Posts Tagged ‘Americana’


Saw Buffalo Springfield last night at Wiltern.

Awesome show, all the old songs done impeccably. Sold out crowd loved it. They were a great group then, as now. I remember seeing them in ’67; they were great then.

They’re doing a tour in the near future. Stills is in good shape, Young always is and Furay is a great singer. Harmonies were tight.

For information on their tour, check this out Buffalo Springfield tour

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Sharon Corr is one of the gorgeous Corr sisters, the violinist of and a vocalist in the Corrs, the great Irish recording act, which has sold over 26 million albums, and toured the world to sellout crowds. The Corrs and U2 are the reigning stars of Irish contemporary music. Sharon has recorded her first solo album and it’s simply wonderful. We had the good fortune to get to know her when we had an extended vacation in Ireland and she was kind to allow us to interview her in July of 2010 in Dublin. She’s charming, great fun, down to earth, and personifies class. As you will read below, Sharon has a full life as a musician, wife and mother. She’s married to the handsome, dashing, successful Irish barrister, Gavin Bonnar.

TM: Why are you doing a solo album?

SC: Because I make music, that’s what I do.  I perform, write, sing, play, and I’ve always wanted to make a solo album.  I’ve been working with the Corrs for about 20 years, and my family, been with them for like 100 years, and we all took a hiatus to have children and stop touring, get off the road and get some normal life going. But in the couple of years that I was having my children, I was very inspired and wrote a lot music, and that spurred me on to make an album.  So it was a very organic, natural process.

TM: Is the music different from what you were doing with the Corrs?

SC: It’s different in that I’ve changed emotionally.  I’m a little more mature.  It’s not drastically different because for me to do so would be for me to deny myself, so what I wrote for the Corrs is what I was naturally inspired to do.  What I write for me is what I’m naturally inspired to do. There’s a similarity as in it’s very melodic and the violin runs the whole way through.  It’s my main instrument.

TM: Is it different instrumentation than what Corrs’ music traditionally has been?

SC: The Corrs’ music is your basic rhythm section, drums, bass, guitar, lead guitar, keyboards, violin.  I’ve got the bodhran on the album, a single drum with a skin on it.  It’s an old Irish drum that I hit with a stick which is actually called a tipper.  It’s sort of fat at either end and makes a beautiful, very ethnically Irish sound.  So, no, the instrumentation isn’t very different from the Corrs.

TM: In terms of songwriting style, do you consider this to be different in the sense that it’s more Celtic, pop, folky?  Are there any strains of styles that are different?

SC: It’s a little rockier, it’s a little heavier.  Violin-wise I wanted to explore my classical side on the album as well.  I was brought up playing classical violin and then switched over to more traditional later on in my teens.   I’ve explored variations on how to play the violin so it would feel more classical one minute, or more bluegrassy, and then the next minute it would be back to traditional Irish.  I’ve wanted to explore myself vocally on this album and violin-wise and stretch myself more.

TM: On the Corrs’ albums, was there violin on most tracks?

SC: On the earlier albums, on every track.  Later albums, there were maybe a couple of tracks without violin on it, but it is a very strong part of our sound.  It is part of the intonation that I suppose identified the Corrs’ music.

TM: Who, besides Charlie Daniels  of “The Devil Went Down To Georgia,”  is both a vocalist and a violinist at the same time?

SC: Alison Krauss, and one of the Dixie Chicks, of course, but it is still a rarity and for that reason it’s very identifiable.

TM: Let’s talk about the songwriting process.  How do you write these songs?

SC: Almost every song on the album was written on piano.  What I basically do is spend a lot of time in and around my piano.  If I’m making a cup of coffee, the piano’s nearby.  Or minding the kids.  I’m coming in and out of the piano all day.  I don’t like to force myself to write.  I like it to be just something I’m continuously doing, because I don’t respond well to a schedule. I like to have it as something that’s part of my organic day.  I’m always writing, and I chose to do it that way because if I ever stop writing, I find it hard to get back on the writing horse, and grapple back what I knew from the last song I wrote, and it takes me awhile.  I find a chord progression on the piano that inspires melody.

TM: Then do you come up with lyrics?

SC: Yes.  Usually the lyric is something I will start singing while I’m messing around on the piano.  I’ll find like a word like “butterflies.” I wrote a song called “Butterflies” – I kept finding butterflies in my life.  Everywhere I looked there was a butterfly.  At Christmastime, there was a butterfly around our table and it wasn’t the time of year, and it was sort of out of sync, so I was inspired to write something about butterflies, and it almost comes out before I think about it, and then I have to discover the lyric around what I’m thinking.

TM: Songwriting comes easy?

SC: Yeah.  I used to find lyrics incredibly difficult. To really touch people, you have to create a lyric that you yourself understand, that you know that perfectly encapsulates the situation, and there are only certain writers that can really do that, that will say something in a way that puts you in the situation where you can touch it, you can feel it, and you can smell it ­– if the lyric is saying something.  You have to feel it.

TM: Are they all songs about love?

SC: No.  “Butterflies” is about that moment before you get on stage, butterflies in your belly. When I took time off to have my children, I missed the road desperately.  I more desperately wanted to have children at that stage of my life, but I missed playing music and what happens before you get on stage.  I was on tour for almost 20 years of my life so that was more my norm than the other … I wanted to get back out on tour and knew the only I could get do so if I created an album that created an interest, so that people would want to buy tickets.

TM: But you do write about love, I presume.

SC: Oh, yes.  A lot of it is love.  “Butterflies” is about love of music.

TM: Have you done any covers or anything traditional?

SC: I have covered the The Corgis’ “Everybody’s Gotta Learn Sometime.”

And I’ve covered “Small Town Boy.”  Sort of flipped it on its head and made it really, very dark.  It was an 80’s gay anthem, and I’ve just tried to focus on the lyric and turned it around. Traditionally, I have done “Mna Na h’Eireann” which is a piece by Sean O’Riada.  It means “Women Of Ireland,” and it’s a hugely famous piece. I did a new arrangement of that with Jeff Beck.

TM: Is that in Gaelic, the song?

SC: The name of the song is in Gaelic but it’s an instrumental, and then there also have been lyrics written to it, maybe over the years.

TM: On the Corrs’ album, the songs say “written by the Corrs.”  Is that really what happened?  All four Corrs get together and write?

SC: All four of us are writers, but we didn’t necessarily all write together en masse at the one time, Caroline and Andrea wrote a lot together.  I wrote a lot on my own.  Jim and Andrea wrote a lot together.  So we were each writing, at least a quarter of the album each, so we just went “The Corrs.”

TM: So it’s one for and all and all for one.

SC: Yeah, but if you picked out the individual songs, they would be different individuals writing.  If we’re in an interview and somebody said, “Okay, who wrote “So Young?,”  well everybody would say, “I did .”

TM: You mean “you?”

SC: Yeah, I did, and then if it was “Queen Of Hollywood,” we would say Andrea wrote it, so…

TM: How about “Breathless?”

SC: “Breathless” was Andrea and Mutt Lange.

TM: There’s no doubt that the Corrs have a tremendous pop aspect to them, but there’s also a folk aspect to them.  When you got signed or started putting out your first music, was it as poppy or as, as near pop as it ultimately became?  Or were you pushed in that direction?

SC: Oh, God, no, no, that was our idea.  Originally, when we started writing together, before we were signed, it was pure pop.  It was very electronic, very pure pop, and then we introduced the traditional Irish because I played the violin so we introduced it into the music.  And then we developed our sound over a couple of years of writing.  We got a record deal ultimately because we chased David Foster into a studio in New York while he was recording Michael Jackson. The edge of the Irish music really appealed to him, he really got that.  The harmonies he loved.  I think we got signed because of that combination.

TM: How did four siblings end up in a group with each other?

SC: I don’t know.  I say our music was our life because it actually was; there was a lot of music in our life.  My parents were both musicians.  My mother had a voice like Karen Carpenter.  My father was a keyboard player, piano player.  They played gigs at the weekends.  Mom was a stay-at-home mom and then a singer at the weekend, and then dad worked in the local electricity supply board and then played at the weekends with Mom.  So it was our lives.

TM: What did your dad do for a living?

SC: He was the head of accounts in ESB.  That’s Electricity Supply Board.  So he was like an accountant.

TM: I take it he encouraged the kids.

SC: Oh, yeah.  My mom and dad found their greatest joy in life was music.  It was where they were most happy.  And I think they found if you can be in the music business, you can have a very special life if you can be in the music business.  Obviously, it’s a very precarious industry, a very difficult industry, but I think they really believed in following their dreams and certainly following their talent.

TM: When the group first began, what were the ages of the kids?

SC: We began in 1990, the oldest is Jim, my brother.

TM: How old was Jim?

SC: I was 20, Jim was 26, Andrea was 16, Caroline was 17.  It sort of fell together.  There was an idea to have a band.  Jim always wanted to have a band with his sisters.  I’m not sure how keen we sisters were actually, but certainly he was into that idea.

TM: What were you doing then?

SC: I was managing a record store.  I was working in a pub.  I had finished school.  I was playing violin

TM: Where were you living?

SC: I was living in Dundalk, our hometown.

TM: And that’s up near the border of Northern Ireland.

SC: Yes, it’s about 15 miles from the border.

TM: What kind of a town is that?

SC: It’s a great town, and for music.  Great traditional sessions, great players, there’s a great orchestra in the town.  It got a bit of a bad rap because a lot of the Troubles (how the Irish refer to the conflicts between the Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland), a lot of guys causing the trouble in the North would cross the border and move to Dundalk just to get away from the police over there, and it got a bit of a bad rap at stages but it was a good town to grow up in.  We were very happy there.

TM: You formed the group with the intentions of getting a record deal?

SC: It was a lot more naïve than that.  We formed a band.  We really liked the implications of forming the band and trying to have a career.  What actually happened was we formed the band almost by mistake because we wanted to audition for the film The Commitments, which was running open auditions in Dublin at the time.  The guy who became our manager was MD on the move and he knew Jim, our brother, because Jim had done some recordings for him, and he said, “You guys, why don’t you audition?”  So that’s when we first got together and started rehearsing some songs together.  The first time we played together was on stage for Alan Parker, auditioning for the movie.  That day, the casting director for that movie, who was a good friend of John Hughes, said out of the blue to him, “You should manage them,” and to us, “You should let him manage you,” and that was it.  It was fate.

TM: Then what happened?  Did it take of quickly?

SC: No, no.  It took us four years to get a record deal.  We had to start writing.  We really started learning our craft, started writing and understanding the whole process of writing, just feeling our way through it and making it up as you go along.  We spent four years doing that.  We pursued a lot of different record companies over the years, none of them were interested, and the same guy who turned down the Cranberries, also turned down us, so we knew it wasn’t that bad.  Eventually we played a gig in Dublin and the then Irish ambassador was Jean Kennedy Smith.  She came to the gig with a friend of ours, Bill Whelan, who composed River Dance, but that was after this.  She then invited us back to the Kennedy Library to play for the World Cup. So we went out there, and John, our manager, obviously thought, “Well, this is a prime time to hit the American record labels.”  So we did.  We went over to L.A. and hit all the labels over there, and were just total fish out of water.  L.A. was just so terrifying to us, and New York was so big and so scary, and we were just these little country bumpkins with our violins and tin whistles.  And it was bizarre but it’s where the chances happen in life when you take yourself completely out of your comfort zone and land yourself in somewhere you don’t understand and you’re just trying to make your way through it.

It was the last day before we were supposed to go home and no record company was interested.  John, our manager, had the wonderful idea of gate crashing the Michael Jackson session in the Hit Factory in New York, because he knew David Foster was producing.  He’d been told by Jason Flom, who was with Atlantic Records at the time, that this guy was their in-house producer and he was amazing:  “You should get to meet him.”  So John didn’t wait for an invite.  We went.  We arrived at the date.  Big burly black guys are minding Michael Jackson.  We said, “We’re here to meet David Foster,” and they thought we had a meeting.  So we arrived, and we looked official, we had all the instruments, so we could have been there – although we looked probably a bit oddly dressed.  David come out and he because he was curious, and we just said, “Can we play for you?”  So we got round a piano in the studio.  Jim played piano, I played violin, Caroline bodhran, and Andrea tin whistle, and we all sang harmony, and three songs that we had written.  Then we played him some pretty well-produced demos, and we were signed the next day.

TM: Are you doing harmonies on this album?

SC: Yeah, and interestingly, I have used some male vocalists for harmonies on this album as well because I wanted to explore the more male sound on the album as well and see how that worked with my voice, because I know my voice with my sisters works amazingly, and I wanted to try it out with other people.

TM: Were you singing lead on Corrs’ product?

SC: I sang lead on one song on one album, but we liked to keep our roles fairly defined, so not a lot.

TM: You write the song, then how do you judge whether it’s record-worthy, whether you want to take it to the recording stage?

SC: I pretty much know straight away.

TM: Do you play for your husband, your producer, for an A&R person?

SC: I play it for my husband and then I tell my producer, “We’ll go into the studio to record another song.”

TM: How do you get your musicians together?  Do you rehearse before you go in or lay it down first in the studio, your basic track?

SC: It depends on the song.  For the initial recordings on the album, I was actually rehearsing for the Isle Of Wight Festival last year and also for Glastonbury.  In rehearsing those, they started to sound so good that we just went, “Okay, we need to start recording these immediately,” because we just knew we had the right five.  Probably the best way to record is to rehearse first.  It depends on the track.  If it’s only me, piano and vocal, well then, obviously, I don’t need to.

TM: When you played Glastonbury and Isle of Wight, were these Sharon Corr performances, or performances with the group?

SC: Sharon Corr, yes.

TM: You’ve been going out and performing individually?

SC: Yeah, I also released a single last year as well,

TM: Those are pretty big gigs to play, aren’t they?

SC: Yeah.

TM: Have you been playing any other places or you just only play for 100,000 plus?

SC(laughs) I was very aware that if I told people I was doing an album, because I didn’t sing lead in the Corrs, they would think I’m doing a violin album, an instrumental album.  I knew I needed to identify myself as singer/songwriter, as a vocalist.  Even though I’ve always been that, the public didn’t know that because they were Corrs albums and seeing me play violin and sing background vocals.  So I knew I had to introduce myself to them as I know me.  How I did that was I took some high profile festivals.  I asked the guys that I know, “Can I play them?”  I did.  I went in with a bang.  I took a big band with me and it was scary for me because I hadn’t played live in a couple of years, but I loved it, and I was exhilarated, and it got my name out there, and people went, “Oh, yeah, Sharon Corr,” and then they just started immediately identifying me as a solo artist.

TM: And how did it go, the shows?

SC: They went great, really well.  I was so sick beforehand, ill with nerves on the Isle Of Wight, because I hadn’t played a live gig in five years, but I wanted to do it more than anything that could pull me back.

TM: And who was the band?

SC: The band is Anthony Drennan, which also played with the Corrs.

Fantastic guitarist, Keith Duffy on bass, Jason Duffy on drums, Gerry O’Connor on mandolin.  I had two backing vocalists with me. I had another guitarist, Conor Brady, so it was a really big band, because I was very aware that because I’d left stage at the height of our success, for me to come on in like an any way small with a tiny band, and “Here’s me and my violin,” was not gonna cut it.  I needed to go on and out there big so people wouldn’t have to start wondering.  They’d just go, “Oh, yeah, that’s Sharon Corr, the solo artist, and she has a big band.”

TM: Did the Corrs intend to go on a hiatus as long as they have?

SC: I don’t know what we intended.  We knew we needed a break; we’d been on the road a very long time.  I certainly knew my biological clock was ticking very loudly and I needed the opportunity to have children.  It was getting late, we had huge success, we had toured the world a couple a times over and it was time to find our own identities and our own lives.

TM: What are the plans now for the Corrs?

SC: I think we’ll do something next year, another album next year.

TM: Then tour again.

SC: We’ll see.  It’s harder to get everybody to agree.  Some people want to tour, some people maybe don’t.  I think we’ll do gigs.  I don’t know if it’ll be in a standard tour.

TM: Did you have children?

SC: I had a boy first, Cathal, we call him “Cal” after the lovely piece Mark Knopfler wrote, “Cal,” and Flori is our second born. He’s four, she’s three.

TM: How’s that been, motherhood?

SC: Frantic.  Certainly a huge eye-opener.  I never realized I was so vulnerable in this world until I had children, so it’s been scary, wonderful, exhilarating, really hard work, harder than touring, and I’m just delighted.  They’re great, terrific little kids and they are my world.

TM: And your husband supports you as a musician, doesn’t he?

SC: He loves it.  He really gets, he gets a huge kick out of it, and I think he could see me when I wasn’t playing that I wasn’t quite myself, that I didn’t feel good, that although I had my children, I wasn’t expressing myself, and I really need to do that.

TM: What is your background in music, how have you been trained?

SC: I started playing piano from probably as soon as I was tall enough to reach the keyboard.  My dad gave me a couple a lessons and then I taught myself, and I then started violin lessons at six.  I was classically trained up until about 15, and then I just wanted to explore it myself, and wasn’t really into the incredible discipline it took to be a top classical musician – and I also wanted to play music as I interpreted it, not as Beethoven wrote.

TM: Did you go to university at all?

SC: I went to college.  I did science for about eight months and then left.  It just was not me.

TM: When did you first realize you could be a professional musician?

SC: I suppose I always thought I could be a professional musician.  I was playing music almost all my life, so I could have always gotten a gig. There was never a time I thought I couldn’t be.

TM: When the Corrs started playing, during that four-year period before you got signed, what kind of gigs were you playing?

SC: We did a couple of small tours.  Went though Ireland where it would be one guy and a dog there and then you’d get the complete opposite at the other end of the country, and all of a sudden they’re totally loving you and then you’re coming offstage shaking because people adore you.  When you were new, a young band and people don’t know you it’s just from gig to gig, touch and go.  We did every gig there is to do.

TM: Are you surprised at how successful the Corrs became or have become?  You’ve sold 30 million albums and toured, played stadiums and gotten great reviews besides U2, the biggest band in Ireland.

SC: We’ve outsold U2 in a lot of territories as well, which a lot of people wouldn’t know, but am I surprised?  You’re always going to be surprised because that’s just something that mostly all of the time nobody gets, that sort of success, but we certainly worked for it.  We worked, we worked, we worked.  We sold every album door-to-door…

TM: And did all the promotional activities you had to do.

SC: I was just speaking with a guy from the Times yesterday and he did our bio years ago.  He became a great friend of ours, and he said, “You were the hardest working band in the world.”  And we were.  We sold every record.  That’s the only way you do it.

TM: But you enjoyed it, too, right?

SC: You have to have the talent and the music.  We loved it but it was exhausting.  If you were doing 18 hours of interviews in Taiwan for like six different territories on the one day, that was exhausting, but we always respected the fact that we were getting a chance to do this.  It’s remarkable.  It’s remarkable that anybody experiences that much.

TM: It’s been tremendous fun, hasn’t it?

SC: Incredible, brilliant fun, the laughs I have with my sisters and brother,  talking about old stories and manager and stuff we used to get up to.  Experiences all over the world.

TM: Can you think of any disadvantages to the fact that you were in a band with you family?

SC: It was hard to tell each other just to go get lost, because they’re your family.  They don’t get lost.  They stay with you, and we were at quite a tender age, the days where you’re developing your independence, your sense of yourself, and at that age we got all immersed in a sense of ourselves, of a unit, rather than a sense of our own personal identity, so it was very, very difficult to bring out and form your own identity within, and as, for the sisters, even more difficult because we’re so alike.

TM: That’s one of the reasons probably why taking a break has been good.

SC: Absolutely wonderful.

TM: If not absolutely necessary.

SC:  Oh, totally necessary.  I mean we would have had total burnout and I’m very grateful, and respect getting that chance, because I would have been maybe so immersed in being together too long.

TM: Was there pressure from the outside, the record company, the promoters, the manager to, “No, just stay together.  Do one more tour, one more album?   How can you stop now?”

SC: Absolutely, but we worked with a team.  Our manager got us our record deal.  He worked with us from the really early days, so he was also a parental symbol, he knew us all very emotionally, and that we were jaded, wrecked.  He couldn’t for his own conscience force us to have stayed in that mode, although there would have been many other tours to do. Caroline already had a child at this stage.  He got it.

TM: Are your mom and dad still alive?

SC: No.  My mom passed away in 1999.  My father’s still alive.

TM: Your mom must have been so proud of what happened, right?

SC: Yeah.

TM: She was thrilled, right?  And dad is, was thrilled.  Is still thrilled?

SC: Delighted, yeah.  It gets me every time.   (tears up remembering her mother)

TM: Dad doesn’t work anymore?

SC: Dad took retirement, and many years ago while mom and him could still have a bit of fun.  It was a really beautiful thing because we hit the big time and Mom and Dad had been our inspiration our whole lives. We booked them first class tickets to Australia to come see us in concert and put them up in five-star hotels.  And from where we came from, that was dramatic.  I remember buying her a Donna Karan skirt for Christmas and that was a huge treat. Mum saw the biggest concert we ever did, and the following November she passed away…

TM: What was the biggest concert?

SC: The biggest concert we did on our own right was here in Lansdowne Road and it was 45,000 people.  Other concerts we did were for 100,000 but they were with other bands.  We toured with the Stones which was insane.

TM: You toured with the Stones?

SC: Yeah.  It was fun.

TM: How did the Stones audiences react?

SC: They loved us because they didn’t see us coming. You would never put the Stones with this sorta sweet Irish band, family band, and it worked because the minute we launched into the Irish stuff – and they could see we knew our stuff, so they loved us.

TM: Did you get to meet the Stones?

SC: Yeah, for sure.  We hung out with ‘em .  Very interesting bunch of guys.  (laughs)

TM: Tell me about this concert you played for 45,000 people.

SC: That was 1999.  It was in July.  We were the second Irish band ever to do it.   I think U2 did it and then we did it.  It’s a traditionally a rugby venue called Landsdowne Road.  Our promoter said “You guys can do it.  You can sell it,” and we did and it was phenomenal.  To do a gig that size in a country this size, on your home turf is pretty spectacular.  It’s amazing to get that many people from your own country turning.

TM: That must be one of the great joys of being a musician is to get the recognition and the appreciation from fans, which I take it you get all the time, don’t you?

SC: Yeah.  It’s certainly something I missed while was having my children was getting feedback.   You’re sitting at home on a piano.  You’re getting no feedback except from your husband, which is lovely but I was used to a lot more feedback than that.

TM: When you go to the supermarket, do you get recognized and stopped, or do people leave you be?

SC: They’re pretty cool in Ireland.  Very often you’re hanging out and somebody says, “Are you one of the Corrs, Ma’am?”  I go, “Yeah,” you give an autograph.  But they’re really nice about it.  Ireland is a small country.  They’re used to seeing the likes of Bono and Aiden Quinn and Liam Neeson showing up and down the street and they don’t bother them.  They say, “Hi, how’s it going?  How are ya?”

TM: The story of you and your husband needs to be told from your perspective.

SC: Oh (laughs). Okay.  The Corrs hadn’t released an album yet.  We were about to release an album and we were recording our first video to our first single “Runaway” in the Phoenix Park in Dublin, where the zoo is and where the president lives.  The L.A. girl who was the stylist for the shoot begged us to stay in Dublin that night, and said “Don’t leave me. I’m stuck in Dublin.”  So we booked a room in the Shelbourne Hotel, three of us girls into the one room with a single bed because that’s all we could afford, and we went out with this girl.  Then she decided to go home and she left us because she was tired.

I had just broken up with a guy a couple a weeks before and I was like, “I’ve had enough guys.  I’m not goin’ out with them anymore.”  Same old story and it’s not happening, and so I just was not looking for a man in my life at all, no interest.  And I’m standing in this bar at the Gaiety Theatre, which is a very famous theater in Dublin, and this guy walks up to me and I’m like, “Okay.”  I couldn’t really hear him because the music was very loud so I said, “Well, do you want to go outside and talk,” and that was it.

TM: Didn’t you stay up all night talking to him?

SC: We sat outside on the bench on Stephens Green until 7 in the morning  talking about everything, and it was just one of those nights where you said, “So do I,” about 150 times.

TM: Did you know that night that you were, he was the one?

SC: Yes, I went home to Dundalk the next day and I remember opening the back door and my mother had her head stuck in the oven,  cleaning it, and I went, “Mum, I met the guy I’m gonna marry.”  She just took her head out of the oven and went “Aahh,  really?,” and I said, “Yeah.  We both knew.  It was just instant.    Absolutely.  And I used to say to people, “How do you know?  What are you talking about?  How could you possibly know that that’s the person?” and they could never give me an answer, and I know why, because you just know.

TM: And your mom said something about it, too, when she met him, right?

SC: He arrived up in his morning gear which is what the barristers wear into court, and he’s obviously run out of court in Belfast to come up and see me, and he rides up in his car, he is walking up the driveway, and of course my mum’s got the squinty windows going.  She goes, “Oh, I’d like him for myself.”  (laughter) To which my dad said, “No way!”

TM: Do you go to legal functions then with him sometimes?

SC: The odd time, oh yeah, I do.  Over the years I was permanently on the road so I would always miss the one thing he needed me to go to, which was hard on him.  But, yes, I’ve gone to a few over the years.

TM: Do you like those?

SC: Depends on the people involved.  It’s all about personality.  Everything you do.  I find what he does very interesting.  He’s in libel, and I find his perspective on it very interesting.  Certainly from somebody in the limelight, these guys are just so necessary and can change your whole world when they get it right, so I think it’s a lovely combination that we have.

TM: Jeff Beck is on your record.  How and when did you first become interested in Jeff Beck?

SC: I knew about Jeff Beck my whole life, but I didn’t know him. This last year my manager invited me to see Jeff Beck  play Vicar Street, a small venue in Dublin, about 1,000 people.   The audience was full of guitar guys and it was an amazing gig, and he had Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, and he had a girl called Tal (Wilkenfeld ), a bass prodigy, about 19 and an incredible player.  The gig was mind blowing and I know most of the guys in these venues because I live here. So I said, “Can we go back and meet Jeff?,”  so we went back and it was really refreshing.  He’s so young at heart, very happy and cheery, and goes, “You know a friend of mine, Rod Stewart,” because we sang on a record with Rod Stewart before and we just got talking.  Walking out of the venue with my manager and I said, “Wouldn’t it just be amazing if Jeff could play on the album.”

We knew it was an incredibly long shot because Jeff’s very choosy about what he works on and it’s never about commercial success It’s about a love of what he’s doing.  We knew we’d kind of have to inspire him to get involved, to give him a piece of music that he just wanted to play on.  So we came up with the idea of doing “Mna Na h’Eireann,” the arrangement of it, and we knew when we started working out the arrangement that we were onto something pretty special, and that if he got it and heard it, because the thing is to get the track to the person, he’d want to do it.  It’s hard to get tracks to people but we got it to him eventually and as soon as he heard the track he wanted to play on it. He recorded it in his studio.  I gave him the track, said “You do what you want on this, Jeff,” and he come back with dazzling work.

TM: You put out your own record, didn’t you?

SC: I financed my own record.  I started up my own record company, which is basically just a company that finances your record, which is basically just my money.

TM: What’s the name of the company?

SC: Bobbyjean Records.

TM: What is that from?

SC: Jean’s my mom.  Bobby is my father-in-law.  I put out a single, “It’s Not A Dream,” last year.  I was finding it very difficult to get a record deal.  The credit crisis happened.  I was offered a new record deal the year before and Lehman’s –  Lehman’s Bank – collapsed and then the record deal was un-offered the following week!  So then I was in a limbo.  I was tied to the record company, negotiations went on and on and frustrated me recording, but eventually I got it sorted was able to record and then I just went “Okay.  Forget this.  I’m putting it out.  I need to get myself out there.”  So I put out a single.  I employed independent pluggers in the U.K., and it got great rotation and it got the A-listing on BBC Radio 2 — the highest you can get! It was phenomenal, and I knew the public liked it.  I knew the radio guys liked it, and I thought, “Well, just because you don’t have a record deal at the moment doesn’t mean the public shouldn’t hear your music,” because at the end of the day they’re just bankrolling the project.  That’s what they do.  So I bankrolled it myself.  I did the whole thing myself, and now I’ve just been picked up by a record company.

TM: And it’s a major and there’s gonna be a big push.

SC: Yeah, it’s Warner Bros.  U.K.  And the album is called Dream Of You.

TM: Desert Island Discs.  Name me five CD’s you would take.

SC: Nick Drake, Treasury.  Joni Mitchell, Blue.  It’s really hard! Oh, Paul Weller, Wild Wood.   Jose Gonzalez …and maybe Stanley Road by Weller too.

SC:  Stanley Road, it’s a really great album.  I’m missing other classics, because you know when you ask that question, you go blank.  I would like to take some individual songs. Sarah McLachlan, “Angel.”  Such an amazing song.  And I would take Billy Joel’s “Lullaby.”  I would take “Kashmir” by Led Zeppelin.

TM: What are two or three memorable thrills, moments you’ve had in your career?

SC: Playing “Long and Winding Road,” in front of Paul McCartney.  That was tough, and the sound was really difficult. We had nothing in the radio monitors and it got slower and slower because we were tryin’ to catch up with each other. That was a painful, a memorable moment.  Playing for Nelson Mandela and his getting up and dancing to the Irish music.

TM: That was in South Africa?

SC: No, it was actually in Galway, because he got an honorary degree at the University in Galway and we played for him that day.  Meeting the Stones, my gosh, they are just legend, those guys.  That’s ridiculous.  Now you just see those guys walking around you like, “Uuuuh. That’s Keith Richards!”

TM: How scary is it to play in front of a big audience?  And do the other Corrs also have jitters?

SC: They do.  Jim less than all of us, I think.  It’s less scary to play to a 100,000 than it is to 100 people, because when you’re playing to 100,000, it’s a sea of people.   You’re not identifying individual faces, and then you don’t feel like they’re seeing into your soul while you’re playing, so you can act it even if you’re not feeling it.  But when you’re sitting in a club, a small club, and your audience is there, they can see if you’re scared, or they can see if you mess up, because you’re whole face reacts to a wrong note or a lost lyric, and so I find it more scary to play to a small audience.

TM: Why didn’t the Corrs continue with Foster?

SC: Well, we did.  We did two albums with David, and we wanted to do different things.  On the second album we also worked with Glen Ballard and Oliver Lieber, so we had three producers, and then we produced some ourselves.  We worked with Mitchell Froom then.  As you get on and you get your credentials in the music industry you want to explore more, other areas.

TM: Who’s producing the album now?

SC: Billy Farrell, who has worked with the Corrs for years. He’s from here in Dublin and I’ve worked with him forever. He’s worked with the Corrs as well. We understand each other musically incredibly.

TM: Describe the experience of working with David Foster and Mutt Lange.

SC: David has a really big personality.  He is quite cheeky, quite bold.  He’s has this glint in his eye, which is great.  Very, very attractive, very, very fun.  One of the first things you notice about him is his gift.  He’s so unbelievably talented.  He has perfect pitch.  If somebody plays something, he’ll play it immediately on the piano exactly.  He is just perfect.  He was our first real producer and we learned everything from him.

TM: And you cut in L.A.

SC: We cut in L.A.  Yeah, we did, and Jim co-produced the album with him.

TM: You like L.A.

SC: I like L.A. but I didn’t like it then.  It was too much of a shock for me culturally.  I didn’t really know how to negotiate it.  I didn’t understand what the people meant when they said something to you.  The way to approach L.A. is to expect very little, and it’s a city you use for your own ends, and you can meet some great people there, but it’s quite transient.

TM: Mutt Lange, what was it like to work with him?

SC: Incredible.  Mutt is very focused,  probably the most focused person I’ve ever met in my life, like a train running in one direction when he’s doing an album.  I know there’s no sidelines, there’s no nothing else, and he would work 24 hours a day.  He would do a vocal 20 times, 50 times.  He would do background vocals again, again, again and again and then to infinity until he gets exactly what he wants.  His techniques for backing vocals I find very interesting and have used it, taken it with me, some of the techniques.

TM: Where did you cut with him?

SC: Most of “Breathless” was cut in Switzerland in his home there, and some of it, lthe violin, the backing vocals for “Breathless” were all cut in Dublin.  And the other stuff that we did was cut in Dublin.  Mutt always writes with you so that’s his deal.  If he’s workin’ an album, he’s writing the album with you.  He did two songs, we cut half in Dublin, half in Switzerland.

TM: What’s his instrument?  What does he play?

SC: That’s a good question.  I mostly just saw him behind the desk.  I think guitar.  He’s got a beautiful voice.  You can hear his voice on Shania Twain’s records.  Really beautiful.

TM: What do you do in your leisure time?

SC: I don’t have much leisure time.  (laughs) I look after my children.  I read.  I run, and I love dinner and wine.  That’s great.  Socializing is one of the best things you can do.  Friends.  I love friends.

TM: What are the other Corrs doing now?

SC: Caroline has three children, she’s very busy with them.  Jim has one child, a boy, and everybody’s doing a little writing, for maybe gearing up to do something next year.  Andrea got married last year, so she’s in the middle of wedded bliss at the moment and having a real good time.

TM: Do you stay in touch with your siblings?

SC: All the time.

TM: You’re talking on the phone, you’re seeing each other.

SC: Yeah, we’re always talking.  We need each other to talk about every situation.

TM: You were Miss Twitter, U.K. What was that about?

SC: Twitter is only something that came about maybe a year and a half ago, and Gavin (her husband) said to me,“You should get into that,” and I was like “Yeah.  Why?”  and he said, “Steven Fry is doing it”, and (I said,) “Okay, well then it must be cool.”  So I started trying it out and…

TM: Steven Fry?

SC: He’s a very famous comedian/actor.  Friend of Hugh Laurie.  You know Hugh Laurie, House? I got into it.  I was tweeting and then I found all these fans all over the world would come on and start asking me questions, and it was great way of interacting with people in Indonesia and Brazil and in the States and wherever they would come in from.  And it was funny, I started to see the depth of the Corrs’ fan base and then my own fan base emerging from it.  It’s literally 140 characters.  It’s like a text message but it goes out simultaneously to everybody who’s following you.  So then they see it and then they can reply and you can reply to whatever you want.

For me, it’s a brilliant thing just to go, “I’m on radio, BBC Radio 2, in five minutes, tune in.  I’m doing the Wogan show tomorrow night.  I’m doing this or that.”  It’s a great way of sort of self-publicizing, and it’s also a great way of having what you say undiluted.  So it doesn’t go through somebody else’s filter, you know, so I like it.  It’s fun.  People talk a lot of crap on it and that’s great fun too.  Anyway, they had a Twitter competition for Miss Twitter U.K. and my fans kept voting for me.  They would go to sleep for 20 minutes, and then vote again when they could vote, and they just kept voting on rotation, and then I won Miss Twitter U.K.

TM: And what kind of a ceremony was there when you were awarded…

SC: There was none. (laughter) I’m disappointed.  I’m still waiting on my crown.

Cindy Johnson (my wife):  Can I ask a couple?  Cal and Flori, are they musical?

SC: Funny, I was driving the car yesterday and I was singing the ABC’s to Cal and Flori, and Cal started to sing and I could hear that he was almost in the right  pitch   and then pitching to the next note quite well, so I can see it’s coming.  Flori, yeah, for sure.  They love music.  She starts crying.  I covered “Danny Boy” as well.  That’s one of the tunes I did on the record and, not vocally, I did it instrumentally, and she cried.  She doesn’t want me to play it because it’s a sad song.  So I know she’s very musically in touch

CJ: And you encourage them as you were encouraged?

SC: Big time.  I want it to be a very organic thing for them.  There’s a piano, a violin, guitars in the house.  So they will just be part of their everyday thing.  I want them to start messing around, and then I’m not gonna get them formal lessons for quite awhile, and I may teach them myself up to a certain point.  But most of all, I just want them to enjoy music because I think it’s the greatest therapy in life.  I want them to have that, what I had.

CJ: Do you have any other plans for other writing?  Like a book, or a musical?

SC: I toyed with different ideas over the years.  I’ve been quite attracted to doing maybe scoring for movies, maybe the incidental work on movies, but that takes an awful lot of time, and for the moment I’d probably just rather pitch a song for a movie. But I have written an awful lot of instrumentals over the years and I did write a piece called “Rebel Heart” for a BBC series called Rebel Heart and it was nominated for a Grammy, which was really cool.  So I love writing instrumental music.  It’s always been part of what I do.

TM: Will you ever do a bluegrass album?

SC: I don’t know, I’m not trained in bluegrass, so for the purists, they’d probably go, “What the hell’s she at?  That’s not bluegrass,” but I’m very interested in all forms of music.

TM: Maybe a straight, straight Celtic Irish roots album you might do someday?

SC: I could, but you know what I’d probably more likely do is a country album.

The funny thing is is because it’s just that I know my voice suits it, because every time I sing like a country song, people go, “Well you sing country music.”  I sang “Jolene” recently, and what a great song.  The lyrics are phenomenal.  She (Dolly Parton)  is some writer, that woman.  She is incredible.  So I sang that recently and everybody was going, “You should do a country album,” and I’ve always kind of known that about me that there’s something country going on inside me.

CJ: Two more things.  Now you’re going to Spain.  Can you talk about that?

SC: I’m shooting a video in Spain for the single, in the Alhambra palace, which is an old Moorish palace  And they’ve never done anything like this before in the Alhambra, and it actually made me worried that they agreed because I thought, “This is just too good to be true,” because I’ve waited a long time on a record deal.  I’ve waited a long time on getting things done, and now things are happening, I’m almost a little scared.  But I spoke to a guy in the record company months ago, just happened to be talking about my favorite spot in the world, which is the Alhambra in Andalusia in Granada, and I said, “I always wanted to launch a record there,” like they would ever do that.  And he said, “You never know.  Let’s look into it.”  So they have agreed that I can shoot a videoI’m absolutely stunned.  I mean it’s so beautiful and it’s so spiritual, and mystical, and such an incredible place, and the history is enormous.

CJ: Advice to new artists?

SC: Write, write, write, write, write, write.  Keep writing and write more.  Try to control your own music.  Try to write it yourself because it’s very hard to make money from records nowadays, and at least if you can get songs published, you can make some money, but stay true to yourself.  Be very open to every idea that’s pitched out to you, because it could be just the one that tips you like John Hughes saying to us, “Let’s just go to the Hit Factory.”

TM: Your fans.  All race, creeds, colors and ages, right?

SC: Yes.  It’s a beautiful thing, and I think we were most surprised when we hit Japan. Because it was our first experience in Asia and the Japanese audience just responding like crazy to traditional Irish music was a huge thrill. They are so quiet while we’re playing.  So respectful, and then we started to pick it up as, “They don’t really like the show, do they?  They’re not enjoying it, and actually it was like the quieter they were, the more they were enjoying it.  But I remember when the Irish stuff came on, they went nuts.

CJ: A dream team of who to work with in the future. Just one name.  Someone you’d like to sing with.

SC: Oh, to sing with.  Oh my gosh.  Robert Plant.  I’ve met Robert.  He’s a cool guy.  I’d love to sing with him.

TM: People that you’ve been excited to meet as other than the Stones and Jeff Beck.  Any other musicians?

SC: I was very, very excited to meet Neil Finn.

TM: Sure.

SC: Because their album Woodface..that would definitely be a Desert Island  Disc for me, you know, something you never tire listening to.  Desert Island Disc without a doubt.  I just think he’s an incredible songwriter I love him, and the reason we worked on In Blue with Mitchell Froom was because he had worked with Crowded House on Woodface.  I did meet Neil Finn and I actually wasn’t really able to speak  because I was too star-struck.  It was, it was embarrassing, because all the guys were looking at me, “He’s your favorite.  Will you get on with it.”  And I was like, huh?

For more information about Sharon Corr, visit her website at http://www.sharoncorr.com


Thanks for all of the recent feedback on the interviews and the pictures I’ve recently added!

I wrote “Look Around” with Barry Keenan, on a beautiful sunny afternoon as we both contemplated the madness of the world. Living in peace is what we all need, and what most of us seek. But conflict is everywhere and a daily occurrence, and it’s accompaniment, sadness, always results. So let’s change that.

Here’s our contribution to the current that promotes love and respect.

I recently posted it up on Neil Young’s Song Chart and it was rapidly climbing.

I would like your help to get my song on the top 10!  We can do this by numbers of people viewing the site and clicking on the song. Go to this link and go to #194 or so.

The link is: http://www.neilyoung.com/lwwtoday/lwwsongspage.html

Click on “Look Around”

And then pass this onto your friends!

Thanks again for all your support!

McShane at Kulak's enjoying some great music and company

Trevor McShane


You can’t help but like Steve Young, the low-key, self-effacing, singer-songwriter who’s been seriously been making tasty, thoughtful rootsy music since the early 1960’s. I sat with him in April, 2010, while on the Roots on the Rails expedition from Los Angeles to Portland and back, after having seen him perform four sets. He’s a very accomplished guitarist, a fine singer, a great interpreter of songs, and he writes superb ones, which is why the Eagles cut “Seven Bridges Road,” one of their staples in concert, and Waylon Jennings made famous “Lonesome, Ornery and Mean.” I subsequently bought three of his cd’s, and can enthusiastically recommend his work. Steve is a class act, highly regarded by his fellow performers. Go see him live if you get the chance.

TREVOR: How’d you get into playing music?

STEVE: I couldn’t do anything else and I always wanted to be a musician from when I was a tiny kid, and I told people I would be.  Of course, they didn’t believe that. And they thought it was a pretty bad idea, too …

TREVOR: This was in Montgomery, Alabama?

STEVE: The nearest thing I had to a home town was Gadsen, Alabama, but I was actually born in Noonan, Georgia.  That’s still far from Atlanta. My family was unsettled and would move around, and I would sometimes live with my grandmother.  She lived in Gadsden, but all these people originally were from Georgia.  But, you know, I was fortunate in the music of that time and that place was very rich and real, more real, than it is today, you know.  So it had a lot of influence on me.

TREVOR: Mom and dad, they didn’t want you to play?

STEVE: Oh, no.  Nobody did.  Their idea of security would be to become a mailman.

TREVOR: When did you get a guitar?

STEVE: I couldn’t get one.  They were too poor, and a guitar to me was like an astral dream as a kid.  It was a magical thing and I really wanted one, but I could not get one.  I even sold seed.  I took the ad in the back of comic books and sold seeds door to door to get this pictured guitar, and they said it was made out of cardboard. (laughs)  When I was about 14 my mom became convinced enough that she bought me a real guitar.  It was a Gibson ES 125.  Little thin body electric.   Simple guitar.  And from there I really started to learn, or how to play.

TREVOR: Did somebody teach you?  Did you take lessons?

STEVE: There was a guy that helped me get some fundamentals and he believed that I was a real musician, and he went out of his way to help me, but other than that, I was mostly self-taught.  That’s one reason my playing is kind of eccentric.  And I would watch and listen, and I heard, and the street singers, whom I loved.

TREVOR: What were you playing, folk music tunes?

STEVE: I would play different things, some folk, some gospel because my grandmother wanted to hear some of that, blues,  country, and also at that time the hit parade was on, and the top 10, whatever, the standard type coming out of that era of the big bands. So it was a wide variety of music that I heard, and really liked all of it.  And then when I was a teenager I saw flamenco guitarists.  That had a big influence on me, because I didn’t even know what flamenco was.

TREVOR: That was Montoya?

STEVE: Carlos Montoya.  And the sounds that he could get out of one guitar just blew me away.  I was just a kid in high school.  He played at a community college in Beaumont, Texas, which is a terrible place near the Louisiana border.  I was just obsessed with guitar, and I learned the basics of what I know between 14 and 17.

TREVOR: When did you decide to try and make a career of it?

STEVE: I never thought in terms of career.  I just saw it in terms of being able to play and sing and doing what you wanted to, and being a free guy.  I never had ambitions to be a star or anything like that.  I wanted to do my own thing and do it my way, and people could take it or leave it, which was a pretty arrogant attitude.  I mean it’s a tough enough business to try to…

TREVOR: I take it you never really had any other job other than music?

STEVE: No, I tried to have other jobs.  I did have some.  I couldn’t hold them very long.  You know, the people would say “Ah he’s,” whatever, “He can’t do this,” or else I just couldn’t, or I would just bail on them, and getting’ up and going in, and doing the whole thing.  I think the longest I ever held a job was about six months.  One time I was a mailman in L.A, the worst mailman they ever had.  But I’d made a high score on the tests and they thought I’d be a good mailman.  (laughs)  I told them I would never play music again.  I quit.

TREVOR:  Did you have recording agreements?

STEVE:  My introduction to the recording world… There were two guys in Gadsen, Alabama named Richard and Jim, and they did this Appalachiany, folky, whatever, weird bag, mixture, and they had comedy.  They were really trying to make it, whereas I was just kind of a wandering bum, but they wanted me to open shows and to play guitar behind them and they really appreciated what I did, and put up with me.  In Montgomery, I was always getting in trouble about local politics and the junior Klansmen were pissed off at me, and Montgomery was getting’ pretty intense and one day they said “Hey, we got a contract with Capitol Records in Hollywood, California.  Do you wanna go?  And I said “Yeah, let’s go.”  That was 1963.

We went to Capitol Records and we did an album.  They did their album and the producer really like me and he wanted to produce me, but I was just too crazy.  I was drunk all the time. I know they secretly recorded me in the old Capitol studio singing a song.  As I’m playing it back on these huge speakers, I said “Hell that sounds good.  Who is that?”  They said, “It’s you, you fool.”  (laughs) I would get in sessions.  I was doing session work.  I’d go down to the Musician’s Union, and get what to me was a lot of money.  But I didn’t know what to make of L.A. or California, and I said “Well, I’m gonna go back home, but when I went back it was more miserable than ever.  So being in California did something to me,  in a way that still goes.

TREVOR: So you, how did you make your career?

STEVE: It was tough because, because I was uncertain and there was nothing really that commercial or ever has been in a way about what I did, or do.  So I would try to do gigs, and a lot of them were miserable and just didn’t work, but I finally made a record for A&M.  It came out and nobody got it, but a few people got it.  I was invited to the Newport Folk Festival in ’69 by Jim Rooney because he got it.  So there was a little sparkle of…

TREVOR: Who’s Jim Rooney?

STEVE: He’s a musician who now lives in Ireland, but he was instrumental in the old folk world.  He either ran or started Café Lena in the Northeast, which was a famous old folk club. I played the folk festival.

TREVOR: And it went over well?

STEVE: I was stirred up, very conflicted personally, looking back.  So when I would present myself, it wasn’t clear what I was doing.  It created problems and it went on like that for years, and finally I wanted to stop dealing with the whole music thing, and I opened a little guitar store with a friend, in San Anselmo, California.  I did that for a couple years and then I couldn’t take it anymore, and finally Joan Baez cut “Seven Bridges Road.”  That was my first significant event.  Over the years I became more respected, slowly but surely people heard things and liked them.

TREVOR: What are some other cuts that were successful?

STEVE:  “Lonesome, Ornery And Mean” was my next most successful cut, which Waylon Jennings did.  It’s still a song that even today is loved by a lot of young people, apparently.  So it all worked out in a pretty good way because I don’t require a great deal. So, between getting some royalties and doing some gigs that I really wanna do,  I can make a living, I have made a living, but it was a lot of hard times in between there, just struggling and trying to find some kind of footing somewhere doing something.

TREVOR: So, these days right now you’re happy?  You enjoy it?

STEVE: Oh, yeah, because I do it pretty much on my terms when I wanna do it, and I’m very lucky in spite of me.  I’ve had a wee bit of success, and, because I’m the worst self-promoter in the world.  I really don’t care about a “career.”  The thing that bores me the most is Steve Young promo.

TREVOR: How many albums have you made?

STEVE: There must be about 11, and I’m well overdue.  I need to make some more.  I’ve become too much of a perfectionist now.  I have to come off that.  I got a lot of good ideas I need to finish, and just go ahead and record them and accept that nothing is perfect.

TREVOR: How many songs have you written in the last year?

STEVE: I’ve finally finished a couple.  They must be 100 or more songs that are almost there.  If I would just do the final work.  I get distracted with all these other little things and somehow I’m just not finishing them.

TREVOR: Do you play music every day?

STEVE: No, not necessarily every day.  I go in spells, and I got a bunch of recording gear and I try to understand how to work it, and it’s more difficult than I thought. I like to fool with the stuff and I go up in my little studio and once you get into it, you may stay there hours doing it.

TREVOR: Give me a couple high points that have been thrilling for you as a musician.

STEVE: When Waylon Jennings did “Lonesome, Ornery & Mean.” Everybody else was thrilled when the Eagles did “Seven Bridges Road,” and I really appreciate them doing it, and it certainly has helped me be who I am and be kind of free.  The little things that thrill me now are not really very significant in terms of big career or anything. For example, I have a memory of playing one time at a place where they treat alcoholics, which I am one, drug addict/alcoholic; I just don’t use or drink anymore. I did a song I wrote about alcoholism.  There’s a bunch of old black guys there, and they gave me standing ovation and that was a thrill.

TREVOR: You live in Nashville.  Why?

STEVE: I was living in the San Francisco Bay area and … oddly, it’s crazy, I’d forgotten about some of my great differences with the South, and I went back and it was a shock.   I went through a divorce there.  My son had been born in San Francisco; he was just about two or three years at that time, and out of the necessity in about ’81, I bought this house in this old neighborhood when they were cheap, and then I would go away other places and rent it out to some friends.  Over the years, I just got rooted there, and it’s a place that I know in a sense, but if I had a lot of money, I would probably really buy a place in California.   Or keep this house and then have another house.  I really, I did a lot of years of commuting back and forth.  I had an apartment in L.A. in Echo Park.

TREVOR: How many gigs do you do a year?

STEVE: It depends on what I want to do.  A lot of times I do gigs in order to get somewhere.  If I want to go from Nashville to L.A., I’ll go to Texas first probably and do several gigs.  Texas is the most supportive state for what I do.  I’ve got a guesthouse where I can stay and hang out.  So I’ll go down to Austin and look around, and then I like to go from San Antonio to El Paso on the back roads.  You go through Del Rio and Langtry.

TREVOR: You’re driving yourself?

STEVE: Yeah.  That’s what I love to do.

TREVOR: What kind of car do you drive?

STEVE: Toyota Camry.

TREVOR: Is it lonely being out there?

STEVE: Oh, yeah.  You get lonely, but I’m a loner.  I need friends, I need people, but I’m essentially a loner person as far as big family commitments go.

TREVOR: What do you do for fun?

STEVE: I look at good old movies, good old music.  Try to record it.  Try to play and write some.  Go to the gym and work out.  That’s about it.  That’s about as fun as it gets.

TREVOR: Is there anybody contemporary you’re listening to or a fan of?

STEVE: Contemporary?  What the real meaning of contemporary?  Would Dave Alvin be contemporary?

TREVOR: Yeah.

STEVE: Well, well I can appreciate very much Dave Alvin, Tom Russell, people like that.  I’m serious.  But most of the young folk people?  I don’t get it.

TREVOR: It’s, uh, Sunday morning, and you’re going to put on some music.  What will you play?

STEVE: I’d probably play some Blind Willie Johnson or Elvis’ Sun Sessions, or something old probably.  The past fascinates me, and a lot has been lost and will never return.  It’s like the modern country, so-called country, it has no roots, no soul.  The old guys that produced this stuff worked out in the fields, and I know what it was, because I was there at the tail end of it.  I was there when Elvis came on the scene.  People don’t understand, and certainly young people think he was some fat, burned out old guy, a joke.  Well, before that, he was something for real.

TREVOR: Tell me the three best shows you’ve ever seen.

STEVE: Carlos Montoya, then I would have to say, and I’m not just saying this because they’re here now, it would have to be probably some of the shows I’ve seen Tom Russell and Dave Alvin do.  I’ve seen Waylon do some good shows, and I say this kind of reluctantly, David Allen Coe with his band.  It was comical in a way; he put down his band at one show they did then on the stage they slowly came together and became friends again.

TREVOR: Okay, you’ve just been on Roots On The Rails for four day, what’s your take on this?

STEVE: This is my second train trip, and only now do I get why these people are addicted to this.  There’s a magical camaraderie, and even though being on this train is a form of suffering in a way, it’s a wonderful suffering, an escape from the folks’ real world,  to this wondrous, friendly, creative, appreciative little bubble.  So it’s really a great thing, and now I see why as some of these people have told me, “One reason we come back is because of the other people.”

TREVOR: The fans are respectful.

STEVE: Very respectful and they’re very supportive and accepting.  It always worries me a little bit.  I had a conversation with somebody here about, “Don’t think because some songwriter writes a great song, that he’s a wonderful person. That’s a big mistake.”  I’ve seen a lot of musicians play that, and I don’t want to do that because I have a saying that most artists are failures as human beings.

For more on Steve Young, go to: http://www.steveyoung.net



Lanky, handsome Thad Beckman has a solo career as an accomplished guitarist, songwriter, and singer and he’s the accompanist for the Americana adventurer, raconteur, singer-songwriter, Tom Russell (see his interview), for whom he does a terrific job. Thad’s solo act is likewise entertaining and compelling: he clearly knows and loves what he is doing.

Thad is very pleasant company, easy going, easy to talk to, easy to be with. He’s based in Portland, Oregon and roots aficionados will appreciate his quality writing, playing and singing. I interviewed him rolling along the rails in Southern Oregon on the Roots on the Rails train in April 2010.

TREVOR: You’ve got four albums out now.  What are the names?

TB:  “Carry Me Back” I did in 1998 in Austin.  Then I did “Beckman” recorded in Northern California in 2003.  Then “Blues Gone By,” a solo blues thing, 2006 — in Portland. Then “Me Talking to Me,” which I did couple years ago. 1998.

TREVOR: And they’re on your own label?

TB:  Thadzooks Records. I sell them on CD Baby, at shows, and I’m on I-Tunes.

TREVOR: When did you become a professional musician?

TB:  1980, September.

TREVOR: What did you do before that?

TB: I roamed and traveled.  From ’71 through 75, I was in the Air Force, and that’s when I started getting back into playing music.  I studied classical music, started playing classical guitar, and then I got out and I took music classes for a year.  Then I rambled around a bit.  I was married, got a divorce, played gigs here and there but nothing steady and did this and that for let’s four years.  I was on the East Coast and I thought it was time to do something — make a stand.  I’d gone to college, taken a zillion different classes in many different things.

TREVOR: Did you get a degree?

TB:  No.  I went for literature, did music, took a business law class, just looking for something that might strike me, and music was the only thing that really interested me.

TREVOR: You’ve been playing since when?

TB: When I was 12.

TREVOR:  Were you in bands?

TB:  Yeah.

TREVOR:  Rock and roll?

TB:  Almost immediately.  In ’65, ’66, ’67, we started playing together.  There were three or four of us in Catholic grade school and then we made a band and played church socials, and played “Paint It Black.”  Stuff like that.  We were kids.  In high school I was actually in a good band.  We played every weekend all the way through high school. Then I quit.  I sold everything I had and quit playing for five years and I started up when I was 22.

TREVOR: Why did you quit playing?

TB: Part of it was I didn’t really take music seriously and myself seriously as a player.  Music was a more than a hobby, but it wasn’t something I thought I considered seriously.  Then the drug thing really hit in the 60’s, and I didn’t like what it did to our band.  We had a good band, but drugs entered into it and things changed in a way I didn’t like, and I got fed up with the scene.

TREVOR: So how did you become a professional musician?

TB:  By playing professional gigs.  I worked up a repertoire.   I got to the point where I could do four hours of music because that’s what you needed back then. On the Coast of Oregon I had played one summer; they hired me to play three nights a week. It was fun, that was in ’79, ’78, and I thought, “I think I’ll really do this.”  I went back to the Coast, the same club hired me indefinitely three nights a week, and I did that for two years.

TREVOR:  And what were you doing, covers?

TB: All covers.  Willie Nelson stuff, Kristofferson, John Prine, Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Paul Simon, the songwriters.   I got turned on to Mississippi John Hurt somewhere in there, which pulled me over, and then I started learning how to play the guitar more seriously.

TREVOR: How did you learn, did you teach yourself?

TB:  Pretty much.  In Portland, Oregon, there was a guy named Gary Nichols, a tremendous talent. You would just go, “If I had half your talent,” but he had a real hard time performing.  He was very nervous about it, but he was doing shows with Leo Kottke, and was Portland’s answer to him, except he was (also) a great singer. He lived on the Coast, was married, had gotten into construction work, had an alcohol problem, and he and his wife split up. He was a great picker, so I moved in with him, and we jammed all the time and I learned a ton watching this guy play.  I was surrounded by players who were better than me and I just played all the time.

TREVOR:  You’re accompanying Tom Russell; how did that happen?

TB: Tom and I have a mutual friend who lives in El Paso whom I went to visit  two years ago, and I saw Tom play.  I gave him a card at the end of the show and said, “Hey, if you ever need a guitar player, look me up.”  I’d never been a side guy, and I remember walking away from that table going, “Christ, what would I do if he called me?”   Nine months later, I was back in El Paso and so was Tom, and his guitar player, Michael, needed to take a break as his dad was ill.  Tom invited me over to the house, we played for a couple of hours and hit it off.  I went home, studied his music for three hours a day for a month, started working with him, he liked it and hired me full time.

TREVOR: What do you do in the interim?

TB:  I do my own shows.  I teach three days a week up in Portland when I’m in town.  Then I’ve got my own little tours I still do.

TREVOR: Do you enjoy being a sideman?

TB:  I do. As a musician, it’s a whole different approach to playing. I’m used to playing solo, and you know I do a lot of finger picking, and then you do it all yourself.  You approach the thing completely differently, and, as a musician, I very much enjoy it because I’ve had to learn a ton and it’s been a lot of fun to explore a different avenue in music.

TREVOR: He’s a good person to travel with I take it.

TB: Absolutely.  We joke.  He said, “You came along at a good time because,” these first tours I started on, the hotels were better, the gigs were better, the food was better, he’s really got it down.  The traveling is all very simple.

TREVOR: Is he demanding?

TB: No, other than he expects me to play well every night, but that’s not demanding.

TREVOR: Do shows always go well?

TB: The only time I’ve had a bad show, and it wasn’t our … not that there’s a fault thing, it wasn’t because of the music.  It was just a venue, the people, the situation wasn’t well organized, but again, not his fault or mine.  We haven’t had a bad musical show.  He’s as steady as a rock, he may get tired, his voice may get tired, but his story telling is always spot on and he varies it every night. He’s always cracking me up, he’s got that entertainment aspect of it down.

TREVOR:  My wife and I found you as a performer to be very engaging. Does that come easy?  Did you teach yourself?

TB:  That actually came from playing different venues, different shows, and finally just relaxing.  I used to get uptight and I would have everything I was going to say planned out in my stories, and that was okay, but a lot of times I would be stiff, and then finally I  said, “Just be yourself.”  You hear that all the time.  I just relaxed, telling stories that basically are true, and I have things I draw on, and there’s a natural ham element to it.

TREVOR: Do you write a lot?

TB: I write in spurts.  I’ve got maybe 12 or 13 or 14 good ideas in songs.  Then I get up every day and I write for hour and hour and a half, and I work on a tune or two until I finish it, and that process doesn’t stop at that hour and a half.  I don’t have the mental muscle to write much beyond that because I also practice every day so, but that (writing) continues through the day.  Those songs will cycle through my brain and if something hits me I’ll write it down.  I’m processing the material all the time.  I did my last album in 2008 and I didn’t write a song again until three months ago, and now I’m writing every day again.

TREVOR: Do you co-write ever?

TB: I can’t.  I’ve tried it. I’m not interested in it.

TREVOR: Do you produce all your records solo?

TB: No.  The first one I did, “Carry Me Back,” was produced by Merel Bregante, he drummed with Loggins and Messina.  Great drummer, good producer.  He lives in Austin now.  He and David Heath and I co-produced it.  The rest of them I produced myself.

TREVOR: And who’s the band?

TB: In Austin I use the best guys.  I had Gene Elders on the fiddle and Floyd Domino on piano on “Carry Me Back” on board.  Denny Bixby is on bass, Rodney Crowell’s guy, on “Me Talking to Me.”  On the latter, Bryce Shelton isn’t really famous, he’s just a great drummer.  I try to draw in the best players I can find.

TREVOR:  What’s the music scene like in Portland?

TB: It’s active.  There are a lot of clubs happening.  There used to be a real strong blues scene.  Portland was a good blues town, best in the Northwest, and in the 80’s it was a great jazz town.  Unfortunately, that’s not true anymore.  There’s a real strong indie rock thing in Portland.

TREVOR: How would you categorize the kind of music you do?

TB:  It’s roots-based singer/songwriter.

TREVOR: With a heavy influence in blues.

TB: For sure.  On the last album, there are two distinct country things on it.  There’s a little bit of funk on it.

TREVOR: What do you enjoy and dislike about being a professional musician?

TB: It’s constantly creative in a way that I get to do what I like to do.  I play the music that I like to play.  I’m not in a cover band, I’m not a side guy all the time. What I don’t like about it is there’s not a lot of money involved.  (laughs)

TREVOR: Unless you get a hit.

TB: If you get a hit, you can squeak by, but there are guys in Portland, tremendous players, playing for 75 bucks a night.  You can’t live on that.  And that’s the market, it’s just the way it is.  Everything went up.  We’re making the same money we made in 1980.

TREVOR: Give me your perceptions, feelings about “Roots On The Rails,” what we’re in the middle of now.

TB: This is sort of a fantasyland to me.  I love it.  I did the one in the Southwest, which is very different than this, because we didn’t stay on the train.  They’re narrow gauge so you, they bus to towns and then the group gets on a specific train for the day and it chugs through the mountains at 20 miles an hour, and it’s great, (with these) steam plumes.   There’s a lot more people on a boat cruise.  This is cool because you get 50 people, and at the end of four days you all know each other, and I haven’t really had a bad experience with anybody on either one of these trips.  Everybody’s very respectful.  You got Steve Young sitting watching all these people at an open mike.  You wouldn’t find that in a town.  That we’ve got a place to go to have some privacy is great … Look at this!  (laughs at extraordinary sights out the window).

Trevor: What music are you listening to now, anything contemporary?

TB: Before I came on this trip I listened to a lot of Dave Alvin, Steve Young because we’re doing shows with them.   I haven’t listened to a lot of contemporary music.  I’m not hearing any great writers.  We’ve talked about that a ton.  Great music, great production but…

TOM RUSSELL (joins in):  Sonically everything’s become pretty interesting.  There’s no songwriters.  It’s a dead art. It’s all over. Except for a few people.

TB: Yeah.  (laughs)

TR: It’s mysterious, an alchemy that’s been lost.

TB: Yeah.

TREVOR: Let’s talk about heroes and influences.  Hank Williams, Mississippi John Hurt?

TB: Yeah, all the blues guys.  All the Delta guys.   All the old country guys up into the 70’s.  Merle, Buck Owens, George Jones, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, T-Bone Walker, Muddy Waters huge, Howlin’ Wolfe, and all the players associated with them.  All the guys in Chicago.  Jimmy Rodgers, Willie Big Eyes Smith.  All the guys that were the support players.  Tremendous musicians.  Hubert Sumlin, incredibly inventive guitar player with Howlin’ Wolf.  He’s still alive and a very nice man.  I got to meet him.  A lot of people who are my heroes in my music world are people that are close to me.  Victor Guschob is a painter in Portland who lives a reclusive life, who turned me on to electric blues and he had a tremendous feel and love for it. My sister and my mother were extremely influential getting me to play music and to not quit.  Those kinds of heroes are not the great players that I’ve listened to, but without them I wouldn’t be here.

For more on Thad Beckman, go to his website: http://www.thadbeckman.com/



It’s funny how one learns about a performer. In my case, it was from a newsletter from Loyola High School in Los Angeles, a rigorous Jesuit college prepartory school, from which I graduated. The notes of a class a few years ahead mentioned that one Tom Russell was releasing a new album and continuing to tour the world. That was unusual as most graduates did not go into the arts as performers, rather they became doctors, lawyers and businessmen. So I checked out Tom Russell the next time he came to McCabes, the best venue in Southern California for roots/Americana/folk — you-know-what-I-mean — music. Tom blew me and my friend away that night, and I became an instant fan.

Tom Russell is charismatic, handsome, wary, sometimes insouciant, witty, intense, ambitious, and very talented as a songwriter, performer and painter. His “man’s man” exterior — with a Southwestern motif — can be intimidating, but spend some time with him and his charm is evident and real. Russell is educated (he was reading a book of New Yorker profiles when I sat with him), articulate, realistic and genuinely enjoys performing.  His show is not just music, but a delightful mélange of anecdotes and off the cuff witticisms. His following only increases. He is managed by his wife, the gorgeous, organized Nadine, who travels with him. I interviewed him on the Roots on the Rails trip from Los Angeles to Portland and back in April 2010.

TM: What’s an average year like?

TR: Since my wife took over the management and agent job in the United States, we’ve gone from 150 live dates to about 70 choice ones — festivals, theaters, larger clubs, and our goal is to make better and better records full of original songs that will advance me more towards playing about an 800 seat theater in the John Prine territory. It would be a very good place for me.  I don’t have a desire to become the next Bob Dylan and play arenas or whatever.  In this day and age when the song, the art of the song is dead, I want to be the last songwriter and move up into that general area of a John Prine.

TM: How many albums do you put out a year?

TR: We don’t put ‘em out every year.  Every two, three years maybe.  It takes a long time to write 10 or 12 songs that I’m satisfied with, so one every two or three years, and then there’s compilations and cowboy records and side projects, so we put out one piece of product every year.  Let’s put it that way.

TM: Do you ever co-write?

TR: I used to co-write a lot with Dave Alvin and Steve Young and Katie Moffat and Ian Tyson, and I learned a lot, but I find more and more I wanna just write from one position.  Co-writing entails a lot of compromise.  A learning experience on one hand and a compromise on the other hand so the more I learn about it the more I want to write from my own position these days.

TM: How much of the time are you writing about things other than romance?  TR: I’m not really known for my love songs.  I’ve written a few for Nadine.  If it’s gonna be a love song, it’s gotta be either very true or a new glimpse of love or something refreshing. There have been so many great love songs and 98% of all songs are about love.  So it’s just the last few records that I’ve turned my attention (to it)  – “Love and Fear” was the record that focused…

TM: All right, let’s get some background.  You went to a Catholic high school I know.

TR: Yeah, you’re trying to flog that one…

TM: And then, uh, you went to University of California at Santa Barbara.  Did you graduate?

TR: I got a Bachelor’s and a Master’s in the Sociology of Law, aka Criminology. (Then I) taught school one year in West Africa. I got disenchanted with academic people, not the subject matter.  I loved the Africans; I didn’t like white academia (so I) went back to Vancouver where I had some friends teaching at the university and did odd jobs and loved Vancouver and walked by a bar one day and saw a country band playing.  I thought, “That’s what I really wanna do.”

TM: And that’s where it started?

TR: I was 19-20, very young.  Graduated very young.

TM: You had a master’s at 19?

TR: Yeah.  Don’t even try to figure this out.  Kid genius.

TM: When did you start playing guitar?

TR: L.A.  My brother Pat is a pretty well known horseman and cowboy.  Had a Tijuana guitar in the 50’s and he played Tex Ritter and Johnny Cash but he couldn’t really sing very well, and so I got his guitar.  In college I always had a guitar and played Kingston Trio stuff.  Then when I discovered Dylan and Ian and Sylvia I got more serious, and I always had a guitar.  I never so much became a guitar player per se as (being) into song writers and folk singers and learning three chords and singing a lot of songs.

TM: Did you play at parties and things like that in college?

TR: A little bit — skits and parties — but still I didn’t have the guts, I was very self-conscious.  Actually, I’m an introvert.  It doesn’t seem like that but I am, and I didn’t have any stage presence at all, and so I was really scared to be in front of people. It wasn’t until about the last 20 years I’ve been really comfortable, more comfortable on stage than I am in real life, and it took a long time. So I really didn’t play until I got back from Africa and had to play in bars for five or ten years.

TM: That’s what you did?  Playing what?  Covers?

TR: Covers, 6-9 hours a night in bad bars. I gave it up a little in 1978 and drove a cab in New York for awhile.  Married, I had a couple kids (including) the daughter we saw yesterday in Portland.  Then I met one of the lyricists of The Grateful Dead in a cab one night.  Long story, but he encouraged me to get back into music.

TM: Is that Robert Hunter?

TR: Yeah.  I sang him “Gaya Del Cielo.” He loved the song. Invited me up on stage to sing it one night.  Voila!  Opened some shows for him and got back the music business and never looked back.  He was a solo, and he would play to Grateful Dead audiences ’cause they were hip to the songs he wrote — all the good Dead songs. I knew who he was when I picked him up in the cab because his name was on the marquee.  I told him I wrote a song called “Gaya Del Cielo” and he said “Sure, kid.”  He had a drink in his hand.  He said “Sing it for me.”  I sang it for him.  I blew him away.  I couldn’t believe it.  I thought he was drunk … “Sing it again.  Sing it again.  Sing it again. I wanna get the Dead to do that,” (he said).  And he came back to town, which is New York, and hired me.

I went to his gig two weeks later and he started talking about, “I met this cab driver who wrote this song.  I can’t get it out of my head.”  He goes, “Instead of me talking about it, let’s get this guy up here.”  And it was terrifying.  Hadn’t played for a year, and number two, I wasn’t comfortable on stage and this song is very demanding.  Even to this day the song is very demanding to sing, because it’s ten verses, but he got me up there, handed me his guitar and split and I looked out at the audience, all these reverent Dead Heads.  I got through the song and they applauded me and I thought, “Wow.” I looked around to give him guitar back and he wasn’t there.  So somebody yelled out, “Play another one.”  So I ended up playing about three songs, and I felt like Hunter knew that this guy (me) needed encouragement and he was a good songwriter.  Then he suddenly appeared and smiled and took the guitar back.  He said, “You’re gonna be really good,” and then he came back to town two months later and had me open a show for him.

All of this is unbelievable in light of the current way people treat each other in this business.  Nobody’s ever done anything like that to a cab driver.  Two things happened since then.  Somebody sent me a cassette tape of him at the Glastenbury Festival in England about a year later where he does “Gaya Del Cielo” and said, “I learned this from this cab driver.  You won’t believe this song.”  I have a cassette of that.  And then I didn’t hear from him for 30 years.  And when mynew album came out “Blood and Candle Smoke,” somebody got him a record and he e-mailed me saying, “This record is incredible, man.  You really did it.”  So that to me is enough that this guy did that back then.  He’s co-writing with Dylan now and he just wrote me and said, “Man, between then and now, you’ve really done it.”

TM: My sense is that you have quite a good rapport with your fellow musicians, for example, Dave Alvin (who was on the Roots on the Rails trip)…

TR: Yeah.

TM: And your guitar player Thad Beckman, you watch each other’s back, and try to help each other to some degree, don’t you?

TR: Yeah, definitely.  There are, there is an inner circle of kind of outsiders and writers who respect each other and help each other out.  It’s a diminishing circle at this level, which I would call the level below, fame-wise, Dylan and Springsteen and Leonard Cohen, but yet above most other people.  In this kind of environment and economy it’s a really rough level to be at, and we have our cult audiences, but we respect each other’s writing and, and it’s sort of an underground thing.

TM: The sound recording business is chaotic at best.

TR: Yeah, but in the light of that, what’s great for us is number one, we’re signed to a label “Shout Factory,” which are the guys that used to own Rhino.  The label is doing very well and this record, “Blood and Candle Smoke,” has outsold anything I’ve ever done.  It sound scanned in the United States 8 or 9 or 10,000 in an environment where aren’t any record stores.  So I have to say, what I think is happening is a really good songwriter, which I hope I am, in this environment can survive better than before, because it’s down for a lot of people, like the people on this train, it’s down to like, “I’ll support that guy who’s still writing great songs.  And it doesn’t hurt that I was on Letterman and NPR.

TM: How did you get on Letterman?

TR: Gerard Mulligan, who used to write for Dave, is a big fan of mine.  He started feeding the CDs to Dave and Letterman’s a big songwriter fan.  He loved Warren Zevon.  Of course he featured Zevon on his show when Zevon was dying, and he heard my stuff and he liked it.  It had a cowboy edge.  He’s interested in the West.  He’s got a ranch in Montana.   He loved the songs.  He also liked Nancy Griffith, who sang with me on the first appearance, 2004, I think, and since then he will usually have me back if I have a new record.

TM: How many times you been on his show?

TR: Five.

TM: And has that been a great boost?

TR: Yeah.  Well you’re playing to 15 million people.  Especially that last time we were on the show, October 1, when he made his revelation that he was being blackmailed by…

TM: You were on that show?

TR: We were in the building.  What happened was we were there and when it was going down, he taped two shows back to back, and our show played the next day.  It couldn’t have been a better thing.  It was unbelievable, and I didn’t know what was  happening.  People were coming up to me and saying, “Do you know what just went down?  When he came out to tape my show, which was the second show he taped, it was the first time ever that he got up off the desk while the commercial was running.  He came over to me and took my hand and said, “It’s great to see you.  Great to have you back,” as if he needed a friend,  because he had just laid that down.  And then bang, we did our thing and he came over after, and he usually says something nice.  He said to the people, “Tom Russell played in Choteau, Montana, rode in on a switch.”  It was an inside joke as I had played a prior, kind of semi-private function (for Letterman).

TM: Has he interviewed you yet?

TR: No and I don’t think that’s gonna happen — you get your musical 3 ½ minute segment.  If  you’re Madonna, or world class, then they’ll give you another five minutes, but I don’t really need that, and that’s not part of the deal there.  He’s the most successful guy in the history of television.  That one hour is extremely valuable to anybody, just promoting anything, and when you get your 3 ½ minutes in front of 10 million, at my level it is a major thing.

TM: How did you get on NPR?

TR: Again, because of the songs. There aren’t that many great songwriters left that have an interesting angle to ‘em and I’ve done records like “Man From God Knows Where,” about my family coming from Ireland, which got a lot of NPR-type press. “Hot Walker” about the Beats and growing up in L.A.  I was an interesting item for a little 6-minute Weekend Edition story for them.  Again, there’s not that much interesting happening in music.

TM: When did you move to El Paso, and why did you move there?

TR: I moved there in ’97;  I was getting tired of New York.  I’d been in New York, Brooklyn, for 15 years as a base, and I was really a Southwestern person.  I’m from L.A.  I was looking in magazines, saw haciendas in New Mexico.  I thought that’s where I want to be, and went out there and drove around and I saw a house for sale, and it was historic hacienda on three acres, very reasonably priced.  I just wanted to change my life.  I knew I didn’t have to go to a networking place.  At the level I was at I knew I just wanted to be a writer and be isolated.

TM: Were you single then?

TR: No, I was in a relationship with a woman who had a connection to El Paso but she didn’t relate to it and went back to New York.

TM: So, the lovely Nadine, when and how did you meet her?

TR: We’d been linked forever.  We met six years ago. I think she heard me on the radio and came to a gig.  Of course when she walked into the gig with her mother, I just went who is that?  And the funny part was, I thought, “Well she’s a naïve, young Swiss gal, she doesn’t know much about what I, of course, she knows more about Texas music than I did.   She knew, since she was this big (indicating a little girl) Doug Sahm and Augie Meyers.  She knows a lot about Mexican music.

TM: How did you become a painter?

TR: Long story.  We have so much space out there. At one point I walked into this space that was built as a studio … and you can’t write all day.  We’re not TV people, so we have time, and drew a cow or something and painted it, and somebody liked it, and I gave it to him and it just started real fast.  I don’t come from any training or anything.

TM: When did you start painting?

TR: 2003.

TM: You definitely have your own style.

TR: Well it’s gone from folk art and the Yarddog Gallery in Austin handles the folk, real primitive stuff.  Now, I’m getting a little better and I’m painting larger paintings with a gallery in Santa Fe, Rainbow Man.

TM: Are you painting in oil or acrylic?

TR: Acrylics.  I would love to paint oil because the colors are stronger but it’s messier and you gotta be better, and I like to slop the paint on.  I can do a painting sometimes in 20 minutes and then it’ll dry in three hours.  Oils are for more sophisticated painters like say Charlie Hunter, who is a great painter. (Hunter is the entrepreneur who overseas and owns Roots on the Rails.)  He’s able to draw anything.  I’m more of a colorist and a fast painter.  I might paint ten things and nine of them are trash and I’ll paint over them, and then I’ll get something that’ll work.  More and more it’s like song writing.  Same kind of thing.

TM: How long does it take you to write a song or is there any length?

TR: Oh, can take two years or 10 minutes.  Same process.  You have all these crafty techniques, but it’s the magic elements that are important and just trying hard.  The more into it you get, the harder you’ve  got to try.

TM: Five influences musically.

TR: Ian Tyson was probably my greatest influence, very melodic, big time songwriter with a huge catalogue.  Ian and Sylvia is the first part of his career.  Cowboy songs is the second part of his career.  Melodic, very, very good songwriter. Dylan, but he wasn’t really an influence on me because his talents are so huge in so many different directions, but inspired continually by Dylan and Leonard Cohen. As far as influences, Tyson’s the main one.  If I had to name a few, I like Van Morrison, and what Lucinda Williams does.  I don’t like a lot of new younger songwriters.  I don’t think there’s anybody that’s hitting the ball out of the park.  There’s Freddy Neil who used to hang around the Village who was a great songwriter.  A lot of people from that era, great  songs.  We don’t see people like that anymore.  Steve Young is a great songwriter as is Dave Alvin. John Prine, I toured with him a little bit.  Great songwriter.  Guy Clark, but Tyson would be at the front of somebody I really studied and who really influenced…

TM: Did you become friends with him?

TR: Oh, yeah, we’re good friends.  He comes down to the house.  I studied under him, really. We co-wrote about 8 or 10 songs.

TM: Let’s talk about today.  Is there anybody that you’re watching?

TR: Nobody that blows me away.

TM: What was the last concert you went to see?

TR: Rolling Stones, Leonard Cohen in Phoenix this summer, who blew me away.  Four hours.  Never a bad line, never a bad song.  Great shape.  Also connected to the audience in a way Dylan can’t really, Dylan isn’t a communicator as far as person to person.  Cohen just made you feel like he was happy you were there.  I learn a lot from people like that.  That was the last one that blew me away.  Of course I must say I saw Johnny Rodriguez about six years ago in a honky tonk down the street playing to about 20 people and he blew me.

TM: Your father was a film producer?

TR: No, he was a building contractor, horse trader, he owned race horses and during the war I don’t know how he did it but he got a job with the Motion Picture Society. He had something to do with the Oscars.  He ended up being the guy who brought the Oscar out to Bob Hope.  That was the kind of guy he was, that he could get a job like that.

TM: You grew up with horses, right?

TR: Yes.  I grew up around Hollywood Park, that back side of the track.

TM: Did you ride, too?

TR: Yeah, but my brother is the cow, my brother’s the guy that just, the minute he saw a horse, that was it.

TM: Do you ride now?

TR: No.  We live next to a guy that’s got 12 horses and I see them every day.  I can’t handle horses.  It’s too far to fall.

TM: Did your parents approve of your career choice?

TR: Well my father and I were somewhat estranged; he died at 81, 10 years ago.  I really wasn’t that close to him, he lost a lot of money. My mother was very, very supportive.  My mother’s side was very Bohemian. Her brother was a concert pianist in  New York.  He played at the Martin Luther King rally, played the Star Spangled Banner.  Uncle George, we call him, he was an incredible influence.  He died two ago.  My mother died in ’78.  She was very musical and that side of the family was very musical.  My father, he was more of a businessman, and a hustler.  I don’t think he understood.  He felt like, “Well, are you gonna make the same money Kenny Rodgers is making?”  He didn’t get it.  She got it.

TM: I sense that you could or should be a prose writer.

TR: I had a novel published in Norway 15 years ago and they’re going to bring it out in paperback now.  It’s a crime novel.  That’s why I ended up in New York.  I had a developmental deal with the William Morris Agency and they had  three of my manuscripts.  They came very close and nothing happened, so I went back to music after that but I am working on a couple books.

For more on Tom Russell, go to http://www.tomrussell.com/



Francisco Aguabella passed away at the age of 84 on May 6, 2010. He is gone, but his music and spirit remain.  I was his attorney for the last 17 years, and he backed me as a musician on a number of projects. He was one of the greatest drummers in the history of music, playing drums and congas and many other percussive instruments.  You can hear him on these cds: First Love, Last LoveDizzy, and Contemporary Retro.

What a powerful presence this quiet man brought to any occasion. He was gifted, and through discipline, perfected his craft so that he is rightfully regarded as one of the giants in the history of drumming, from bata to conga, Afro-Cuban to rock to traditional. He played up to the end, and I was very touched to see him lug his heavy drums uncomplaining nor asking for assistance.  I never saw him angry, I never heard him complain, he loved people, and we loved him back.  He was a class act in every sense of the word, kind, reliable, stable, and consistently humble.  He was a genuine in what he did, had a good sense of humor, and fun to be around. He wanted to do his best at all times.

What an honor it is to have known and worked with this fine person.