For their first Sunday show at the Little Red Hen, a classic country bar in Seattle’s Green Lake neighborhood, the Souvenirs played to an audience of six — ten if you count the employees.
But something happened on the way to their second gig there. In one week’s time, they opened for the Derailers and Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys at two other clubs. The next time the Souvenirs took the stage, the doors were flying off the Hen.
“The first Sunday night, the average age was 60,” recalls lead singer and songwriter Lucky Lawrence. “The second Sunday it was packed out with hipsters.” The crowds were like the Souvenirs’ sound: modern yet vintage, country but pop, old and young.
It all seemed to happen quickly. But for the band members — Lawrence, bassist Buck Edwards, drummer Boots Kutz, and guitarist Mo (just Mo) — it took forever to find a group that gelled like this one. And it happened largely by accident. Fans of pop acts such as the Beatles, Squeeze and Elvis Costello, they often gathered for “pickin’ ‘n’ drinkin’” sessions to play more traditional tunes.
“We all were exposed to country music through our folks, and we all had loads of country on vinyl,” says Lawrence. “But we were all playing pop despite our love for twang. When we got together to drink and play old country songs, I found I enjoyed myself more playing honky-tonk than trying to be serious. The sadness of a Ray Price song just gripped me by the spine, and I decided that’s the music I wanted to write. I used to try to be clever and visual with my lyrics. Now I’m just honest.”
The Souvenirs’ debut on Will Records, King Of Heartache, fires up a Bakersfield dozen of Lawrence originals (save one Faron Young cover) that can go from ’50s classic to ’90s contemporary in a Nashville minute. Lawrence leads the way, his soothing pipes combining the airiness of Roy Orbison (especially on the title track) and the range of Marty Robbins. The Souvenirs’ sound is modernized through Mo’s tasty Telecaster licks, while the pedal steel of Don Pawlak adds the perfect seasoning.
“He’s the pedal steel man,” says Lawrence. “You ask anywhere in town about pedal steel players and his name comes up. At first he wasn’t officially in the band, and he was charging us $50 per night. We were getting $25 as a band, so I was paying him $25 out of my pocket.”
Lawrence was unsure how far Pawlak would go with the Souvenirs. Then one night at the Little Red Hen, after performing to a wall-to-wall audience, he remembers the two loading up the van and taking a seat at the bar. “Suddenly Don says, ‘I don’t know what’s happened since the last show, but this band is going somewhere. I want aboard.’”