By Chyrisse Tabone
I was pretty excited to hear that Blue Meridian is flying in from L.A. to do a special 20th Anniversary Homecoming Show in Orlando during the holidays. I have been following the band since approximately 1997 so this is going to be a special deal for me to see them at The Social in Orlando on Friday, December 26th. The show starts at 8 p.m. and the warm-up band will be the Elevators.
I recently caught up with Donovan Lyman, the founding singer/songwriter to find out what he and the band have been up to in recent years:
I have your 1998 release of “Blue Meridian” but the line-up was different: Danny, Kevin, and Manny were in the group. Did they not follow you to L.A.? Are they going to be at the 20th Reunion or will you have the new line-up?
Danny’s last show with the group was the CD release party for the first album. I remember being pissed with him about that. He wanted to leave Orlando. Kevin was in the band for about 10 years. He went back to school and became an architect. Manny was in the band for about 5 years and we’ve continued to re-unite when I head back East from LA. Manny will be on lead guitar at the Social show on December 25, 2014. Kenny Beaumont from the band Cider will be on bass and Erik Lievano, a long time Blue Meridian fan and staple of the Orlando music scene, will be behind the drum kit.
When did you know you wanted to be a songwriter and performer?
I started writing songs in 8th or 9th grade. We had a piano in the living room and when I wasn’t catamaran sailing, I was sitting at it, writing and playing. Not long after that, some older friends put together a group and asked me to sing and play keys. They were all cover tunes. At our first gig I discovered that I had stage fright and couldn’t sing a note into the mic. My good buddy Glenn Davis who was on lead guitar sang lead. By the end of the first song I told him “I’m ready to sing now” and he said “No, I got this” 🙂 I didn’t think about performing live again until many years later. Months after Blue Meridian formed actually.
How was the band originally formed in Orlando?
I was a DJ at Fat Tuesday’s on Park Avenue in Winter Park in early 1994. One of the managers there named Joey learned that I wrote songs, sang and played guitar. He kept asking me if I wanted to get together and jam. We decided to do it at my house on Washington Blvd in downtown Orlando on August 6, 1994. The night before, he phoned and asked if he could bring along some other players. I said “sure”. The following day Joey arrived along with Dave Rhea (bass), Ben Tapia (lead guitar) and Kevin Kirkwood (drums). The 5 of us must have played for 8 hours straight and then again they next afternoon. This went on for a couple of months before we came up with a band name and eventually Dave Rhea suggested we book a show. I asked “A real show? Like on stage in front of people”? The idea never occurred to me. I was just having fun making music in my house with my new friends. On Saturday, November 19, 1994, Blue Meridian performed their first ever show at Scruffy Murphy’s in downtown Orlando.
How has the band’s sound evolved through the years?
It has evolved substantially. Truth is, I have a hard time listening to the first four albums. I don’t think it was until the 5th record “Avalon & Babylon & Me”, that I really found my voice. Those are the earliest recordings that sound close to what I sound like vocally today. The earlier stuff was grungier. Back in ’94 most rock bands were influenced by Pearl Jam and bands like that. By ’97 we were more influenced and driven by the “Orlando sound”, that I’ve been told we had a small hand in helping develop. More recent albums were influenced more by California life.
Blue Meridian “Sideways Silver Jet”
What was the highest point for the band?
There were many high points. Getting radio play, drawing crowds of more than 1,000, winning 6 people’s choice awards, touring Europe, getting endorsements from Matchless and Fender & getting major label record deal offers. Also, when the Orange County Historical Museum put a pair of my pants on display for months in their History of Music In Florida exhibit right alongside Jim Morrison’s leathers, that was really cool. Oh yeah, and when The Hard Rock Cafe asked for one of my guitars to be put on display. Can’t beat that.
How did the European tour come about? What are the differences (e.g., audiences, venues) between playing in Europe vs. the U.S.?
Back when Myspace was big we started getting emails from British music lovers about our songs. I started writing them back and seeking out new interest there. It wasn’t long before it looked like a tour over there might be a break even proposition. What band wouldn’t want to travel to far away lands, perform and spread their message to new audiences? None of us had every been over there. We were very excited and fell in love with the place. In all, we’ve performed 4 tours in the UK. Nearly 75 performances from London to Loch Ness, from Cardiff to Dublin, from Birmingham to Glasgow. Most of the venues over there are very hospitable and the fans as well. I remember doing a show in Wales one time. This guy with a mohawk and piercings all over his face came up to me after the set and said “I’d like to buy one of your CD’s. It’s not my kind of music, but I can tell you put a lot of passion into it and I respect that”.
You do a lot of solo performing in L.A. How does your solo music differ from Blue Meridian?
My solo music is Blue Meridian music, just stripped down to the bare bones. I usually perform songs that have a strong message. Taking all of the other instrumentation out of the sound, really brings the melody and lyrics to the forefront.
Where do you see Blue Meridian going after 20 years?
I think we may have one more album in us. Not sure if it will be another Blue Meridian album or a solo record, but I’ve written plenty of stuff for a 7th full length. At some point, I’m sure I’ll get around to recording them and sending them out into the world. Would be nice to return to Europe again too. Right now I’m focused mostly on the show at The Social on the December 26th. I’m sure it will be loads of fun!
I remember when you won a bunch of People’s Choice awards or Best Band awards in Orlando. Do you have a list of the awards and years?
1999 – Best Rock Band
2000 – Album of The Year & Best Rock Band
2001 – Best Live Act & Best Rock Band
2002 – Best Rock Band
Blue Meridian “Lina Los Angeles”