists and sounds, they landed in WNC and stayed true to their roots.

Sharon Lewis & Sandy Howard

Sharon Lewis & Sandy Howard

The band name itself invokes a deep connection with the gamut of life’s emotion. Whether they’re writing from their own poetic hearts or carefully choosing cover material with touching, compelling melodies and thought-provoking messages about life, love and loss, the band intentionally focuses on classic traditions.

In September of this year, the band was featured on Roger McCoy’s Kiss Country 99 FM radio show where I learned about each member’s early influences. From Loretta Lynn to Paul Butterfield, from The Beatles to Linda Ronstadt, from Elvis to Crystal Gayle, from Memphis Blues to JD Souther, from Waylon and Willie to Jackson Browne; all of these stream in, making compelling and effective statements in their sound as a whole. Make no mistake, its vocal harmony influences like Highway 101, the Eagles, Pure Prairie League and Little Big Town that puts the ‘deep’ in Deep River.

Gerry Brown (pedal steel/dobro/acoustic guitar), Rich Hendricks (lead guitar/acoustic guitar) and versatile drummer, Justin Watt, are self-proclaimed accoutrements to the royal clothes worn by the females holding court on lead vocals: Sharon (bass and vocals), Sandy (guitar and vocals) and Joan D’Entremont (lead and backing vocals). Because each woman possesses a unique and persuasive timbre and tone, their ever-growing audiences are treated to this varied sound, satisfying a wide range of tastes. From one tune to the next, their interpretive vocal style culminates in a rich blend of sweet and savory harmonies, held perfectly in place with stellar musicianship.

Since reforming the band in 2007 with this line up of capable veterans, Sandy and Sharon have steered their boat into the docks of many venues around WNC: Barley’s Taproom, the Feed and Seed, Grove Park Inn, Tupelo Honey Cafe, WNC Mountain State Fair, The Purple Onion and the Saluda Arts and Music Festival. They’ve shared the stage with Vince Gill, and opened for country music star Mark Wills, as well as the “first lady of Bluegrass” Wilma Lee Cooper. They pride themselves on gearing their shows to suit each audience and their flexibility in adjusting to each venue’s unique set up and demands. Therefore, their playlist is extensive and includes Bluegrass, Old Time, Cajun, Swing and Country Blues, Classic Country, Country Folk and Country Rock – All done either for scaled down listening room concerts to full-on dance hall shows.

Accolades come from area notables such as arts editor Alli Marshall from Mountain Xpress: “Deep River evoked both the Saturday sparkle of a well-appointed listening room and the lounge of the Tulsa Oklahoma Holiday Inn. In the very best way: classy and authentic.” And Roger McCoy from Kiss Country 99 FM encourages listeners in this way: “If you like the harmonies of Little Big Town you should see DEEP RIVER in action.” Then from the Jamboree Radio Show, late Bell Buckle, TN resident Charlie Louvin of Louvin Brothers fame told the country vocal group, “I’d like to hear y’all play on the Opry.”

Louvin made his desire known after hearing one of their many compelling, original songs called “Remember Always.” This song was also mentioned specially by other reviewers, as was “Silver Eagle,” a song Lewis and Howard recorded during their Nashville days that received an award and radio air play. Another original, “River Dark and Deep,” with a thicker groove and emphasis on the back beat has also won over critics and audiences.

Let me just say from personal experience, even if you don’t consider yourself a country music fan, it won’t take you long so prepare yourself to fall into the deep end of their river, because this refreshingly traditional group has been voted by local listeners as their favorite Country/Alt Country band on Reverbnation, and they finished 2nd in 2008 as the Mountain Express’ “Best Of” in the same category.

On Saturday, November 7th they return to one of Asheville’s premiere listening rooms, The Altamont Theatre, starting at 7pm where they welcomed a standing room only crowd at their debut show last August. There will be room for dancing and seats for those who plan to come just to listen! “Soaring three-part harmonies and top notch musicianship create a country music stew for your dancing and listening pleasure.”

While they continue to better themselves musically as individuals, and as a committed musical family, the fact that they are all seasoned musicians is not lost on the listener. All the hours and years they’ve spent honing their skills, in and out of their incredibly busy personal lives, is evident from the first chord. Offering thoughtful advice for the young traditional country artist, or any up and coming artist for that matter, each member espouses pearls of wisdom that promise pays offs with great dividends, whether one is pursuing a local, regional, national or international career in music.

First, if your passion is real, you’ll practice. Second, if your intentions are true, you’ll learn to get along with a myriad of players. Third, if your dedication is constant, you’ll learn how to play many different genres. Fourth, if you’re serious, you’ll save money and move to or near a music epi-center such as Nashville, LA or NYC. Fifth, be open to co-writing because doing so allows for emotional growth and maturity. Sixth, if you believe in yourself, you’ll withstand the rejection and critiques. And last but certainly not least, if you respect the gift you’ve been given to play music, and truly love performing and sharing your gift, you’ll humbly and yet confidently swim around and in the Deep River.

www.reverbnation.com/deepriver or www.facebook.com/deepriverasheville
Peggy is a Blues and Jazz vocalist, songwriter, and vocal coach.

Peggy’s November schedule:

Saturday Nov 14th 7pm with Michael Jeffery Stevens The Classic Winesellar, 20 Church Street, Waynesville, NC 28786

Saturday Nov 28th 8pm with Patrick Boland & Zack Page, The Great Hall at Omni Grove Park Inn 290 Macon Avenue, Asheville 28804

Peggy Ratusz
Written by Peggy Ratusz