Features & Columns

Dewey's Decimals

San Jose songwriter Lisa Dewey could earn big bucks thanks to Lindsey Buckingham's version of her tune 'With You on My Mind'
HART'S BEAT: Lisa Dewey's San Jose roots run deep. Photograpgh by Felipe Buitrago

I AM sitting in a coffee shop, and Lisa Dewey is showing me a private image on her phone. As I look closer, I see a scanned photo of a check from the Lindsey Buckingham Trust. I can't divulge the amount, but it's safe to say that if Buckingham's upcoming album, Seeds We Sow, takes off, Lisa will make a pile of dough. She'll either go insane, or it'll be a holiday road of some sort.

The story here is every San Jose songwriter's dream. I think. A longtime fixture in the San Jose alt-rock milieu, Lisa has written tons of songs, released quite a few albums on her own label, toured all over the United States more than once and hangs out with everyone from the Bangles to Concrete Blonde. She has put this city on the map, much more than any of the politicians. But since San Jose is an impossible no man's land of a place from which to base one's self, she has not always been able to make a fulltime living as a serious musician or songwriter.

Buckingham, of course, plays and sings for Fleetwood Mac and gets royalties every time one of its tunes plays on the canned stereo in supermarkets and dentists' offices worldwide. Income-wise, he can stop thinking about tomorrow whenever he wants.

A few years ago, Lisa appeared backstage at Buckingham's 2006 solo gig at the Palace of Fine Arts. She hung out for a few hours and unloaded one of her CDs on the guy. Just recently, she received a call from Buckingham's manager, informing her she now has a "co-write" on the upcoming Seeds We Sow album, available Sept. 6. Apparently, Buckingham enjoyed one of Lisa's songs so much he decided to rework it for himself.

That's right, a Lisa Dewey tune, "With You on My Mind," has now transmogrified into "Stars Are Crazy" on Buckingham's new album. She will get royalties whenever it plays live, on the radio, or even on the canned system at Whole Foods. If the album goes gold, she gets even more royalties.

Being a reputable dude, Buckingham didn't steal the track and call it his own. His manager phoned Lisa and offered her a contract to make sure she was taken care of. But she wasn't satisfied. Everyone has the right to negotiate such things, so she contacted old pal Michael Steele of the Bangles, who relayed her to attorney Michael O. Crain. Crain was the lawyer who represented the estates of Jerry Garcia, John Lennon and Bob Marley when Moe's burrito chain was sued for using those artists' names and images without licensing them.

"I'm getting credit on the album, the DVD and proceeds," says Lisa. "And royalties, mechanicals and what have you, forever more. I'm really excited that I'll be able to take whatever income comes from this, and as an artist, put it right back into my music. And be able to go back and do my music full time again, because I haven't been able to in a couple of years."

Luckily, the original Lisa Dewey song remains her property. The Buckingham tune is legally a co-write with a different title. That means when Lisa plays at the Blank Club this Saturday, she can say "With You on My Mind" is a tune transmogrified by Lindsey Buckingham. "We're going to play the Lisa Dewey version," she says. "In the deal, my song is still untouched."

Many musicians who've grown up in San Jose and haven't left yet will testify that part of the human condition here is dealing with the ridicule and disrespect hurled at San Jose from musicians in other, more happening cities. One often secretly longs to be that one musician who finally makes the big time without having to permanently leave San Jose and set up shop somewhere else.

"I could have gone to Los Angeles or San Francisco or New York, but I went and played all those places instead, a few times a year," Lisa said. "I decided to stay where I was because I like San Jose. And I really like the community here. I think we have a great artist community, and I think it's underrated. I have some amazing friends, and some amazing artists have come from San Jose. This city is not given its due at all. I'm sick of people saying San Jose sucks. I've stayed here because I want to prove that you can be here and make it."

Amen. Someday Lisa will be mayor, and I will write the State of the City Address.

Lisa Dewey, with Anya Marina and Ari Shine

July 9, 9pm, $10

The Blank Club, San Jose