- Mel Tillis is recovering after undergoing “routine heart surgery” over the weekend.
- USAToday.com premiered songs by Rodney Crowell (“God, I’m Missing You”) and Don Williams (“Sing Me Back Home”).
- Mavis Staples, Lucinda Williams, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Allen Toussaint, and more will salute Dr. John at a tribute concert scheduled for May 3 in New Orleans.
- Our pals at Music Tomes and Country Universe are giving away copies of Gerry House’s new book, Country Music Broke My Brain.
- It’s time once more for Couch by Couchwest, which offers the best parts of a music festival without all the pesky human interaction, overpriced drinks, or long lines for the bathroom.
- Chuck Mead’s got a new video for “Knee Deep in the Wakarusa River.”
- Dierks Bentley’s Riser debuted atop Billboard’s Country Albums chart, selling 63,000 records in its first week.
- Taylor Swift and her publicist, Paula Erickson, are splitting up after a seven-year partnership, which is approximately half a century in Taylor Swift Relationship Years.
- Swift can wipe her tears on $100 bills because she’s topped the Billboard Moneymakers List, raking in nearly $40 million. The number two slot goes to Kenny Chesney, who earned “only” $32, 956,240.70. Other moneymaking country acts on the list include Luke Bryan (#8), George Strait (#15), Blake Shelton (#27), Zac Brown Band (#30), Rascal Flatts (#34), Miranda Lambert (#36), Tim McGraw (#38), and Carrie Underwood (#40).
- John Moreland guests on Otis Gibbs’ newest podcast. (warning: autoplay)
- Get the story behind “I Love a Rainy Night.” (There was a rainstorm one night. Eddie Rabbitt liked it. Then he wrote the song with David Malloy and Even Stevens. The end.)
- Of course Dan + Shay met at a kegger.
- Stream The Dex Romweber Duo’s new album, Images 13.
- Scott H. Biram released a new video for “Slow & Easy.”
- Fanny’s House of Music in East Nashville sounds neat. Also, the shop has a super cool mural that features Maybelle Carter, Rosetta Tharpe, Dolly Parton, Kitty Wells, Memphis Minnie, and several other kickass, guitar-playin’ ladies; I wish the store sold prints of it.
- Here’s a blog post about David Anderson, who co-edited The Hank Williams Reader. An excerpt: [The editors] designed the book to be much more than a conventional biography or mere collection of articles. By tracing Williams’ increasing posthumous popularity from his premature death at the age of twenty-nine years old in January 1953 to the present, it illustrates something much more significant, which David describes as the literary process by which a popular entertainer becomes an American icon. David noted, “When Williams died, he may have been a riveting live performer with a string of hit records and a skillful composer of numerous country and pop tunes, but no one at the time predicted that his popularity would extend more than a few years beyond his death. Yet, as the years passed, his reputation continued to grow, thanks in part to journalists, historians, family members, and even writers of fiction, whose literary output helped Williams attain the status of one of America’s most beloved musical artists. Thus, our book traces what we term as Williams’ ‘transfiguration’ from a relatively well-known popular entertainer to an individual of legendary proportions.”
- Tomorrow night’s Music City Roots performers include Teea Goans and Rhonda Vincent & The Rage.
- Neil Young is preparing to launch his new “MP3-replacement service” PonoMusic.
- This week’s album releases (if you dig the content on E145, we’d sure appreciate if you’d help support the site and purchase your music through the affiliate links below. It doesn’t cost you extra, but we get a percentage of each sale, which helps offset server costs):
Don Williams – Reflections
The Dirty Guv’nahs – Hearts on Fire
Dave Adkins – Nothing to Lose
Sid Selvidge – The Cold of the Morning
Los Lobos – Si Se Puede
Sara Evans – Slow Me Down
Matt Wallace – For a Season
Cowboy Troy – King of Clubs
Matt Stillwell – Right on Time
Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers featuring Edie Brickell – Live (CD+DVD)
- Some books:
Lee Friedlander – Playing for the Benefit of the Band: New Orleans Music Culture
- And a DVD:
Emmylou Harris – Hour of Gold: Live in Germany 2000
Miranda’s Platinum Gets Release Date; “Country Roads” Named West Virginia’s State Song; New Music Videos
- Mark your calendars. Miranda Lambert’s new album, Platinum, will be released on June 3. Take a peek at the cover art.
- Jason Michael Carroll has launched a new Kickstarter campaign to fund his upcoming fourth album.
- Bluegrass songstress Becky Schlegel will celebrate the release of her new album, Opry Lullaby, with a record release show in Albert Lea, Minnesota, on March 28. (I’ve heard the title track and it’s a killer.)
- Marty Stuart will be releasing a new collection of gospel songs appropriately called The Gospel Songs of Marty Stuart on April 15.
- When our friend Stephen Deusner recommends ten Americana albums coming out this spring, you should take notice.
- Grand Ole Opry historian Byron Fay says Jean Shepard’s autobiography will be released on April 15.
- The Tennessean’s Cindy Watts looked at Kix Brooks’ new film, Ambush at Dark Canyon.
- Holly Dunn is the March spotlight artist at My Kind of Country. (I interviewed the now-retired artist a little while back.)
- John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” became an official West Virginia state song.
- The engaging C.M. Wilcox has a new Quotable Country column up over at CountryCalifornia.com.
- Lady Antebellum are going to be honored with the Recording Artists’ Coalition Award next month.
- Tony Rice benefit events will be held in Nashville and Connecticut in the next few weeks.
- Hunter Hayes will unveil his music video for “Invisible” on Good Morning America this Wednesday.
- The bluegrass duo Feller and Hill will release their Blue Circle Records release Here Comes Feller and Hill… Again!!! on March 25. (via press release)
- New music videos and live performances from the past week or so:
The Iveys – “Jenna’s Song”
Amy Rola – “I Wish I Was Her”
Don Williams – “I’ll Be Here in the Morning”
Brett Kissel – “3-2-1”
Jess Taylor – “Do You Feel It Too?”
Jason Blaine – “Friends of Mine”
Ashleigh Dallas – “Sail Away”
Dierks Bentley and OneRepublic – “Counting Stars”
Eli Young Band – “Dust”
Eric Church – “A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young”
Danielle Bradbery – “My Day”
Steep Canyon Rangers – “Stand and Deliver”
Natalie Stovall & The Drive – “Baby, Come On With It”
Sarah Jarosz – “Build Me Up from Bones”
Arielle – “California”
Florida Georgia Line (featuring Luke Bryan) – “This is How We Roll”
Josh Thompson – “Cold Beer with Your Name on It”
Nu-Blu – “Trains I Didn’t Take”
Susan Toney – “The Trail of Light and Dark”
Leyla McCalla – “Heart of Gold”
Born on the Wikwemikong Native Reservation on Canada’s Manitoulin Island in Ontario, Shawanda learned early on that music was almost as integral to her community as food and shelter. Storytelling came easy through song. It told the history of the people, the stories of their natural surroundings and kept the traditions of her First Nations tribe, the Ojibwe, alive.
Her father was a truck driver and early in her teens Shawanda accompanied him on a trip through Nashville and got hooked on the music scene there. Multiple trips back and forth from home resulted in several independent albums and eventually, a permanent gig at the famed Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge on Broadway in Nashville. While working at Tootsie’s, she met her future husband, met her future producer Scott Hendricks (Faith Hill, Brooks and Dunn), and was signed by Joe Galante to RCA Records/Sony Music Nashville. Her first single, “You Can Let Go,” reached the top 5 in Canada, the top 20 in the U.S. Her debut album, Dawn of a New Day — a direct translation of her surname — went on to sell 400,000 copies. She’d go on to be nominated for several awards, winning the Canadian Country Music Association’s Female Artist of the Year in 2009 and the 2013 Aboriginal Album of the Year Juno Award for Just Like You.
Though Nashville is Shawanda’s second home, the reservation is never far from her mind, and it continues to shape her musical direction and chart her course according to the traditions she learned as a child. She’s home frequently these days doing charity work and she proudly represents her people wherever she goes.
She’s also working on a brand new blues project that she was kind enough to talk about with Engine 145 while at home on Manitoulin Island.
What was it like growing up on the Wikwemikong Native Reservation?
It’s a tight knit community bursting with our rich culture, and history. We are a resilient people and it’s their sense of humor and their expression through music and art that has seen them through the hard times. In the winters, it’s a hockey town with a side of cabin fever. In the summers, it’s the island life. Manitoulin Island is the largest fresh water island, so it’s swimming and fishing every day! When it came to my music, I found both support and challenge there because not everybody supported me right away- which ended up being a good thing as they taught me to work for it. My community showed me by example that no matter what, to always rise above anything in life.
How much does it define you and your music?
It defines me a lot! Growing up where I did, I grew up fast. Within our community, I watched families dealing with suicides, alcohol-related deaths and addictions — some even within my own family. So this made me very empathetic at a young age when I sang a song, I can’t help but live in that song. It also defines me in the way of my passion for the music and my cultural influence bleeds through in the tribal rhythms I tend to unconsciously slip in!
And what was the link from there to Nashville and country music?
My family had a great love for country music, so I grew up singing and picking with my dad, who was a closet musician. My mom constantly played music in the house. She said it made the housework fly. And riding in the car, we’d always sing at the top of our lungs. The feeling I got was that country music gave them hope: like if those singers could live to sing about it, so could we. I watched Loretta Lynn be a friend to my mom through her music and I just wanted to grow up to be that for somebody else. My grandpa was always talking about Nashville and the Grand Ole Opry and how someday I’d be there too. I believed him and planned and plotted my escape to Nashville. Thankfully, my dad became a truck driver and we came south every chance we got ever since I was 12.
How important was Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge to your career?
The world-famous Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge was very important to my career! The first time I sang there I was 13 and I received a standing ovation. I knew someday I’d be back. I started playing pickup shifts there after I moved to Nashville when I was 16 and decided to plant my anchor there permanently playing as many shifts as I could for the next few years working for tips and tips only. Shortly after, I met my guitar player, who later became my husband, and we played five to six days a week, three to four shifts a day. Some days we’d get there at 10 a.m. and wouldn’t leave till 3 a.m. It was rough, but it taught me how to work hard and it taught me how to entertain. Most importantly, I realized just how much I love to sing and that there is no stage too small. On the brutal days when we made no money and the crowds weren’t listening, the music always got me through. I got my wings there, built a name for myself, found support and met the people who would make everything happen for me.
What are the differences between the Canadian and American country markets?
Wow, that’s a loaded question! I guess the biggest difference is the difference in the size of the market. For example, on a radio tour in the U.S., you hit over 200 stations and in Canada, it’s around 30, but only 12 of them actually move the charts as far as industry standards. In America, it’s a huge market. If you don’t make it in the top 40, it’s okay; there are secondary markets that you can build a career off of. In Canada, it’s a smaller community, at least within the country music genre, so it’s a bit more limited. As far as the music, it’s all really diverse right now, but it’s all really good too. Across Canada and the U.S right now is a melting pot of different styles! In Canada, you have a little bit of influence from the East Coast, as well as some influence from the storytelling style of the prairies. This is just like America where it has influence from Texas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and more. It does seem lately though; everybody who is trying to get on the radio is definitely following a certain formula- including myself. That formula will garner commercial success. Or so we hope. It’s a tough market in the north and the south, there’s a lot of talent and a whole lot of politics.
Did winning the CCMA Female Vocalist of the Year Award feel like validation for all that hard work?
Yeah, validation for sure. It was a moment of confirmation that it wasn’t all for nothing, that I was officially legit. I first stepped on stage when I was six and became relentless. I started getting paid to sing when I was ten and left home when I was 13 to attend a school with a decent music program. I then moved to Nashville when I was 16, so I grew up pretty fast. My parents and I made a lot of sacrifices, so when I won I was very emotional to say the least. I also feel like this award acknowledged all the hard work Sony Canada put in because they really worked their tails off and pursued every opportunity. It paid off. They are a monster team.
Compare that reaction, those feelings, with your Juno award this past year.
The reaction was different yet the same! It was definitely very emotional again, because it was validation and confirmation at a time I needed it more than ever. At this point, I had been separated from every heavyweight and all the big companies I had been associated with so I was officially on my own with my little modest team. The album that won was on my record label, New Sun Records. So I felt like this award was confirmation that I’ll be allowed to exist in this business even without being attached to a major label, manager or agent. I also felt like it was validation as well for my latest venture, my record label and all the blood, sweat and tears my little team invested in the last couple years. I will always be very thankful to the Juno Awards for being true to the music and for being a true support to artists.
Why did you start your own label, New Sun Records, with your husband?
It really started out as a necessity. I am not one to sit idle. I have to keep going no matter what. Right after I parted with RCA, I won my CCMA and wanted to keep up the momentum. Every label I spoke to after either wanted me to develop some more or just didn’t get me musically. At this time I had been producing quite a few different acts on the side, so developing new talent was fast becoming a full time passion. Considering that I had just received the best education in the world, learning from the best of the best at RCA Records and Sony Music Canada, it just made sense to start my own label. I’ve always been an entrepreneur and music is my life. My husband has been in the business on stage and behind the scenes forever and we are both very passionate. We’re just very lucky that we both believe in each other’s crazy dreams!
How much does your career allow you to stay connected to your tribe and family back home?
These days now that I actually have a say in my life, I have reconnected with my family, community and tribe and we’re closer than ever. When I was with my former professional team, I was told everything from, “Your success may not change you, but it’ll change your family,” to, “You have to start phasing your family out, they are a distraction.” I was constantly encouraged to keep my family at a distance. Almost everyone resented the fact that my dad and my brother were my bus drivers. Even though they worked cheaper than the drivers in Nashville, minded their own business, were safe and actually sober, that was the case. In fact, we were sent many drugged out drivers with bus companies leased out by the label in the beginning. My decision to keep them on as my drivers turned out to be one of the main reasons I was later deemed complicated. The final straw for me was when my agent said I needed to stop doing shows for native events and communities because they didn’t affect the market. I think happiness means something different for everyone. Even though I was surrounded by the successful movers and shakers, I wasn’t happy. If I can make a living while staying connected to my family and who I am, then it’s a good life and that’s success. And that’s where I’m at right now!
You’ve been back in the studio and you’ve hinted at a little different direction in style in some of your social media. What can we expect?
Yes! I’ve actually been in the studio working on a new blues album and I am very excited about it! When I first moved to Nashville, I scored a meeting with a big wig A&R dude and he said he was blown away, but that I was way too bluesy and soulful to be a country music singer. Fast forward to now, the last few singles we released were “too bluesy and soulful” and that sounded familiar. When I write, that’s just how it comes out, so it just makes sense to pursue something that’s so natural to me. The more I dug in and started to write towards this new direction, the more the songs just fell out of me. I was able to let my vocals fly and it felt so good to not hold back and to get just as gritty as I wanted.
Any specific themes or overall messages on this album?
This album is a little bit of everything. Some make you want to dance and some tell a story. It’s definitely an ode to all my influences from the raucous raunchy juke joint jams to the lonesome laments of great storytellers. There is a song on the album about the rising issue of missing and murdered Native women up in Canada called “Pray Sisters” that’s almost spiritual. It was actually while researching this subject that I found so many stories of missing women in other cultures in different parts of the world and the rising problem of violence against women and injustices against women. I wrote another song called “Blue Train” that was inspired by their stories. So there are a lot of influences from different directions all over this album. Yet at the same time, it’s a defining moment for me. I feel like I found myself. Will I quit singing country music? Never. But if I have the energy to do both, then why not? If there was an overall theme, I’d say it was strength and resilience. That’s what the blues taught me and that’s also what defines me. So the album is appropriately called I’m Not Your Baby. I’m hoping to release it in the spring, so wish me luck.
ACM Awards Announce First Round of Performers; Drive-By Truckers Play Conan; Freshgrass Acquires No Depression
- Later this month, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum will hold two Bakersfield-related events: a Pete Anderson interview/performance on March 23 and a screening of Merle Haggard’s American Masters episode on March 30.
- Freshgrass has acquired No Depression.
- American Songwriter compiled a list of 15 classic songs about New Orleans.
- Our pal Eric of Music Tomes interviewed JD Wilkes about his new book, Barn Dances and Jamborees Across Kentucky.
- CMT has added Angaleena Presley, Lindsay Ell, Lucy Hale, Natalie Stovall & The Drive, and Nikki Lane to its Next Women of Country campaign.
- American Songwriter premiered Ronnie Milsap’s version of “Georgia on My Mind” from new album Summer Number Seventeen.
- Preservation Hall Jazz Band will be featured on the next episode of CBS Sunday Morning.
- Lonesome River Band, Dale Ann Bradley and Steve Gulley, and Chris Jones & The Night Drivers are a few of the acts playing the Song of the Mountains Festival May 1-3 in Louisburg, North Carolina.
- Download Mary Gauthier’s Live at Blue Rock at NoiseTrade.
- Buy Todd Snider’s digital album Cheatham Street Warehouse. Proceeds will go to the Kent Finlay Medical Fund to help offset the treatment costs associated with Finlay’s battle against multiple myeloma.
- George Strait and Jason Aldean tickets are the fifth and seventh most-expensive tours of 2014, reports Forbes. Also, there’s insane demand for LiveNation’s Country Megaticket, an all-access pass to seven country music shows including Tim McGraw, Lady Antebellum, and Brad Paisley dates. Average asking price on the secondary sales market for a PNC Bank Arts Center Megaticket? $1700.
- Esme Patterson’s “Never Chase a Man” was inspired by Dolly Parton’s “Jolene.” Patterson told CMT Edge, “I was thinking that Dolly’s man, the one she’s begging Jolene not to steal, sounds like a sleazy, no-good fellow that doesn’t deserve the love of Dolly’s character…In my response, Jolene is not interested in her man. She thinks he’s a creep, he keeps leaning in too close, and Jolene tries to tell Dolly’s character that she deserves better!”
- Bruce Springsteen documentary High Hopes will premiere on HBO April 4.
- Darius Rucker’s True Believers has gone gold.
- Perhaps you would like to start 2015 trapped on a boat with Charley Pride, Asleep at the Wheel, Lorrie Morgan, and other country artists.
- The Drive-By Truckers played “Shit Shots Count” for Conan. (warning: autoplay)
- George Strait, The Band Perry, Miranda Lambert, Blake Shelton, Keith Urban, Jason Aldean, and Luke Bryan will perform at the ACM Awards in April.
- Songwriter Lorna Flowers passed away on March 5.
- Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers released a concert DVD.
- Dierks Bentley joined The String Cheese Incident onstage in Mexico for “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms.”
- From TechCrunch.com: “Spotify Acquires The Echo Nest, Gaining Control Of The Music DNA Company That Powers Its Rivals.”
- D. Charles Speer & The Helix played “Red Clay Road” at the Relix offices.
- Galleywinter profiled New Braunfels-based singer-songwriter Tom Gillam.
With its punk influences and generous use of synthesizers, New Wave is pretty far removed from country on the musical spectrum. However, in the past decade or so, several roots artists have been putting out some damn good New Wave covers. Here are six of my favorites; what are yours?
Bonus Track: Sturgill Simpson – “The Promise”
The song that inspired this week’s Friday Five – originally recorded by one hit wonders When In Rome – is an unexpected choice for Simpson’s sophomore album, Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (out May 13, but there’s a good chance you’ll hear it before then if you’re lucky enough to catch one of Sturgill’s live shows), but a damn good one. Turning the ‘80s pop hit into a stark country ballad allows the lyrics, which are rather lovely, to shine in a way that they didn’t when buried under the original arrangement.
5. Calexico – “Love Will Tear Us Apart”
Putting your own spin on a classic like this Joy Division song is never easy, but Americana rockers Calexico do a solid job here.
4. Laura Cantrell – “Love Vigilantes”
From Kitty Wells to New Order – is there anything Laura Cantrell can’t sing? Based on her diverse cover selections, she’s got killer taste in music too; not that we’d expect anything less from WFMU’s Radio Thrift Shop proprietress.
3. HillBenders – “Talking in Your Sleep”
The HillBenders grassed up this early ‘80s Romantics hit for their 2012 album, Can You Hear Me, proving that every song can benefit from the addition of a Dobro.
2. Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit – “Psycho Killer”
The world needs more alt-country Talking Heads covers; this one — featuring former 400 Unit member Browan Lollar singing lead – is a good start.
1. Johnny Cash – “Personal Jesus”
Cash was no stranger to New Wave – he recorded multiple songs by Elvis Costello and one-time step-son-in-law Nick Lowe – but this version of a 1989 Depeche Mode single might be his best effort.
Willie Watson to Release Solo Album; All for the Hall Nets $100K; New West/Normaltown Offer NoiseTrade Sampler
- Sean Potts, one of the founding members of The Chieftains, passed away last month. He was 83.
- Willie Watson will release his solo debut, Folk Singer, Vol. 1, May 6. The record, which includes versions of songs like “Stewball” and “James Alley Blues,” was produced by David Rawlings. (via press release)
- Here’s a neat article about the old Palomino Club in North Hollywood. An excerpt: From 1949 to 1996, this building had the façade of an Old West corral and a neon bucking bronco sign outside the door. It was home to the Palomino Club. Known as “the Pal” to the legions of musicians and regulars who considered it a second home, it hosted many artists that have personally meant a great deal to me and millions of others. Willie Nelson, Tammy Wynette, Glenn Campbell, Linda Ronstadt, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Gram Parsons, and Waylon Jennings all sang here, throwing back whiskey while they performed some of the most poignant songs of the 20th Century on the dusty Pal stage. They sang for truckers, industry execs, working class wannabes, and waitresses in tight Palomino issued t-shirts.
- The March 17 issue of People will feature some info about Randy Travis and his struggle to recover from last year’s serious health complications. According to the article, Travis is up and walking with “a little help,” struggling to use both of his hands, and, while his speech and vocabulary are sometimes hard to understand, he’s slowly improving.
- This Slate article examines the most common rhymes in popular music. At the bottom of the page, you can see the most common and most distinctive rhymes sung by artists including Garth Brooks, Reba McEntire, The Eagles, Shania Twain, Blake Shelton, and more.
- Grantland’s Steven Hyden wrote a fine feature on The Drive-By Truckers.
- Jerry Wofford of TulsaWorld.com looks at the town’s country scene.
- The Tom Waits Map is a fun time-waster.
- The New West/Normaltown sampler available on NoiseTrade includes songs from Robert Ellis, Daniel Romano, Austin Lucas, and Luther Dickinson.
- Listen to “Right Thing” from Nikki Lane’s forthcoming album, All or Nothin’ (out May 6).
- Keith Urban announced a slew of summer shows.
- The Felice Brothers have signed with Dualtone Records; a new album will be released this summer. (via press release)
- Six-string aficionados might want to make a pilgrimage to the Guitar Salon on Greenwich Village, while banjo pickers should watch Jim Mills interview JD Crowe.
- CMT Edge posted Sarah Jarosz’s “Build Me Up from Bones” video.
- Stream blues rock group The Nick Moss Band’s new album, Time Ain’t Free.
- If you need to know where to start with Little Feat, Slate’s got you covered.
- The Tonk Honkys turned Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” into an alt-country tune. (NSFW)
- Jewly Hight wrote a feature on Parker Millsap for The Nashville Scene.
- Chuck Dauphin shines The 615’s spotlight on Sundy Best.
- Emmylou Harris and Vince Gill were among the artists who appeared at Tuesday’s “All for the Hall” benefit show in L.A. Early estimates put the event’s net profit at around $100,000.
A little over ten years ago, Ray Benson took off his mantle as front man for Asleep at the Wheel and put out his first solo album, Beyond Time, a fitting title for a record full of tunes that ranged from jazz and pop to blues and funk; that album allowed Benson a chance to move beyond the constraints of the time signatures in which Asleep at the Wheel plays.
His new album—out in stores about a month ago—gives Benson the chance to play outside the boundaries again. This new album, A Little Piece, features nine Benson originals and two covers—one a previously unrecorded song he co-wrote with Waylon Jennings, “It Ain’t You,” and on which his old friend Willie Nelson joins in a duet, and the other a version of Randy Newman’s “Marie.” These songs reveal a Ray Benson that fans of Asleep at the Wheel have not much seen; here he’s coming to terms with life’s many upheavals, the disappointments and the losses that are part of life’s fabric and from which no one can get away. The tunes here include the stark steel and acoustic title track that reflects on the ways that we lose little pieces of ourselves when we do harm to others as he counsels, “I know a little about a lot of things, that is true/One thing I know is that true love will see you through/What you give comes back to you.” The steel and electric guitars trade soaring leads in “Give Me Some Peace” which recalls several tunes off of Jackson Browne’s For Everyman, with those great David Lindley steel cascades. On this song, Benson pleads for some peace and rest in the midst of life’s tragedies and regrets. The swampy, funky, rocking stomp, “Killed by a .45,” co-written with Chris Wallin, is a tongue-in-cheek ballad of death by vinyl. One of the albums highlights is a bluesy tribute to Benson’s old friend, JJ Cale.
Engine 145 caught up by phone with Benson at his home near Austin a little while before he headed out to Gruene Hall in New Braunfels, Texas, to play a show. After chatting a little while about the highs and lows (mostly lows) of Northwestern University football—Benson’s brother teaches at the NU Medical School—we talked about this new album.
What prompted you to do this album now?
Well, I hit the 60-year-old mark and decided it was time to do this. I write songs all the time, and I had written the title song—“A Little Piece”—and I realized, okay, this is what I want to do; this is what I want to talk about now. I wanted to talk about my life and get into it very personally, sing about some of the unpleasant things in life. People don’t realize who I am. I also wanted showcase my finger picking.
Yeah, there’s some darkness on this album.
Good, I was hoping that would come through. Life isn’t a fairy tale, but I see so many young kids out there who think that if they get the right job, get married, life’s gonna be perfect and have a happy ending. There’s joy and hope, sure, but there’s death, tragedy, and disappointment in life. I also work a lot in public mental health to try to raise awareness about depression. You know, there’s a fine line that separates creativity and depression, and I hope we can get people to recognize how they’re connected.
How long did it take you to make the album?
Probably about a year and a half. I had to wait until I had time, and then I had to wait until Lloyd Maines had time; we cut it in three basic sessions, which we did live; then we did the overdubs and fixes on the vocals and added any ideas that came up.
When did you start playing music?
I started out taking piano lessons, but I quit because I wasn’t really that interested. When I was 9, I picked up my sister’s guitar; I took a couple of years of lessons. My sister and I and some friends had a folk music group called the Four Gs, and we played Peter, Paul, and Mary, and the Kingston Trio. When I was 12, I went off to camp and there were these guys playing fiddles; they asked me to back them up on guitar, so I got to know that kind of music that summer.
Did you start writing songs around the same time?
Even younger; I started writing poems when I was six-years-old and haven’t quit writing since. A young man once came up to T.S. Eliot and told him, “I think I’m going to give up writing,” and Eliot replied, “Oh, you can?” That’s how I am; if I could only stop writing, I might do it, but I can’t; I have to write. I did go through a period in my life where I couldn’t write—when the words didn’t make sense together or I couldn’t get started—and I was very frustrated.
What’s your approach to songwriting?
Benson: Well, I’m pretty haphazard about it. Ideas come all the time, and I have a pad and I write them down. Then, when I have a deadline I go work on the song. More often than not it’s the words that come first when I’m writing. Some of ‘em, though, you write the whole thing—music and lyrics—and there it is. Sometimes writing songs is like doing a crossword puzzle, trying to fit all the words in the right places. I’m very much a revamper, though; I’ll go back and write and re-write. I didn’t work in Nashville because I can’t sit in a room and write a song. You know, songwriters are voyeurs: when you walk into a bar, say, and you overhear a great story, you can either write a song using that story as the foundation or you glean ideas from that story for a song.
Who are some of the songwriters who’ve most influenced you?
Oh, almost too many to count. Hank Williams, he’s the one that really got me started thinking about writing songs. Bob Dylan, Irving Berlin, Louis Jordan, Willie Nelson, Chuck Berry, and Randy Newman. I am just in awe of Newman’s writing; he so sardonic; he gets away with stuff that others cannot; I mean, who but Randy Newman could have sung “Short People” and gotten away with it. Plus, he writes on the piano, which I’m in awe of.
What about guitarists who’ve influenced you?
Well, Django Reinhardt is at the top of the list; James Burton, Wes Montgomery, Doc Watson, Merle Travis—I really love Merle’s playing—Tal Farlow, Leon Rhodes, Joe Maphis, and Roy Buchanan; I saw Roy when I was very young, and I was just amazed, and later on we got to be friends.
Tell me how you wrote the song “JJ Cale.”
I had a couple of songs for this album—which didn’t end up on the album—that I wanted JJ to play on, so I called him up and asked him if he would play guitar on them. He told me he’d love to but he was tired and not feeling good so he didn’t believe he could help me out. A few days later he was dead. I sat down and wrote this song and finished it in three days. When you listen to it, you’ll hear JJ all over it, I hope. The wah-wah pedal in the song; JJ was all about the wah-wah; you’ll also hear references to or lines from his songs like “they call me the breeze.” The first solo in this song I played live and sang at the same time; I played it with my fingers and didn’t use a pick. Man, I loved JJ. So many people ignored us [Asleep at the Wheel] for so many years, but he would always come to visit. He was the most reluctant front man in the world, too; he’d prefer to sit back by the drum set just playing his guitar.
How do you think your music has evolved over these years?
Well, my voice has come a long way; my singing voice has really improved year by year. It’s funny; I walked into a bar and heard a record playing, and I said to the guy there that this must be some singer just starting out; he said, “No, that’s one of your early records. That’s you.” So, when you listen to my voice when I was 21 on that first album, you can hear how much my voice really changed now. As a guitarist, I was always presentable, and I think I started out pretty good, but not good enough. Over the years, I’ve grown as a guitarist. My songs have always had a distinctive view. You know, Johnny Cash once said about one of his shows that his band’s biggest asset was its inability to play. He’s right about that; once you start getting too complex, you lose touch with the music; simplicity is the hardest thing to get out of a musician; I’ve learned that over the years.
You should let folks know that I’m in the middle of co-writing my autobiography. I’m working with this great writer, David Menconi, and he’s sending me pages of it every day, and I’m red penciling the shit out of it. I love working with David, and putting this together is reminding me that I’ve been fortunate to have been at the junction of so many interesting time. I mean, Garth Brooks and Lyle Lovett opened for us. I’m really happy that it’s coming out from the University of Texas Press.
Capitol to Reissue Okie From Muskogee; Country Music Photo Exhibit Coming to L.A.; Ralph Peer Biography Due in November
- Capitol Records will re-release Merle Haggard’s 1969 album Okie from Muskogee on March 25. The remastered, two-CD set will include out-of-print live album The Fightin’ Side of Me (1970), which was recorded in Philadelphia. (via press release)
- The Whites celebrated 30 years as Opry members.
- Qello is like Netflix, but solely focused on concert films and music documentaries. A quick browse through the folk section reveals films featuring the David Grisman Quartet, Cowboy Jack Clement, Johnny Cash, Elizabeth Cotten, Willie Nelson, Ray Charles, and lots more. You might want to give the free trial a shot.
- Elvis Costello remixed Johnny Cash’s “She Used to Love Me a Lot” from forthcoming “lost” album Out Among the Stars. Listen at Pitchfork.
- Here’s Don Williams covering Townes Van Zandt’s “I’ll Be Here in the Morning.”
- A judge ordered Taylor Swift’s stalker to stay 100 yards away from the singer and three members of her family. Timothy Sweet has been harassing Swift since early 2011, sending unhinged messages like, “If anyone in Taylor Swift’s family gets killed, it is not my fault” and “Dearest Taylor, I’ll kill any man who gets in the way of our marriage. Message to John Kerry, Secretary of State. Message from YOUR Presidential Candidate.”
- The Annenberg Space for Photography in L.A. will host the photo exhibit “Country: Portraits of American Sound” from May 31-September 28. The show also includes a documentary that that “explores country music’s evolution over 80 years with focus on photography’s role in documenting the genre’s history and culture.” After the exhibit closes in L.A., it’s expected to travel.
- Read an excerpt from Galadrielle Allman’s new book, Please Be with Me: A Song for My Father, Duane Allman.
- Barry Mazor’s new book, Ralph Peer and the Making of Popular Roots Music will be released in November through Chicago Review Press.
- Download songs from 100 acts playing SXSW this year, including Laura Cantrell, St. Paul & The Broken Bones, and Robert Ellis.
- Simply Bluegrass will premiere on RFD-TV March 7.
- Dr. John documentary Rocking the Opera House will premiere on the Smithsonian Channel Friday night.
- Robbie Fulks and Jon Langford paid tribute to Barbara Mandrell with a cover of “I Was Country When Country Wasn’t Cool.” Langford recently announced that he’s releasing a 7” called Days & Nights for Record Store Day. (via press release)
- Here’s an interview with documentarian Beth Harrington about her project The Winding Stream: The Carters, the Cashes, and the Course of Country Music, which premieres at SXSW on March 15.
- Lydia Loveless is touring with The Old 97’s this spring. Loveless also played “Really Wanna See You” for CIMU.
- Geoffrey Himes wrote a lengthy feature on The Drive-By Truckers for Paste.
- Brad Paisley is now a Distinguished West Virginian.
- The Howlin’ Brothers will release their next album, Trouble, on April 29. Ricky Skaggs plays mandolin on two of the album’s songs. (via press release)
- Download a free, 40-minute harmonica lesson from Alan “Blind Owl” Wilson (Canned Heat).
- NPR’s Morning Edition aired a piece on singer-songwriter Linda Perhacs, whose sophomore album, The Soul of All Natural Things, is being released 44 years after her debut record.
- A pipe burst at the Reba McEntire Center for Rehabilitation in Denison, Texas, flooding the facility with hundreds of gallons of water. According to the article, most of the damage was contained to the acquatics center, which seems rather fortuitous.
- Toby Keith announced dates for his Shut Up & Hold On Tour.
- Stream Deer Lodge Records’ multi-genre George Jones tribute album.
- Check out The Steel Wheels’ new single, “We’ve Got a Fire.”
Bobby Osborne Launches Video Series; Valerie June to Make Austin City Limits Debut; New Album Releases
- Watch the first two installments of Bobby Osborne’s “Road to the Opry” video series. 2014 marks Osborne’s 50th year as an Opry member.
- Time to vote for this year’s Lone Star Music Awards.
- Mary Chapin Carpenter played a couple shows with The New York Philharmonic. Here’s Jon Pareles’ (New York Times) take on one of the performances.
- Sturgill Simpson on new album Metamodern Sounds in Country Music: Some people can get a little hung up on the tradition and purism side of things. This is 2014 and my producer (Dave Cobb) and I had a long conversation about that. He said “aren’t you worried that people will think you’re running from whatever the last record was?” I said that I’d already made what I call a traditional record and I felt that I’m not running from it But I certainly didn’t want to turn around and do it again right after that. We incorporated a lot of things this time that will probably take people a little while to get used to. Then I’m not going to make a Merle Haggard record because he already did it and I’m pretty damn sure that I’d never do it as good as he did it (laughs). Taking it somewhere new is the only way it will survive.
- Korby Lenker is the American Songwriter Writer of the Week.
- Valerie June and Eric Church will both make their Austin City Limits debuts this year. June will tape her segment on May 28; Church’s is scheduled for September 23.
- Stream Sara Evans’ new album, Slow Me Down.
- Band of Horses played “No One’s Gonna Love You” for KEXP.
- Important: Merle Haggard owns an “I Love Haters” hoodie.
- Vince Gill and Erin Enderlin are two of the artists scheduled to play Tin Pan South later this month.
- Drive-By Truckers will appear on Conan March 6. (via press release)
- Feller & Hill are going to release their sophomore album later this month.
- Peter Cooper’s new Tennesseean column is all about Colin Linden (Blackie & The Rodeo Kings) the “hardest-working Nashville-based Canadian in show business.”
- JD Crowe helped his mama celebrate her 100th birthday.
- Paste premiered Rich Robinson’s “One Road Hill.”
- The February/March issue of Garden & Gun includes a feature on luthier Randy Wood.
- On March 25, Republic Records will release five-song EP The Walking Dead AMC Original Soundtrack Vol. 2 (Season 4), which features a song by Lucero’s Ben Nichols. (via press release)
- Steep Canyon Rangers visited the CMT studio to play “Stand and Deliver.”
- Hunter Hayes, ConAgra, and P&G have teamed up to fight child hunger. For each iTunes download of Hayes’ “Invisible,” a donation will be made to the organization Feeding America.
- Here’s Nu-Blu playing “Trains I Didn’t Take,” not to be confused with “Trains I Missed.”
- An A&E reality show about “hick hop” “artist” Big Smo is in the works. Mr. Smo will release his debut album, Kuntry Livin’, on June 3.
- This week’s album releases (thank you for continuing to support E145 by purchasing your music through the affiliate links below):
Drive-By Truckers – English Oceans
Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys – Radio Shows
David Nail – I’m a Fire
Rod Melancon – Parish Lines
Grant Peeples – Punishing the Myth
Bill Anderson – Life!
Kevin Fowler – How Country Are Ya?
Eli Young Band – 10,000 Towns
Chuck Mead – Free State Serenade
Fearing and White – Tea and Consequences
Katie Glassman – Dream a Little Dream
Holly Golightly & The Brokeoffs – All Her Fault
Bill Emerson & Sweet Dixie – Dancin’ Annie
Dallas Smith – Tippin’ Point
John Gorka – Bright Side of Down
Stone Jack Jones – Ancestor
Susan Toney – Love is the Cure: The Essential Collection
Linda Perhacs – The Soul of All Natural Things
Katie Cole – Lay It All Down
Eydie Gorme – Gorme Country Style
Various Artists – Bob Dylan: The 30th Anniversary Collection
- And a book:
Gerry House – Country Music Broke My Brain
Today we’re proud to premiere a song by new progressive bluegrass supergroup E-and’a, who will be releasing their self-titled debut album on Adventure Music March 18.
Led by fiddle virtuoso Darol Anger, the quintet (who take their name from the rhythmic groove they slipped into during the recording sessions: one-e-and’a, two-e-and’a) includes bassist Sharon Gilchrist, who’s played with luminaries like Tony Rice and Peter Rowan, Courtney Hartman of Della Mae, former Gibson Brother Joe Walsh — who also co-produced the record with Anger — and Lukas Pool, two-time National Old-Time Banjo Champion.
The album is a fine one, as intricate and evocative originals fit seamlessly alongside covers of songs by John Hartford, Vassar Clements, and John McGann and vibrant takes on traditional tunes like Metis fiddle standard “Gray Owl.”
Here’s one of the album’s highlights for you to stream and download (click the arrow in the upper left corner), “The Gravel Shore.”
- CraigR.: I beg everyone to watch the music( if you can call it that)video for Florida Georgia Line with Luke Bryan. …
- Roger: That Don Williams cover of Sing Me Back Home sounds great - have to check out that new CD.
- Gene Cross, Jr.: A very pretty song. I sure look forward to being able to buy the complete CD tomorrow. I am a …
- Kanenrake Stacey: I always wondered why RCA gave up on her so fast, I'm glad to know that it was probably because …
- bob: Great interview of an impressive young lady. I'll have to check out that Blues album when it comes out.
- Jack Pliskin: Oh it's good to hear some real country music being made in this day and age. Don Williams is simply a …
- darol anger: This band is not one you're likely to hear out on the fester or club circuit. It's a rare and …
- Livewire: So that's the interview Best listen to the album and decide for yourself. It was slated in UK's Country Music People Magazine A …
- Stormy: A little more glam rock than New Wave, but here is Kenneth Brian covering David Bowie: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJhfD77QOLY
- Jack Williams: Forgot this one: Richard Thompson - Tempted (Squeeze)