Lee Newton Talks Songwriting, Randy Travis, and Visiting Tootsie’s With Southern Rock Royalty

With an EP, three albums and a slew of singles on her resume, Lee Newton’s name as a singer and songwriter has become a familiar one in the South. A multiple Josie Music Awards winner, and a nominee again this year, she’s been writing songs for the next album she’s recording in Nashville. She called in to talk to the Nashville Music Guide in the middle of a whirlwind week which saw her working on new material while marrying singer-songwriter Dale Houston at the Hideaway Farm, Johnny Cash’s onetime getaway, west of Nashville in Bon Aqua.

“Right now I’m working on a new full-length original album that I hope will be out by late fall,” she said. “I record at Omni in Nashville, with my producer Bill McDermott.” Newton said that whether it’s a solo composition or a co-write, she tries to base her songs on real life.

“My songs are autobiographical,” she said. “My song Carolina, for instance, is about how I was raised, my dad was a cab driver, it’s sort of a tribute to my mom and dad who are no longer with us. He died when I was 11, but he started teaching me how to play guitar when I was seven. I love Southern rock and blues, but I really love traditional country, because that’s what I was raised on.”

Newton also recently released a 13-song Gospel album, Crossroads, produced by McDermott and Larry Strickland (the Judds, Elvis Presley). It features performances with legendary singers like Rhonda Vincent, T. Graham Brown, Deborah Allen, and Oak Ridge Boy Joe Bonsall.    

Newton has shared the stage with many notable artists, but one show that will forever be remembered will be her upcoming appearance opening for Randy Travis, with guest vocalist James Dupre singing with Travis’ band, on July 21st in Pigeon Forge. “It’s a huge deal for me,” she said. “When I was a little girl my dad loved Randy Travis, played ‘Diggin’ Up Bones’ all the time. And all these years later I’m getting to open for him. That’s just amazing.”

Newton has countless live shows under her belt, but one place she hasn’t played is downtown Nashville. “I played the cover band circuit for a long time,” she said. “I played drums, guitar, cover songs of every genre. But I never played downtown on Broadway, never had that urge. I played a lot around South Carolina, but it’s just kind of different playing downtown in the clubs in Nashville every night. You kind of lose who you are, I feel.”

She’s certainly no stranger to the downtown area though, and her most memorable experience there has nothing to do with performing. She was working as a backup singer with Deep South Featuring Jimmy Hall, a tribute group that included some of the biggest legends of Southern Rock, including members of Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Outlaws, the Atlanta Rhythm Section and more. Some of those bandmates introduced her to Lower Broadway.

“They’d put together probably the best Southern Rock cover band you’ve ever seen,” she said of Hall and Deep South. “The first time I was ever in downtown Nashville was when I went to Tootsie’s with some members of Skynyrd, went with (drummer) Artimus (Pyle) and (guitarist) Ed King and the two original (background singers) Honkettes, Leslie (Hawkins) and JoJo Billingsley. They showed me around downtown Nashville, showed me where the Ryman was.”

As experienced as she is in various genres, there’s no doubt about how Newton classifies herself. “I do country,” she said. “I’m a country singer. Some of my songs are more inspirational, more uplifting and personal. But I’m all country.”

You can follow her post-nuptial adventures at leenewtonofficial.com.

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