I Come From the Sing Back School
Those of us lucky enough to be lake-people know the gift of this kind of day: from the boat’s bow the sky is a deep, eternal blue. July heat, windless and little chop, the water is cool, and the sun rides long on the horizon. Certainly, there are a few spirits in plastic cups, frequent stops for refreshing dips and, most importantly, great songs blasting from the stereo – all those songs we know, earmarked memories. We gather together for moments like these. It was on such a day in 1998 that I met singer/songwriter Cristopher Lucas.
After introductions, our reveling lake-company clustered around Cristopher on a friend’s dock near Beauty Bay. He sat on the edge of a moored boat with his feet flat on the boards and pulled a guitar from its case. Conversations fell away to a deep-pocketed guitar rhythm. Before he opened his mouth to sing, I felt that I knew the melody to come, as if I’d heard it before, though, I was mistaken. It was familiar, yes, but wholly unique and original. It resonated with everything I adore about music – a hypnotic pulse, a transforming melody hinging on the right turn of phrase, organic and enduring. Before his first song was over, I was compelled to sing the final refrain; I was hooked in. I was singing back to him, as was everyone else. I recall thinking, How did he do that? He wrote these songs? Who is this person, really?
Cristopher Lucas is one of a clan infused in song – what he calls his Sing Back School. His parents, Deanna Sylte from Rathdrum, Idaho (of the famed a cappella group, The Sylte Sisters) and David Lucas from Buffalo, New York (renown producer and advertising jingle composer – his hooks you’ll likely recall: ATT’s Reach Out and Touch Someone and G.E.’s We Bring Good things To Life, among a great many others), met on a concert tour through Asia in the late 60’s. Born in Harlem, New York, Cristopher grew up in recording studios, became accustomed to family dinners with some of the hippest and most talented musicians in the world, and was baptized in the sounds and the moods of the city – the slick pop sensibility, the razor sharp harmonies and the hooks that make hits, the alchemy that brings people together – the very elements of our fast-paced life score.
His mother’s home is here, in North Idaho, and during the summers growing up, Cristopher’s big-city experience and New York savvy would saunter onto the family cattle ranch. This might have been culture shock for some, but Cristopher found a second home among his family, the pastures and the evergreens. Though the meteor showers, the scent of summer pine and the slower days of the Inland North West charmed him, the music of his new surroundings would eventually define a writing style all his own. His entire family sings; many of them play instruments. Cristopher became steeped in traditional folk, gospel and country, and soaring over it all were gathered voices raised up in harmony.
Thus began the musician’s life of practice – years of honing his skills as a guitarist, singer and performer. He recorded his original songs onto cassettes as gifts to family and friends, produced jingles, produced other artists, and played in bands. In 2000, he released his first full-length CD, Southbound Patriot James, followed by the acclaimed Cruxlife Volume One, 2005. Then came countless gigs across the country and overseas, from tiny smoke-hazed Idaho dives to inner city clubs in New York; his melodies emitting a sparkle of city lights and the feel of a woodland trail. Cristopher’s crafted hooks pull our two coasts close.
Cristopher’s work has always gathered people together, as if drawn by a memory or some familiar thought floating there in blue sky. And before the connection makes sense – before the moment’s magic becomes a part of you, before you even know the name of the song – you’re likely to hear your voice singing along.
Welcome to Sing Back School.
“When you’re blessed with friends who love you and support you – and you can give them songs they want to sing, there’s a little of everyone in the tune – that is the joy of it all.” -CL