Tom Russell on Country Music
Tom Russell has led a fascinating life. He’s been a cabdriver, a teacher in Nigeria, and, oh yeah, a singer-songwriter whose work has been recorded by Johnny Cash, Nanci Griffith, and many more. His upcoming album, Mesabi (here’s a free download of one of the tracks, called “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”), is filled with the compelling characters and vivid storytelling that make up the bulk of Russell’s songwriting. We asked Russell about the country music that’s influenced him as an artist, and here’s how he replied.
If I had to chose three or four albums or musicians that inspired me?
First: Ian Tyson, the great Canadian songwriter who came out of the box with songs like “Four Strong Winds” and “Someday Soon”. That second Ian and Sylvia album: Four Strong Winds is a strong, strong record. I was thrilled to write songs with both Ian and Sylvia later in the game. Prior to that I heard Marty Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs, probably the best cowboy record of all time. Also Tex Ritter’s Blood on the Saddle. Punk cowboy. Dark.
Steve Young is a roots/country writer who’s never received his due. He was one of the inventors of what came to be known as “country rock” and “progressive country” and alt country, and all those meaningless labels. A great writer and singer. Still around. Let us now praise un-famous men.
Of course anything Dylan did back in the mid sixties blew me away. It was akin to watching Van Gogh paint for a year. Nobody can match that output today. In 18 months Dylan wrote the songs for Bringing It All Back Home, Highway Sixty One Revisited and Blonde on Blonde. And all the outtakes. Dig it. Matchless. Are these country records? Damn right. To the bone. And of course Johnny Cash’s first record: The Hot and Blue Guitars of Johnny Cash. I got to sing with him several times. Chilling….and finally Merle Haggard. Most of his early records. Dave Alvin and I did a tribute record Tulare Dust, with a bunch of folks like Lucinda Williams and Billy Joe Shaver and all. I would hope it will be re-released. That’s it for now.
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