Former news anchorman Mike Lewis says he’s not trying to be a country-music star. Don’t even classify him as a country-music performer.
He defines his music more as Americana or contemporary, and he just wants to write and play songs that touch people.
Now working on his fourth CD, Lewis splits his time between Lackawanna County and Nashville, playing gigs and writing songs.
“I record in Nashville, but I’m not country,” the 55-year-old Lewis said during an interview Monday at SI Studios in Old Forge. “I don’t do bars and that kind of stuff. I do my own stuff; I don’t do covers.”
He was spending time at the studio to lay down some acoustic-guitar melody, with backup from drummer Carl Canedy of Carbondale. Engineer Joe Wegleski of Scranton manned the control board in the booth. Lewis plans to take the recording to Nashville and turn it into a demo.
His music career wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment decision. Even before he left WNEP-TV four and a half years ago when the station did not renew his contract, he did a six-song CD for a fundraiser for the Boys and Girls clubs. The station sold 10,000 copies and raised $80,000.
These days he’s a regular performer at Northeastern Pennsylvania coffeehouses and fundraisers, accompanying himself on guitar as he sings his songs. In Nashville, he plays where other musicians and songwriters frequent, such as the Bluebird Cafe, to try to boost his career. The competition is tough.
When he played recently at the Bluebird, another songwriter named Larry Henley also performed. When Lewis was introduced to him beforehand, he wasn’t sure who Henley was. He found out. Henley, who received a standing ovation before he performed, played the song for which he is best known, “The Wind Beneath My Wings.”
“Nobody plays in Nashville to get paid,” Lewis said. “So many people in town are so exceptional, they play for free.”
But Lewis is making a name for himself. The local weekly TV and online series “Windsor Park Stories” has used his music. He’s also performed as the opening act for various artists, including the Oak Ridge Boys.
“I’ve been writing for a long time,” said Lewis, who has no regrets about leaving the business he had known since he was a child.
The Columbus, Ohio, native’s father was a news anchor, his cousin is a news producer, and Lewis had worked in TV news in Virginia as well as Pennsylvania.
“I miss the process sometimes, the storytelling and the steady paycheck,” he said, cracking a smile. “But I’m happy doing what I’m doing.”
Lewis, who has played guitar since he was a young boy, wanted to follow his passion in music. It goes back to something else he grew up with. Just out of high school, he toured with a band out of Nashville, slinging gear for it. He watched the process as the band recorded an album.
He counts among his influences those who work behind the scenes, including producers and songwriters such as Gary Nicholson, who wrote the music to the Bonnie Raitt song “Shadow of Doubt,” and legend Jimmy Webb, who has written songs from “Up, Up and Away” performed by The 5th Dimension to Glen Campbell’s “By the Time I Get to Phoenix” and “Wichita Lineman” and Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park.”
Among his own songs, Lewis favors one called “Shine” on his latest CD, “Do Whatcha Gotta Do,” which also includes a tune with a reference to his former career, “Surfin’ Killed The Evening News.”
“My goal is to find a song that touches people,” Lewis said.