Over 50 Years of WTF?
Born in 1968 in Honolulu and raised in the 70's on the overly sunny beaches of PCB, Florida, that boy never did tan very well. That is to say, not at all.
Not much you can do in a seasonal beach town if you expect a sunburn whenever you go out, so music kept a young boy inside playing his guitar pretty much from all of the time around his ninth birthday and thereafter. The summer off 1978, he got his first guitar. He restrung it for the lefty he is and started learning. Within a year, tired of people telling him he played backwards and was hard to teach, and after hearing he would never had a great choice of guitars because left-handed guitars are very hard to find, young Mike left his local music store, hopped on the city bus to go home, and re-strung the guitar right-handed, starting over again, but with a conceptual headstart on playing.
In 1980, he booked and performed his first show with a band of kids 3-4 years older than him, on a borrowed Fender Mustang and Princeton Reverb amp. As a teen, Mike played at churches, malls, amusement parks, schools, parties, parks... showing up at school later and later by his junior year, primarily in time to make his jazz band/performing arts band and choral classes, since music was the only reason he was showing up at all.
That's because, by 1984, Mike Lawson began playing with who knows how many bar bands that lasted a few weeks, months, or even just nights. The drinking age was 19, he could "pass" and, well, nobody much thought to check IDs when you were hauling in music gear through the back entrance. Besides, how could such a young kid know so much "oldies music?"
An early love of real rock and roll from the 1950s, Doo Wop, Rock-A-Billy, and blues on into the psychedelic era of rock's golden ages kept Lawson out of the sun, in his room, deciphering songs and building a wide repertoire of vintage and classic music.
Things were not so happy at home for teenaged Mike. His folks divorcing when he was 14, very little money, no security. Even though a year ahead of himself in high school and attending classes at a local community college, Mike soon got his GED and left out on his own to do what young men stricken with the music bug do.
It was a rough start.
It was while hanging out in the local college radio station in 1987, Lawson found some strange but intriguing records (in particular, “Vermin of the Blues”), by avant garde musician Eugene Chadbourne, whom he soon invited to Florida to do a show with him (to help taunt the local sheriff). Mike never had seen "indie" done like that before.
Around this time, he was getting pretty busy honing his skills and paying his dues several nights a week at any gig he could get. He had a job or two on the side, learned to cook pretty well, even ran a teen disco the summer of 1988. With a day gig hustle here and there, he was always playing gigs at night.
That's what musicians do.
By Sept 1988 he was now living in Pensacola. For a few years, all along the Gulf Coast, he worked playing guitar in a bluegrass band three nights a week, and the rest of the week doing solo acoustic shows of a few original tunes but mostly Dylan, Grateful Dead, blues, folk and other things. He was writing, booking, playing, anything to avoid a real job, and it worked out pretty well.
In 1990, he married his first wife, then three months later, learned he had his first son on the way. He had just released "Underground," a hastily-recorded six-song cassette primitively-made EP on an 8-track cassette recorder, and convinced Eugene to go around the south on a five state, 14-day, 12-city tour.
Great way to cut his teeth, so to speak, during the years he was playing all throughout Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Louisiana at any other college town gig that would take him.
A month after the tour with Eugene, he put together a couple of side bands playing the music of Grateful Dead, on college campuses and clubs,
In March 1991, he moved to Nashville, had his first child June 1991 just six months after his January Winter Acoustic Tour with Will Kimbrough that stretched from Florida to Texas and back,
That's when life started getting even more interesting for him. He jumped into the publishing world: music, software, and ceated some of the first online music community building for record labels via CompuServe, where he interviewed Lou Reed, Thomas Dolby, his pal Bob Welch, and uploaded the industry's first 30 second samples of music for major record labels.
He toured as FOH engineer and road manager/flunky for Tom Wopat. He workedfor Gibson Guitar in marketing, working directly with the USA line for about three years, His work there had him serving artists including Pink Floyd, The Eagles, Scorpions, Aerosmith, Jimmy Page, and too many to mention, really. He developed their first Internet sites.
During this time, he was recording Ticket to Fly, with Jorma Kaukonen, Fred Bogert, Bob Welch, Joe Louis Walker, and other friends. Then he got the invitation to move to San Francisco and start a music and recording book publishing company with MIX Magazine. In San Francisco, one of his heroes, Merl Saunders, began to mentor him after encouraging him to make the move west. The rest of his life was beginning... and here he is.