RC: Lee and Elaine, what are some of the earliest memories you have of wanting to play music as kids?
LR (Lee Roy): For me, I was probably about five.
I remember my grandmother playing fiddle, and my grandfather doing the old time Acadian dances. Uncles and aunts would all play guitar, piano, banjo, mandolin, fiddle, and sing.
I remember going to church, then going over to my grandmother’s for dinner afterward. It was a “gimme.” As sure as there was going to be food on the table there was going to be music that afternoon. I couldn’t wait to get there to hear them start playin’ the fiddle and start singin’.
Elaine started singing before me. She’d start singing a few things, and I would kind of back off to the side as much as I could and try to sing as best I could at that age. I just remember the draw of hearing music and what it did to me. There’s no doubt, looking back now, that, for me, that’s where the calling came from.
ER (Elaine Roy): And for me, too. You know, mom and dad always, always listened to country music, and from an early age we were always around that kind of music. Dad never played music. The music performance was all on mom’s side, but he sure loved country music. Any get together at the house we had, we would call our uncles or friends who could play the guitar and sing.
So, we were always around music. Like Lee mentioned, on my mom’s side, we were always getting together. When Grandma got out that fiddle, everyone had a smile on their face because they knew that we were going to get entertained that day. So, definitely, from an early age we were blessed to be around that family element. They loved music, and passed it on to us.
RC: What a wonderful, rich experience for some young kids to grow up in. Now, where was this geographically? Give me some more detail about the environment you were growing up in.
LR: I see pictures that my mom has, and I see myself in the picture, but I don’t remember the earliest house parties where my sister used to get up and sing. So, for me the first real memory is in New Brunswick, Canada, in a little town named Coal Branch (Click to see a Google Earth visit). It was a real small town, probably 18 to 24 houses, one stop sign, a little general store, rail road tracks that went right down the center of the town, and just a great place to grow up. Even today, my kids could go outside, and I wouldn’t have to worry about it. It’s a very family-friendly place. There’s nothing to do, but there’s the world to do. There are no arcades. There are no malls.
ER: They’re just all outside with nature.
LR: Yeah. All my cousins that still live there have kids. Their kids grow up appreciating the not-so-technical side of life. They like to actually go outside and play, and get some fresh air. I was raised where I could fish and hunt a lot.
RC: And it really hasn’t changed much even to this day, then?
LR: No, not at all. It hasn’t changed.
ER: It’s like taking a step back in time. I mean, some people have moved away, and our grandparents are gone, but my aunt and uncle still live in the house that my grandparents lived in. So, when we go to Canada to visit, it’s like going back to grandma’s and grandpa’s house. I can still see her sitting on the couch, taking out that fiddle, and my granddad step dancing, and uncles playing the guitar and singing, and us jumping in. So, every time I go there it takes my breath away some because it brings me back to those moments.
RC: That’s wonderful. What a treasure!
RC: Now, I want you to stop and think of the funniest thing you can remember from growing, including, possibly, any mischief you got into as a kid.
LR: Well, for me, I actually put it in a song. In “Grandpa’s Barn” it talks about our getting caught smoking among several other things.
Our granddad smoked. He’d fall asleep on his chair, and some of the cigarettes would fall out of his back pocket, and land on the chair. We’d crawl up behind him, and we’d open the pack, grab a couple of cigarettes, close it, and go outside.
I swear to this day that he probably knew that we were doing it, and just waited for the right day. We went around to the back of his barn to smoke the cigarettes.
I turned probably a John Deere shade of green. Then, we went back around the corner, and he was standing there with this big grin on his face. He said, “I don’t think I need to tell your moms. [Seeing how sick I was, he said …] I think you’ve learned your lessons. You are not going to smoke again, are ya?” Then, he walked away, laughing.
A few days later I went over with my cousin Raymond, and Grandpa was there, smoking a cigarette. He saw us and had a smile on his face, because I’m sure he was thinking about catching Raymond and me smoking.
RC: So, did you smoke again? ;o)
LR: No, I never did after that!
RC: What is one of the most heartwarming memories you have of your growing up time?
ER: For me, when I look back on our upbringing, just having that family foundation. Mom and dad are the best parents in the world. They’ve always supported our music or whatever we were into. They always picked us up when we would fall down or get heartbroken. They always encouraged us, and helped us in any way they could. Now, I look back on that, and it really chokes me up (voice cracks) … as you can tell, I can hardly talk about it without crying. It really is a big part of my life and of who I am. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
LR: Yeah, and for me, it’s the same. You know, it’s hard in any career, if you want to advance in life, nothing’s easy. The music career is really hard, because it’s really a crap shoot. You can go to school and invest yourself into it with all your heart and resources, but there’s no guarantee that anything’s going to happen.
So, for mom and dad to sacrifice everything they could so that we could have the instruments we needed, and to give so much of their time to us … Dad would always be there when we were performing, not just watching but helping in every way he could. He’d be lugging equipment, even when his back was out and killing him. He’d still help. And mom was always there. To this day, they support us as much as they can.
If for some reason, we would say something like, we can’t see you, we have to go to Europe, they’d just say, “Go do what you gotta do.” They wouldn’t be selfish about it. They’re 100% behind us, and we could not have done this without them.
RC: Let me just confirm that you are incredibly blessed. I know you’re saying that, but just hearing what I’ve heard, I will join in from out outsider’s perspective to emphasize how fortunate you both are for having such a great family and family experiences. Sure, most parents love their children, but you seem to be especially blessed.
RC: So, you are siblings. It’s touching that you are both so close and are able to have your life’s vocation together. So, I’m sure you’ve never had a fight, right? ;o)
ER + LR: Laughing
ER: That’s always the million dollar question. 🙂
LR: Especially when we do radio tours, they’ll say, “OK, Lee. Now, I have a sister, and I don’t know how you do it!” The thing is we’ve grown up, and we’ve grown up together. We’re adults. We’re on the same page. We know what we want. Neither one of us parties. Both of us are dedicated to our families. We both know this is hard work. We’re on the road.
I’ll give her credit. She’s the business savvy one. I’m the type that, when I go on the road, it’s like, “Hey. I’m on the road. I don’t want to have to deal with hotels, venue clubs, and getting paid, and … ”
RC: … like having to deal with interviews ;o)
LR: She takes care of all that. What makes us a complete act is that she knows when it comes to the production side, the music side, the making sure that we have what we need onsite; she knows I’m going to take care of that. So, if we were both the same, if we both tried to handle the business side, or both did the production side, we’d probably have bigger disagreements. With us being as we are, we complement each other. It completes the package. It’s great to be doing this, but it’s even better to be doing this and sharing it with a family member.
RC: That’s really wonderful. I love the stories behind sibling teams. It’s very rare, but when it works, it seems to be almost magic.
RC: You won the ICM Duo of the Year of 2009 – taking that back to how you were raised, please tell us how faith played a role in your upbringing and what role, if any, it plays in your lives today.
ER: For me, my faith gets me through every day of my life, more so now as I mature and grow older. You know, we were brought up in church. We went to church every Sunday. Mom and dad are very religious people, and they passed that faith on to us.
Many, many days I lean on my faith, and I’d never be able to get through those days without it. Really, again, another blessing that our parents have given to us is prayer. Every day I pray for direction, for signs, for guidance. If I feel lost or don’t know where I’m going, there it is. God gives me little signs that I’m on the right path, to continue. So, definitely. I lean on my faith every day. I also feel very, very blessed that we’ve been able to do all the things that we’ve done in our life. I hope I’m a better person for it.
RC: You were playing music with each other as children. When did it look like your career was going to be together rather than just a family fellowship activity?
LR: I don’t really remember, because, we just always played together. There was a brief period when I played in a bluegrass band and she played in a country band, maybe for only a year or a year and a half. But even during that time, if we ever played for something at church, or for the family, or even for some community “gong” shows, it was together. I guess it just became a thing where I said, like, “You know, I really want to do this.” And she said, “You know what. I really want to do this, too.” So, we just started, but I’m not exactly sure the moment we were “professional.”
I do remember being in something like a “Stars of Tomorrow” contest in New England, and we came in runner-up, and there was an executive from RCA, one of the judges, who told us, “You guys are really good. You should really consider this [as your profession].” And I remember that kind of opened that door in our minds that we should really go out and try to book a few shows and really do this as an act.
But for me, I kind of always knew that this is what I wanted to do, and I probably just assumed that it would always be us performing together.
RC: When’s the first time that you got paid for performing as a sister / brother act?
It was probably a place called The Country Lodge, it was around November, sometime in the late 80’s. They hired us, and we were paid. I was still in high school, actually.
ER: Like a professional gig. 🙂
RC: What did your parents do for a living?
ER: Mom was a stay at home mom. When we moved from Fitchburg, MA to New Brunswick, Canada, my dad bought a little general store. He started working there, and then later on he went to work for a gas company, as an executive.
LR: Yeah, there was a gas company in Canada called “Metro Gasoline,”
and it was like a BP type chain. He was an exec. He’d go around and look at locations to open new stores or buy stores.
RC: Did you ever work for him at the general store?
ER + LR: No, but we sure ate all the candy! [Both laugh]
RC: [Laughs] Good answer!
LR: In the basement he had a cold storage room where he’d store all the sodas and the, the …
ER: Chocolate bars! Ha!
LR: … and the chocolate bars, and …
LR: Yeah, chips, and we’d go down there and …
RC: Was he aware that you were eating all the candy?
LR: We’d eat a lot of candy and drink the soft drinks, and he’d go, “I thought I had more Pepsi than that laying around.” But, he’d find all the empty cans.
RC: I guess you were probably too young then to get to work for your dad at the store, anyway.
LR: Yeah, I was about 7 or 8 at the time, maybe 9 before he left that.
RC: Did you get to work with an uncle or aunt? Are there any other family members that you want to highlight as being a part of your growing up experience?
LR: I did. I worked for my father’s brother, Uncle Ronnie, Ron Roy. I worked for him for a couple of different times, during high school, and again in the mid-nineties. I had gone back home for awhile. He’s in Massachusetts. He owned a construction company, and I did all kinds of work for him.
RC: Do you feel that time was “formative” for you, or that it had any special significance?
LR: It was. It was about the only moment in my life when I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do music. We’d been trying for so long without much happening, and I began to have doubts. You start thinking, “What am I doing?! I’m married. I have a kid. I need to build a future for my family.” Going to work for him really made me miss the music, miss performing.
And, Uncle Ronnie even told us that. We’d still play sometime on the side, and he’d come to hear us. After coming to see us or hearing one of the songs I’d written, he said, a couple of times, “What are you doing?! Why are you banging nails all day? You need to be doing your music.” It made me realize, that I really did want to do this.
RC: So you really love that guy a lot.
LR: Oh, I do. He always has been very special to me. He’s one of the ones that still comes by every time we play at home. He’s a very gentle man, and just a really nice guy, who would give the shirt of his back for anybody.
RC: Who else can you guys remember who helped you become who you are, who you appreciate?
ER: For me, absolutely. My dad had a Gibson guitar that he’d bought from somebody, and always kept it at the house. He never learned how to play the guitar himself, but every time someone came over who knew how to play the guitar, he’d say, “Hold on! I have a guitar,” and they would play it. I remember looking at that guitar and thinking, I want to learn how to play that thing.
I had a teacher when we lived in Canada. Her name was Nancy Grant. A lot of the kids in our school were musical – there was a lot of music in the little town we came from in Canada. Everybody played something. Ms. Grant said, if I can get just 5 or 6 students, I really think that you guys are so talented, and I could teach you how to play guitar. She had a nylon string guitar, which was so cool. It’s so different from what I play today. She said, “If you have instruments, ya’ll bring them, and I’ll show you how to play guitar.” So, that’s how I learned to play guitar. She showed us the major chords, a few bar notes, and Lee will say he doesn’t remember this, but later, I taught him how to play guitar.
LR: Elaine taught me how to do like ‘D’, ‘G’, and ‘A’.
ER: The major things
LR: … and I kind of took off from there, and … For me, if I heard something on the radio that I really liked, if I got the CD, I would sit down and just learn those parts, learn how to play. I pretty much self-taught myself.
Of course, our grandmother was a big influence, but for me, there were at least two big influences in my life, musically, from our family. I credit both of them equally for giving me the drive to do this. My mom’s brothers, Joe Leblanc and Alias “Al” Leblanc … our Uncle Al is no longer with us, but Joe played the fiddle and Al played the guitar. Both of those guys really pushed me. Sometimes, they would literally tell me, “You have so much talent. You need to do this.” I’d go, ah nah, and I’d only half heartedly learn something, like one of the old Acadian tunes. They would really push me saying, “You’re missing notes. You’re takin’ the easy way.” They would really push me to make sure that I was as good as I could be, and they are a huge reason that I’m standing here today playing music.
RC: That’s wonderful. You keep mentioning grandma. Tell me a little bit more about her.
ER: Her name was Suzanne Leblanc.
[ At this point, having noticed that Lee and Elaine had pronounced Leblanc as “Lablank,” I interrupted and mentioned that I was surprised that they didn’t pronounce it “Le-blaughn-kh,” since they have French Canadian heritage. ]
ER: Oh yes. We can say it in French as well. We do speak fluent French. Our parents are French. Both sides are French. When we went to school in Canada, it was in French. We had to learn everything in French.
RC: Again, another big blessing from your upbringing – being bilingual.
LR: One really cool thing that keeps the memory of our grandmother alive is that we both still have our grandmother’s fiddle. We still have the fiddle that we grew up listening to.
RC: Wow. Your family is such a force behind you, and is clearly still living in and through you as you do your art and work.
RC: I’ve had you now for thirty minutes. I’ll send you the transcript, and get some pictures and any additional thoughts back from you after you read our initial conversation. Then we’ll get something out that really honors you and your family. Thank you so much.
LR + ER: Thank you, Mike. We’ll talk to you very soon.
RC: God bless.
This post was submitted by Lee and Elaine Roy.