Nashville’s Music Row hosts the hopes and dreams of thousands of young musicians. The major record companies, publishers and management announce any new successes with freshly printed banners on their offices on 16th or 17th Avenues. Some bands stick to the age old guerilla marketing techniques.
What are you up to? I have avoided that question on Facebook as it’s part of the same mindless prompting that gives us Radio DJ’s asking us to text in and tell us what we’re doing. However………..as I write I can tell you that right now as I sit on a sofa as I write this blog and I’m listening to Ike and Tina Turner singing You’re Up To Something and I’ve just had a Buck Owens day!
OK I’ll confess- I’m in Nashville Tennesse – and, as the jet lag finally wears off I’m getting really edgy and staying up till after 11 o’clock.
In actual fact this is NOT a late town. I remember being here the first time and having a meal with a friend and I kept wondering why the waiter in the Thai restaurant was hovering over our table. Then I looked round and found that at about 10.20 we were the last customers in the place and he was trying to close up. Whatever mayhem The Outlaws got up to in the seventies must have happened elsewhere or it would have been all over very early on any given evening.
I’m staying downtown so I decided to check out some tourist type things. This is something I’ve never done here before so it’s been very interesting to see what you would do if you were here on holiday. Saturday morning felt an ideal time to see The Hank Williams family exhibition at the Hall of Fame. Good though this was I couldn’t help but feel that the Williams family was trying to convince us that the Hank Junior and Hank III were right up there in the talent stakes with the old man. I will admit there’s much about country I don’t know but I do know this much – Hank Williams was one of the greatest song writers of the last century and his offspring will have to go a long way as songwriters before they enter that league.
Talking about famous offspring; John R Cash cut a lonely figure in the souvenir shop signing copies of his new children’s book. When I last checked he was making polite conversation with the souvenir shop woman.
Upstairs in the general country music exhibition they have an interactive song writers feature. There are six song writers who share their tips and stories. I was glad to find I’d worked with one of them (Gary Burr) and was about to meet another (Matraca Berg) when she comes in to sing with Gretchen Peters and Suzy Boguss on Tuesday.
It’s been raining here off and on all week. I went out tonight to Mt Juliet to see my good friend Mr Tom Jutz for a catch up on the gossip and a song writing session. Tom has just produced the new Nanci Griffith album which is set for a June 9th release. We’ll
hope to get Nanci in for a chat when we return in September. More later…..
Before I go any further I need to apologise for a little detail I got wrong. The Rodneys
found me out! Robert Earle Keen never lived in East Nashville…sorry folks, it won’t happen again! (or rather, it probably will as I am skating on a very thin piece of ice where a knowledge of Americana artists is concerned.)
Thanks to all of you who make this blog work. A big thank you to you for making me feel we’re doing something good with the show. We (my producer Richard Murdoch and myself) love doing it, but it’s good to know you are enjoying it too.
I was very nervous last week as I had a date with destiny. On Friday morning I was to meet Lyle Lovett at the BBC for a quick interview for the show. I was to be in London and so was he…so what could be simpler? The trouble is I am not a regular radio type and I’ve been on the wrong side of so many ghastly interviews that I am painfully aware of how wrong they can go. I’m also aware how intolerable I have been over the years when I’ve been at the other side of the questions. (if anyone who has interviewed me between the years 87 – 94 is reading this, please forgive me. I was young(er) and stupid.) So last Friday on a morning I walked through Hyde Park enjoying the sunshine but dreading the meeting with LL as much as young Bertie Wooster would dread an appointment with his Aunt Agatha. What if he’s as serious as he looks? What if, like The Rodneys, Lyle finds me out?
Well, maybe he did…but if he did he never let on. What a lovely man. Polite, generous and a true professional. the best moment of the day was when we thought a microphone wasn’t working. Lyle looked down at a small box on the desk, hit a button and hey presto the mic was open. It’s one thing answering the questions; it’s another when you can trouble shoot a BBC self-op studio!
In the first hour of the show we will broadcast a Devon Sproule session she came in to record a couple of weeks back. Coming back from a shopping trip to buy my wee boy a new football tonight we listened to Get It On. Bryan was fielding some requests for him to play Lyle Lovett and he kindly trailed my show. He mentioned that on Devon Sproule’s previous visit to BBC Scotland she’s made such a big impression that everybody involved immediately fell in love with her. I have to say that she made a similar impression with us. You can experience the magic for yourself on Tuesday night at 8.
Next week will be the last Another Country for a few months – don’t worry we’ll be back in time to coincide with the Americana Awards. Just to make the last night special I’m going to be in Nashville and hope to bring you all the news from Music Row + some very special live guests.
My brother in law put the band together. They had decided to play a lot of alt country covers and, in keeping with that, they decided to call themselves Keen. This, as you can no doubt surmise from the spelling, was not a tribute to the box to box midfielder of the fey south coast piano balladeers. It was a doffed hat to the East Nashville troubadour, Robert Earle Keen – an artist the band admired. However, no sooner had they started to hit the south Glasgow alt country scene in anger than the fey south-coast- balladeering-priory checking-in popstars got big and Keen decided that they were no longer quite so keen to be Keen – if you know what I mean.
They changed their name to The Rodneys. This, they explained, was a simple debt of gratitude to Rodney Crowell who had sung, written and produced most of the records they’d loved and admired over the last 30 years. On Tuesday night’s Another Country you can hear what happened when I imparted this information to the man himself as well as hearing him sing and play in the intimate surroundings of a tiny BBC studio. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
What else? Well we have a very interesting unsung album which is not unconnected to our main guest. We have some great old music from The Judds, Glen Campbell and Bonnie Raitt and new music from Ben Kweller and Eilen Jewell. Hey, and there’s a lot more besides.
One of the nice things about doing Another Country is that my post box contains CDs as well as bills. On Saturday it brought the new album from Bonnie Prince Billy. My first ‘task’ on Monday morning was to drive to Cafe Gandolfi to meet the singer/ song writer I would be working with over the first part of this week. As I drove through the Gorbals listening to Bonnie Prince Billy I reflected on how fortunate I was to consider this as part of my working week. When I got to the cafe to meet Ben I was even more pleased to discovered he too was a fan of the Prince. It’s a really strong album which is also the most immediate of any of his records so far. I suspect there is much to play over the next few weeks. Will we get it all in? I very much doubt it.
In the meantime I thought I would also share some music from these shores which has been slightly overlooked. In case you missed any of these records I suggest you go back and check them out. We don’t really have a remit to play these tracks on Another Country so we’d have to create a special show themed around ‘music-which-we-think-should-be-on Another Country-but-technically-comes-from-yet-another-country. Catchy huh?
These three albums might get you talking. Feel free to add some more.
Stephen Fretwell – Magpie, Scott Matthews – Passing Strangers and Phantom Limb by Phantom Limb.
A story in the Guardian last week points to the likelihood of a new Bob Dylan album. I don’t have a title yet – I’m sure some of you do – but the album contains some “raw-country love songs.” Sounds right up our street.
If this news had come 20 years ago I would have expressed only mild interest. But it comes on the back of a trilogy of albums which have shown a greater creative consistency than any run of albums by Bob Dylan since the mid sixties. There’s two great things about this: Firstly we get the sense of an artist late in life gathering all the critical faculties that made him great and turning his attention to what is round about him. We’re all going to be Bob’s age sooner or later so it’s good to know how that might feel. Secondly it gets the sixties folk-bores off his case. There’s nothing quite as unpleasant as a folk nazi. You can see them in the Martin Scorsese documentary, No Direction Home and you have to feel sorry for whoever has to share their small lives. I suppose some of these people thought that Dylan was theirs and that’s always a fundamental error where he is concerned.
The joy of Bob has been his resolute refusal to join any club and whenever he became close to one he managed to cause enough offence to make sure he’s never be invited back. I remember with some surprise his billing on Live Aid. I never stayed up long enough to watch it but heard the next morning from a pal who was a big fan how he’d given a dreadful performance and mumbled something about hoping some of the money would go to the (U.S.) farmers! There is that great footage from the Rolling Thunder Revue when Bob had clearly persuaded the entire cast to wear Arabian head apparel and one or two had clearly began to wonder why they’d ever agreed to the gig in the first place. Freeze frame Roger McGuin and you’ll get the picture. However my favourite story is one I gleaned from the inside. Don Einnar was in charge of Colmbia Records in New York while we we were nominally signed to the label. One day I went in for a meeting and, bullish and threatening as Don could be, he always gave the impression of someone who loved music. He was sitting listening to the new Bob Dylan album. He told me he was really proud because he thought that Bob might just have listened to what he’d had to say. He may have been right. According to Einnar he had suggested to Dylan that the next record should be a stripped down affair; guitar and vocals and little else. Almost a return to the early sixties. Dylan had given him the look all record execs know will come their way. The one that says ‘and remind me again how much you know about music?” If that wasn’t bad enough he sneered back at Einnar, “Yeah, and who’s going to write the songs? Springsteen?”
Don wasn’t hopeful that any fruit would come of the conversation but lo and behold within the year he was delivered a new Bob Dylan album called “Good As I Been To You” part one of a two record set which saw Bob cover songs from the folk and blues tradition. It was if, hearing himself do these songs he realised how great Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry and John Lee Hooker were in their later years and saw himself as an honourable companion in that great tradition.
Whatever happened we now know what came next: Time Out Of Mind, Love and Theft and Modern Times. Don’t be too surprised if the next album throws us a curve ball.
I’ll be back on Tuesday with a whole selection of raw-country love songs, an MWard interview a great sixties unsung album and some familiar things we’ve all probably forgotten about; let me just say the word “Dixie” and you can all use your imaginations.See you at 8.
Thanks for comments and info during the show last night. Norrie sent me that photograph. Gosh, it would make Madonna blush.
We’ve got a great interview from Mark Hamilton from Woodpigeon who explains everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the West Lothian Bus Service. We have an Unsung album so good and so obscure that you’ll have to listen to the show because there’s no chance of finding it in the shops. (shops?)
We have new music from The Gaslight Anthem who’ve gone from New Jersey obscurity to a date opening for Brooooooce in Hyde Park this summer. All that and, if that isn’t enough, we’ll stop in Oregon and stretch our legs a little. See you Tuesday at 8.
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.