I’ve probably told this story before, but indulge me. I first visited Nashville in 2007 when, in all honesty I knew very little about Americana, Country, Bluegrass…you name it. I arrived to write songs with whoever my publisher was kind enough to hook me up with. It was a brilliant trip where one thing led to another and the net result was I fell in love with country music and the city itself.
But what about my big problem? What about all these songs on the radio I didn’t like? What about the awful guys in hats and the cliches and the spangly singers who I could never imagine listening to, least of all making room on my shelves for their records? Who was good and who was bad? I was working with a young artist called Sean McConnell early on and I decided to ask him the question. Where to start, who should I be listening to? Well, said Sean, ‘I love a singer called Patty Griffin.’ I’d heard the name so that was a help and then he said, ‘She’s playing at the Ryman this week so you might get a chance to see her.’
The Ryman – the Mother Church of Country Music – and Patty Griffin. It was sold out. I asked around and another writer knew the manager…it was fixed. A few days ahead of the show I was able to find a couple of record stores where I bought the new album and a few from Patty’s back catalogue. I was prepared. At the Ryman I sat on a wooden pew on a rainy night when there was a leak dripping down from the Confederate Balcony above but nothing put me off. Patty Griffin performed a perfect show and on that night I became a fan. One lovely detail I still remember and it made me realise I was far from home in a special music city: Outside the Ryman on my way back to the car two young female Patty fans were walking home too. Dressed up in Patty clothes, hair and heels they’d paid a fitting tribute to their troubadour hero.
It isn’t difficult to see how Patty can attract that kind of adulation. She refuses to conform to any country stereotypes. Born in the North East of the US she honed her songwriting chops in Boston coffee shops. Even though she’s been admired and covered by the country community she’s not a resident of Nashville – she prefers Austin – and she’s not guilty of bad taste in any of her collaborations, arrangements or clothes. She’s one of the best white Gospel singers I’ve heard yet she professes no religious faith, she claims never to write love songs and yet her ballads will break your heart. In short that question I posed on that first Nashville visit about who I should be listening to was succinctly answered by my cowriter. It was and is Patty Griffin.
Tonight we welcome Patty back for the third time on a very rare visit to Scotland she made back in January. We’ll talk about her current album, ‘Servant of Love’ and we’ll talk through her great back catalogue of songs as she remembers where she was when she wrote the songs.
We’ll have time for some other things to. We’re getting very close to Country 2 Country which happens in two weekends time. We’re hosting some very intimate conversations with some of the biggest names on the festival. If you’d like to be in the audience for these conversations you need to be listening during the first hour of the show tonight.
We’re on air at five past nine on BBC Radio Scotland FM. Join me if you can.