Posts Tagged ‘“Roots on Rails”’


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

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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/


Good morning,

Hi there!

Recently got back from the “Roots on Rails” Tour.  Enjoyed Dave Alvin, Thad Beckman, Tom Russell and many other great artists performing during that week.

Here are some pictures:

Dave Alvin and I outside the Train Stop

Thad Beckman and I performing "Ever Best of Friends"

Myself, Tom Russell, his wife Nadine and Tom O'Brian

I do have a show coming up at Molly Malone’s on the 24th. Be sure to RSVP and look forward to seeing you there.

Trevor