In a lovely review of a live show the late Guy Clark performed in London 12 years ago Adam Sweeting (in The Guardian) concluded, ‘He could have played longer, but you couldn’t have asked for more.’ I’m sure Sweeting would have blanched at the thought that his review would make an appropriate obituary note but it sums up a songwriter who, even up to his last record, managed to write significant songs throughout his long career. In the same review it was also noted that, ‘Clark’s stringent quality control ensures that the newer songs don’t suffer from rubbing shoulders with the old.’ As if to prove it one of our favourite songs of his on the AC was the title track from his last album, ‘My Favourite Picture of You.’ On Bob Harris Country a couple of weeks back Bob played out an old interview with Guy where he talked about the genesis of the song. His co-writer Gordy Sampson had shown him a list of possible titles and Guy had seen that one and known exactly where he wanted to go with the song. The photograph in question was one of his late wife Susanna who had been snapped in a bad mood with her husband who had been behaving badly at the time. Its a poignant and heartfelt picture of a long love affair that shows off that his writing remained as sharp as it ever was. Guy Clark died two weeks ago and this Tuesday on Another Country we’ll pay tribute to him as we play some songs Guy wrote performed by the man himself as well as by some great country stars.
If that’s not enough we’ll have some shiny new records to play you. I’m rather excited about a Julia Jacklin‘s first single from her debut LP.
Julia is new on the show and she comes from the Australia’s Blue Mountains but recorded her album in New Zealand’s Sitting Room studios with Ben Edwards, who also brought us the delightful Nadia Reid album last year. The album is called ‘Don’t Let The Kids Win’ and it comes with a charming opener which we’ll play tomorrow night. Also, also…. we want you to hear the beguiling bluegrass of Anna and Elizabeth, Esme Patterson and another Australian (what’s going on down there?) Ry X.
We’ll have a sublime live moment from Van Morrison in the early 70’s, revisit The Highwaymen and hear a brilliant new single from our old new chum, Anthony D’Amato. All in two hours I hear you cry. Oh yes, but you’ll need to be by your radio by five past nine on Tuesday evening and have that dial tuned to BBC Radio Scotland.
I’m no longer with you on Wednesdays on BBC Radio 2 (though it’s all available on the iplayer) but am back for a good few weeks on Sunday Mornings when I hope to be speaking to the remarkable Sheila Cassidy about her experiences as a doctor working under the Pinochet regime in Chile and about her own faith which she wrote about in ‘Confessions of a Lapsed Catholic.’ BBC Radio Scotland is hosting a series of programmes around the theme of Memories and Conversation – New Approaches to Dementia and we’ll be talking to different presenters of Sunday Morning With about specific programmes they are presenting in this series. As ever, I’ll get your morning moving with some great music. Do join me if you can from five past ten a.m. this Sunday on BBC Radio Scotland.
Many people, and increasingly young people, tell me how much they’d love to visit Nashville. I’m pretty sure a large part of this is because of the recently cancelled TV drama set in the city but there are many who want to see where the music comes from. I understand that. I had the same feelings for about 20 years until I went first in 2007. Since then I’ve visited the city more times than I can readily count but still, until recently, found myself scratching my head a little when people asked me for recommendations on what to do if they ever got there,
So much of the joy of being in Music City, for me, happened behind closed doors in the writing sessions and conversations I’d been able to have with the community of songwriters, artists and publishers who live there. Driving in from the airport there really isn’t that much to see so I’ve never been entirely sure a visitor could experience any of that without, in some way, entering into the rhythm of the town. New York or San Francisco it is not. And yet, Bob Dylan himself called an album Nashville Skyline, I almost feel you muttering. There is no doubt that Nashville gets into your bones in a way other cities have never managed for me. After my first visit I was happy to share with anyone who wanted to listen that I could easily have imagined myself living there; a thought which has seldom crossed my mind in many other cities I have stumbled across in my travels. But, if you’re not going to move there lock, stock and barrel, what should you do with a few days off in Tennessee?
This Tuesday on Another Country I’m going to take you on a mini-tour of some of my personal favourite pastimes in the home of country music. They are all great because they are either very cheap or free and they all take you back to the music and make you want to listen harder. We’ll spend a bit of time in The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum where we will encounter again the man who chose to leave New York and favour Nashville to record. Dylan, Cash and The Nashville Cats exhibition at the HOF has been running for over a year.
It tells the story of how Dylan came to the city and how, in his wake, the other artists followed. The Beatles, Neil Young, The Byrds and many more familiar names are part of this great story. Join us as we wander round taking in the stories and hearing the music that came out of this amazing creative period.
We’ll also take a walk around the city. Bill Demain is an old friend. He’s a journalist and a songwriter but and he combines all of that into telling great stories of the city on his Walking Nashville tour. We take the tour and talk to Bill about some of the great characters who have made Nashville their home and recorded and performed some of their best work within the city limits.
So far, you’ll have spent about £30 but the next part of the story is, not only free, but available online 24 hours a day. WSM (Music City’s The Legend on 650 A.M) is the home of The Grand Ole Opry. WSM has always broadcast The Opry and it continues to be the home of country music of all decades. Every night of the week WSM’s output is hosted by Eddie Stubbs. It feels to me like Eddie has been a friend of mine for many years even though we only just met a couple of months ago. His knowledge of country music is encyclopaedic but his delivery is slow, steady and southern. A bluegrass fiddle player himself Eddie understands the contours of country better than anyone and you’ll get a chance to hear him talk about his favourite subject on Tuesday night when we chat backstage at The Opry.
So there it is folks; your AC Music City Tour. There will be conversation but, by cracky, there will be so much music too. Listen out for wonderful things from Bob Dylan himself, Johnny Cash, Margo Price, Vince Gill, Johnny Wright and Kitty Wells and something rather special from Cortelia Clark. Join me from five past nine this Tuesday evening on BBC Radio Scotland.
A few years ago I was taking part in a gig being filmed for a TV show. After camera rehearsals the director came over to me and said he’d like to show me what the plan was for the night. As he got about three minutes into the chat I stopped him short. ‘ You’re telling me how you’re going to film this aren’t you?’ I asked. As he nodded and returned to his lifting map I realised there was little point in taking it further. ‘The thing is,’ I went on, ‘you are going to tell me how it looks and frankly, I don’t really care much about that because I’m a musician and I really mainly care how it sounds.’ That aspect, he confessed, wasn’t really in his brief (or in reality in his thoughts.) The same is true of so much of music on TV -I suspect perhaps the Eurovision Contest just this weekend might well have fallen in to this category – if it’s a tussle between music and TV, the TV is always going to win.
When Pop Idol and all the other shows started around 15 years ago it was a constant question asked in interviews by anyone I met. What do you think? I always answered the same way: ‘I understand why the kids think it’s important but the TV will always win. What works for TV – sensational heartbreak, embarrassment, redemption on camera – is always going to beat the honest singer with the good song, and it has been thus so far.
Last Friday, apparently out of nowhere, the TV soap, ‘Nashville’ was cut adrift by the ABC network in the US. It was, and this seems true, a great boon to the songwriting community in the city and has added to the intrigue about Music City but that does not a successful show make and the execs eyes are looking elsewhere
A couple of months ago we caught up with Buddy Miller in his home studio in Nashville to talk about his own involvement in the drama and hear what how being the executive music producer of the show has affected his own work and the focus of the city’s songwriting community. Despite what we may think, country music is not immune to market variations and the mixed history of the city’s iconic studios gives you an idea of how fragile the genre is to the winds of change whistling around the city.
Dave Cobb is another brave soul who has taken over the stewardship of one of Nashville’s more famous sound emporiums, RCA Studio A. Bigger than the more famous Studio B it is a sprawling space which was used to record strings and bigger sessions the more compact Studio B could not contain. Dave’s own track record there includes his new compilation Southern Family album with contributions from Miranda Lambert, Anderson East, John Paul White, Jason Isbell, Brandy Clark and many others. On Tuesday you’ll hear us in that hallowed space talking to Dave about that project and his recent success as producer of the moment to Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson.
Finally we’ll broadcast one of the more remarkable conversations I’ve ever had in the city. We gathered three of the senior members of the Bradley family, Patsy, Jerry and Harold, to talk about their own musical life and that of Harold’s elder brother, producer, Owen Bradley. You’ll hear Harold – the most recorded guitarist of all time and now aged 90 – tell how he and his brother set up the famous Quonset Hut in Music Row so they could make some of the most famous records of all time. Hearing Harold talk about the morning he cut ‘Crazy’ with Patsy Cline was the most fascinating story I have been lucky enough to have heard.
One final thought: When Owen and Harold set up their studio they were really hoping it would become a centre for filming music for television and in the process they discovered they were making some of the most iconic country records in modern history. The records lasted and no one remembers the TV shows now. TV’s for now; music’s for ever.
You can hear all of this on Tuesday’s Another Country on BBC Radio Scotland from five past nine.
On Wednesday on BBC Radio Two I’ll be celebrating the new tradition and we’ll think a little about the anniversary of this record….
Join me from 10 p.m. if you can
In 1967 Nashville songwriter, Bobby Braddock couldn’t sleep one night. He found himself going into his car and driving round the city until he came to a well known beauty spot where he sat behind the wheel listening and absorbing all of the, newly released, Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. It was, he says, a record which changed his life.
These days it’s hard to imagine the impact that one long playing album could make but safe to say a little of that excitement has been recreated by BBC 6 Music when they chose to have a world wide listening party for Radiohead’s new album, “A Moon Shaped Pool.’ I couldn’t make the party on Sunday so I’m listening to the noble Tom Robinson presenting the show now. I love radio events like these as it’s obvious Tom knows only as much about the record as the listener and we’re all experiencing something quite new together for the first time. As I write, I’m also hugely inspired by the record which invites you in in a way that makes you know you want to return and explore the deeper (moon-shaped) pool.
I say all this because I’m amazed at pop music’s ability to continually reinvent itself. As much as anyone must have thought The Beatles had said it all by 1966 the public learned a whole new chapter was opening up. It’s here that Bobby Braddock and his lonely vigil come into focus for me. Around that same time a young Georgia kid was reshaping the music of that other great sixties band, The Byrds by allowing them to drift away from their earlier folk influences to absorbing the country music of their own homeland. Sweetheart of The Rodeo came out in 1968 and within a year or so Gram parsons would leave the Byrds to form his own cosmic country outfit The Flying Burrito Brothers. It’s funny now that there is now a new generation of artists who are rediscovering Gram and The Burritos in the same way that he once opened the rock generation’s ears to Buck Owens and Merle Haggard.
Cale Tyson is part of that new generation of young country artists who want to keep country …well country and are content not to make every song sound like a melody plonked on to a U2 B side from 1987. We me Cale in Nashville back in March when he was just finishing a rehearsal and we headed off for a beer with him to a local watering hole. That bar turned out to be an American Legion hall which was hosting its Tuesday Night Honky Tonk. It was a fascinating evening: purple hearts on the wall, vets at he bar and in the function suite some pals of Cale’s playing great country covers to a mixed room of hipsters and hillbillies. What’s not to love?
We spent a good part of that evening catching up with Cale as the Honky Tonk progressed and you can hear all of that conversation concerning Cale’s excellent new album, ‘Carless Soul’ on this Tuesday’s Another Country. We’ve got some brilliant other music for you and look out for new records by Martina McBride, Dylan LeBlanc and Daniel Romano as well as a vinyl moment from Marty Robbins that might well be worth staying in for. All this on BBC Radio Scotland from five past nine.
On the New Tradition I’ll be playing you some very varied music this Wednesday on BBC Radio 2. We’ll find a song that suits our mood then we’ll make that our theme for the next hour tracing back the music to its roots. We’re live from 10 so join me if you can.
When we started out we didn’t do many gigs and the one we did commit to were all spaced apart enough to ensure that new songs and new members would be involved on any live occasion. The gigs usually stated after 11 at night and the sound check would be late afternoon (if the bloke with the PA turned up on time.) I would walk into town from my southside flat so I could find something new to wear for the gig out of Flip then spend the rest of the day worrying about the show. On my way in I’d always pass the same pub which advertised the fact that on certain nights you could enjoy a pint to the sounds of ‘Ken Manners, singer of songs.’
I often wonder what became of Ken, though I suspect his songs go on. I often thought then and still reflect now how bad I am at the business of remembering and reciting songs. It takes me all my time to remember my own and I really can’t, for the life of me, ever get it together to learn other people’s even though I admire greatly those who do.
One of the great things of learning other songs is the awakening it gives you to new paths and structures. How did they do that? Why did they say that and not this and how did they manage to break my heart there? Sometimes I find myself looking back at other people’s catalogues and I realise how little there is on which I have declared my undying love. Often we’re talking three songs which have managed to infect me in such a way that they will always travel with me for the rest of my life. However that doesn’t mean I’ll sit down and learn them…Oh no.
Perhaps that’s why my ‘cover versions’ have always involved sitting a pal down and saying ..’Listen to this record’ On Tuesday I’ll do that once again and, for those who’ve not being paying attention, I’ll introduce you to this woman.
Joan Shelley a folk singer whose music has been delicately brushed by the mountain music she heard while growing up in Kentucky. She sings beautiful, vulnerable songs and her current album Over and Even is one of my favourites of the last 12 months. On this Tuesday night’s show we will broadcast the great session she performed for us a few weeks back on her way through Scotland. If you don’t know Joan’s work just check out ‘Stay On My Shore,’ her duet with Will Oldham from that album, ‘Over and Even.’ It will change your life for the better.
On Tuesday night we’ll also feature music by Cale Tyson, Phil Cook, Sarah Jarosz, Laura Cantrell and Randy Travis. Don’t be too surprised if Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson make an appearance too. Join me live if you can on BBC Radio Scotland from five past nine this Tuesday evening.
On Wednesday I’ll host my first ever show (under my own name) on BBC Radio 2. From 10 p.m. I’ll be bringing you my new tradition. Playing you wonderful new records and searching out some influences that may well have played some part in suggesting how the artist came to sound the way they did. I could tell you more but I’d be spoiling the surprise…. Safe to say I’ll be playing a wide range of great music that I don’t get a chance to play on the AC. For those of you in Ireland, Wales and England it will be great to get a chance to broadcast live. Find me on twitter @rickyaross and let me know what you think about any new songs you hear for the first time. You can tune your dial to BBC Radio 2 from 10 this Wednesday.
This has been a lovely week in the world of the AC. On Sunday evening I popped down to the CCA in Glasgow to see Hayes Carll before Hayes visited us in our magical Studio 1 space the following morning. On Wednesday we welcome Richmond Fontaine to the studio for the final time though we hope we never have to say goodbye to Willy Vlautin. In between these days I’ll be live from our usual perch in Studio 6 at the BBC in Glasgow to host another two hours of Another Country and we’ll be thinking about old friends. Richmond Fontaine and Hayes Carll are both in that category; we think we interviewed Hayes in our first ever season and we’ve been trying to coax him back in for the last few years. We’ll broadcast that session and conversation over the next few weeks along with many other great things we have stored in the can.
We will also play records by two artists who we haven’t played in a long time: Canada’s own Woodpigeon and Mary Margaret O’Hara. This time however we’ll get them on the same song as Woodpigeon return with a new album. We will introduce you to some new names…..step forward American Young, Carter Sampson and Phil Cook. We’ll celebrate Glen Campbell’s birthday and we’ll toast the coming of two of Country Music’s biggest acts’ visits to Scotland; Dierks Bentley, who played last weekend and The Dixie Chicks who alight on these shores in seven days.
I’ll also preview an amazing conversation with this man….
Graham Nash is the subject of an hour long special programme BBC Radio Scotland will broadcast next Bank Holiday Monday. We talked about his new album, This Path Tonight, his first band The Hollies and his time with the The superstar band of all time Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. He’ll share stories of Mama Cass, Joni Mitchell,Gerry Garcia, David Crosby (be prepared), Stephen Stills and Neil Young. Remarkably, at the age of seventy four, Graham not only remembers all the stories but is currently in a creative hot spot and his voice sounds better than ever. We’ll give you a sneak peak on Tuesday evening.
Finally…..and I’ll tell you more next week, I’m going to be live on BBC Radio 2 on every Wednesday night in May for an hour playing you music I think you may well love. I’ll tell you more next week. Meantime please join me if you can this Tuesday night from 9 on BBC Radio Scotland.
Just two weeks ago I found myself on holiday driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles on the most direct route you can take. The 5 takes you from the Bay Area to La La Land the less scenic way and in much less time. If you want to take a stop you’ll find yourself very near the epicentre of Californian Country Music, Bakersfield. Having already bored the family with too many country stations on the radio I decided it would be pushing it to suggest stopping off for a look around. We opted for an all-day breakfast at a roadside Denny’s Diner and over the pancakes I found myself telling my son the story of Bakersfield’s most famous scion, Merle Haggard.
My boy loved hearing the tale of the young man who ended up in jail hearing the music of Johnny Cash in concert at San Quentin where Hag was serving time for robbery in 1958. Merle Haggard’s life was in complete turmoil when he encountered Cash on that fateful New Year’s Day. He ended up only serving 2 years of the 15 year sentence and he owes his turnaround to a realisation where life was or wasn’t heading for some of the people he met behind bars. Part of his own recovery was joining the jail country band in response to that Johnny cash concert.
We listened to Silver Wings back in the car on the way to our final destination in Santa Monica and the next day I woke up to the news that Merle had died that morning on his 79th Birthday.
A few days later we were back in the Bay Area and, as luck would have it, I found myself listening to the local NPR station while I waited in the car for my son to pick up his take away Burrito at a little Mexican luncheonette just off Highway One. Terri Gross’s Fresh Air was playing out a 1995 interview she had broadcast with Merle where he talked extensively about his time behind bars and his own redemption. In a remarkable interview he told Gross:
I really kind of was crazy as a kid, and then all of a sudden, you know, while I was in San Quentin, I just – I one day understood – I saw the light. I just didn’t want to do that no more and I realized what a mess I’d made out of my life, and I got out of there and stayed out of there – never did go back.
Went and apologized to all of the people I’d wronged and tried to pay back the people that I’d taken money from, borrowed money from or whatever. I think when I was 31 years old, I paid everybody back that I’d ever taken anything from, including my mother.
On Tuesday night we’ll play out some of that interview as well as a conversation Merle recorded for his first ever BBC Radio interview in the early seventies. We’ll play the songs that matter and we’ll toast on-air the man whose music shook the Nashville establishment and gave a voice to working people through his songs.
We’ll also get round to playing you some great new music. Listen out for new tracks by Sturgill Simpson, Cale Tyson, Shawn Colvin & Steve Earle, Sam Beam & Jessca Hoop. We’ll also give a spin to the album I’m sitting listening to right now, Red Sky July’s ‘The Truth and The Lie.’ It all starts at five past nine and you can find us on BBC Radio Scotland. Join me if you can.
When I was a kid my big sister brought some of her friends round. One of the girls in her class played guitar and sang. The hapless school chum was marched into the kitchen by my sister and asked to perform for my mum and dad. I remember thinking how powerful that moment was. Everyone was captured by the song and the voice…but the song…oh the song was the thing.
I can’t remember which song it was though it might well have been Tom Paxton’s, ‘The Last Thing On My Mind’ or Joni Mitchell’s ‘Circle Game’ or another late sixties post folk revival classic but the main thing was the song stopped me in my tracks and it was another event which made me want to get my name in brackets.
On this week’s Nashville Special (Part 2) we explore the songs and the songwriters. Such is the potency of the former in Music City that it is estimated up to 30,000 of them live in the city. Such is the influence of the latter that you’ll find them credited at the end of each Music promo shown on CMT – a credit unimagined in the world of pop, rock and R ’n’ B. I’ve said it before but if you want to give Nashville capital status for anything it may well be the centre of the Country world but it is also the world centre of songwriting. A couple of years ago Beth Nielson Chapman told the story of her astronomy project in which she collaborated with one of the scientists who also happened to be…yes, a songwriter. On our walking tour of the city Bill Demain shared a great story of how Conway Twitter escaped jail for tax fraud by a judge who also happened to be…a song writer.
This week we meet the songwriters: Liz Rose the woman who ‘discovered’ Taylor Swift and along with the Love-Junkies, Lori McKenna and Hilary Lindsey brought us Girl Crush, Shane McAnally whose recent hits include Sam Hunt, Musgraves, Sheryl Crow and Kenny Chesney.
We will also take you inside the Bluebird Cafe and meet the women behind the songwriters’ showcase venue of choice. We’ll hear the story of how Nashville the soap is changing the fortune of songwriters from the executive producer, Mr Buddy Miller.
Finally I want toe explain that we are devastated at the news of Merle Haggard’s death. We want to take time to pay respects to Merle properly and we will certainly be doing that next week when I’ll talk more about his incredible career in this blog. Join me this Tuesday evening if you can from 9 on BBC Radio Scotland.
I’m in Nashville with my friend Richard and we’re having a ball.
On Monday we went round to his friend Buddy’s house. Buddy has a studio in his living room and records top TV stars as well as big soul acts like Solomon Burke – I think even you might have heard from him.
You’ll be pleased to know that we also went to church. It’s right in the centre of town and it holds thousands of folk. It’s called The Mother Church of Country Music and we got our picture taken on the very spot where Mr Williams was asked to return 6 times. The people in the church seemed to like Mr Williams but the elders at the church apparently asked him to leave as he was behaving badly.
Later we had a walk down a street called Music Row. We bumped into a very nice lady called Ms Connie Smith who showed us round an old studio called RCA Studio B. It seems Elvis Presley (I think you’ve heard of him) made all his records there and it’s just along the row from RCA Studio A where Mr Chet Atkins recorded lots of records along with Owen Bradley. The Bradleys had us round for tea too and told us stories of how Patsy Cline made the song Crazy with the help of Owen’s brother Harold, who played the guitar he told us.
We’ve had some great food too and Richard has taken his crazy microphones round everywhere and recorded everything. He’s also taken pictures of all the folk we met and he says he’s going to post them on Facebook. Here he is buying a T Shirt or too at The Bluebird cafe…. ( He said it was for a friend)
Before we left Richard took us to a real record studio called Third Man Records. There they make the records upstairs with real musicians and record them too. They put them onto vinyl records then send them out all across the world from their warehouse downstairs. Richard said he saw the man who runs the whole place, Jack, going into his office there. Everyone had to wear a uniform and we heard a band playing very loudly in the front store before he had to leave. Richard says that all the music that’s made in Nashville is not country music…I don’t think you would have liked this group.
You’ll be pleased to know we took a picture of the statue of Dr Billy Graham which stands downtown. I think Richard might put that photograph up on his Facebook too.
Richard says he’s going to put all of our adventures into a Radio Programme for the good folk who listen to Another Country. It seems that will be on air this Tuesday and next week too. You’ll need to tune your gramophone.
Looking forward to coming home and eating some real food like mince and potatoes.
All year round I present a weekly program called Another Country which goes out every Tuesday evening at 8 p.m. You can find the show on BBC Radio Scotland.
Occasionally you'll find me on BBC Radio 2 with my New Tradition.
I also make special programs about artists whose music has inspired me; Ricky Ross Meets... is on BBC Radio Scotland.
You can listen to previous versions of all these shows via BBC Sounds.