When young Lannie Counts first started singing in public, he was so shy he tried to make himself hoarse so he wouldn’t have to perform.
So how did Counts go from shy soloist to headlining shows in Las Vegas? The road has been long and winding.
Counts’ mother encouraged him to join their Church of Christ acappella choir in Phoenix, AZ where Counts grew up. The choir recognized Counts’ voice asking him when he was 12 to become a soloist. Though he says he enjoyed singing solo, “I was very shy about it and…yes, I really did scream to try and make myself hoarse. Mostly I never succeeded.”
Counts wasn’t so shy singing around family, however. “In the car with my folks (James and Clara Mae Counts), I remember singing at the top of my lungs with the records on the radio, and my older brothers (James Jr. and Glen) would be yelling at me to ‘shut up’.”
In high school, Counts was initially into R&B music and sports, but later discovered rock ‘n roll and jazz. “I had taken piano lessons so was able to sing and play with a high school rock ‘n roll garage band, but we mostly stayed in the garage,” said Counts. “However, it was there that I was asked to try and sound like the artists whose songs I was singing.”
In high school, Counts traveled to Las Vegas with his brother a couple times and through a friend was asked to sit in and sing a few songs with a band at the Frontier. Counts remembers those trips because of one non-singing incident. Counts has always been a fan of embroidered jackets, and comedian Don Rickles once saw him by the pool at the Frontier and asked him what couch or drapery had been demolished to make his jacket! (At a recent taping of the Dennis Bono show where Counts was a guest, the singer was again wearing an embroidered jacket and was asked virtually the same question!)
After high school, Counts spent “a few semesters” at community college, staying in touch with his music buddies. At age 22, he had his first professional singing job with a band called “Dreamer” at Phoenix’s B C’s Cave. He was there for a year and a half, then moved on to several other rock ‘n roll bands before ending up with “The Navarro Project” featuring Joey Navarro “a fabulous jazz keyboard player and arranger” who was on Island Records. “Back in those days I was nice and skinny and fine,” says Counts with a laugh. “I should have stayed with Joey, but I had a rambling spirit and moved on.” During all that time, Counts not only sang with groups, he also was a dancer, a requirement when doing songs of the 80s.
In 1993, when five-nights-a-week work in Phoenix turned into two nights a week, Counts decided to move to the entertainment capital, Las Vegas. “I would get dressed to the nines every night as if I were going to work and would go around town, seeing what was happening and meeting people,” he explained. One of the first jobs Counts landed was singing back-up for entertainer Tony Tillman. Counts explained that like many entertainers at that time, Tillman would have four weeks of work in one place, then another four weeks at another place. “Tony was a master showman whom the audiences loved,” said Counts. “He was also very generous, very kind to me.”
Counts’ next stop was with a band called “Then and Now” and that job took him all the way to Wildwood, New Jersey for a summer he loved. He even bought a bike so he could join the bike riders on the Boardwalk.
The next offer Counts received was to sing with the New Imperials. He liked the idea that he could sing Little Anthony’s part which he did for about seven months. Next stop in 1994: The Golden Nugget in Las Vegas and a country show, “Country Fever,” with a gospel choir of which he was a member. The show lasted for more than four years. Counts stayed with the Golden Nugget for another six months while the property attempted to write and produce another original musical show. That show never got off the ground, but Counts and one of that show’s cast members, Jeannine Valentine, stayed on at the downtown hotel singing with a lounge band called “The Naked Martinis”.
In 1999, Counts formed his own five-piece band. Their first gig was at the Voodoo lounge atop the Rio Las Vegas. “All I can remember about that job, four shows a night, was how smoky it was there and how my voice really suffered,” said Counts. The band had a few subsequent jobs, but ultimately disbanded. Counts then took a “real job,” joining the Imperial Palace Las Vegas (now The Linq). Counts was a “Dealertainer” at the casino, dealing blackjack and singing. “We would sing before or after our shifts. We were all tribute artists. We had the Blues Brothers, Elvis, Buddy Holly, etc. I was Stevie Wonder. I worked at the Imperial Palace 11 years until the concept of Dealertainers ended.”
Actually, Counts took a three-month leave of absence during that 11 years. A friend named Sandy Wyatt asked Counts to audition for Producer/Director Pat Caddick. Caddick hired Counts for a show called “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” that ran during one summer in Atlantic City. “An amazing cast and we had a great run,” said Counts. At the end of that show, Counts returned to the Imperial Palace.
Wanting to restart his career back in Las Vegas, Counts had heard about the Bootlegger Bistro and their open mic nights. He checked it out.
“Almost everything that has happened since has come about because of the Bootlegger,” the soft-spoken Counts says. Open Mic host Kelly Clinton liked what she heard and invited Counts to sing at the Stirling Club where she was entertainment director. Later he joined her for a number of corporate gigs and still later began regular appearances at the Bootlegger and at the Tuscany Suites & Casino. He is now also one of the featured vocalists with Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns at the Bootlegger Copa Room on Monday nights. This September he will reprise his show, “The Greatest R&B Songs Ever Written” at the Lone Tree Arts Center in Lone Tree, Colorado. Counts appeared at the Arts Center last year as a fill-in for Sonny Charles in a musical play. The Arts Center liked what they heard and offered Counts a show of his own.
Counts is also, in his spare time, finishing up an album of original songs, and he’s been in discussion with another songwriter/producer to record a song that he hopes might have hit potential. Session work, private parties and occasional gigs with the Lon Bronson Band are in the picture as well.
Counts is a bachelor and lives just east of the north end of the Strip. “Lannie” is his given name; he has no middle name. Counts likes movies but lives modestly because, as he admits, regular singing jobs for pay are hard to come by.
Kelly Clinton asks Counts to appear with her when he can. She introduces him by saying things like, “Lannie can sing anything; no song is too high or too low.” Privately she calls Counts a friend and says, “God gave him everything as a singer. He’s also humble, without an ego, and is a sweet generous kind person.”
Producer Clint Holmes adds, “Lannie is one of the best voices I’ve ever heard. I felt it was time for him to be himself, have his own gig, his own style. I know from my own experience it takes time to figure out who you are. He’s already there. It’s about confidence and an audience; he’s getting that audience now.” Counts has developed and performed two shows with Holmes as producer: “Cooke, the Music of Sam Cooke” and “The Greatest R&B Songs Ever Written.”
Counts’ dream: “To have a built-in audience that will give my new projects a chance to succeed.”
Counts can be heard on iTunes with a lovely song, “I’ll Always Know Love”. One of the comments on the song is, “Can’t wait to hear more from Lannie Counts.”