Teri Lamar spent the bulk of her professional life as an executive secretary.
Never in those 30-plus years did she realize she was developing skills that would serve her so well in her second act, as the singer and all-around driving force of Teri Lamar & New Company.
“I thank God every day that I was so organized, so businesslike,” she said. “Everything is contracted. Everything is right on schedule.”
In a field sometimes known more for artistic temperaments than business savvy, Lamar has established herself as a performer in demand for everything from Friday nights at local bars and restaurants to Saturday-afternoon wedding receptions, from community concerts to holiday gatherings for private and corporate clients.
“We are a holiday band,” she said. “We do a lot of parties.”
Even with a busy December, capped by two engagements on New Year’s Eve, Lamar is still accepting bookings.
“I book everywhere from last minute to a wedding that’s a year ahead. …I never have a slow season. Slow for us is only one to two gigs a week.”
The pace is a good one for Lamar, who lost her corporate job in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and was figuring out her next move when she started her musical career.
“I always liked to sing,” she said. “I knew I could carry a tune.”
She tried an open-mike night and “people clapped.”
That early encouragement led to teaming up with local musicians and soon she had a band that was being hired.
“Apparently I was good at booking,” she said, adding she also had the drive. “I had my heart in it because since I was 7, I wanted to be one of the Supremes.”
At first, she said, people assumed she was an industry veteran.
“So here I am, 50 years old and people look at you and say ‘You must have been doing this for years.’”
She was a quick study and soon became known not only for her talent and versatility but also for her work ethic and professionalism. She frowns on drinking, smoking and drugs and encourages presentable dress.
“We’re grown-ups,” she said, simply.
And in today’s economy, these touches make a big difference when competing for nights at restaurants and bars that might yield just $75 to $110 per band member.
“Bands have been forced to lower their prices because of the economy and because of the competition with DJs,” she said.
Lamar performs as a duo up to a full six-piece band, with core band members including Frank Brenna on keyboards, bass and vocals, guitarist/vocalist Jamie Bannon and Greg Laruccia on drums.
Lamar said her band’s repertoire – everything from Motown to Adele, Alicia Keys to Linda Ronstadt – keeps her current and in demand.
“You have to include new stuff all the time,” she said. “You play to the crowd. That was something somebody taught me a long time ago – Know your audience.”
And that audience is often found at venues such as Pete’s Saloon & Restaurant in Elmsford where Lamar has struck a chord with owner Peter Riekstins, a former full-time musician who makes live music a key element of his offerings.
He remembers Lamar from those early days.
“All of a sudden, she just started singing and sitting in with people who were here,” he said. “She really proved herself.”
And Riekstins continues to book her on a regular basis.
“She’s got a certain niche,” he said, describing it as a mix of pop-rock and dance music, something the “30- to 50-year-old crowd really appreciates.”
Though the music keeps her busy, it’s not Lamar’s only job; she also works part time in child care and in security for area schools. All of her jobs, though, are flexible, which allows her to create her own schedule.
“I spent a lifetime commuting and clocking in,” she said. “(Now), I’m on my own schedule.”
And throughout that schedule she retains an enthusiasm that also sets her apart.
“I’m the 58-year-old that’s not burned out from doing it 30 years.”