No waffling in road to Nashville

by Ogi Overman

There is no one like her.

The title is anything but an arrogant boast – Dames is the antithesis of the self-absorbed diva – but it works because she does things that simply aren’t done in Nashville. Fact is, she does things that aren’t done, period.

For starters, artists don’t write letters to the media that go: “Hi, my name is Lisa Dames. I am a 40-year-old housewife and mother of two from Greensboro, North Carolina, trying to make a name for myself in a 20-year-old world, that world being the country music industry…”

While 99.9 percent of women in similar circumstances, even photogenic women with fine voices, would not have the first clue about how to launch a career, Dames took it upon herself to find out. Even as she cherishes her role as wife and mother (which is what the song is actually about), she is pursuing a career that anyone else in her position would only daydream about.

And, against odds that would scare off a riverboat gambler, she is, as her letter implied, making a name for herself. In the city of broken dreams she is making hers come true, not in the conventional way but her own way.

“I’m in the game but I’m playing by my rules,” is how she put it. “I’m not drop-dead gorgeous like Shania, not a genius like Steven Jobs, and certainly not the best singer out there, but I will work my fanny off trying to make people think I am. My whole thing is that I’m average, I’m attainable, there’s nothing about me that’s extraordinary.”

Some, however, would take issue with that assessment. A growing number of folk believe that Dames is extraordinary and have jumped on her bandwagon. One of those is Gary Fly, owner of 36 Waffle Houses in North Carolina. Fly is promoting her by putting both her singles on all his Waffle House jukeboxes and drawing attention to them with posters at the entrance and on the walls and table tents in all the booths. He is also planning a series of meet-and-greets at his restaurants.

“Waffle House, I found out, has the second largest jukebox inventory of any restaurant,” she noted, “and Gary said he wants to roll me out on a national level. He sees this as a great way to launch new artists, and I’m honored that he chose me.”

Another is Sam Matthews, owner of Matthews Music in Jamestown, who stocks not only all the Waffle House jukeboxes but hundreds more.

“Sam is putting me on all his jukeboxes,” said Dames. “He just took it upon himself to do that. That’s the kind of support you can’t put a price tag on.”

Still another is a little mom and pop operation called … Walmart. Dames was asked by a district manager to sing the National Anthem at the grand opening of a High Point store, which led to a meeting with a regional manager, who booked her and her guitarist, Sam Frazier, for an ongoing series of in-store concerts throughout the Southeast.

“He said, ‘I’ve got one hundred fifty stores in the region, how many would you like to do?’ And I said, ‘Oh, how about one hundred fifty?'”

Walmart is also stocking her CD, which hasn’t hurt sales a bit.

Dames recorded the CD in Nashville in September 2005 through March 2006. All but three of the cuts are by Nashville songwriters; two were by local tunesmith Kristy Jackson (who wrote “Take It Back,” a No. 2 hit for Reba McIntyre) and one by Greensboro’s Mary Lyon. Her first single, “Just Another Day,” went to No. 56 on the Billboard country charts, while the second, “I’d Leave Me,” made it to No. 39. Cracking the Top 40 with no label support, which translates into very little radio airplay in the major markets, is an almost unheard-of feat for a new artist.

“You can’t always go in the front door,” mused Dames. “Sometimes you’ve got to find a way through the back door, find a way to make it happen.”

Many area observers will remember Dames from her numerous roles in Patsy Cline tribute productions at the Barn Dinner Theatre, Broach Theatre and others. She still does six Cline numbers in her live show and tours once a year in the title role of “A Closer Walk with Patsy Cline.”

“I still love doing Patsy,” she said. “So much of my fanbase is built on that, and I don’t want to lose them.”

The vocalist feels equally at home in the theater as the concert stage. In fact, her B.S. degree from Northern Kentucky University is in theater, with a minor in business administration and an area of concentration in women’s studies.

“This songplugger friend of mine in Nashville told my lawyer the only other person he knew with that set of marketing skills was Garth Brooks,” she grinned. “I’ll take that.”

Dames, who lives in Greensboro’s Hamilton Lakes with husband Dan and their two daughters, Patti, 12, and Penny, 8, has a few words of advice for anyone trying to take their career beyond the city limits.

“I tell people you need to do three things every day for the business,” she said. “Find one more website to upload your music to; find a news organization to send a press release to; make one phone call. If you don’t do three things for the business side, the artistic side will be for naught.

“You have to do ‘Oklahoma’ to support Shakespeare.”