By: Della Rose
LAKE GASTON GAZETTE-OBSERVER
Wayne Free says no better place to write or play music than Lake Gaston.
After performing with bands like the Swingin’ Medallions and the Embers for the past 25 years, one might think musical sensation Wayne Free would prefer the night life and big city, but he said he’s pretty happy about calling Lake Gaston home.
“There’s not a more peaceful place in North Carolina to write songs,” Free said. “I love the pace of it. I’ve got no plans to move anyplace else. I’ve got the studio downstairs and I’m ready to rock.”
Free, who grew up in a musical household, said he owes a lot of his love for music to his dad. Growing up in South Carolina, he said he began his formal education in music in the seventh grade. His proficiency with the French horn earned him a full music scholarship at Lander University.
While there, he began touring as trombonist with The Swingin’ Medallions (Double Shot of My Baby’s Love).
“I cut my teeth there,” Free said, adding he learned things like stage etiquette, how to perform, and crowd interaction. “I learned just about everything there.”
He said one of the best things owner of the band, John McElrath, taught him was humility.
“A little humility prevents a lot of humiliation,” he said.
According to Free, he really wasn’t aware of how popular the Swingin’ Medallions were when he first joined. He said it didn’t take long to realize however, as he looked out across a sea of smiling faces at the concerts.
“It was very apparent,” he said, explaining the endorsements and sponsors just made the journey more intense. “It was straight uphill from there.”
As a member of the Swingin Medallions, Free performed in places like Maui, Hawaii for the Honda corporation, Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, and Sun Fest in West Palm Beach, Florida where the group opened for the B-52’s and Kool and the Gang.
Free said while he left the group in 2004 to pursue a different course, he still keeps up with them and occasionally sits in or performs with them.
“We still have a good relationship,” he said. “I owe 90 percent of my (music) knowledge to them. I’m very grateful.”
Free said a lot of people believe he left the Medallions to join the Embers, but nothing could be further from the truth.
“We were going in different directions,” Free said, noting he had gotten “a real job.”
But his love of music wouldn’t let him be. Shortly after the breakup, he received the call from the Embers, who were losing saxophonist and vocalist Mark Black. He said he had to make his move.
Free said he played that very night with the band in front of 3,000 people without a single rehearsal. They “talked shop” that night after the gig.
Working with the band, Free said moving to North Carolina was quite an eye opener for him.
“I’ve met some of the best musicians I’ve ever met (here),” he noted. “North Carolina music is so different from South Carolina. (North Carolina musicians) made me step up my game. I worked a heck of a lot harder to be better.”
Free said many people expected him to try to fill Blacks shoes while he was with The Embers.
“I had no interest in filling his shoes,” Free explained. I was just bringing another set of shoes to the table. I just wanted to make myself invaluable to the group– that was the goal anyway.”
Free toured the world for the next 10 years, recording albums and writing several songs along the way. He left in 2014 to pursue a solo career.
“It’s scary, too,” he joked, then added he felt it was time for him to become his own success. “I spent 25 years working as a band member to make somebody else’s organization successful and I feel like I did that well. I was successful with both groups. It’s time for me to do that for myself for a change.”
Free, a father of two boys, said he wants to give his sons the same opportunities his father gave him, and he plans to show them the ropes as they get older.
He said he also wants more opportunities to write music, and said living at Lake Gaston will afford him that.
He said his performances are more acoustic and for smaller crowds now - he enjoys the intimacy.
“That’s the most rewarding thing,” he said, explaining he likes being close to his audience, and having the opportunity to feel their reaction.
He mentioned at his last concert at the WatersView Restaurant, he was singing a Christmas song, and a woman at the back of the crowd was moved to tears.
“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “And that’s what I mean. You touch somebody in an intimate situation like that.”
Free is performing at the WatersView restaurant New Year’s Eve from 6 to 10 p.m. There is no cover charge for the event. For reservations call 252-586-2814.
former lead singer for The Embers & Swingin’ Medallions
announces launch of solo career…
The long awaited announcement of the solo career of Wayne Free is here. After many years of successful touring with the Swingin’ Medallions and the Embers as lead singer and musical coordinator, Wayne has decided the time is now to step out on his own and pursue a lifelong dream. He will begin accepting bookings immediately.
“Today begins the next chapter in my musical journey. After months of planning, I now get so excited when I think of the freedom and possibilities that lie ahead.” - Wayne Free. Just returning from New York City, Wayne formally announced his solo career in a sit down interview from the Affinia 50 Hotel with New York 1 and Flawless TV for several media outlets. He also spent time meeting with promoters and management. After months of planning and sorting through various offers and opportunities, Wayne feels very fortunate to be able to make this announcement now.
Wayne’s vision as an artist is to entertain and touch each audience through his music. He has always wished that our higher being would work through him to touch or make a difference in someone’s life.
His mission is to write songs, record, tour and build a successful multifaceted entertainment business. He feels that as a proprietor and an entertainer, if you put people first (audience, associates, affiliates and employees) no room is left for failure. Additionally, Wayne wishes to make it his mission to give back to the community. As a small child he was involved in an accident which required extended hospital stays and multiple surgeries. Eternally grateful for the good people of The Shriners Hospital, he has named this organization the charity of choice. - RA Management