Growing up, Laura Walker looked up to her brother and dreamed of singing in his band when she got old enough.
She eventually discovered that her voice didn't quite fit with the type of rock 'n' roll that her brother was fond of.
"My brother was doing Lynyrd Skynyrd and Led Zeppelin, and I'm not much of a screecher," she said. "My dream was to be in his band, but when I got old enough, I just couldn't do it."
Then she started dating a man who gave her a Doc Watson tape. That introduction to bluegrass music changed her life, she said. She's been singing bluegrass for nearly 30 years, the last 15 or so with The Dismembered Tennesseans, for whom she also plays bass.
Q: Did you ever sing in a rock band?
A: No. I fell in love with bluegrass and acoustic music. I really love the tone and the overall feel.
Q: What was your first introduction to bluegrass?
A: My boyfriend at the time, who became my second husband, made me a tape of Doc Watson music. I just loved that. The next one he gave me was Tony Rice, and that was all she wrote.
Q: How long was it before you were singing bluegrass in public?
A: About a year or two. My husband pushed me onstage. It was the first time I'd ever sung with a microphone.
Name: Laura Walker.
Hometown: Chickamauga, Ga.
Education: Gordon Lee High School.
Vocation: Surgery coordinator for a large OB-GYN office.
Bands: Dismembered Tennesseans, Sistren, Timber Fox.
Movie: "'Lonesome Dove' is my all-time favorite, buy my new favorite is 'Winter's Bone' because my boyfriend, Daniel Parkin, wrote 'Palm of His Hand,' which is on the soundtrack.
Authors: David Baldacci, Janet Evanovich, James Patterson, Stephen King.
Performer: Tim O'Brien.
Favorite expression: "Cindy [Pinion] and I had a friend who was getting a divorce. She thought he was really good-looking, and we didn't share that opinion. [Pinion's] mom said, 'Shoot, I'd run over him getting to a billy goat.' She had all kinds of sayings, but I liked that one best."
Q: How old were you?
A: 20 or 21.
Q: How did it go?
A: It went fine. People clapped.
Q: Did you ever get to meet Tony Rice?
A: Yes I did. Several times. In fact, I got to play the Clarence White guitar. White was his mentor, and we were in [Rice's] dressing room, and he said, 'Here, hold this.' For five minutes I just stood there. I didn't know what to do.
Tony Rice was my idol. The first time I saw him, I got in line and had him sign my T-shirt. Then I bought an album and got back in line, and he signed that, too. Then I got back in line, and he signed my ticket. Then I got all my friend's tickets and got back in line, and he signed them.
When I like something, I'm pretty enthusiastic about it.
Q: Tell me about playing with the Tennesseans.
A: It has been a wonderful experience. They call me the bluegrass princess. I had only played in local bands in bars. I went from 0 to 60 in nuthin' flat. Their bass player couldn't make a gig, so they asked me. I was not near the musician then that I am now.
It's been such a blessing. I've played the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. I've played Nightfall and Riverbend. The guys are wonderful and so funny.
Even to this day, every minute I spend with Fletcher [Bright] and the rest of the band is just like a gift.
Q: Do you have a favorite moment performing with the band?
A: We played Riverbend and Frank [McDonald] was still alive. We opened for Emmylou Harris on the big stage. That was a 'wow' moment.
Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...
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