By Mark A. Stevens
Thomas Lindsey is living his dream – right at home in DeRidder, Louisiana.
Growing up in the 1990s, the 32-year-old recalls, he often felt like an alien. He was listening to the blues or a classic jazz cut from Nina Simone while his peers were listening to Seattle grunge or Britney Spears.
“There’s a song,” Lindsey says, “by Della Reese called ‘A Stranger On Earth.’ Well, I felt like that growing up, but what I want people to know is that you can’t be restricted. You can’t let people tell you that you can’t do something.”
Lindsey is speaking from experience. It was, after all, a Tweet that the budding songwriter sent to Dave Stewart, Eurythmics co-founder and creator of NBC’s hit “Songland,” that changed Lindsey’s life, taking him far from DeRidder and opening doors that only sweet dreams are made of. Lindsey had discovered Eurythmics in the late 1990s when the British duo had returned from a nearly decade-long hiatus for an album called “Peace” and a world tour.
Lindsey, still sticking to his early love of blues, jazz and even classic country, was adding new musical experiences to his repertoire, and Eurythmics – and singer Annie Lennox’s distinctive voice – spoke to him, perhaps serendipitously.
Last month, Amitié, his second album with Stewart — under the band name Stewart Lindsey — was released. Over the past few weeks, Lindsey has been fielding phone calls from reporters from around the globe about how he ended up in an unlikely partnership with one of the world’s most famous musicians/producers, earning him a No. 1 blues album in 2016 with the duo’s debut, Spitballin’. Since its July release, Amitié has continued the success of the previous album, climbing to No. 3 on iTunes’ Blues charts.
“I knew,” Lindsey explained, “Dave had written and played with so many people who always had good things to say about him, and I knew that he loved the blues. … So I thought, ‘I’ll just tweet him.’ My friends said, ‘You can’t just tweet somebody like that. You have to go and play bars for 20 years and pay your dues.’ ”
Luckily, Lindsey didn’t listen to the naysayers and fired off that message on Twitter in 2014.
Stewart – a Grammy, Golden Globe and Brit award winner and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame nominee – remembers that day vividly.
“(The tweet) had a YouTube link, so I clicked it,” Stewart recalled in a telephone interview from his home in the Bahamas. “I couldn’t see who it really was at first; I was just listening. It sounded sort of like a Nina Simone-type voice, so I expected to see a black girl singing, but it was this ginger-haired, white skinny boy, and I was like, ‘What?’ ”
An invitation from Stewart quickly followed for Lindsey to join him on stage at the famous Troubadour club in Hollywood, California.
“I was really intrigued,” Stewart said, “because Thomas really did have that feeling to his voice. It wasn’t learned, if you know what I mean. It was just coming out. So I contacted him, and, at first, I don’t think he believed it was me.”
Once Lindsey realized that the message was, in fact, from the very man who had co-written ’80s staples like “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This),” “Here Comes the Rain Again” and the blues-rock stomper and Grammy-winning “Missionary Man,” he realized what a single tweet can do.
“Dave asked me to come to California,” Lindsey said, “and sing two of my songs live before he went on stage, and I said, ‘But I don’t play an instrument; I write all my songs a cappella.’ So I felt like I needed to apologize. And Dave said, ‘No, no, no, no, you don’t apologize, you’re an artist. Just because you don’t play an instrument doesn’t make you less of an artist.’ ”
Lindsey’s time on stage, Stewart was convinced, “would be an amazing moment.”
For Lindsey, it was nothing short of terrifying – not so much the performance, as the act of getting there. The shining lights of Hollywood were as foreign to the self-proclaimed alien as another planet.
“This was the door I want opened, and that sort of scared me,” Lindsey recalls. “… I had never been outside the Louisiana-Arkansas-Texas area. I had never been on an airplane. I was scared to death to go. I’m such a homebody – to be totally ripped and disconnected from your world and everything you know and plopped down in California, well, I was terrified. …
“I thought, ‘Will the people of California like my music? What will they think of me singing the blues? But they liked it a lot and were really kind to me. I didn’t think I could go that far west and they wouldn’t think I’m some kind of heretic playing the blues. … But it was great.”
From there, Stewart and Lindsey started making music together – Lindsey in Louisiana and Stewart from points around the globe. Lindsey would write lyrics, record his vocals and send them to Stewart to add music. Or vice versa — Stewart sending music to Lindsey to add his self-penned vocals.
Lindsey said he never took the opportunity for granted.
“I knew I had better pour everything that I had, vocally and lyrically, into this,” he said, “because this is what I always wanted. I said to myself, ‘You wanted to make an album … with Dave. So this is it, this is your manifesto. So I thought that was going to be it. And I didn’t think there would be second album, but then Dave said, ‘Let’s write another album.’ ”
In addition to his time in Eurythmics, Stewart has earned a reputation as a famous collaborator, working with the likes of Bob Dylan, Stevie Nicks, Jon Bon Jovi, Gwen Stefani, Aretha Franklin and Tom Petty, among others.
On “Songland,” the TV show Stewart envisioned several years ago and got on the air in 2019, unpublished songwriters vie for a chance to have their songs recorded by an established artist. His relationship with Lindsey is, perhaps, a twist on that same concept.
Both Stewart and Lindsey call their musical collaboration a “friendship” of mutual admiration. In fact, the new album’s title, Amitié, is French for friendship and a nod to Lindsey’s Cajun roots.
To promote the first album, Lindsey traveled to Los Angeles and New York, appearing on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” which helped push the album to No. 1 on Amazon and iTunes’ blues charts. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, traveling to perform or promote the duo’s latest endeavor will not be possible.
Ironically, the pandemic, which has kept Stewart in the Bahamas and Lindsey in Louisiana, didn’t hamper their recording style. They had, after all, recorded separately for the first album.
On both albums, Stewart’s mastery of the guitar and music production is paired with Lindsey’s soaring vibrato. The lyrics and vocals are classic blues, always soulful with a juxtaposition between Lindsey’s plaintive wails and call-and-response howls to the anguish of a soft lament.
“If only we had known when the storm came and knocked us down,” Lindsey sings on “Storm Came,” Amitié’s opening track. “We joined together and carried on/There’s a loss out there … as far as I can see.”
Both men are hopeful their second effort will be as successful as their debut, which earned rave reviews. USA Today wrote, “Lindsey’s delivery is fierce and soulful, more about power than gender (as was Annie Lennox’s) and a good match for Stewart’s blues-soaked concoctions. … To be clear, this isn’t the synth-cool ‘Sweet Dreams’/’Love Is a Stranger’-style Eurythmics, it’s the electrified ‘Would I Lie To You?’/’Missionary Man’-style Eurythmics. Spitballin’ is packed with rumbling, swamp-soaked, high-voltage blues, with live-wire Lindsey lighting up the sound from beginning to end with impossibly intense belting and wailing.”
Lindsey said he can go for months and not write a song, but then he will find inspiration and begin to write again – or Stewart will send him a recording of himself playing a new song on a dobro guitar, as he did last year from Paris.
“I’ll get a text from Thomas,” Stewart said. “It will be like, ‘My Lord, I think I’ve got something here.’ … And I try to figure out how I’m going to put chords to it.”
For Thomas, who is still leery of traveling, even if he could, it’s the perfect setup. In fact, he works full time as a freelance IT professional in Leesville, 20 miles from DeRidder. His work with Stewart gives Lindsey a chance to showcase an artistry that he’s crafted since a supportive boss many years ago urged him to write songs – and not just sing at work.
Support from Stewart certainly took that to another level.
“I respect Dave’s art,” Thomas said. “I don’t idolize people, because I realize that people are just people. We all have emotions, feelings, and we are all paying bills and getting in our cars trying to find something to eat. It’s just life. …
“That’s why I had the confidence to reach out to him, because I treasure his art, and I knew he would get me. … He’s been such a great friend to me, musically. I can pull this deep cut Nina Simone song from my head that I don’t think anyone would have heard, but he will know it! And he will understand when I say I want that same kind of feeling, and he will play a chord and we will be connected.”
Since they can’t travel to promote Amitie, Stewart and Lindsey are recording videos for each of the album’s nine tracks and releasing them in the days ahead of the album’s release.
“Thomas is obsessed with film noir, and I love that, as well,” Stewart said. “So we decided to make all black-and-white videos with just our iPhones. … These are little side stories that we are going to put out. It’s about someone searching for this person called The Scorpion, who’s on the loose, but it’s actually about something in your own head. … But it looks like a Raymond Chandler detective novel or something. … It’s very weird, surrealistic, very dreamy.”
And that’s appropriate since it seems so much of the Stewart-Lindsey stories seem to revolve around dreams.
“I believe God put us on this earth to dream,” Lindsey said, “and if you’re not having big dreams, then what are you doing with the life He gave you? I don’t think you should ever limit yourself.
“Don’t ever let someone tell you that you … can’t reach out to someone. Why not? Because that just might be your blessing.”
And, as Lindsey has proven, “Sweet dreams are made of this.”
Louisiana songwriter finds that sweet dreams are made of
surprising but successful musical collaboration
New album by Thomas Lindsey, Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart hitting the charts
(Mark A. Stevens is a former award-winning newspaper editor and publisher with several newspapers in Louisiana, Tennessee South Carolina. He now lives in Pawleys Island, South Carolina.)