In 2017, country music fans were thrilled when singer-songwriter Tracy Dawn Thompson announced a collaboration with Grammy-winning producer and former Dwight Yoakam guitarist Pete Anderson. The duo began recording and performing together but late last month Anderson filed an unlawful-detainer lawsuit against the singer seeking to evict her from a Los Angeles apartment building he owns.
The producer had personally moved her into the unit 14 months ago with, as Thompson tells it, an oral contract that specified she remain there as a guest until she had a steady source of income, at which point Anderson would again relocate her. In her answer to the complaint, Thompson states that after she replaced Anderson in her band with another guitarist, he filed the unlawful-detainer suit as retaliation — and this is where the story gets ugly. (Disclosure: I have known Thompson and Anderson for years and both have been regularly featured on my monthly Messaround shows.)
Anderson, who declined to be interviewed for this story, offered to record, produce and release a six-song EP for the singer, unprompted, 22 months ago. The collaboration seemed ideal, with Anderson’s streamlined honky-tonk updates perfectly supporting Thompson’s meticulously crafted songs, but things quickly began to deteriorate.
“Pete first offered to produce me in January 2017,” Thompson said. “He said it’d be his farewell production job before retirement and was talking about how great it was going to be. The first session was on March 18, my birthday, and I was really excited about it.”
During the recording process, Anderson sat in at the singer’s weekly Cody’s Viva Cantina residence and began to feature her on his own shows.
“Even though I had a band, he began showing up and then put me on at his Moose Lodge gig,” Thompson said. “He made me sing the same two songs for a year and a half. I was bored but he wouldn’t change it. Eventually I got him to add one song but I could still only do two a night.
“We shared the band with [blues singer] Lightnin’ Willie at Viva, and when I asked to be paid $50, which was the deal, [Anderson would] get very angry and start yelling at me, so I usually wasn’t paid at all. And even there I was only allowed to play the same six songs — it was really boring. He’d tell me how to perform, told me to not take the mic off the stand because singer-songwriters don’t do that and ‘I should know that.’ I film all my performances so I can study them later, and I saw that if I tried to tell a story or engage the crowd between songs, he’d pretend to look at his watch, roll his eyes and basically just make fun of me,” she said.
Eventually, after moving the singer into his building, Thompson said, Anderson went full-on Svengali and the whole arrangement soured.
“He was controlling of what I wore onstage,” Thompson said. “My wardrobe has a rocker edge, I’ve been in the rock world, too — that’s who I am. Pete told me that if I was going to wear a dress, then I had to wear jeans underneath it. I felt like an Amish girl. And he told me never to wear a cowboy hat. A former producer called me — he’d seen those outfits and was worried about it, he told me, ‘You’re losing your vibe.’ Other friends said the same thing and some just stopped coming to the shows because it was too painful to watch.
“I was writing a lot and there were countless times I pleaded to do my new songs — I felt like I was constipated,” Thompson said. “I just didn’t want him in my band anymore — he was too controlling, he wanted to control everything. So I got a new guitar player while he was out of town and didn’t invite him back. He began texting me, saying I should ‘put my stuff in storage and couch surf.’ He called me horrible names and told me to go sleep in my car. I don’t have any family here, I can’t couch surf with two dogs. He’s texted my mother and told her that I was a drug user. He’s left me raging, abusive voicemails. And the next thing that happened was his filing the [unlawful detainer].”
This isn’t the first time an Anderson musical partnership has ended in litigation. Following his 20 years with Yoakam, producing 16 records with the singer, 10 of which went gold or platinum, an acrimonious split prompted Anderson to sue Yoakam for $60,000 in lost earnings, alleging that the singer breached an oral contract by pulling out of a 2002 tour to shoot a movie (they settled out of court).
“We had an oral contract that I could live here until I had a steady income and that he’d relocate me,” Thompson said. “There’s no lease, I never signed anything. He moved me in — all my belongings are here. I’m just fighting the [unlawful detainer] so I don’t become homeless.
“I don’t even know if the recordings exist,” Thompson added. “He stopped letting me come to the studio and then told me I’d have to record the vocals somewhere else. I did a scratch vocal on that first session and another time we went back in and re-tracked the guitar and I did another scratch vocal. He kept saying, ‘They sound great, I’m so excited, it’s going to be the best album ever,’ but I haven’t heard anything.
“He was just stringing me along. At one point, he sent me a Dropbox but I couldn’t open it and neither could any of my bandmates. I’m so disgusted that I just stopped caring about it. It’s one thing to get yelled at or have people lose their temper, but to mess up my music is something else — it is like a knife in the heart.”