[Interview] Amy LaVere & Will Sexton

Memphis musicians hope return to touring won’t be a rocky road

Amy LaVere and Will Sexton each had a successful musical career before they married eight years ago. The pandemic changed their lives like it has everybody’s, but the couple hope to pick up the pieces as they embark on a month-long trek that includes a stop at the Southgate House Revival on June 2.

Amy LaVere and Will Sexton traveled different paths to Memphis, but if you believe in preordination (and who doesn’t?), it was God’s will that brought them together almost 10 years ago

Just kidding. It was the music.

LaVere has been part of the city’s vibrant scene since the late 1990s. She has released six solo albums and played on a number of collaborations, including “The Wandering” and the “Sisters of the Strawberry Moon” with Luther Dickinson of the North Mississippi Allstars, and Motel Mirrors with John Paul Keith.

She has also been featured on the big screen in “Walk the Line” (she played Wanda Jackson) and “Black Snake Moan.” The latter role led to director Craig Brewer’s television series “$5 Cover” that focused on the lives of Memphis musicians, including Ben Nichols of Lucero, Valerie June and Harlan T. Bobo.

“Yeah, a lot of (people) who were movin’ and shakin’ about that time were suckered into that thing,” LaVere said with a sneer audible over the phone. “They ended up franchising it and the second city they did was Seattle, I think. But it was such a flop, I think it was only available streaming.”

LaVere was in three more projects, but music has been the main focus for the past decade. The couple met while touring, then LaVere hired him to play guitar on “Runaway’s Diary,” her 2014 album produced by Dickinson. They married that year and have collaborated on “Hallelujah, I’m a Dreamer” (2015) and “Painting Blue” (2019).

Sexton grew up in Texas and was an integral of the Austin scene with brother Charlie. He played with such iconic figures as Doug Sahm, Joe Ely, Roky Erickson and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Since moving to Memphis, he has become a key figure in the city’s recording scene, essentially serving as go-to guitarist for producer-engineer Matt Ross-Spang (Margo Price and Jason Isbell among others) and Bible & Tie label owner Bruce Watson at Delta-Sonic Sound Studios.

One of the artists who traveled to Memphis to work with Ross-Spang is Cincinnati’s Arlo McKinley, who became friends with Sexton in and out of the studio

“I made two records with Arlo (2020’s breakout “Die Midwestern” and this year’s “The Mess We’re In”),” Sexton said. “Then Amy and I backed him up at Americanafest when he was in between bands. Then when Travis (Talbert of Northern Kentucky’s Frontier Folk Nebraska) jumped in with Arlo, I would play with them as well when they came through town.”

LaVere and Sexton are in the early stages of a month-long tour, what they hope will be their first uninterrupted venture since the pandemic sidelined them in 2020.

“When we first started touring, we found that we work well together while we’re traveling, so we would go out for five months, we were just gone all the time,” Sexton said. “At some point, I realized that after I moved to Memphis (from Austin) that I never spent much time here because we were on the road all the time.

“We had bought a house and never lived there. So as terrible as the pandemic was on so many levels, I got to live at home for a while.”

While Sexton found a sanctuary (and an income) in his studio work, LaVere is dependent upon touring for money.

“I thought I would be touring forever,” she said. “We go out there and play to 50 or 100 people at a time, I’ve never really busted out above that. It never became huge, but I was able to pay the mortgage the way we were doing it before the pandemic. We were able to pay for a very modest – but comfortable for me – lifestyle by playing music.

“When we tried to go back on the road last summer was when the delta variant hit and a bunch of our gigs were canceled. I was pretty forlorn. I still have pangs of anxiety about whether it’s going to come back where it was for me, whether my career will survive the pandemic.”

LaVere isn’t asking for sympathy or charity, she’s just speaking her mind, which is a charmingly unfiltered experience during a recent conversation. That blunt assessment of each topic is the source of her talent and likely her anxiety about the world today. She built a career with that passion, so don’t bet against her rebuild.



Each week, Bob Hust and Bill Thompson feature the best songs – old and new – from artists they have loved for many years and others they have just discovered. The best songs transport people to a time and place. That’s the foundation of BS&B.

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