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Dave Barnes & Christmas 2017, the Music Business & More

Posted December 2017

 

Barnes Image LargeIf you’re a current listener to country music, you are familiar with some of Dave Barnes’ work. Whether it’s his own solo work or Blake Shelton’s cover of his hit, “God Gave Me You’ or his current composition, “Craving You”, that is a huge hit for Thomas Rhett and Maren Morris. He’s also written or co-written songs for Reba McEntire, Tim McGraw, Billy Currington, Marc Broussard and many others.

Yet, for some of you, you may not have heard of him. It’s for you who haven’t that my first question to Dave during a recent phone interview that I asked for an introduction of him.

“You know, that’s a great question. Primarily, I’m an artist. I write and record my own music. I’m in the middle of making – I think – my twelfth album right now – which is absolute insanity. That’s primarily what I do. I write and record my own records and play shows and stuff and do these Christmas shows every year.

“But it’s interesting, though, as I get older there’s a chunk of what I do now is also writing with and for other artists. That’s also become a really fun, addition. Another lane has been added to the highway, if you will, which has been great. I just had a song called, ‘Craving You,’ which is the number one for Thomas Rhett that I wrote with his producer. It’s fun to flex all the music muscle that I can. I think that’s a real gift. It’s fun not to just stay in one lane.

“As I get older – I have a family now. I have three kids and I like being home. So, it gives me a chance to not have to be gone as much and it lets me do some different, creative things which I think is always good for creatives – to sort of be able to travel a little bit.”

Though relatively young in years, Barnes has accomplished a lot in the country music business. I asked him what are some of EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEditedthe biggest positive and negative changes in the industry, in recording, in performing – from the time he began his career to this point.

“You know, I think the thing – it’s actually the same thing, which is a really bizarre thing to say. It’s its own Ying and Yang. It’s its own Siamese twin. I think the best thing about what’s happening in music is so many people have access to doing it now. I’m always a fan of anyone getting to be creative. I think that’s a huge part of the way we’re made and it’s fun to get to see people that normally - maybe thirty years ago, twenty years ago – wouldn’t have really been able to do music because of the constraints that were happening there and really be successful and really have success at something that, traditionally, they wouldn’t have done if it weren’t for computer programs and things like that. Now, they can sort of do that.

“I think, on the other hand, that also is making it hard – I’ll use the word, ‘flooded’. The market is tricky because there’s just so – because there isn’t a huge disparity between entry and professional. It’s all so greyed out now because anybody can put music up on Spotify or iTunes. It’s tricky because it’s great but it’s also hard for people who are doing it as their profession and work so hard at doing it and getting really proficient and to feel that you’re really competing with people who haven’t necessarily put in their time. Honed their craft like a lot of people have. Oddly enough, it’s sort of the same thing.

“I do think – which is a different conversation, but it does address what you’re asking -  I think it’s tricky where music is business wise now with Spotify and what’s happening in the streaming world. But, I’m not a doomsday guy with that. I think it has a really, really, really awesome plus column to it where it’s not all negatives. I wish we were getting paid more but I hope that will change some day. But it does have a lot of positives, too. I think those are a couple of things I think about on the pros and cons of music these days.”

On that comment, I added that the late Sam Andrew told me that he and his peers were creating the sound that they’re now teaching in schools and cranking out clones by the hundreds every year. I also drew on the memory of the early days of album making and marketing in both country and gospel music. He concurred.

“I think that verbatim. I couldn’t say that more eloquently than you just did. You know, nothing’s new under the sun. That’s the thing all of us who have been doing it for a little while longer have to careful of is getting into this sort of like self-important ‘I paid my dues and I hustled. Now these young bucks are creating something in ProTools and Logic and put it out and they have the same success.’

“Man, there’s nothing new. I think that, for every time I kinda think, ‘God, this feels like a new dilemma,’ you have a conversation with a guy or a girl who has been in it for fifty years and they’re, like, ‘Oh! That was happening when this happened!’ Like, when the drum machines came out, we all got mad because you didn’t need a drummer any more. It’s like, ‘Oh, yeah! There’s always some iteration of a problem that’s happened before.’

“I think you’re exactly right and that helps me because I get less, again, doomsday by thinking, ‘Oh, god! This is the end of days we’re kinda coming up on.’ I think the hope is, man, the live show is the great equalizer – sort of like scimitar. It cuts through a lot of things and I think that’s why the market is so flooded. One, because music isn’t making for people what it used to, money-wise. Two, because that’s the litmus paper test. Literally, anyone can make good music now to sell that’s listenable. But, you know, not everybody can go make good music live or give a good experience, I should say. That’s still such an important medium. And, thankfully, it does keep everything as the great ‘leveler’ because it really does sort of remind you, ‘Wow! That kind has been doing this for a long time and he is fantastic at doing what he does!’”

With that all said, I asked Dave who’s commanding his attention, musically, these days.

“You know, a band that I love so much is this band called Wolf Pack that’s out of L.A. and kinda Michigan. It’s sort of like our generation’s Phish – a funkier version of Phish, I think. I love those guys! They’re always doing really interesting (stuff). They’re phenomenal players which is what I love especially about them. They’re so great.

“I just went and saw Mayer last night – John Mayer here in Nashville. He’s such a fascinating dude! John is just so consistently putting out interesting and inspiring music. I was reminded of just the magnitude of his skill set last night. It’s really cool, too, because he’s doing his show in he calls it three chapters, I think where it’s like the band, then acoustic, then the trio. It’s a worthy flexing of muscle. It’s impressive! You kinda go, ‘Yeah, man, if I could do that, I’d probably do the same thing!’”

When I interjected that I thought Mayer’s pairing up with the Grateful Dead members was brilliant, Barnes responded, “If I could be so bold, I really think it shows in his guitar playing, especially. John is such a great player. He’s such a talented guitar player. But, last night, for me, felt like he’d just settled into his skill set level. It wasn’t quite as meandering, I guess is a good word. We’re the same age – he’s thirty-nine. Just seeing him kinda go, ‘I’ve got control of this thing and I know what I’m doing, and I know what I’m trying to achieve and I’m achieving it at its highest level.’ It was really, really, really cool.”

Is there a legacy act that impresses Mr. Barnes?

“You know, I tell ya, Paul Simon, to me, is kind of the last vestige of that, in my opinion. My favorite music is legacy acts. That, to me, will never change. I really don’t listen to a lot of current music. I still wear out all of the music that I grew up on and, really, what my parents’ generation grew up on or, I should say, grew up with. The Eagles, Fleetwood Mac, Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers – all that stuff is still my favorite music. So, it’s been fun catching them as they come through Nashville. I saw Fleetwood Mac a couple of years ago at the Bridgestone. It was insane! It was so good, and it was so fun because Christine McVie was back. Just such an amazing show!

“You know, the trick with that stuff is not a lot of those acts, I think, are still really making super compelling music and it’s not bad. It’s like Tiger Woods at 80 years old is still going to hit a drive straight. It’s just not going to go as far, you know what I mean? It’s not like they’re bad at what they do. The fire’s not quite as hot as it used to be and rightfully so.

“So, it’s hard to find those bands that you still feel like they’re putting stuff out there, but Paul Simon does do that, somehow. I think his last couple of records are still really interesting. The gears are still kind of turning up there. He’s the only one of those, in my opinion, that’s still really – like James Taylor put out an album. It was great. It was really good but Paul, to me, is still inspiring. I love the guy and I love the music. The album is good. He’s the last one that I feel like I am hearing that I go, ‘God! That’s really interesting and I wonder what that’s about? How did he do that? What was he thinking?’”

When I shared that one of Boomerocity’s missions is to keep our readers current on the latest with our musical icons of our youth, he said:

“It’s insane! I love that you’re doing that. That’s one my favorite things that’s happening with that generation of music. It seems to be that there’s some sense from them to, ‘I’m getting up in age. Anything can happen, health-wise.’ And I really do feel like I’m seeing them go, ‘I really need to sort of be passing this info down. I haven’t thought about that, yet.’ Like James Taylor and Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, all these people seem to be doing a lot more podcasts and they’re writing their books and they’re doing more interviews. Some of that is because they want to stay relevant and I get that. But I also have to think that some of that is, ‘You know? I don’t know how much time I’ve got left even it’s just as a performer. I want to make sure that I’m able to tell my story and I communicate what my music is about and what it’s about and how we did what we did,’ because people care and it’s important.

“James Taylor did one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen an artist do. It was probably five or eight years ago. You could go to his site – and you may still be able to do it – you go to his site and he had showed you how to play something like five or six songs on acoustic. And I’m not talking like the one-shot camera thing. He probably had eight cameras that you could go between and see. One was inside the guitar going out. One was right on his fingers. One was at the end of the fret board shooting down the fret board. One was at the end of the guitar shoot up the fret board. One was ten feet in front of him. That’s the kind of benevolent thoughtfulness that’s really cool. ‘Here’s how you play Sweet Baby James.’ Here’s how you play Fire and Rain. That is so cool! It really is important in a weird way.

“And what I think is cool with what you’re doing is we’re getting access to stuff that you haven’t had access to. That’s kind of what I’m speaking to. People’s mortality is inspiring them to be more benevolent with information. I think that’s huge gift to fans of music. A lot of those guys couldn’t be bothered thirty years ago and now it’s like, ‘No, man, I want to talk about this. It’s important that I tell people this.’ It’s a real gift, I think, to all of us to get to be around for that.”

One thing that Dave Barnes does every Christmas season is perform a Christmas show in a few select cities in Tennessee and Georgia. I asked him to tell me about the Christmas shows coming up and what fans can expect.

“It’s always one of my favorite things to do every year. I think this is our sixth or seventh year doing it – which really wasn’t on purpose. I did the first tour – my first Christmas tour – with my buddy, Drew Holcomb and the Neighbors – his band – and I put out a Christmas album - like I said – six or seven years ago. We had such a good time and the response was so good – and, thankfully, that Christmas album – I have two Christmas albums – that first one, when it came out, really resonated.

“I remember iTunes did a big feature on it at the time and did a free download of one of the songs. It really kind of caught. It’s fun to see a lot of fans who didn’t know my music to find me through that.

“Christmas music is so cool because it’s really maybe as much or arguably more than any other music becomes a part of your life because it’s every year. You can love a record but there’s not a schedule for when you’re going to listen to it all the time. So, you can easily forget a record and five years later go, ‘Ah! I loved Hotel California, but I forgot about it!’ But Christmas music, every year, it’s going to pop up.

“The most covered song of all time is White Christmas which people mistakenly say ‘Yesterday’. But the reason it’s so covered is there’s a venue for it every year. It’s been fun because we did this tour and then the next year we did another one on our own and then it sort of caught on because we realized that Christmas shows are sort of – in the best way – the lowest hanging fruit because people always want something to do during Christmas and they love to do the same thing every Christmas. It’s literally an algorithm that you can’t get wrong if you just have a good show. It’s the easiest things to do, in some ways, because people always want something to do. They always want the same thing to do. So, if you can give them something that’s good, they’re gonna go, ‘Yeah. We’re in. We’ll see ya every year!’ And you’re, like, ‘Yes!’

“We put a lot of effort into it. It’s not easy music to play. It’s really fun because it’s always engaging to us – the band – to remember how stuff goes. This is a really weird thing to say: It’s sort of like church music – some of it is church music because of the season – it feels like you’re sort of leading people through an emotional journey; like you’re the conductor of these emotional moments – which every concert is but I think especially a Christmas show. ‘I’m reminding you of what it feels like at Christmas when I sing this. Oh my gosh! It makes me think of my sixth Christmas when this happened and we . . .’ You know what I mean? It can almost feel like church in some ways. It can sound sacrilegious because it’s got such a tie to people and you’re guiding them there. It’s fun and every year it’s more fun because we’re slowly adding markets. It’s pretty easy listening to me, which I love. I feature a lot of special guests. The band guys do their own songs, too. It’s really fun. It’s really a benevolent show for me to play . . . in the best way. It’s a very communal show for us. It’s not something that I get too stressed out about because I’m always excited about getting up there and being a part of it myself.

As for how many cities he’s bringing his Christmas show to, Barnes said:

“I think we’re doing three. I think we’re adding a second Knoxville show (note: they have!), which is really fun. We do Nashville. Yeah, two Knoxville shows and Atlanta.”

Dave also gave me a little heads-up about his forthcoming album.

“You hear this as much as anybody does from artists. ‘It’s the best thing yet!’ We have to be (that way). And I mean that sincerely – not just like we have to be it’s in the script. If you’re not excited about it, you’re kind of doomed. But I am especially excited about this. It’s been a really fun last few years for me. I did the record before this one that was kind of tip of the hat to Laurel Canyon. It’s an album called Carry On San Vicente, which was kind of a throwback – kind of a concept album for me.

“But, I think in retrospect, I think my fans enjoyed it, but I don’t think it was necessarily – you are always assuaging these appetites, you know? I think people are, like, ‘This is what we need, and this is what you do for me’ and I think a lot of people liked it, but it wasn’t, like, ‘No, man, we need the Dave Barnes fix.’ But this album is that. My first two or three records were really diverse and random – kind of all over the place, which I think my fans like. ‘No, we like that you have a straight-ahead song next to a really funky song next to a ballad next to a gospel thing or whatever.’ This album, for me, when I started to write for it, I feel like I want to do that again. I feel like my people want that back from me again. This album is really musical which is super fun and probably the most vulnerable which is really cool because I feel like that’s something I’m not always great at. So, it was fun to – more than most times – to spill my guts on the ol’ page.

“I think – circling back on what we were talking about earlier, I thought about this with John’s (Mayer) show last night. You know, the challenge for any artist, in my opinion, is I think you get four to five albums before people kind of like – this may be a really drastic thing to say – but I think it’s true. I think people start to naturally discount the newer music because of their love for the old music. I literally think that fans give you this sort of five album path. ‘Look, we’re gonna love your first thing. We’re gonna love your second, third and fourth. The fifth, we’re still in. Sixth? We start to lose interest – not because we don’t like you but because we like what you’ve already done so much.’ Everybody kind of has a capacity for each artist. ‘Yeah, I can’t like more than twenty of your songs. It’s like the hard drive of my brain is full.’

“The challenge for every artist is to do your darnedest to create compelling music all the time. You’re fighting for people to be like, ‘Ah, man! There’s three on this new one that I really got to boot three off the other!’ I was thinking about that with John last night. I love his new album and it rivals Continuum for my favorite of his music. I really love what he does. That’s such a win for him! He’s going, ‘Hey! I’m fighting to keep my stuff in your head. Don’t count me out, yet.’

“I don’t think we mean to. I don’t think we do in a way that you’re dead to me. I just think there’s this thing that happens to all of us to where as people start to get older, we start going, ‘Well, this isn’t the young, vigorous whoever. They’re still great but, you know, I’ve got kids now. Vacation in Florida. I have a home in Crested Butte.’ It’s not the same and I think it’s always a struggle and challenge to all of us artists is to go, ‘No, no, no, no! I’m still as inspired. I’m still as relevant as I was and I’m still trying to do my best to continue to serve you through my music to have experiences with.’

“So, I think with this album, that’s a huge piece that, to me, is going, ‘Gosh! I really want you to give this a clean shot because I think it could do to you what music has done previously.’”

As we wrapped up our chat, I asked Dave Barnes how he wants to be remembered and what he hopes his legacy will be.

“That is, first of all, a wonderful question. Second of all, I think, for me, I think it’s twofold. I heard Jewel – this is so random – but Jewel got interviewed twenty years ago and a guy asked her that on MTV. I’ll never forget this and at the time I didn’t understand it. They said, ‘If there’s one thing that could be said about your music, what would you want it to be?’ and she said, ‘I hope that it inspires.’ And I remember being really let down. I’m, like, ‘NO! You want it to be amazing! Or innovative or genius or profound!’ I remember when I actually got that. Later in my writing. That’s the truth. I can’t think of a better compliment because there’s nothing better than feeling like what you’re creating creates more creating.

“So, I would say, one, I hope that it would be inspiring to whatever degree that is. And, secondly, I would say that it was a soundtrack – that the music served the purpose of making memories for people so that when the music comes on, it takes them back to that place or they can play it while memories are being made that are associated with those moments. I think that, to me, is really what music really does.

“More than anything, I think, especially in retrospect it’s about being connected to memories and that is really what cements music as being as important as it is. It’s sort of a retrospective goal. You can have music that attaches itself to moments that, then, immortalize those moments. And I think, now, when people tell me that, it’s profoundly more powerful than in my twenties.

“People say, ‘We walked down the aisle to your song’ or ‘That was the first song we played for our kid’. That’s cool but when you’re that age but I wanted it to be, ‘You’ve never heard something like this.’  Now, I’m, like, ‘That’s it!’ When you get macro on the thing and you pull way back, the fact that of every song in the world – and I mean every song in every genre that’s ever been written – you went, ‘You know what I want to remember this is that song!’ That is so profound! There’s nothing that can be said that’s more powerful than that about music. ‘We coulda chosen Hey Jude. But no. We chose God Gave Me You. We chose Until You.’ Whatever. I could lay down and just sort of stare at the ceiling for a day thinking about that. That’s just incredible! I think that, to me, is the ultimate compliment or goal or mission statement.”

Keep up with the latest with Dave Bares at his website, www.davebarnes.com.

Dolly Parton Discusses "I Believe In You"

Posted October 2017

 

Parton Dolly 001My earliest memories of the legendary Dolly Parton go way back to the mid-sixties while visiting my grandparents in East Tennessee and they would watch the Porter Wagoner Show on television.

I’m sure that I wasn’t the kid in early grade school who became instantly smitten by the attractive and talented country star. For those from East Tennessee (like yours truly), it’s been a joy to watch the East Tennessee native and legendary icon as she rose to dizzying heights in her country career, crossover into the pop genre, then over into movies and then into non-musical ventures like the globally popular Dollywood.

This overwhelming, consistent success has allowed Dolly to give back – not only to her native Sevierville, Tennessee, but to the entire world. Her most notable way of doing this is through the Imagination Library that she founded to help stamp out child illiteracy. She’s funded this through her own donations as well as through the donations of fans from around the world.

Her latest donation is with a little twist that we can all take part in: For the first time in her fifty-year career, Dolly has recorded an entire children’s album entitled, “I Believe In You,” whereby the proceeds will go to the Imagination Library.

It was to promote her new CD that I was asked to participate in a “virtual press conference” with a handful of other entertainment writers and journalists. The focus was to be on the new CD but a few questions on other topics were slipped in by some of those participating.

To those of us who’ve never written a song, the process appears to be a mystery. When asked how she goes about writing a song – especially for “I Believe In You,” Dolly said:

“Well, I have so many ways of doing it. My favorite thing is - if I have the time – is to take a couple of weeks and take off and

just go somewhere and just write songs. But that’s not apt to happen these days as it was in the past. But I can write songs anywhere. I always keep a notepad by my bed at night and a tape recorder. I’ve always got a note pad everywhere. I do my best thinking when I’m traveling. So, I can write anywhere and I never know when a song is going to hit me. I write a little bit of something every day. An idea. A title or a few lines and, if I’m lucky, I can write a few songs per week.”

The song, “Making Fun Ain’t Funny” is a tremendous anti-bullying song. Ms. Parton shared what the inspiration was for such a tune.

“Well, all the bullies in this world which I do not like at all. And, of course, I remember with the Coat of Many Colors being made fun of and made light of as a child and we always had to wear ragged clothes so we often got made fun of and it was never funny to the one that you’re making fun of. But, especially now people are trying to teach children not to be bullies – that it hurts and it don’t feel good and how would you feel if it happened. So, it’s the anti-bullying thing that we’ve been dealing with the few years with the suicide (among) kids and the kids being bullied to the point of committing suicide. It’s just terrible so I thought that needs to be spoken to. It’s for the little kids but it’s also for the grownups, too.”

To me, the most poignant song on the CD is “Chemo Hero,” which is about pediatric cancer. It seemed very personal so, when it was my turn to ask a question, I asked if she could share the story behind it.

“Yes, I can! When you do see the actual CD of the album, inside there’s a picture of two little girls kissing me on the cheek. They’re two of my little nieces. The one on the left is Hannah Dennison. She’s my sister, Rachel’s daughter and when she was four years old, she got leukemia and we almost lost her for years and years.

“When she was sick, I wrote Chemo Hero and Brave Little Soldier for her and about her and, at that time, I took a bunch of my little nieces and nephews and her friends and took them into the recording studio and recorded that and some other children’s songs and fun things for her to have a little tape to listen to while she was recuperating. I just thought that children that go through all of that – sick children - not just necessarily cancer patients but sick children in general (would enjoy the song).

“The Brave Little Soldier was about that, too – children with other diseases. But Chemo Hero - I thought was a perfect title Parton Dolly 002band I’m going to try to make something more of that. At some point, we may try to put that out as a single or, certainly, find all the chemo heroes with some of the children that have overcome the most – even some of the grownups that suffered that and won the battle.”

With all that Ms. Parton does regarding illiteracy, it’s obvious that it is a subject near and dear to her heart. She shared why that is:

“Well, it’s very important. I think all children should be able to read. I actually started the Imagination Library over twenty years ago when my father – I actually did it in honor of my father who was never able to read or write. My dad got to help me with it and he felt very proud for me to be doing that and to involve him in it. He got to live long enough to see it doing well. He got such a kick out of seeing people call me the Book Lady.

“I just think it’s important because if you can learn to read, you can educate yourself about any subject. You don’t have to have money if you can’t afford to go to school. There’s a book on anything you want to know but it’s not going to do you any good if you can’t read. So, that was the main thing: inspired by my dad and just knowing how important it is.”

When asked has her faith in Jesus made a difference in her life and in her work for children, Dolly’s answer was straightforward and unwavering.

“Well, I think that you need to have a great spiritual background. I grew up in a church. My grandpa was a preach and we were taught Jesus loved us and we loved Jesus and in order to do that we needed to love one another, as well. So, I think that my faith has played a part in every single thing that I do. I think that’s one of the reasons The Coat of Many Colors movie did so well. I think people who are Christians – I think it really spoke to them. I just think family based/faith based stuff is really important. Especially this day and time. Any song I write, whether it’s about a child or anybody else, I always pray that God will lead me to say something that will glorify Him and uplift mankind somehow.”

The book and movie, Coat of Many Colors, really resonated with Parton’s fans. One of the standout quotes from the movie is, “you’re only poor if you choose to be.”  Dolly feels that message needs to be embedded in children’s minds. When asked why – and why the movie was such a smash hit, she shared:

“Well, first of all, I think children love to see other children in movies. I think they love to see how other people live. Based on the question I was just asked before what I was talking about, I really think there’s a need for families to pull together more. I think we’re so apt to babysit our children with television or with games and all that.

“So, I really think to just pull the family together; to have more love – that kind of faith based story. I think people are kind of hungry for that this day and time. I know I miss things on television like Little House On The Prairie and The Walton’s and things that were simpler – when life was simpler, not as complicated and not so scary out there. I think the ratings were good because I think people are kind of longing for that.”

Opry City Stage is opening in New York City’s Times Square later this year so Ms. Parton was asked what she thought of New York as a home for country music.

“I think country music is so big any more. It’s worldwide. Use to, back in the old days, it was considered this corny music. But now, as you well know, it’s become, really, a very important thing. And I just think – kinda based on what I was saying about the Coat of Many Colors – I think there’s a simplicity about it. People like something that’s not SO complicated; easier to understand; easy to listen to. It’s ordinary stories about ordinary people. I’m sure that in that particular show it’ll be done in an extraordinary way. But people relate to it. I think families relate to it. It’s day-to-day living. It’s stories about real things.”

In the movie, there’s a great line where you and your mother were going through some tough times that said, “Mama ain’t sewin’ and Dolly ain’t singin’.” Dolly shared about the connection between sewing and singing and especially as creative outlets for her and her mother.

Parton Dolly 003b“I think any creative thing – like you said – we’re all good at something. I think that cooking and sewing and all those things that you do with your hands and with your mind – all those things that touch the senses. It’s like with me, I was always singing and that was a true line, ‘If Dolly ain’t singin’, sumpin’ bad’s wrong!’ And, ‘If Mama ain’t sewin’’ – ‘cause Mama sewed all the time because she loved to sew but she had to sew, also. So, I just think that whole thing of just doing things for one another. Creating things for your family. I just think that music and all those creative things are all part of our makeup.”

About halfway through the call, Dolly shared the story of her first guitar and the instrument that she dreamed of owning when she was growing up.

“Oh, well, music was such a part of our whole family. All of my mama’s people were musical. They all played some sort of a musical instrument. And, of course, I took my music real serious and I was always pluckin’ along on somebody’s instrument – whatever they would be layin’ around or whenever family would come. But I always loved the guitar.

“One of my uncles – actually, two of my uncles – my Uncle Bill Owens, who helped me get in the business (and) I had another Uncle, Lewis, who was also a great guitar player and he had this little Martin guitar that I loved. When he saw how serious I was about my music, he gave me his little Martin guitar. That was my treasure. When I left it home when I left when I was eighteen years old, I put it in the loft because it was beat up and I was going to – when I got money - when I got rich and famous – I was going to have it fixed up. The loft burned out of our house and burned up my little guitar. I only have the neck of that one but I have collected little Martin guitars all through the years. I have some really classic little guitars – especially the Martin’s – the baby Martin.”

The questioning veered back to Ms. Parton’s songwriting and if it differed for I Believe In You differ from other albums.

“It was fun for me because, actually, the biggest part of the songs on this album were inspired by the book that we give away through the Imagination Library. Every time we give out the book, we get a new book, I write a song kinda based loosely on what the idea of that book is about. The very first one, I Believe In You – the very first book that we give out is The Little Engine That Could – that’s the first book we give out through the Imagination Library. I use that line in that – just that positive thinking. I believe in you just like that little engine that we’ve all read about.

“These songs were fun for me because I love children and I have so many nieces and nephews and I practically raised five of my younger brothers and sisters. So, I’m very close to my family. I like to write things for them, too; to have things to entertain my little nieces and nephews when they come to visit and play. So, these were fun songs to write.”

Well into the call, Dolly was asked for the story behind her smash hit, I Will Always Love You, and what did it mean to her years later when Whitney Houston recorded it and made it one of the biggest songs of all time.

“That’s a very good question. That song is so deep-seated in my heart, in my soul. Back years ago – in my early days – I worked with a man named Porter Wagoner. We had one of those relationships that we were so much alike that we couldn’t get along – or we were so different we couldn’t get along. But we had a great love. It was kind of a love/hate relationship. I always wanted to have my own band and I told him at the start that I wanted to go out on my own. But it was very, very hard. He had a number one television show at the time and for me to leave was going to take a big hunk out of his show but I still wanted to get on.

“Anyhow, after much fighting with all of the love and the depth we had for each other, I wrote that song to try to say, ‘Here’s how I feel. I’ll always love you. I have to go but I have to leave.’ It was a very hard song but when I sang it to him, he said, ‘Okay, you can go but let me produce that record.’

“So, it was personal to us. Then, years later, when Whitney did it, I didn’t know she had done it. I had sent it out to L.A. when they had asked for some of my music. Kevin Costner – he and his secretary had loved that song. I sent it out but I hadn’t heard anything about whether or not they did it.

“I was on my way home and I turned the radio on and all of a sudden, I heard that acapella part and it was just like, ‘Woo hoo! What’s that?!’  I knew it was something familiar. Then, by the time it dawned on me what I was hearing when she went into that chorus, I had to stop the car because I almost wrecked. I thought my heart was gonna bust right out of my body. It was the most powerful feeling, I guess, that I’ve ever had. It was such a shock and it was so great and she sang it so good that I was just overwhelmed.”

Ms. Parton then her confidence in entering the country music world and determination in charting her own path in it – especially as a woman.

“I just had this burning love for music. I had burning desire to get out into the bigger world. I was a country girl and there Parton Dolly IBelieveInYouCoverwas some fear there. People always say, ‘Weren’t you afraid?’ We’re all afraid of something but my true line is that my desire to do it was always greater than my fear. I just believed that I had something that might do good. I would always go in, talking to people and say, ‘I think I have something that might make us all some money,’ or try to go at it that way. I never thought about it - whether I was a girl or a boy. I just had a gift and I felt that it was God-given and I felt that I was supposed to be doing something with it. So, I just had that attitude about it and I guess people responded. I had a lot of people help and I didn’t have as many problems as many of the young girls were having at the time, I guess, because I grew up in a house full of brothers and my dad and uncle so I understood men and they didn’t intimidate me.”

Favorite song on the CD?

“I like them all for different reasons. Of course, the Little Coat of Many Colors I’ve done in so many ways so many times and now we have a children’s book, also, so I did do the reading of that. Probably, on the more personal level, the little song, Chemo Hero, because it was about family – and Brave Little Soldier – about children facing a lot of fears and doubts – whether it be about illnesses or going through divorce with their parents. So, that one meant a lot to me. The little song, Making Fun Ain’t Funny, has such a good message for this time. They’re all like my kids. I always say my songs are like my children. I expect them to support me when I’m old. I have some that are prettier than others but I love them all.”

Giving back is, obviously, a huge part of Dolly Parton’s life. She explained why.

“I think that it was that Christian background – about giving. It’s better to give than to receive and all those sayings that we’ve heard through the years. But I really think that when you’re in a position to help, you definitely should help. You get a good feeling when you feel that you’re doing something for somebody else because I’ve been so blessed in my life that I want to give back. Whether you’re paying your tithes or whatever, if God’s been good to you, b good to other people! That’s how we spread the love around. It just makes me feel good to do it and I think it is my duty to do it.”

Fifty years ago, Dolly released her debut project and today, I Believe In You. She was asked the “I Believe In You” Dolly would say to mentor the “Hello, It’s Dolly” artist?

“Ha! Ha! I think I would say, ‘I think she’s in her second childhood!’ I didn’t realize that it was fifty years ago! Then, I was a young girl and now I’m doing a children’s album! I think I’m in my second childhood! Ha! Ha! That just hit me funny when you was sayin’ that!

“Anyway, I’ve learned a lot. In some ways, you learn a lot and in some ways, you’re always stupid. I think I’ve learned a lot about life and, hopefully, I’ve learned a lot about songwriting, too. I’m the same ol’ gal I was back then. Back then, I was just dreaming about being a star. I’ve been so fortunate and lucky I got to do so many things – the movies, do records, and writing songs for movies and do some business things and have Dollywood. But, still, the music is always right there in the heart of it all. But, now, all these years later, for me to even be in a position to have wonderful programs because of my success – things like the Imagination Library where you can give back and do things. It’s a good feeling that I can do that so I just think, ‘Well, I’m just happy it all turned out the way it did!’

When congratulated on Dollywood receiving the Golden Ticket Award, Ms. Parton replied:

“Well, thank you! We’re very proud of Dollywood and all the wonderful things we’ve got to do. Like I say, I’ve been blessed so I’m happy to give back and I really love this little children’s album because I love kids and the money’s going to a real good place to put more books into the hands of more children all over the world!”

Dolly later explained why it is important that she be such a strong advocate for children with Imagination Library and album.

“There’s an old Whitney Houston song – speaking of Whitney Houston who’s been good to me because of I’ll Always Love You – but there’s a song she had called ‘Children Are Our Future’. I loved that song and I think that’s such a true statement. We have to teach the children, like that old song, Teach Your Children Well, and if you can teach them to read – even if they never have the money to further their education – they can find something they can read up on anything they want to know and least learn it.

“But it’s really a handicap if you can’t read. I really think that that’s important because I know how children need to have self-esteem and that gives them confidence if they can do those little things. To put books into the hands of children – that’s the reason why we put their little name on it personally so that they get these books in the mail box with their name on it. They’re gonna wait there for the mail or they’re gonna get home from wherever they’ve been and go to the mail box to see if their little book is there. They have a sense of pride that makes them take some time. It’s important for children to have self-esteem and to know how to read and to feel important, that they can do something.

“I know that my father couldn’t read and write like so many of my relatives because they were poor people – country people – had to work at home. One room schools and bad weather and all that. But, anyway, it just means a lot to me to be able to do something in that area.”

Dolly shared how she keeps herself inspired to make music after all these years.

“Well, you’d think that you’d run out of stuff to write about. The same melodies and the same story lines but there’s always aParton Dolly 001 little twist in everything. You can kinda change it around just enough. Since everything is a rhyme to me and I love melodies, I love to sing or whistle or hum – and so I’m just always doing it so it’s easy for me to write. Whatever I’m writing about at the time – because the day’s new and fresh – there’s always a new and fresh twist to some song even though it’s about just ordinary things. You can make it a little special if you’re the least bit creative – and I try to be!”

It’s been almost 40 years since she recorded, “Here I Come Again,” which was a big turning point in her plan to breakout beyond country and catapult her into superstardom. There was industry uproar and fear of what that meant back then. What did she think about it back in that time and what did she know that everyone else didn’t?

“I just always wanted to do more than to just settle where I was. Even to this day, as I often say, I wake up with new dreams every day. People say, ‘Oh my god! You can’t possibly be thinking of doing something else!’ And I say, ‘Yes, I do! I wake up all the time with new thoughts. I’ve dreamed myself into a corner, in a way, because I have to be responsible for the dreams that I’ve seen come true. But that’s part of it. But it doesn’t stop me dreamin’. Just like back then, forty years ago, I was longing to get out and do stuff on a broader scale; do more world music and travel around the world more; to get into movies; go to California; to get big time management so that I could do more things. That was just my crossover hit and, like you said, I had a lot of flak from the country people saying I was selling out. I said back then, ‘I’m not leaving country. I’ll take that with me wherever I go because that’s just who I am.’ I think I’ve lived up to that and I was so happy that I was right about that. If it had flopped, I’d had egg all over my face, wouldn’t I?”

As the call wrapped up, Ms. Parton was asked if this children’s album connected her to her childhood in any way and, more specifically, any memories she might have had of her mom growing up.

“I have so many memories of my mom and, yes, I always think of my family, my brothers and sisters, and my childhood when I write any of these songs; think of just children in general, and I try to become that little child again the way that I was back then: the little musical child that did want to write and sing. So, it’s easy for me to put myself in that place. But, certainly, my mother – the older I get the more I realize how much she really meant to all of us and what all she instilled in us.

“I’m a lot like my mother and the older I get the more I realize that. I have my momma’s creativity and her spirituality but I have my dad’s work ethic. So, I’m proud to have a good part of them in me. I have so many memories of my dad and my mom and when I write these songs, of course I think of them and my brothers and sisters.”

To follow the latest on Dolly, you can visit DollyParton.com or to learn more about her mission to stamp out child illiteracy, visit ImaginationLibrary.com.

Graham Nash

Posted September 2017

Nash 1a cropWhen you hear the name, Graham Nash, what comes to mind? His work with The Hollies or, of course, his great body of work in the various incarnations of bands with David Crosby, Stephen Stills, and Neil Young. Of course, Nash is also known for his activism, art, photography, and, in recent years, writing books.

For me, I think the earliest song I remember associating with Mr. Nash is when I heard him and the rest of CSNY sing, “Love The One You’re With” and to this day, whenever I hear that song, I remember laying in my room, hearing it crackle out over an old AM radio when I was a pre-teen in Phoenix.

Obviously, when I was given the opportunity to chat with Graham by phone regarding his latest album, current tour, and his photo exhibit at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, I was naturally ecstatic. The experience was one of the highlights of my writing career.

As part of this piece, I reached out to our friends at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to give us some comments regarding Graham Nash. I chatted with Karen Herman (Vice President, Collections and Curatorial Affairs for the Rock Hall) about the Hall’s collaboration with Nash for an exhibit of portions of his extensive memorabilia collection and photography work.

“He was actually really wonderful to work with. We did an exhibit with him in fall of 2015. It was fabulous! It was called

‘Graham Nash: Touching The Flame’. Not only was it about his life and career, but, also, it was about what he’s collected over the years from those that inspired him. And, on top of that, one of the things when we were first working on the exhibit was he really wanted to be seen as a full artist, not just as a musical artist but also as a visual artist, a thinker. So, there’s a lot – very multi-dimensional is how I would put it.”

Regarding the feedback on the exhibit, she said:

“That’s a great question. The feedback was really, really amazing! I think Graham actually had the best comment that was actually the headline for the Billboard story that ran on it. I can’t even say it in polite company what the headlines were. Ha! Ha!

EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited“Everything he does, he does with gusto and joy of life and really looking at everything from every angle. He’s a photographer. He’s a musician. He’s a two-time Rock Hall inductee. There’s just so much to him and he has such a great grasp of history of rock and roll that came before him. He’s got a collection of the Everly Brothers’ guitars; things like that. Things that Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley – he really salutes those who came before him and  helped him become the musician that he became.”

As my chat with Graham Nash began, we cut right to the chase by chatting about the tour.

“ . . . people are paying to come see me is a great compliment. My job is to do two things. One: Is to try to tell the truth as much as I can and, two, to reflect the times in which we live. That’s what me and David and Stephen and Neil and Joni and everybody else has been doing for years. We have to reflect the times in which we live!”

Baby Boomers were considered an idealistic generation – some being far more idealistic than others but all hoping for a bright future of love and peace. I asked Graham to think back fifty-plus years ago and if he imagined that the world would be what it is today.

“I’ve always known that the world is a chaotic place. I’ve always known that there’s a great deal of love and a great deal of Nash 1bbeauty. And I’ve also known that there’s a great deal of ugliness violence in it. My job is to breathe, to be alive, and to feel because before I write about anything, I have to feel deeply about it. I find music is a very precious thing to me and I have great respect for the muse of music. And, so, the fact that I’m still here after fifty-odd years of doing this is completely amazing to me!

“Somebody wrote to me a few weeks ago and saying last year was the fiftieth year of Bus Stop. Are you kidding?! Fifty years ago?! Ha! Ha! That’s amazing! I’m still here. I’m still writing. I’m still creating. I’m still feeling. This is fantastic!

“Was it Jagger that said, ‘Don’t trust anybody over thirty?’ Yes, maybe we shouldn’t trust anybody under thirty! Ha! Ha!”

Later in our chat, Graham also said:

“We were very idealistic and with very good reason. It was the Summer of Love. It was sunshine. It was freedom. We were coming out of the Eisenhower administration and Kennedy had gotten killed and the Beatles came and revitalized the entire world. To have been a part of that? I mean, you have got to understand: You and I are very lucky. We are living in the same world as Bob Dylan and the Beatles and Joni and all these incredible writers and this incredible music that was made. I’ve been right in the middle of it forever, it seems. And, yet, I still have the same passion for music. I still have the ability to think of something and feel that it’s not right and write about it or fall in love. I still have this passion and it just won’t let me go and I’m very pleased.”

As with past solo tours, Nash is touring with his long-time guitarist, Shne Fontayne. I asked how long have they had known each other and worked together.

“Here’s what happened: Do you know who Mark Cohen is? Well, Crosby and I sang on a couple of tracks on a couple of albums of Mark’s and one day at the El Rey Theater in Los Angeles, he was playing and he wanted me and Crosby to come and sing a couple of songs. So, we did. His lead guitar player was this man called Shane Fontayne.

Nash 2“Now, with a name like Shane Fontayne, I thought he was from Alabama or something but he’s actually English. At that time, Crosby and I were two weeks away from going to Europe on tour and our lead guitar player, Dean Parks - who was a very important session man – didn’t want to lose his place in the queue for the first call for musicians, you know? And, so, he couldn’t go. We asked Shane and Shane learned thirty-two songs in three days and became our lead guitar player with Crosby, Nash and then he was the guitar player in Crosby, Stills and Nash with the other lead guitar player being, of course, Stephen Stills. No pressure there, of course. Then, for the last couple of years, it’s been me and Shane stripping the songs down to their very essence as to how they were created – a simple way, with a guitar or a piano. People are responding brilliantly to it.”

Graham’s latest album is entitled, This Path Tonight. It’s a magnificent body of work with any one song on it making it worth the price of the entire album. I asked what the response to it has been – both as an album and the songs performed at shows?

“When me and David or when me and David and Stephen or when me and David and Stephen and Neil do great work and people respond – let’s say to Teach Your Children – there’s a song written forty-five years ago. It’s been in their hearts and souls for years. They love the song, right? But when you can get them to their feet, applauding, with a song they’ve only heard once, that’s impressive to me! With a song like Myself At Last – let me tell you privately: When you’re recording – we booked the studio starting on Monday. Sunday afternoon, the lads bring all the gear in and they take the drums out of the cases, la la la la la la. Sunday evening, the band come in and set up so the drummer can see the bass player and I can see everybody – you know, that kind of stuff.

“Then, you have to sing and play something to make sure that it’s all plugged in right. Myself At Last is the first attempt at Nash 3the first song we tried. One take. That’s when I knew that this album was going to be very pleasing to me.”

Does there seem to be a crowd favorite from the album?

“Actually, that one. Yeah. And, actually, Encore. People really love that song for some reason.”

As for a follow-up to the CD, Graham said:

“The reality is that Shane and I wrote twenty songs in a month and recorded those twenty songs in eight days. There was only ten on the album. Thirteen if you buy the deluxe version from iTunes. So, we had seven left that we still love and we’re still writing. So, when I go on this tour that we started in the middle of July, we’ll be on the bus writing.

“It’s very difficult. When you sing in front of a couple of thousand people and you’re adored and appreciated and applauded and, then, you go onto your bus, then what? I make myself a cup of tea and no one’s applauding. So, me and Shane get our guitars out and still play until hours in the morning – particularly on a long journey.”

With over fifty years of performances under his belt, does Nash see a difference in the crowds between then and now?

Nash 4“We’ve always had great crowds. But what I’ve been noticing lately is this beautiful thing where parents and brothers and sisters – older brothers and sisters are passing on the music to the younger generation. So, I see seventy year old people at our concerts and I see fifteen year old people at our concerts. The truth is, we’re not Brad Pitt, you know what I’m saying? It must be the music and that’s what’s thrilling to me as a musician.”

Most people would agree that Graham Nash has had his hand in writing some of the most memorable songs that stand the test of time. When I asked what is driving the empty lyrics of todays songs compared to the heartfelt lyrics he wrote, he answered without the slightest hesitation.

“I’ll tell you exactly what’s driving it: Smoke. Mirrors. Flashing lights. Dancing girls. Millions of people on stage, all lip-syncing. That’s what’s going on now to a large degree. Of course, within that, there are many people that can still write about topical issues. But, you know, here I am, this kid from the north of England that escaped having to do what his dad did and what his grandfather did: go down the mine or into the mill. My mother and father, thank God, recognized my passion for music since I was thirteen years old and just encouraged me to do that. I had friends whose family was slapping them up the side of the head: ‘Get a real job. This music s**** is not going to last.’ And this was in the late fifties. So, here I am, incredibly proud to be an American citizen. I’m incredibly passionate about what I do and, as I said, my responsibility as a musician is to make sure that everybody’s smiling as they’re leaving.”

Many feel that the state of the music industry is one of disarray and brokenness. Nash feels to the contrary.Nash 5

“It’s not broken. It’s just completely changing as it always did and it always will. But there are certain things that are inevitable. I don’t think, personally, there’ll ever be a band as great as The Beatles ever again. I keep my ears open. I don’t see it anywhere. I see certain individuals creating great music but I don’t see The Beatles.

“I just did an event at the Paley Center in New York City about the ‘All You Need Is Love’ television special that I attended. How people are fascinated with The Beatles and fascinated with the Summer of Love. It would be very interesting to see what historians think of this in a hundred years. Maybe it will be seen like Vienna at the turn of the century when architects and furniture builders and artists and philosophers all gathered over massive amounts of coffee to talk about what they were doing? Maybe Paris in the 1930’s with Gertrude Stein and Picasso and all those people. I think the Summer of Love and The Beatles are going to be seen in that kind of frame.”

As for the biggest changes he’s seeing in the music business, Graham wryly stated:

“I see people really trying to speak truth to power and I see people lip-synching their way into Hell.”

Nash 6Artists such as Mr. Nash whose career has spanned generations often lament the digitization of recording music today. I asked if he missed how music used to be recorded.

“I don’t miss much because it’s still the same for me. I try and write decent songs and get them in the first take. I’m trying to be as real as possible. But I can only deal with my life. There’s only me in here. I have to satisfy myself every day. I have to create something every day or else I get upset with myself. My time is running out. I’m seventy-five right now. How much longer can this go on, seriously? But I have to do the best I can and that’s all I’m trying to do.”

Three years ago, Graham released his autobiography, Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life. It’s a fascinating read and should be in your library if it isn’t already. I asked him if another book was in the works.

“Who knows? It was interesting writing it. I got to tell you, when I got the first double-spaced, single-paged version of the book in its very earliest thing, I got to the end of it – I read every word, of course, because I’d written it - and I got to the end of it and I was on my own and I said to myself, ‘Holy s****! I wish I was him!’ Because my life has been insane and it doesn’t show any sign of stopping! How lucky!”

Artists usually have a bucket list of things they still want to do, creatively, that they haven’t yet done. I asked Nash what was on his list.

“Sing ‘Yesterday,’ two-part harmony in front of millions of people with Paul. I could kill ‘Yesterday’ for sure. He’s always treated me with great respect, Paul, ever since the day I first met him, which was in 1959.”

At the time of our chat, Graham’s photography work was on exhibit at Walter Wickiser Gallery in New York City so I asked how that was going for him.

“It’s very interesting, you know, because, in a way, I’m kind of on top of my own kind of world here in the music business andNash 1a I’ve been criticized and praised, et cetera, for many, many decades. But it’s interesting to allow yourself to be criticized in a brand new art form. But it’s very interesting. People have been responding to the paintings and to the prints and the photographs very, very well.”

Wrapping up our chat, I asked Graham Nash how he hoped to be remembered and what his legacy will be.

“I want to be remembered as a human being that cared and tried to do his best. That’s all. I think the music stands for itself and I think it speaks volumes.”

Keep up with the latest Graham Nash news and happenings at www.GrahamNash.com.

Ray Wylie Hubbard Deals With The Devil

Posted October 2017

RayWylieHubbard 001 cropOne thing is for certain: America absolutely loves Texas singer/songwriter, Ray Wylie Hubbard. No matter where he performs, it’s pretty much always to a capacity crowd.

The next most popular Hubbard related event is when he releases a new CD, which he just happened to have done with, “Tell The Devil I’m Gettin’ There As Fast As I Can”.  It was for that album that I recently chatted with Hubbard for the second time in as many years. Already, the disc is creating lots of buzz.

“Well, everybody seems to like it. Like I say: I’m not a mainstream guy. I’m kinda that whole American/Folky Blues thing. All the response that I got from everyone – they really seem to like it.

“It’s not really a concept album but it’s kinda got - when you really think about it, it

is. Ha! Ha! It starts off with me re-writing Genesis – or paraphrasing Genesis, as a matter of fact – then it goes through all this stuff and then it ends up with me pleading my case before the court of Heaven.

“Like I say: I’m kinda old school when it comes to old records, you know? You put it on the first one and it’s kinda sort of like a movie, in a way. The idea of doing a single never crossed my mind, ever. I just write the songs and put them together.

EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited“But, to answer your question: People seem to have liked it when it’s been out there. I feel very grateful for that.”

Ray always touches on the spiritual in a lot of his songs but this album is pretty spiritual from the first cut to the last. I asked if there was any particular reason for this.

“You get to be an old guy like me and you kinda start thinking about your mortality. One of the ideas of it is that I hope God grades on a curve. Ha! Ha! I’m not Mother Teresa but I’m Attila the Hun, you know, so maybe a C- will get me in kind of a cul-de-sac, somewhere.

“But, yeah, you kinda get there but also I’m not very, extremely dogma but I try to RayWylieHubbard Devil COVERlive on certain spiritual principles.”

In describing his religious/spiritual views, Hubbard said: “Being honest. Not holding resentment. Showing courage when you need to. Caring. Having some compassion. That’s about it. Ha! Ha!”

Back to the CD, I asked Ray if there any of the songs leftovers from any of his previous projects.

“Not really. As I kinda write the songs – and when I get ten or eleven of them I’ll record them and then I put that record out and then I start writing again. So, I don’t think any of these were left over at all. These were all news from The Ruffians Misfortune.”

As for which cut from the disc he would point to as a calling card for the whole album, Ray said:

RayWylieHubbard 002“Well, it actually would be the title track: Tell The Devil I’m Gettin’ There As Fast As I Can. That’s the rock and roll fable, you know? That whole idea there’s a musician and he played the Strat and the loud stuff. Was in a cover band, doing the Clash and the Kinks. Then he got him an old Gibson and a small amp and he this alt Country thing and then he falls in love with a wild, tattooed woman, which, to tell you the truth isn’t a fable, is it? It happened to me.

“That’s the title track and I thought about it a lot. It’s kind of a weird, long title. But, then, I went, ‘Yeah, that’s kind of that lifestyle.’ Then, all of a sudden you realize thatRayWylieHubbard 003 – the devil being a metaphor for time passing on. I’m getting there as fast as I can, whatever the ending is.

“That’s kinda the centerpiece of the album. Plus, having Eric Church and Lucinda sing on it, that’s just added frosting to the cupcake, I guess.”

I asked if they were in the studio together or did he send the files back and forth.

“Yeah, we sent the files back and forth and they were just gracious enough to do that.”

Which song is nearest and dearest to his heart?

“Well, I guess the last song: In Times Of Cold, ‘cause all of a sudden we were sweatin’ around some this last winter and Judy was going – something was going on. She had a couple of quilts around her and was just cold and everything. I just RayWylieHubbard 004started thinking, ‘Man, when I do pass on, I’m not going to be there to comfort in times of cold. That’s one that I wrote for her and kinda us for the time being. They say that love never dies. Maybe the human body does but the essence and the mind – that love would still be there. I kinda started thinking like that: ‘Well, my goodness. In times of cold, be here.’ It kinda comes back to thinking about your mortality, I guess, as you get older. So, that’s one that’s very personal to me. I just kinda wrote it and said, ‘Well, it really doesn’t kinda fit the rest of the record, in a way but I’m going to go ahead and out it on there.’”

When asked what the crowd favorite seems to be, Ray said, “Oh, gosh! Well, we’re only doing about four of ‘em and it’s just kinda new now. I think Lucifer And The Fallen Angels is pretty much root screamin’ rock and roll. That whole idea – pickin’ RayWylieHubbard 001up Lucifer and some fallen angel and robbin’ a liquor store and bein’ all that stuff. So I get to put my little digs in there, you know what I mean? But it does rock. It just straight ahead, old school, kinda Johnny Winter slide on it. That’s really one that I think the audience really, really enjoys a lot.”

Asked if he thought the new country is like classic rock and is why people gravitate towards it.

“I can’t remember the exact quote. ‘If you can get ‘em to move their butts, then their mind and heart follows.’ Ha! Ha! Get ‘em to get that groove; get that back beat where they rock back and forth, groovin’ to it. That’s really an important thing, in a sense. Not to be facetious but like I say, the idea of the body locking into the groove and then the lyrics and maybe the insight comes later. So, yeah, I think everybody to get down. If you got the boogie in your bones, it’s got to come out. I think John Lee Hooker said that.”

Is there a song that he thinks people don’t get?

“Well, everything’s pretty cut ‘n dry. To answer your question, I hadn’t really thought of it like that. Everything’s pretty wide open. The song, Prayer, is pretty much where I’m at. I don’t know much about the sacred. I’m not into the Ecclesiastical but, hey! God doesn’t really need to hear my prayers. I need to hear me praying, which puts me into a better place than not. Ha! Ha! You know what I mean? It’s not the only thing I do, it’s the best thing that I do. It’s where I should be, is to keep in that state; that conscious contact type thing.”

In the last interview with Ray Wylie Hubbard, I asked him how he hoped to be remembered and what he hoped his legacy would be, to which he said: “He was a cat who preferred spirituality to religion conversion.” He then went on to say, “I don’t really think about it like that. I enjoy writing any songs where I can contribute to other peoples’ lives. I’d like to see if I can bring joy to someone’s life. When I play a gig, I like to see people laugh, dance, and sing along.”

How does he answer that question now?RayWylieHubbard Devil COVER

“He was a cat who preferred spirituality to religion conversion.” Then you went on to say, “I don’t really think about it like that. I enjoy writing any songs where I can contribute to other peoples’ lives. I’d like to see if I can bring joy to someone’s life. When I play a gig, I like to see people laugh, dance, and sing along.” So, now that you’ve done a spiritually oriented typed of CD, how would you answer that question today?

“Ditto. Ha! Ha! Same thing. No, I’m just kidding. That worked then. It works now. It’s the same thing, you know? I just really write these ol’ songs and somewhere in there it’s seeing what I can contribute rather than just what I can get. I’m not writing songs because I’ve got a publishing deal and I’m not writing songs to try to get some Nashville guy to record ‘em. I’m just writing these songs and seeing if I can, like I say, bring a smile or a joy or somebody just pattin’ their feet. Or, if they had a bad day, just can smile about something.

“So, that’s what it comes back to me. It’s still seein’ what I can contribute rather than what I can get. It’s still kinda that same thing.”

Stay up on all things RWH at his website, RayWylie.com.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood

Posted August 2017

 

Chris Robinson Brotherhood MENDENHALL 01aChris Robinson has been rockin’ for over thirty years. Atlanta residents have loved him since the 1980’s when he and his brother, Rich, conquered their city – first as Mr. Crowe’s Garden, then as The Black Crowes. It was that last band name that the rest of the world became gleefully aware of them when their album, Shake Your Money Maker, was unleashed.

In 2010, Chris and Rich put the band on an indefinite furlough and began to work on their own projects. Chris’s is The Chris Robinson Brotherhood and has been described by some as what you would get if you blended the Allman Brothers with The Grateful Dead. Chris would say they’re just making music.

The CRB is hitting the road in support of its latest CD, Barefoot In The Head. It was about that album and supporting tour that I recently chatted with Chris

In preparation for the interview, I had watched a documentary about Chris and the Black Crowes entitled, Who Killed 

That Bird On Your Windowsill. In it, Chris said that the question he hated most usually involved being asked if it was hard working with his brother. The film then went on to show Chris a ration of you-know-what each time he was asked such a question.

Since Chris is now a solo act, I mentioned the documentary comment and asked if there was a similar question that I needed to avoid asking. He laughed and said, “No! No! No! No! Are you kidding? I think, at this point, that question is moot. I mean, you know what I mean? I mean, I’m a solo act, too. The Brotherhood definitely is a band. We just put my name on it to jump in line, occasionally, when we have to.

“It’s so different. I hope it sounds right. The one thing is about the Black Crowes is the way I see it at fifty years old compared to how I saw it when I was twenty-two. We worked hard. We loved music. Believed in rock and roll, art, and writing. All of that sort of outsider culture appealed to me. You did it and things happened and, hopefully, you were talented and you were lucky and all of the above. But that stuff happened to us, you know what I mean? You can try all you can and you put your coin in the slot and it either comes up three cherries or whatever, right?

EverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited“The one difference about where we are and what we’ve built and the kind of time and patience but also fulfillment and excitement about what the CRB is we’ve built this, you know? It might not be a lot on the outside but, for us, to start from absolutely nothing and not relying on any sort of – I didn’t put the Black Crowes on anything because it had nothing to do with that presentation or what I did in that band. I wasn’t going to ask people for their hard-earned money for something that they weren’t gonna get.

“So, on one level, it’s funny, answering the same questions every day when you’re twenty-four years old. Then, I went for years when I didn’t need to talk about anything. So, for the CRB, it’s a totally different mindset, unlimited energy and imagination and feeling about what we’re doing.”

Obviously, the Black Crowes was incredibly fulfilling to Robinson as an artist. I asked him in what different ways does the Chris Robinson Brotherhood by JayBlakesburg 02Brotherhood fulfill him.

“In one way, the Black Crowes were like marrying your high school sweetheart and then everyone changes, you know what I mean. But it’s completely different. Again, life is different. The scenarios, the people, the energy, locations. For me, I’ve just been trying to position myself however way I can; to make things. Be creative. Everything has its paradoxes and its relations to the negatives and the positives.

“So, what a unique and unbelievable opportunity to be in a band like the Black Crowes. But, it also limits you in terms of the idea of, ‘Well, no one wants to hear your new music.’ That’s kind of the idea people have with classic bands. It’s like, well, I’m just crazy enough – I love the Black Crowes music. I plan on performing it again at some point. But I also have all these other stories and all these other songs – you know, as a singer, I love to sing! So, when these songs kind of begin with my ideas – melodically and musically – and then the rest of the band take them. They’re malleable things. From point A to point B, hopefully, we can create something beautiful like a palm tree or a walrus or whatever it’s going to be.

“So, to be honest, that was the kind of relationship and magic that I was looking for as a youth. And that’s where I am, now. That’s where I feel it’s come full circle, in a sense.”

Early in our conversation, I mentioned the Allman Brothers/Grateful Dead analogy and asked Robinson if that was a fair assessment.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood by JayBlakesburg 03“Well, I think the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead probably listened to a lot of the same records growing up just like the Rolling Stones listened to a lot of the same records that the Beatles did. As much as music has influenced and is an inspiration – I grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, where my father was a folk singer on ABC/Paramount. I grew up in a house full of roots music. So, on one hand I think it’s a broader influence or can you find inspiration in the tradition you work in and take that and sort of turn it inside out and then find a place that’s ultimately big in the now or being in the present.

“So, I think those qualify but I do think – between all of us in the CRB there’s over a hundred years of people making records or have been on tour. I’ve been doing it thirty years and the others have been doing it twenty-five years or whatever – thirty years themselves – Adam (MacDougall) and everyone – Tony (Leone) included, and Jeff (Hill). At a certain point, you just – what becomes you becomes part of the whole. And, to me, that whole is music as a cosmic idea or a vibration.”

In describing Barefoot In The Head for fans, Chris said:

“I think it’s the natural progression of the CRB’s sonic cycle that we’re on. I don’t know. It’s a hard thing to describe. Chris Robinson Brotherhood by JayBlakesberg 0940They’re songs and they’re melodies and images and sometimes those images are musical and sometimes they’re literary. Sometimes they’re cinematic and sometimes they’re super earthy and real. Hopefully, the songwriting makes a connection and the band takes the material and presents in an interesting, dynamic way. We’re super lucky in this day and age to even have the opportunity to go into amazing studios and have this time to work and continue doing something that other people find archaic. Hopefully, listening to the record is like an awesome evening of stimulation and conversation and culture with, like, the people you love the most.”

As for how this album was different to record compared to the past projects he’s worked on, Chris said, “To me, that kind of stuff – I mean, I came in making records at the end of it all before everything was dig and the old school way. To me, it’s about integration. I mean, making records is hardly that tricky. You take your best material. You try to get your coolest sound and you get your best performance and that’s a recording session. For us it doesn’t make a difference between this record and the last record – well, one major difference was we had less time. But, also, before we went in, the idea was nobody can bring any of the gear that we’ve used on the road, you know what I mean? It’s our rigs. They sound like the CRB. That’s the guitar and the same amp that I’ve been using for hundreds and hundreds of shows for years now. I haven’t changed.

“So, this time it would be like, ‘Oh, I don’t want to play that guitar or hear that amp. We consciously, I think, went a lot more acoustic and, also, let everyone in the band stretch out. I mean, Adam plays a multitude of keyboards. Jeff got to play cello and some different stringed instruments. Neil’s playing banjo and Tony’s playing mandolin and marimbas. Neil’s playing a multitude of stringed instruments, as well. Even having the great Ali Akbar Khan’s son, Alam Khan, play sarod on the track, Glow, is like one of the highlights of being in the studio for me – of my life. Also, we didn’t have any songs completed. In fourteen days we wrote, recorded eleven new songs.”

Artists don’t like picking favorite songs because it’s like picking your favorite child. So, I asked Robinson which song would he use as a calling card for the rest of the album.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood MENDENHALL 02“I’m the worst with stuff like that because I’m so weird. You know what? To me, the song I’m kinda most proud of – the song that I really think is the – I don’t know. In one way, I guess it would be “She Shares My Blanket,” which is the second track on the record. A flimsy attempt at a Robert Altman-esque romance or something. And, in a weird way, my dark horse song that I really love is ‘Hark The Harold Hermit Speaks.’ I think it’s indicative of – it has the genetic building blocks that makes our band but in a totally different sequence. It’s a the muta.”

Because I personally like, If You Had A Heart To Break, I asked Chris the story behind that song.

“You know, it’s funny. Neal is the one in our band who – on the last record, it was a song called Sweet Lullaby. No matter what we’re doing, once or twice a year I’ll sit down and write a sad kind of country song and that song was really like a country song. But that didn’t really fit us – the way I was playing it in my mind. So, I kind of brushed off some of it and Neal was really into it. He said, ‘You need to finish that.’

“So, I put a little elbow grease in it. Yeah, you know, I love a good, sad, bitter, love song – country song. I think of them as stories, these songs. They’re scenes, in a way. How you juxtapose them or place them over something or vice versa, that’s what it is. That kind of vague description hopefully benefits the emotional response that people have by having their own relationship to the words.”

Responding to my question as to whether the CRB has performed any of the tunes from the new CD yet (and what the response has been, so far), Robinson said “Yeah, yeah. Well, the whole thing has started to morph into this – the shortest song on the record will now probably be nine minutes but the time we get on tour. We played ‘High Is Not The Top’ a couple of times on the last run. We played ‘Blue Star Woman’ a little bit. Yeah, I think there’s some songs on this record that – a song like ‘Glow’ I don’t really know if that’s a song we try to add. I mean, we have some of those kinds of pieces. Hopefully, some of these dog eat songs – maybe a little more conceptual.

“That was kind of the other idea, too: We don’t have to make a record that we feel that we have to play every track every night. We could make some other statements, you know? They’re there to share.”

And the response?

“I think it’s been awesome. Like anything else, songs change tour to tour. The little differences. Then we find little things. Everyone finds their paths. Usually by the time you find your path, we realize we’re in the wilderness again so we kind of start all over. If you’re into that kind of thing it’s an excellent thing.”

As for what can fans expect from this tour, Chris said, ““We’ll keep what we’re doing. I think the more we keep our head down and just concentrate on this music – our scene grows every year. Knoxville is a great example. The first time we played, not that many people. The next three times, it’s like there’s always another one hundred, two hundred more people – another two hundred and fifty people. Like I said, I don’t think we have to beat anyone over the head. It’s not the average jam band experience and it’s not the average rock and roll experience and it’s not this and it’s not that. I think you just have to come see if it’s something that works for you - if you like the sound.

“I’m really proud of the scene that’s around us. Our audience and the people that come to see us is super kind, welcoming place, do you know what I mean? I know that in the jam band scene, a lot of parties have been going on. Panic. Phish. String Cheese. Whatever. Those bands are all great bands and their scenes are huge. So, we have our party going on, too. It’s just a lot smaller.”

I asked Robinson what was on his radar for the next year and the next five years.

“We’ve written a lot of songs the last fourteen, fifteen, sixteen months. We’re just ready to tour and with the record out – and there’s another Betty’s Blend she’s working on. There’s plans for us to go to Japan early next year and go back to Europe and do Australia, New Zealand and we just want to keep playing.

“The other reality is the only way people can really know what it’s about and be a part of it is to come see you. And we get the most out of it, too. That’s one thing, we’ve all be through a lot of scenes and scenarios and bands and ups and downs. But, at the end of the day, musicians want to play and that’s what’s happening and that’s what we want to do.

“We have a little bit of time off. I have a solo show here in San Francisco in a couple of weeks. I’ve been playing some gigs around here. I’ve been lucky enough to have Terrapin Crossroads – which is Phil Lesh’s venue – that’s been going on for a while. I play with Phil. I have my own nights to jam with whoever. You know, here in the Bay Area, live music is what people like to do with free time.”

With some time left in the interview, I shifted gears by asking if Chris thought that the music industry is broken and, if so, what would he do to fix it.

“Is it broken or is it crash-landed somewhere and we’re taking parts off of the mother craft to survive in a hostile environment? To me, it’s awesome. To me, there’s a place for the independent person to work now. You said we made six records in the CRB and not one asshole from a record company has walked through the door and told us the bass is too loud or that he didn’t like that chorus, you know what I mean? That was something I always found hard to stomach as a young man. And, as an old man – or an older man – I’m definitely not going back to that.

Chris Robinson Brotherhood MENDENHALL 01a“Without the music business being the way it is – if you’re a part of it and you’re in the system and you own the labels and you’re listening to those people and you’re in the producer-driven, kiddie music business, then that’s good. Fame! Money! Yay! That’s cool! I’m into this for completely other things. If you’re creative and have good ideas and you have something to say and people want to hear it with your music, then this is a great time!

“Think about it, man! No one’s doing anything! It’s the best time to do something! I travel around America and kids have nothing to do except play video games. I’m, like, ‘Dude, there’s still bands and records.’ You know what I mean? You don’t need to be on TV. You don’t have to have anything happening. You just need friends that care about the same stuff you like and, then, you’ll see how that changes everything.”

Wrapping up our chat, I asked Chris how he wanted to be remembered and what he hoped his legacy would be.

“Oh, my word. I’m the Draymond Green of rock and roll. I’m sorry, man. We have the best basketball team in the world six miles from my house! I never thought about that. I mean, I would hope that the songs would speak for themselves. I dedicated my heart and soul to the muse. For better and for worse – my opinions notwithstanding about how much I love music – it would be nice – in that pantheon of people who dedicated their lives to their muse – I would like to be put in there. I don’t know what that means except – life is beautiful and strange and sad and there’s loss and there’s hope and there’s madness and, at the end of the day, I’ve been lucky enough to experience all that stuff through the lens of music. As a dyslectic, weirdo kid from Atlanta, I just see it as a gift.”