“It’s the craziest mind-trip for me to see my granddaughter on the hip of her mother, just like you were on my hip in the studio,” Linda Davis tells daughter Hillary Scott, referring to Eisele, the Lady Antebellum singer’s 3-year-old daughter with her husband, drummer Chris Tyrell.
For Davis, who shot to stardom duetting with Reba McEntire on the Grammy-winning 1993 hit, “Does He Love You,” “Take Your Daughter to Work Day” was less an annual event and more an accepted way of life, a life for which Scott would be well-prepared once she teamed with Charles Kelley and Dave Haywood as one of the most successful country-pop crossover acts of the past decade. During the group’s recent hiatus, Scott joined her mom, songwriter-musician dad Lang Scott – who played in Reba’s band while Davis was touring with her – and 16-year-old sister Rylee to make a record that would not only reinforce the family’s musical bond but also strengthen its already unshakeable spiritual core. Love Remains, a reverent, soulful collection of both new, original songs and classic hymns, builds upon the church music of Davis’s East Texas upbringing, her husband’s South Carolina roots and their daughters’ Nashville raising as the offspring of professional musicians.
Produced by Ricky Skaggs, Love Remains was inspired in part by Hillary’s grandfather, W. Scott Jr., and the outpouring of support from hundreds of family members, friends and others after his passing in 2011.
“He never met a stranger,” Scott says of the man she affectionately called Papaw. “All of those years in South Carolina and 20 years in Nashville, he made so many friends. Everybody knew him and he knew everybody’s story, their spouses’ names, their kids. As he fought leukemia, all of these people came out of the woodwork, old family friends, cousins, people he used to work with at the cement plant in South Carolina. They would write these words of encouragement, prayers and scripture. A couple of years after Papaw passed away, Dad found himself revisiting all of those journal entries and the people that had gone through and signed and walked us through that time. God really put it on Dad’s heart that we really need to do something to thank all those people. They would sit in the hospital with him and read him the comments. Then he would just go into a 20-minute story about that person and how much that person meant to him. It was just a very bright spot in a really dark time for us in that battle.”
Inspired by the many hymns that were referenced in the countless journal entries, the Scotts decided to record their thank-you gift. “I went away for a couple weeks and went out of the country with Lady Antebellum,” Hillary recalls. “I just started getting this stirring in my spirit about giving everybody a chance to hear this record. There are a lot of people searching for the same kind of answers we are. That was where it all started.”
A sweet, powerful celebration of faith and family harmony, Love Remains is grounded in love and good humor, two things that were in great supply when Rolling Stone Country sat in on a candid, poignant and laughter-filled conversation between Scott and Davis, during which the mother and daughter shared surprising family secrets, recollections of their rebellious pasts and how they turned Ricky Skaggs into a whistle-blower.
Scott: The first memory I have of being onstage with you is singing “Amazing Grace” at a show. Gospel music was in our house all the time. It was “Amazing Grace,” “I’ll Fly Away.” All the ones that we know but also the Texas Baptist hymnal that you brought up from East Texas to Nashville.
Davis: “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” That was one of the ones from our hymn book from the East Texas Baptist Missionary Church. It was maroon. I played piano at the house, so I’d be banging out a song on the piano and you’d be sitting on the bench next to me. You could hold the melody and we would sing parts around you. That was just the most fun thing for me because I’ve always admired family harmony. I was thinking, “This little thing can hold her part and we can make three-part harmony like the Gatlins and the Whites.” Little did I know you would grow up to become the artist that you are. Your musical journey has been one that we never saw coming. Now, Rylee Jean is falling in love with music… it just makes it so much fun.
Scott: The tone of her voice… you just want to be friends with her. [Laughs]
Davis: You’re right! It’s youthful but yet kind of old soul all at the same time. The neat thing about you girls is when you sing together it’s like you cancel each other out. Your tones are so similar.
Scott: I remember singing “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” in our little makeshift studio in the guest room. It was such an interesting way to grow up. You would take me to demo sessions when I was an infant… [Davis pats her stomach and grins, saying, “And before!”] The studio environment, the mics and wires and speakers and headphones, that’s just been my normal; I would hop in that makeshift studio and just sing for fun. You would let me have some playtime in there, which was awesome.
Davis: Do you remember when you had something going on at school? You were going to have a song be a part of some event and you brought three or four of your friends over? Everybody had on their little earphones and sang together. Well, fast-forward however many years and Rylee Jean just about a month ago had her first guitar pull at the house. We all sat around, set the microphones up, she kind of hosted it. We’ve done that your whole lives, but she took it on.
Scott: Kind of like passing the torch.
Davis: Aunt JoAnn, when I was little-bitty she would come visit from Longview, about an hour away. She’d come wake me up, because the upright piano was in my bedroom, and have me sing “Give Me That Old Time Religion” or “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown.” I liked that one because I was a rebel. [Laughs]
Scott: Aunt JoAnn was practice for early morning TV or radio performances even way back then!
Davis: Totally. She doesn’t know how much good she did for me.
Scott: By waking you up at the crack of dawn.
Davis: I hit the ground running! Oh, and I’ll tell you a secret. She worked at Schlitz…
Scott: What’s that?
Davis: They made beer.
Scott: She worked in a brewery? [Laughs]
Davis: Yes! And she’s the most religious person I know. The neat thing is she would call in sick and she’d be at every show I had. She’d only hope nobody from her work showed up, too. [Both laugh]
“There was just some minor tension…”
Scott: He’s always had a role in our lives. Didn’t you do a Bible study with him at the house?
Davis: We did.
Scott: He is who he says he is. He inspires me in his authenticity. He’s the kind of person who when he says he’s going to pray for you he prays for you. When he says he believes something, he believes it with his whole person, his whole heart and soul. He’s been a huge influence on me through this whole process, especially getting closer to him. He’s a good person to ask for advice.
Davis: If you want to dig into the integrity of the musical man, he is so wise. His instincts with parts, his instincts of which instruments or which tone of an instrument, it boggles the mind!
Scott: All the technical, how notes fall together, harmonics of notes. His ear is crazy. We got him an umpire jersey and a whistle on the first day of recording. We were like, “Welcome to the Scott family dynamic.”
Davis: “Good luck with that!”
Scott: We gave him permission to use the whistle whenever he needed it. I think I heard him blow the whistle twice. Once was a joke and the second time there was just some minor tension that had built up in the studio.
Davis: I don’t remember that!
Like Mother, Like Daughter
Davis: My granddaughter is perfect! The world is in good hands with her. It’s going to be a happy world when she’s in control.
Scott: Awww. There’s a part on the song, “The River,” that’s her shower song. There’s a part of “As I Went Down to the River to Pray” in it and she loves that part: [Sings] “Oh sister, let’s go down”… it modulates.
Davis: She hits it every time! She’s got a good ear.
Scott: To see her starting to find her voice on these songs, on this music that she’s hearing her grandmother and her grandfather and her aunt and her mommy sing, it’s really sweet and precious to watch her learn to sing to us. Watching her in the studio, she gets in there and knows exactly how the whole thing goes. She knows the whole show, you go in and you don’t touch any buttons or pull any wires. You have to be quiet.
Davis: It’s you all over again. The way it worked back then was a lot of times I would get songs at the last minute when I did demos and such. I would have the song in the car on a cassette and be learning it on the way to the studio, so you’d be strapped in to your seat in the back seat. You’d be hearing it every time I’d play it, so you knew the song. One time I went to a session and you were standing on a chair beside me in the vocal booth. There was one part of the song I could just not get. I was having to redo it and they’re getting frustrated in the control room. So I said, “Give it to me again, boys, let me try again.” I got to that one part and you sang it with me! And they stopped the tape and said, “Well, that was really good. But we really didn’t need a duet!” [Both laugh] I should’ve paid you a little bit. Maybe I got you a Happy Meal or something. That might’ve been your first recording session but it wasn’t on purpose.
On the Road Again
Scott: Road life is… we’re a different breed, those of us that go out and tour. It’s just like this subculture of people that all speak the same language and have the same vocabulary and inside jokes. I was never really in any kind of clubs at school. Now I’m in a club.
Davis: I know you all have ping-pong out there. Do you all play games when you’re on the road?
Scott: Ping-pong is it and I never get to play because the boys are always playing. But I’m a great cheerleader! I get that from you.
Davis: You’re welcome. You can borrow my pom-poms.
Scott: From Pineola County?
Davis: The Carthage Bulldogs. And I still have the blow-blows. Mamaw called ’em blow-blows.
Scott: Translation: that’s East Texas for megaphones! [Laughs]
“I stepped into some waters that were choppy for me.”
Davis: I know the heart of my child is about Jesus, which I’m most proud of. There are a lot of things I’m proud of, but you are so wise I’m just so proud of you for how you approach your work and your art. I’ve learned from you. I stepped into some waters that were choppy for me, because I hadn’t been there before. I just loved that challenge that you set before me. I know your daddy feels the same way. Some of the time I got frustrated but that was just at myself because I would think, “What other way could I sing this or hit that note,” but you were so certain about what it needed to be. And we fell in line with a lot of it because you believed that this was the way. “Come on, Mama. Just try this….” I love that because I still get a kick out of learning and you helped me do that.
Scott: You were always trying to beat the take before. You push yourself. You’re your toughest critic but it spurs you on, it spurs the other people around you on and it’s made me that way. You tried again and again. There was never a moment where you were like, “I’m done. I just need a break.” It was still determination but with kindness. The other thing is you always have a gigantic bag of binders full of song lyrics and charts…
Davis: And they’re never in order.
Scott: They’re never in order and we could never find the one we need when we need it but you always have a big stack of papers related to what we’re doing. I’m going to just nickname you Songbook.
“I never told you I got called to the principal’s office.”
Scott: [In high school] I got called to the principal’s office for toilet-papering a football player’s yard.
Davis: Did you feel guilty?
Scott: Yes, I felt guilty! There was a big group of us and one of the guys that was with us jumped off the front porch and the railing fell over. The people who lived there were obviously upset. We all had to pool money together to fix it. But thankfully I had been saving a little bit of money with the Christmas show that you were so kind to pay me to sing in to save some money for school. So, I didn’t have to tell you it happened. I never told you I got called to the principal’s office. [Laughs]
Davis: That’s so funny because I was in junior high, it was Halloween and this might’ve been one of the two things I’m the least proud of. We sort of did that to a lady’s house and then we felt so guilty that we went over there and we said, “Oh, my! We’ll help you clean this up.”
Scott: Do you think she knew that you did it?
Davis: Probably, but we thought we were just so cool. The other thing I did…
Scott: I know this story.
Davis: This little fella liked me in second grade and we were on the seesaw. If he hears this or reads this, I send him my sincere apologies. I jumped off the seesaw when he was up. [Hillary laughs uncontrollably] I told both my girls sometimes you do things when you’re young and you regret it for the rest of your life. Sometimes it just doesn’t leave you.
Scott: That’s one of yours.
Davis: Sorry about that. I hope he’s been able to father children.
Scott: I hope so, too!