You know what? Forget James Blunt and his sordid ragged trousered philandering. (How fickle I am Dear Readers!). The man who is going to get me through my summer horrible is the gorgeous, gravelley voiced Ray Lamontagne. Do you think it is possible to fall in love with a voice? With a splintered, short biography of a man’s life, his reasons why and a philosophy we should engrave on our hearts: to learn to sing, not from the nose, but from the gut…
"Ray LaMontagne was born in New Hampshire ("But we were just passing through," he points out), one of six kids from various fathers—all raised by their resourceful mom. His mother and father, a musician who now works in Nashville, split up soon after his birth ("I’ve talked to him for a total of about a minute and a half in 20 years," Ray says ruefully), and Mom went wherever she could put a roof over her children’s heads—from Utah to Maine and points between, where they resided in an assortment of unusual domiciles: the backyards of his mother’s friends, in cars and tents, a cinderblock shell on a Tennessee horse ranch, a New Hampshire chicken coop. Ray was always the new kid in school—"and I had this nose when I was like 10," he says, laughing softly, "so you can imagine. It was tough.
"I was horrible in school," LaMontagne remembers. "They didn’t know what to do with me. I’d just draw or write stories. I had a really tough time, but I squeaked by. By the time I was a freshman in high school, I just stopped going all together; I’d just go into the woods. That was really hard on my mother. I got in fights all the time; Trouble found me. I was just a misfit, an oddball. Those years were tough. By the time I reached my senior year, I knew I wanted to graduate. So I went to school during the day and at night for a year and barely got through high school."
He left his family right after graduation, with no idea what he wanted to do. Four years later, while working long hours in a Lewiston, Maine, shoe factory, he experienced an epiphany—one that shook him out of his deep ennui.
"This was a particularly dark and weird time for me," he recounts. "I never saw the light of day for months. One morning, after I’d worked there for about a year, I had my clock set for 4 a.m., like always, and I woke up to this amazing sound coming from the clock radio. It was Stephen Stills, doing a song called ‘Tree Top Flyer.’ I just sat up in bed and listened. Something about that song just hit me. I did not go to work that day; I went to record stores and sought that album out. It was called Stills Alone. I listened to it, and I was transformed. It killed me…it was huge. You don’t know how those things happen. I just knew: ‘This is what I’m gonna do.’ That morning really changed everything—my whole life.
"So I quit my job. I knew I wanted to sing, which was really crazy, because I never even talked to anybody. I just had this feeling that it was somewhere inside me, and I had to find it and let it out. So I learned the songs on that record and started listening to Crosby, Stills & Nash, then I discovered Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Ray Charles, Otis Redding. I would spend hours just listening to records. Later, I got very intense about singing; I would just sing and sing, and hurt and hurt, because I knew I wasn’t doing it right. Over a period of years I taught myself to sing from the gut and not from the nose."