Tom Russell on Country Music

Juli Thanki | August 22nd, 2011

tomrussellbyerictempleTom 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.

–Tom Russell

  1. Paul W Dennis
    August 23, 2011 at 1:24 am

    Tom Russell isn’t the most arresting singer around, yet he has made a number of interesting albums. Actually, I should say he’s never made an uninteresting album

  2. Leeann Ward
    August 23, 2011 at 8:40 am

    Cool feature.

    I don’t know much beyond Russell’s album with Gretchen Peters, but that is one great album.

Tagged In This Article

// // // // // // // // // //

Current Discussion

  • Stuart Munro: Is it just me...or does the idea of St. Paul and the Broken Bones being an Americana act really strain …
  • Sam G.: Loki Is playing Hank Williams in a new movie, and Thor bought the rights to a book about him. I …
  • Roger: Fabulous interview and fantastic new music that I will listen to over and over again.
  • Applejack: It's not just you, Andrew L. I just listened to the clips on Amazon, and the autotune effect is terrible.
  • Andrew L.: Is it just me or does Strait sound horribly autotuned on the clips for the new live album? I can't …
  • Juli Thanki: You'll get to hear it pretty soon: The Wall Street Journal is going to stream the album on their website …
  • Leeann Ward: Way to go to David Cantwell for getting a name drop! Great interview, Juli! Womack's new album is awesome! I've not always …
  • Jonathan Pappalardo: Great interview as always, Juli! The new album is fantastic. "Same Kind of Different" is my favorite cut although "Fly" is …
  • Dave D.: Good interview. Looking forward to the new record, and particularly interested in hearing her version of Brennen Leigh's "Sleeping with …
  • nm: I guess it's not surprising that a singer who gets her songs all over the place, the way Womack does, …

Recently Reviewed Albums

  • paulthorntooblessed
  • duhksbeyondtheblue
  • kelleymickwee
  • sandrarhodes
  • candi staton
  • sturgillsimpsonmetamodern
  • raypricebeautyis
  • rodneycrowelltarpapersky