Posts Tagged ‘Todd Snider

09
Jan
12

Our Kind of Music is moving!

After a little over two years at its current location as an ordinary wordpress blog, Our Kind of Music (OKOM) is finally going to grow up and become a real website! We’re still going to be bringing you great articles and news about your favorite Americana / Folk / Roots artists, but over the next couple months we’re going to kick in the second wind!

In the past, we’ve brought you interviews with Todd Snider, Will Kimbrough, and Robert Earl Keen and we had fun doing those, but now we want to take interviews a step further. How would like to see Skype interviews with OKOM artists? Yeah, I thought you might like that. I’m jazzed about it too! I think it would be a hell of a lot more fun than reading those transcriptions of the phone interviews! And I sure as hell won’t miss that shitload of typing!

We’re also planning on bringing reviews of up-and-coming OKOM artists’ releases; news and tour updates about your favorite OKOM singers; and much more.

But first – I do have a bunch of typing to do and finish up those final installments of The Lost Snider Tapes that I promised you (almost a year ago). The Lost Snider Tapes – Part 1.3 will kick off the new website.

The new Our Kind of Music website is located at ourkindofmusic.com. Slide on over there and take a look. While you’re there, take a second and enter your email address where it says, what else… Enter Your Email and you’ll get notified when the new site is up and buzzing!

24
Feb
11

The Lost Snider Tapes – Part 1.2

This interview with Todd Snider took place the morning of May 9th, 2009. Todd’s upcoming record, The Excitement Plan, was due to be released a month later. In this second part of the interview, we cover everything from pot to Dock Ellis to being lucky in life.

OKOM: The last time you were in Eugene, we were talking on your bus, and you mentioned that you and Dave had gotten popped for possession. Now, I’m assuming that’s the backstory for “Greencastle Blues.”

Todd: Yeah, it is.

OKOM: Yeah, and I couldn’t help but make comparisons between “Greencastle Blues” and “Tillamook County Jail.” But, “Greencastle Blues” has a serious and somewhat dark, more mature tone to it. There is even a hint of regret in there. What were your – if this isn’t too personal – what are your thoughts about what you went through that ended up being the inspiration for a very personal song.

Todd: Yeah, I was feeling more ashamed about getting caught smoking marijuana than about smoking marijuana. At the age of 42, I think it was my seventh little trip to jail, and they are starting to get old. I would like to shake that side of my life but the thing that sticks with me is that I still smoke weed and I assume that I probably will for the rest of my life. So, that means that I always have to be real careful and try not to be disrespectful to the people that don’t want me to do it.

OKOM: What also came across in the song – besides being so personal – was that last line that spoke like a little act of defiance – “less than an ounce of possession, shit, I can do that kind of time standing up.”

Todd: Yeah, I feel like I was trying to show the cycle of how somebody stays a person like me. And most of the cats in my neighborhood are like that too. You find yourself – well I guess I shouldn’t say you, I should say I – you know how someone says, “You find yourself.” I’m like, no, you find yourself. Don’t tell me what I should do. So anyway, I find myself – damn, after that I forgot what I was going to say. But I liked the other point. [laughs]

OKOM: [laughs] A little side thing, last night I read that the New York Times had dubbed Jackie Greene as the Prince of Americana. I couldn’t believe that when I read it but… So, what would that make you?

Todd: Ummm, The Grand Imagineer!

OKOM: [laughs] That sounds much better than Prince.

Todd: [laughs] Yeah!

OKOM: Okay, onto the next one. “America’s Favorite Pastime” – the title alone can be taken two ways – is it baseball or hallucinogenic drugs?

Todd: Yeah! [Laughs] Wow, I love you, man! You really appreciate the lyrics. I like to hear that you listen to it because it makes me feel understood. I always try to put in little things like that, you know?

OKOM: [Laughs] Man, you’ve got a lot of stuff like that. Now, when did you first hear about that game? I mean, you were only about four years old when that game was played.

Todd: Oh yeah, sure, I know. Maybe it was about two or three years ago. Maybe it was from one of the guys in Yonder Mountain String Band. I know it was backstage at a hippie festival, and the conversation went to – because a lot of the hippie bands take acid before they play – and the conversation turned to Dock Ellis having thrown a no-hitter that way. And I was just very fascinated by that.

OKOM: So did you have to do some research about Dock Ellis and that game?

Todd: I did. I had my friend Peter Cooper show me how to get on the computer and get the box score. Wait a minute – was it him? Anyway, somebody showed me how to get the box score. That was all I needed.

OKOM: You give a rundown of the whole game and a lot of the stats in the song.

Todd: Yeah, I do. My innings and my scores I believe are correct. And the coach’s name, Murtaugh. I used the box score pretty much for all that. And I had heard of this one part, that I couldn’t quite get in because I couldn’t get it to rhyme. It was a part about somebody hitting a dribbler at him and he hit the dirt like it was a line drive. I had heard that supposedly happened.

OKOM: Yeah, I believe it did. Okay, “Bring ‘em Home.” I love the viewpoint from the soldier’s side and it is not your typical end-the-war songs.

Todd: It was important to me, for some reason when I was working on that song, that I don’t come out and tell anybody to bring somebody home. So I felt like I wanted to tell it from the point of view of somebody else.

OKOM: Right, and why not somebody that’s out there in the middle of it? One of my favorite lines from that song is “it seems like all I’m ever almost dying to do” I mean, listening to that, it’s like you’re saying – or he’s saying – that he knows that any day he could die.

Todd: Exactly, and he’s just trying to get back. And I don’t know the answer. I know some people with some kids over there that just want to come home, man.

OKOM: I hope you don’t mind, Todd. I’m just going down the list.

Todd: No, I’m enjoying it. I appreciate you doing this for us and thank you for listening to it.

OKOM: That’s what’s always got me about your stuff. I always tell people when I turn them onto your music – listen, because you’ve got a lot to say.

Todd: Well, thanks man. That means a lot.

OKOM: It’s not superficial shit, it’s deeper than that. You work hard at it, and it shows. Next one – “Corpus Christi Bay” is one of my favorite Robert Earl Keen songs. But you didn’t just do a cover, you made it your own.

Todd: I tried to.

OKOM: I think it’s your vocal style and when that haunting fiddle of Molly’s comes in on the second chorus just sets that sad and pathetic mood.

Todd: Yeah, you got it.

OKOM: Now, was there a personal reason for the choice of that song?

Todd: Yeah, I’d heard that it was true for Robert Earl. Every time I’ve heard that song it reminded me of me and my brother. If you took the Corpus Christi Bay and replaced it with, say, the music world; and took the oil rigs and replaced it with the road and honky-tonks, you’d have our story. He [my brother] was out there with me for a while and now he’s home.

OKOM: Where does he live?

Todd: He lives across town here. He works in a booking company.

OKOM: So, you guys are still close?

Todd: Oh yeah, very much so, I talk to him every day.

OKOM: Are you far apart in age or are you very close?

Todd: I think it’s only about a year.

OKOM: That’s good to be close. My brother and I are nine years apart; we’re like two only children.

Todd: Oh wow, that’s weird.

OKOM: The years don’t matter; we love each other like brothers. And I think  – shit, I know – I was an accident. My mom told me I was.

Todd: [laughs] Hey man, that’s cool, accidents are fantastic!

OKOM: [laughs] Hey, as long as I’m here! Enough about me. Okay, a couple of songs – “Slim Chance” and “Good Fortune” – it’s obvious, well at least it seemed obvious to me that you’re talking about Melita. Does she inspire you a lot?

Todd: Yeah, oh yeah.

OKOM: Do you consider yourself lucky?

Todd: Oh yeah, very much.

There’s more to come next week. Right now, I’ve got to get ready to go to Reno for Todd’s two shows at John Ascuaga’s Nugget. See you there. It’s gonna be a blast.
22
Feb
11

The Lost Snider Tapes – Part 1.1

This interview with Todd Snider took place the morning of May 9th, 2009. Elmo Buzz and the Eastside Bulldogs were scheduled to play a Full Moon Party at The 5 Spot that evening. Todd’s upcoming record, The Excitement Plan, was due to be released a month later. In part one of this interview, we talk about “Money, Compliments and Publicity” and how Don Was came to be the producer of The Excitement Plan.

OKOM: Hey, Todd. How are you doing?

Todd: Hey man, I’m doing good. Are you calling from Eugene?

OKOM: Yeah, I am.

Todd: Right on. Good to hear from you again.

OKOM: Well, it’s always good to talk to you. What I was hoping to focus on today was the upcoming CD [The Excitement Plan].

Todd: Oh great, I’d love it.

OKOM: Yeah, I’ve been listening to it quite a bit since Courtney sent it to me a few weeks ago.

Todd: Oh man, well, thank you. We worked hard on it.

OKOM: I wanted to talk a bit about some of the songs – and well – why don’t we just get into it.

Todd: Sure. Sounds good.

OKOM: Okay, since this is an interview – and we know what comes from an interview – I thought the appropriate song to start off with would be “Money, Complements, and Publicity.”

Todd: [laughs] You got it.

OKOM: Personally, I learned a very valuable lesson from that song. That is to never listen to one of your songs for the first time while driving my car…

Todd: [laughs]

OKOM: …because I damn near got in a wreck when you got to that line about taking care of your friends.

Todd: [laughs] Yeah!

OKOM: You know, because the song starts out as sounding so sincere and then it takes a sharp turn towards narcissism.

Todd: Yup, yup.

OKOM: Then you thank everyone including Clive Davis. Did you get your inspiration for that song from watching the Grammys?

Todd: You know what it was, I was working on the record, and I’d come up with a ton of songs but I only liked nine of them. In my head, at the time, I just needed another song. I’d never done that before; I’ve never looked at anything like that before. So, I got up one morning, and I sat down at the piano, and I thought – okay, what can I sing? And I realized, I said to myself, “You know, you’ve never done anything like this. You’re just sitting down at the piano to make up a song just to have another song. What the hell are you doing? You’ve never done this before.” I was disappointed in myself. And I thought, wow, what’s the point of singing a song if you don’t actually have something in your heart. And then I remembered this thing that I had read about this Eddie Rickenbacker, a World War II pilot. He’d said that man had reached his pinnacle of success when he ceased to care about money, compliments, and publicity. And I thought, the only reason I’m sitting here at this fucking piano – if I really wanted to be honest with myself – is because I’ve got to get a record done. And what you do a record for, right?

OKOM: [Laughs] Right.

Todd: [laughs] So, then I started just singing it like that. And I started writing that out and all, and about halfway through, I thought – Hey, I’m going to get a real therapeutic, real normal song out of this. And I don’t know if I would actually do what I said in the song, you know. Like I tell all my friends when they hear that song, “Of course I’ll call you! Just you, me and my old lady.”

OKOM: Right, don’t take it personal.

Todd: Exactly, don’t take it personal. I’m talking about everybody else, man!

OKOM: Yeah, yeah.

Todd: Man, there’s some dark, gross truth in there. I’m one of them people that can get in my own home and stay in it for months. I enjoy my friends, but they know that I can disappear for long periods of time. So, I ended up really getting something really good out of that song. I always like it, when I write a song, and end up with something like that, no matter how it comes out at the end. Even “Alright Guy” that I made up years ago, came to me when I had just been dropped from some job, they gave me a record contract, and then they told me that I couldn’t have it anymore. I was like 25 at the time. And I remember, even though I was purging, I don’t know, it was sad – it was a very sad day that I wrote “Alright Guy.”

OKOM: Yeah but you got a lot of good stuff out of those times.

Todd: Yeah, I like those types of songs.

OKOM: And this one [Money, Complements, and Publicity] is another one of those songs of yours that starts out going one direction and then doesn’t end up the way you think it’s going to end. At least to me, you had that turning point in it. It started out sounding so heartfelt, and then you hit us with that line – buy an island, run a phone line, call and tell them all to get fucked – and I thought, shit, that’s classic!

Todd: [laughs] I’m glad you liked it. I’m glad you liked that.

OKOM: Oh and by the way, I hope you guys have fun tonight. As just my little way of showing support, I’m wearing my Elmo Buzz and the Eastside Bulldogs T-shirt.

Todd: Oh, kick ass! We’re going to rock tonight. We’ve got a saxophone kid that came out the other day and a piano player too. It’s cool. We actually had a practice!

OKOM: Oh, yeah?

Todd: We’d never done that before. It’s sort of changed. It used to be that we –

OKOM: Wait a minute. You said you have practiced before or you haven’t?

Todd: We haven’t ever before. It used to kind of be a practice when we played under that name. And then we started making up songs to do just as that. Now we have a bunch of songs that we play.

OKOM: I’d heard that you were planning to put out a CD under the name Elmo Buzz and the Eastside Bulldogs. Is that true?

Todd: It might happen.

OKOM: That would be cool.

Todd: Yeah, we’ve been thinking about it. If we can do it, we will. We almost did it last week, but we decided to just wait.

OKOM: Were you thinking along the lines of a live CD or a studio CD?

Todd: I don’t know, I don’t know. We’re not quite ready yet. But we’ve been thinking about it. We sure have a lot of fun. The thing with that group is that – the rule behind it is that it has to be absolutely, positively fun. It can never not be fun. The couple of times that we hinted at making a record, man, when you start to do that, it changes everything. So, we have to find a way to just disappear someplace and do it without telling anybody so that it doesn’t turn into work. You know, my job is really, really, really fun. I love it. But when I get with these guys, and we plug in our electric guitars and we go jam – I don’t ask anybody on my team about it, you know? Like my manager, I tell him, “You can come, but you better be drunk and you better leave me alone.”

OKOM:  Well, I’ll be having a glass of wine for you and wishing I could be there.

Todd: Hell yeah.

OKOM: And I hope you’re getting some use out of that “Keep Eugene Weird” T-shirt that I gave you last time I saw you.

Todd: Oh my God, I had it on yesterday. As a matter of fact, it was for a photo thing. So maybe you’ll be seeing it come back at you.

OKOM: No shit? That’s great! Alright, let’s get back to the CD, because I easily get sidetracked. Okay, you teamed up with Don Was.

Todd: Yeah.

OKOM: He’s got a hell of a history. You also have Jim Keltner – he’s one of my favorite drummers. Anything that he plays on, I just love what he does, he makes it sound so simple but so perfect. What he did on some of your tracks was just that – perfect.

Todd: Yeah, I love his style.

OKOM: Yeah, and you’ve got Greg Leisz. They’re all legends. How did that all come about? And how jazzed were you that it did all come about?

Todd: I was really excited and shocked. It started as I was working on the album and I was seeing that I had run out of ideas as a person who was basically producing myself with my friends. At least I thought so, and so did the rest of us. We were like, “You guys, we’re doing the same thing that we had already done.” So, I was starting to get into that Kristofferson that he had just made and taking this as maybe more as where my head was at. Actually, there was one track on there – “Loaded Again” – I went in and played that for my manager. And I told him that this is what I wanted to do, I wanted to sort of go in this direction and fuck around down here for a minute and that I think I should get somebody to produce me. He called me back later and he said Don Was wants to do it maybe. And I went, “You’re fucking joking around right?”

OKOM: Wow.

Todd: Yeah, he said, “No, I know a guy who knows him. He’s the one who made the Kristofferson record and I thought to call him. They’re on the road right now, and he said to go out there and get on the bus with them for a while, see what happens.” So, I rode around with the band – there was like 13 of them. Then me and Don went to a Brewers game and talked about records, and why you make them and what they’re for and all that. He asked me if I wanted him to help me. So we went right back to his hotel and he pulled out a whole lot of equipment. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the video on YouTube.

OKOM: Yeah, I saw the one where he’s sitting in the corner recording as you’re playing.

Todd: Yeah, that’s the one. We had just got back from the Brewers game. We had recorded like 16 songs that day. And my tour manager, Elvis, was filming those. That’s what that is. And then, he said he would do it. And everything that I was telling him that I wanted or was looking for, I never had that in my life, you know? I’d say that I wanted a sound like that Ry Cooder record or that JJ Cale record. And he’d say, “Oh, that’s Jim. You want to get Jim?” And I’d be like, well sure… you can do that? You know that guy? And then I’d said something about a Joni Mitchell thing or something about steel guitar. And he’d say, “I’ll get Greg Leisz.”

OKOM: He’s played with a ton of people too.

Todd: Oh, yeah. And he [Don] knows I’m a big fan of all [Rolling] Stones. I’m a huge fan of all of Don’s Stones period stuff. And it was so exciting for me to get to be around somebody who watches them work. And then he got the engineer that did the Bigger Bang record. And it was just the five of us, and we did it in like 2 1/2 days. Live, completely, there’s no overdubs on it.

OKOM: I was wondering about the recording of this record because it has a very raw but clean sound to it. It’s not overproduced or anything. So that is the case; you just laid it down live.

Todd: Yeah, we did it real spontaneous and loose and they just recorded it real good. I even told him that one of my favorite records was Tapestry by Carol King and he just said, “Yeah, we can go there.” [laughs] I just said, “Man you’re the best!” And now he is going to come play Bonnaroo with me. I really feel like I’ve made a friend, you know.

OKOM: A friend like that is rare.

Todd: He’s been really kind to me. That was probably the most fun I ever had playing music.

02
Feb
11

A Hoe-Down Feast (with Drums on the Side)

The following article is about a recent Eugene, Oregon appearance of The Emmit-Nershi Band, Great American Taxi, and Danny Barnes. All  fine musicians with deep bluegrass influences.

But before I get to that article I want to share a related personal story of – something that happened over thirty years ago – the weekend I lost my virginity to bluegrass music. I’ll admit I was nervous, after all… I’d seen Deliverance.

Drums on the Side

Who Cares! - (L to R - Wayne, me, Felix)

Back in the early 80’s I was the drummer in a three-piece (sometimes four-piece, sometimes five-piece band – depending on who brought beer and a guitar) called Who Cares based out of Mountain Pass, California, Sorry, no hyperlink to that band – we were way ahead of our time and the internet. My band-mates Felix Lenox and Wayne  Elliott – both excellent guitarists – were talking one night about the Bluegrass in the Spring Festival, an annual event held in Calico Ghost Town, California. Wayne and his dad, Don, would be performing there as The Mountain Pass Drifters. Felix and I decided that we should pack up the van and head out to Calico and take in the Festival.

The next morning we started loading all the essentials – beer, peanut butter, beef jerky, sleeping bags, and beer. Felix put a couple of his guitars into their cases, grabbed his amp, took them out to the van, snatched a beer out of the cooler and sat in the open back-end of the van.

“Hey, Blake,” he yelled into the house, “you about ready to hit the road?”

“Almost, man,” I said as I came out the side door of our single-wide mobile home carrying my bass drum. “I’ve just got a few more things to load.” I hadn’t noticed Felix’s puzzled look as I set the 20″ drum into the van. I headed back inside, returning shortly after with my toms and cymbal bag.

Felix sat there, his beer bottle – not quite up to his open mouth – seemed blocked by the question that hung on his lips… “What the fuck are you doing?”

Now I had the look of bewilderment. “What the hell does it look like?” I said. “You’re taking your axe; I’m taking mine.”

“I really don’t think you should,” he explained, “Bluegrass people don’t like drummers.”

I smiled, “Shit, everybody loves a drummer.”

It was about a three beer drive (one and a half hours) to Calico Ghost Town from Mountain Pass, California. We staked out a spot in the campground, grabbed a couple more beers from the cooler, headed out to join the crowd and enjoy the music. There were a ton of guitarists, along with more mandolin and banjo players than I had ever seen in one place. As far as I knew, I was the only drummer around.

Mountain Pass Drifters (Wayne is front and center)

Felix and I watched the Mountain Pass Drifters compete with some other very good bluegrass bands. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you if they won or not; the day was long and hot, many beers were consumed. After Wayne finished with the serious music, he joined us on the streets of Calico as we performed some bluegrass standards for tips and beer. I armed myself with my snare, hi-hats, brushes, and a pair of sticks (in case I felt the need to get loud). We entered a talent contest at a theatre – that looked like it came right from the set of Gunsmoke – and we won FIRST PLACE! Maybe I read too much into it, BUT, we were the only group with percussion. Don’t tell me these people don’t like drummers.

The nightlife in the Calico Ghost Town campground was a real treat. Everywhere we turned – musicians jammed. Felix and Wayne joined in when it struck them. After making the rounds, we made our way back to the van. As Felix and Wayne picked their way through some tunes, I opened the back doors of the van, pulled my drums out – piece by piece – and quietly assembled them. What’s the worst that could happen? I was surrounded by fellow musicians… drunken bluegrass musicians that – I was told – didn’t like drummers . In my twenties, I didn’t always think things through.

For the most part, it went pretty well. We jammed and people listened. We played bluegrass, country, and rock (we may have even slipped in an acoustic version of B-52’s “Planet Claire”). After a couple of hours of jamming, we took a break. A tall kid in blue jeans and a cropped-sleeved t-shirt approached me at the back of the van. He looked to be about 15 or 16. He asked me if that was my kit and asked if it was okay if he sat down at them. I said, “Sure, go ahead,” figuring he came from a drum-deprived bluegrass family and had never actually seen a drum kit up close – I was wrong.

He tapped around on the skins, then turned around and asked, “You have a tuning key on you?”

I was a bit skeptical at first, but thought I could always re-tune them later. I dug the key out of my pocket and handed the key to him. I watched and listened as he tuned and tapped, tapped and tuned, until my drums sounded sweeter than ever.

He handed me back the key and said, “You mind if I play them a bit?”

“Hell no,” I said, “Thanks for the tuning. Knock yourself out, kid.”

His solo started out slow and unassuming and – as a crowd gathered around our little piece of the ghost town night – gradually built into a complex, melodic, piece of percussive expertise that would have made Neil Peart himself say, “Damn, That kid’s good!” He ended with an explosive crescendo of metal and taut skin that shook the air. The crowd cheered loudly as the young drummer handed me back my sticks and simply said, “Thanks, man.”

I talked to him just long enough to learn that he was 16 and had been playing since he was 8. I thanked him and then he disappeared into the campfire-lit night. Felix and I stood there silently for a bit until Felix said, “You want to play some more?”

“What?” I said, “I ain’t following that.”

“Yeah… me neither,” Felix said.

I thought – Don’t tell me bluegrass people don’t like drummers.

A Hoe-Down Feast

Drew Emmitt (Leftover Salmon) and Bill Nershi (String Cheese Incident) – both founders of popular jam bands – have done the sold-out-stadium, prestigious rock ‘n’ roll thing flawlessly. Over the years they developed a strong friendship as the paths of their bands crossed at shows and festivals. From that kindred-spirit bond grew the idea of forming a project together and returning to their roots as The Emmitt-Nershi Band. They didn’t waste much time focusing on the band’s name; instead, they focused on the music – some of the finest examples of modern bluegrass music you’ll ever hear. Their latest collaboration, New Country Blues, is like a cornucopia filled with the succulent fruits of their love of the music.

Great American Taxi

Great American Taxi

Bring Emmitt and Nershi together with their old friends of Great American Taxi – one of the best-known headliners on the jam band circuit – and you’ve got one hell of a show. Former Leftover Salmon singer, guitarist, and mandolin player Vince Herman is one of the founding members of Great American Taxi. The band’s music – a recipe of swampy blues, progressive bluegrass, funky New Orleans strut, honky-tonk country, and good old fashioned rock ’n’ roll – has been self-labeled “Americana Without Borders.” Their latest release, Reckless Habits, captures the raucous enthusiasm of which their live shows are legend.

Danny Barnes

Danny Barnes

If that’s not enough, genre-bending banjo man Danny Barnes will join them on stage. While incorporating digital technology and multiple effects pedals, Barnes takes the banjo where it has never been musically. His skill as an instrumentalist has ushered him to share the stage and record with countless multi-genre artists including Leftover Salmon.

This article was originally published in Eugene Weekly, November 4, 2010

03
Jan
11

I Owe You All…

…The Lost Snider Tapes

Photo by Todd Purifoy

Over a year ago I conducted two interviews with Todd Snider – one in January, 2009, and one more in May, 2009. I intended to write a interview/CD review article – based around the interviews – with hopes of getting it published in a national magazine. I sent query letters (sans the article) to a bunch of national publications, trying to get my foot in the big door only to find it locked (or maybe there were other writers leaning on the door from the inside). Then I got busy with other projects and pushed the Snider article to the back-burner – a couple months later my laptop crashed and the audio files of the interview were among the things lost.

BUT – guess what I just found on a flash drive buried at the back of my desk drawer? Apparently, at some time before the crash, I had a moment of clarity and good sense, and backed the audio files onto the flash drive – and then forgot I had backed them up.

So, my resolution to you all is that I’ll get them transcribed and up on my blog. That is, if you are still interested in reading them. The May, 2009 interview – that I’ll post first – has some very cool conversation about the (then) soon-to-be-released The Excitement Plan, Don Was, jail-time, wine, relationships, and some personal subjects that I promised Todd would be kept off the record – and they will stay that way. Since we talked for damn near an hour, that interview will have to be broken up into three or four parts (like I did with the Will Kimbrough interview).

The interview done in January, 2009 – that I’ll post after the May interview –  was a lot of fun too; We talked about his tour, living on the road, and his (then) upcoming Eugene, Oregon show. I’ll also share my experiences on the Todd Snider tour bus here in Eugene…

BUT FIRST – My wife, our dog Zack, and I have to pack up and move again at the end of January. You see, I got laid-off from my full-time job at OBEC Consulting Engineers in Eugene, Oregon over eight months ago and have had no luck finding full-time work here. I know that there’s a lot of that going around, I’m not the only one, so I won’t whine about it.

So I PROMISE, once we get settled in, sometime in February, I’ll get busy transcribing those Once-Lost Snider Tapes. Thanks for understanding. I hope your 2011 is better than your 2010!

19
Aug
10

Robert Earl Keen Interview – Part 1 of 3

As I waited for Robert Earl Keen to call, I calmly went over my notes and made sure that the recorder was set up and ready to do its job – all was cool. The phone rang, I hit the record button, and hit the talk button on the phone – I had nothing but a dial tone. What the hell? The phone rang again, I hit the record button again, and hit the talk button on the phone – again – nothing but a dial tone. Then I remembered – hit the talk button first, then hit the record button. Damn, I hoped that Robert wasn’t too pissed. I was no longer calm. I waited for what seemed like an eternity (it was only about thirty seconds) for the phone to ring again – and it did. My anxiety faded after the first few minutes talking with Robert. It was a lot of fun. Here’s part one of that interview.

Robert Earl KeenREK: Hi, I’m calling for Blake. This is Robert Keen.

OKOM: Robert, how are you doing?

REK: Fantastic.

OKOM: Sorry about the phone problem. I, uhh, dropped it… twice.

REK: No problem. [Laughs] Don’t worry about it!

OKOM: First off, I want to thank you for taking the time out for this interview. I really appreciate it.

REK: Sure!

OKOM: I wanted to ask you about a few things. I’d like to talk about Rose Hotel, and I’d like to go back a few albums as well.

REK: Okay.

OKOM: You know, you and I are the same age, and I also had a car go up in flames back in 1974.

REK: Wow. Now that’s worth going over, huh?

OKOM: Yeah, but I’m SURE that your story is much better than mine. Do you mind telling me about that car of yours in flames on the cover of your Picnic album?

REK: Yeah, It was at Willie Nelson’s [1974] picnic that I went to. I had a date, which was really rare for me.

OKOM: Really? [Laughs]

REK: Yeah, so, I had a date, and I took her to the picnic. You know, I guess it was sort of on the final days of free love, braless girls, and all that great stuff. We just kind hung out at the picnic. The day was a little bit hazy; I’d say a lot of it was fuzzy.

OKOM: Well, it was the seventies.

REK: Yeah, some self-induced and maybe some of it was the weather. But the car caught on fire out in the parking lot and I didn’t have anything to do with it. But you could see the big huge plumes of smoke behind the stage. They came out and they explained how they had this fire out in the parking lot. They called out my license plate number, and I just happened to know it. I remember just running and running through all the people hollering that my car was on fire. People were laughing and pointing. I finally got out there and it was really, truly just burnt to nothing.

Robert Earl Keen's PicnicOKOM: Yeah, in the picture it’s totally engulfed in flames.

REK: Yeah. I just literally sat down on the burnt grass there and started weeping. My girlfriend, my date – she thought that it was the funniest thing she ever saw. So, that was the kind of the end of that relationship, I think.

OKOM: Oh, man! [Laughs]

REK: No, man, it was. We had to hitchhike back. It was some kind of deal.

OKOM: That’s a great story. Hey, I’ve been listening to you for a long time –

REK: Uh-huh, good.

OKOM: – and your songs, your lyrics tell such vivid stories full of out-of-the-ordinary characters. Do these stories sometimes stem from personal experiences and people you’ve met or known?

REK: Well, I think that every good piece of fiction stems from a true story. I always get a kick out of how movies always say it’s from a true story. Well, hell, it’s all from some kind of point of truth. It just depends on how much your imagination kicks in. So, it really varies with me. It can come from something small – me seeing some kind of scene or scenario in my imagination, and then taking it on from there literally. For instance, the song “Gringo Honeymoon” that we still play is almost a true journalistic telling of an exact story.

Gringo HoneymoonOKOM: Really?

REK: Yeah, so I try to go from being as imaginative as I can, to sometimes trying to write down exactly what happened because – to be cliché – truth is stranger than fiction in some instances.

OKOM: That’s true. You know, one time I was talking to Todd Snider about his song called “You Think You Know Somebody” from his first album. I was asking him what inspired him to write that because I thought maybe it was based on someone he knew. He told me he was trying to do what you did with “The Road Goes on Forever” – and that’s to tell a story with an ending that you don’t see coming.

REK: Really?

OKOM: Yeah, and I thought that was pretty cool. He told me that he really worked hard at it too. Was that your intention [with “The Road Goes on Forever”]?

REK: I always feel that I have an inner need to have some kind of wrap up. I don’t know, some sort of dramatic ending. I like drama – in movies, in books, in songs – in any kind of narrative. So, yes, that’s almost always my intention. Moreover, in the world of Todd Snider, Todd has taken it and gone beyond. I mean I’m completely amazed with what Todd does, how brilliant he is with not only his songs, but his storytelling, and his whole show. I think that he’s a talent that has separated him apart from all the others. I think that he’s almost created his own genre.

OKOM: Yeah, and in a way, you have too. But yours goes back so much further and there are guys like Todd that look up to you.

REK: And that’s quite a compliment to me, but he took it on and moved it to something else. It’s nice. I’m just glad that I know him.

OKOM: It has got to be a great feeling that you inspired guys like that.

REK: It is. Sometimes I’m surprised when Todd gives me credit for anything, but he’s just very magnanimous in that way.

OKOM: You’ve never really been mainstream country. You do things your own way. Was there ever a point in your career where you’ve thought, “Maybe I should be more mainstream?”

REK: Well, I don’t know. Yeah, I guess there were times when I’d think that I’d want to be mainstream, you know, written mainstream kind of songs. But it really never was meant to be. I haven’t spent a lot of time worrying about it. But I certainly have wondered what it takes to be mainstream, because I’m not really sure what that is. Just about the time that you think that you’ve figured things out – it changes. You know, I see people with songs these days that I wrote fifteen years ago, basically the same song, that’s now mainstream. I had people – in radio and stuff – back then tell me that’ll never happen; we’ll never play that kind of stuff on the radio.

OKOM: Now they’re playing something that’s damn near the same thing.

REK: Yeah, but you know, we all have our own destinies and I’ve gotten pretty comfortable with that whole idea. So, I just like to write what I write.

OKOM: Right, right, [Laughs] which a lot of us appreciate.

REK: Well, good! I’m glad that I do connect with people. That’s the main thing. If I didn’t connect then I wouldn’t be doing this.

OKOM: I think it comes back to your style of storytelling is what people connect with. They can visualize those settings.

REK: Uh-huh, good.

The Rose HotelOKOM: There’s also another group of your songs that I kind of categorized as non-traditional, sad love songs like “Broken End of Love” and “For Love.” The title track of Rose Hotel is another one of those types of love songs.

REK: Right, right.

OKOM: You know, the two characters never meet; they never come together.

REK: [Laughs] Yeah, right.

OKOM: Do you put a lot of yourself and your own experiences with relationships into those types of songs?

REK: I think the only way you can tap into some kind of an emotional well is to be putting yourself into that situation. I’m always feeling like that – even in the smallest of relationships – sometimes there’s that inner need to really, really have some kind of touchstone or some sort of a connection with that other person. And many, many times you just barely miss it. Those sleepless nights that you can’t figure things out, you try to work out – where did I miss that connection? Why did it dissolve? Why did it not quite come to its fruition?

OKOM: That’s interesting.

REK: Particularly because I don’t feel that it’s my strength as a writer, you know the emotional song or almost even the spiritual song. I think about those a lot more than I do on any kind of a narrative song.

OKOM: So, is it more work for you to do that?

REK: It is more work, yes it is. Because I think that you have to peel back the layers. I always wonder if I’m just emotionally bankrupt or can I just not peel back the layers and be more honest with myself.

OKOM: But your goal is to really hit that vein and hit the emotions.

REK: Yes, very much so, yes.

Go Read Part Two…

09
Jan
10

Kimbrough soars high with Wings

Will Kimbrough’s Wings – an OKOM review

On first listen of Will Kimbrough’s album Wings, (due to be released February 23rd) it felt like a pleasant trip that started with being invited into his home, given a comfortable chair in a sunroom, and a hot cup of coffee. As the morning light streaked in, and the children played, I kicked back, relaxed, and absorbed this enjoyable, stimulating soundtrack of his thoughts; a world filled with hope, optimism, questions, miracles, and love. If this album represents Will’s life, and his sense of wide-eyed wonderment and appreciation of what fills his life; then he is truly a blessed man.

Wings starts with Will roused into the dawn of a new day by his wife and two daughters, whom he warmly refers to as his “Three Angels.” Julie Lee lends her pure backing vocal talents to the heartening opening track “Three Angels,” in which Will counts his blessings – all three of them – and is grateful for all his angels do to make his life complete, and for watching over him wherever he goes. Now, a lesser man might consider being the lone man in a houseful of females more of a curse. Will knows they’re only human – “sometimes in the morning they’re a moody band of angels” – but they’ll always be real angels in his eyes.

In “You Can’t Go Home,” co-written with Jeff Finlin, Will tells a mystifying old world type tale –wrapped in the musical textures of a steady pulsing Celtic beat, the lingering tone of Sarah Siskind’s accompaniment, and punctuated by a haunting guitar – of characters with a raw unresolved past. The line – “She cannot hear or say goodbye, or hear your heart break right in two, she cannot waive the angry years, what you said, forgive you too” – stabs into a wandering lost soul, left broken-hearted and alone. The mystery is – what tragedy brought him to this pain and guilt shrouded world?

You’d be hard pressed to find a more optimistic song than the title track “Wings.” This is the original version, lyrically different from the one co-written with Jimmy Buffett that appears on his latest album Buffet Hotel. The airy effortless instrumentation of this lifting version perfectly fit what this song is all about – unbridled buoyancy and self-faith. Personally, I like Will’s version much better, and this comes from a long time Parrot Head.

Will Kimbrough is a master of baring his heart and soul in a love song. “Love to Spare” is no exception. He’s always there with words of comfort – even through the rough times – for the one he loves… “Take me in when storms are raging; I’ll calm you when you’re feeling crazy.” Guys, if you ever need to put consoling words in a card to your love, pull them from this song. You won’t be sorry.

In addition to “You Can’t Go Home,” there are two other songs on Wings that Kimbrough co-wrote with Jeff Finlin, “The Day of the Troubadour” and “Big Big Love.” Will and Jeff color these songs with complex, absorbing, thought provoking lyrics; coming together like fine glasses of wine. Not everyone will get the same message; see the same picture; or taste the same flavors. You’ll want to listen to them again and again, possibly finding something new or different each time.

Have you ever thought of what it could have been like if Jesus had lived in the modern world? Hey, for all we know, he may have; this is a subject that “The Day of the Troubadour” explores. Jesus traveling for years, riding the bus from town to town, performs little miracles along the way, until the interest in him begins to fade. He dreams – from the bed of a cheap motel – of his followers still wanting more. The same story could also apply to any number of extremely talented performers that spend the majority of their life on the road sharing their own form of miracles, and baring their souls.

Miracles happen around us all the time, most of the time they slip by unnoticed, but they’re there nonetheless. “Big Big Love” is a skillfully crafted song that takes us on a walk through an old growth forest of life’s little miracles; lost time; quests for love; and unfulfilled dreams – “I tried to be the big man with a knuckle and a tin can, with the knowledge and a big plan, holding onto Wonderland. I held so tight, I lost you there; I looked so hard, I couldn’t see; I let it go and fell alone, and it was there in front of me.” – discovering aspects of life that were there all the time.

Will has co-written quite a few songs with Todd Snider. He’s pulled one out of an old box in the attic to share with us. “It Ain’t Cool” has never been recorded by Todd or Will until now. Contrary to its title, it’s a very cool J.J. Cale style tune, simple in structure, with an even simpler message – don’t bad-mouth people when they’re not there to defend themselves, it ain’t cool!

Will’s appreciation of old school R&B is evident in the arrangement of “Open to Love” co-written with Dave Zobel. Building on a slow solid backbeat, it’s full of big horns, great big backing vocals by Jonell Mosser and Lisa Oliver Gray, and wailing guitar work by Kimbrough. It’s an expressive, driving “hard times” love song – that Will does so well – preaching of hanging on to love, letting it carry you through obstacles life can throw your way. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear this performed someday by a soulful Southern Baptist choir with hands held high towards the heavens.

Slowing down to a gentle walk down a tree-lined street, Wings takes us back to being with loved ones. Relationships have taken on many analogies through songs. “Let Me Be Your Frame,” co-written with Sarah Kelly, sung in beautiful tandem with Dawn Kinnard, portrays a relationship as a canvas – a work in progress maybe – and the frame that surrounds, and at the same time, compliments it. If you think about it, in a give-and-take relationship, you can’t help but splash each other with a bit of color or lend a simple stroke of a brush, adding texture and beauty to each other without taking anything away.

The final track on Wings, “A Couple Hundred Miracles,” brings us full-circle. We’re back in the quiet, comfortable safe haven of home. In the calm morning, warming your hands around a cup of coffee, it’s a time to reflect on the journey. “A Couple Hundred Miracles” – inspired by the book The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, and co-written with Irene Kelly (Sarah’s mom) – tells of taking what life gives you – with appreciation and amazement – making the most out of it, with a smile on your face, and no regrets. Beautifully simple in its arrangement of Will on vocals and guitar, and David Henry on a warm, soothing cello. Personally, this wonderfully stirring song is my absolute favorite track on this release.




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