C&I talks with singer-songwriter Cherish Lee about her latest album Tequila Cowgirl.
Cowboys & Indians: Pretty clever of you to name your debut album Tequila Cowgirl. It landed you a promotional tie-in with G4 Tequila.
Cherish Lee: [Laughs.] Yeah, this girl ain’t no fool. I might have called it These Boots Are Made for Walking, but that one was already taken.
C&I: So do you think you’ll make this a tradition? Naming each album after the beverage of your choice?
Cherish: Actually, this was a big surprise for me — because, seriously, a promotional tie-in was not my intention. We were driving home from Thanksgiving with my Papa Bear when I got a phone call: “Hey, we’re G4 Tequila. And we love Tequila Cowgirl.” And I’m like, “By God, I love your tequila. Let’s get married.” And, really, I’m glad I do like it. Because I’m a terrible liar. If it had tasted like dishwater, I would have had to say, “Well, let’s pass on this one.”
C&I: Your father is Johnny Lee, the country music icon who ensured his immortality with “Lookin’ for Love.” And your mom is Charlene Tilton, who played Lucy Ewing in the classic TV show Dallas. When you were deciding on your own career, did you ever reach a fork in the road and consider, well, singing or acting?
Cherish: There were a couple different forks, a couple different roads. Somebody asked me one time, “Did you always want to be in show business? Did you rebel at one point?” And I replied: “Absolutely, I rebelled.” Because, really, who in their right mind would want to be in this crazy business? So I started a dog-walking company, and dated some interesting people. [Laughs.] My dad didn’t approve of any of them until my husband now.
C&I: So what steered you toward becoming a singer-songwriter?
Cherish: Well, I was a terrible waitress, so I figured I better go ahead and stick with this music thing. Actually, I did dabble in acting for a little bit. But it’s like, you can go out there and bare your soul — and get nothing in return. At least with music, you sit down and you think, OK, I’ve got a story to tell. Let’s go ahead and figure how to get it out in three minutes and make it happen. And it feels good. Every new song I write is my new favorite song. So I’m already working on the next album.
C&I: The first cut on Tequila Cowgirl is a hard-driving tune called “This Ain’t Your Grandma’s Country Song.” Was this sort of a cry of defiance? Your way of breaking free of traditions?
Cherish: No, it was actually quite the opposite. I kept hearing people say, “Today’s country music isn’t what it used to be.” But, you know, there are so many genres under the country umbrella. So for me it was like, let’s go pay homage to the old and just carry it in with the new — and let’s just go ahead and pay respects to all. So, yeah, we cranked up the bass — but we kept the tonk in the honky-tonk.
C&I: On a more serious note: The second single from your album is “Ones You Leave Behind.” It’s a moving tribute to your younger brother Johnny, who died of a heroin overdose in 2014. But it also deals with the reactions of those who lose a loved one to drugs. Was it difficult to share your feelings — your own sense of loss — with that song?
Cherish: I think it is kind of weird to put it out there. But at the same time, I think maybe if it sparks more of a conversation about the problem of drug addiction, that’s a good thing. It’s a huge epidemic out here, and it’s no respecter of person, gender, religion, economic status — it doesn’t matter. And as for the ones left behind — well, this song is my way of saying, “You’re not alone.”
REMEMBRANCE: Cherish Lee sports several colorful tattoos, but the one that means the most is the tribute to her late brother emblazoned on her arms: “Always Remember,” one word on each forearm.
BEST CAREER ADVICE: “Long ago,” Cherish says, “my father told me, ‘There’s only one you. Don’t try to sing like anybody else. Don’t try to sound like anybody else. Don’t try to talk like anybody else. Do you.’ And that’s how I do it.”
From the October 2018 issue. Illustration: Jonathan Fehr.