Jackson Taylor: Raw, Honest & Uncensored
An Interview by Vinny Smith
I stopped making New Year’s resolutions a couple of decades ago because I always picked the wrong ones and I always failed. This time, though, as 2010 rolled into 2011, I decided I was going to pick the right one and follow through no matter what. Regrettably, I never got to see Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash or Buck Owens play live, so for me following through meant getting to see the rest of my honky tonk heroes play live and hopefully getting to meet them. I was not, however, going to accomplish that by waiting and hoping for them to come to play in California where I live so in mid-April I got on a plane and headed for Texas.
If you’re looking for a wild honky tonk ride that is part Jennings, part Cash, part Jones and part Social Distortion that hits you square in the face then Jackson Taylor and his band The Sinners aren’t just your cup of tea, they’re your bottle of Jack.
Jackson has lived damn near everywhere in America but make no mistake, this is a Texas band through and through. He’s one of those guys who does exactly what he wants with no apologies even though sometimes it can come with a steep price. All of it makes for great material from which to write authentic songs. Whether they’re about women, whiskey, cocaine, politics or the music business, when Jackson Taylor sings it, you believe it because you know he’s been there and lived it.
I went to see his show at a dancehall in Fort Worth called The Horseman. We had been trading emails about doing this interview and just when it looked like the timing might not work out, I ran into him after his sound check and he invited me up to his hotel room to chat before the show. So among several of his friends and band members who were hanging out shooting the shit and having a few laughs he offered me up a shot of Jack Daniels and the interview was off and running.
VinnySmith--What were you after when you lived in New York and L.A.?
JacksonTaylor--Drugs and pussy to be honest with you. I drank a lot, did a lot of dope, chased a lot of chicks.
VS--So you went to play music then?
JT--No, when I went to New York, I went there to be a poet. I was going to go there and drink a lot and write poetry. I was going to be the east coast Charles Bukowski. I’m too good-looking to be Bukowski, though. You have to be a certain kind of ugly. Do you read Bukowski at all?
JT--Aw man, he’s a California guy like you. He’s THE west coast poet.
VS--That’s what’s great about interviewing people, they throw out names and then I can go check out what they’re talking about and maybe learn some new things.
JT--Charles Bukowski is amazing.
VS--So what were you doing in L.A.?
JT--I went out there to play music. I was killing myself in New York, so I moved out to L.A. but it was about the same thing, I was drinking and partying hard. A lot of people dump on California, but I really like it. I really liked Los Angeles.
VS--Any chance you’ll move back there?
JT--No, I wouldn’t move back unless I made enough money where I could move to Northern California and have a vineyard, eat cheese and drink wine all day. I’d like to move to Lake Shasta and live on a boat like Merle Haggard.
VS--What about the Nashville years?
JT--I had a couple of publishing deals in Nashville. I wrote for Dewayne Blackwell (Garth Brooks, The Dance) and Rich Fagan and Tom Oteri at Of Music (Hank Jr., George Jones) from 1997 to 1999 but I never had any cuts. I liked Nashville a lot. People get the wrong idea because of my song, “Country Song,”
This ain’t no country song/about your fucking pickup trucks and your grandpappy’s farm/This ain't no Nashville scene/I ain't no spikey-haired, half-assed pop star wannabe.
but it’s really that I never cared for manufactured music of any kind. That’s why I like punk music so much because punk music for the most part, in it’s rawest form, is honest, even if it’s bad, at least it’s honest. That’s the way country music used to be. Now it’s fucking teenage girl music.
VS--How do your record sales do?
JT--Compared to what?
VS--Are they satisfactory to your record label?
JT--I’m able to keep making records.
VS--About one a year it seems like.
JT--Yeah, yeah. It’s never been about being rich and famous, it’s been about going into the studio and making something that I want to make and then going out to play. Sure I’d like to have more money like anybody would but that’s not what I got into the game for. Anything over making a living is gravy.
VS--I noticed that there’s a link for Great American Country (GAC) on your website. Have they ever played any of your videos?
JT--They played Outlaw Women. I don’t watch so I never saw it but people told me they saw it.
VS--You’ve had the same guy, Kyle Harbaugh, make your last three videos. How did you get hooked up with him?
JT--I was living in Kansas City and he‘s in Kansas City. He’d done a video for a buddy of mine. The price was right and he does really good stuff.
VS--You never had steel guitar in your music until recently. What made you add steel to the mix?
JT--We did a show with Jamey Johnson and his steel player, Cowboy Eddie Long, used to play for Hank Jr. so I was real excited about meeting him. He came up to us and told us how much he really loved our show and how different we were and how he thought the steel would really compliment it. I never cared that much for steel. I liked old steel like Ralph Mooney and Buck Owens stuff but steel guitar has become such a fucking bitch background like organ music. But then I met Dan (Johnson) and decided to try it. It made such a huge difference. I can’t believe I hadn’t had it the whole time.
VS--Well if there’s a guy to have playing for you, he’s the one. He does shit with that thing that I’ve never seen done.
JT--He’s the coolest steel player I know.
VS--At the end of “Country Song” the line goes, “What the fuck is a honky tonk badonkadonk anyway?” which happens to be a song written by Jamey Johnson. What does he think of that line?
JT--No idea. He didn’t come out and talk to us at either show we did with him.
VS--For the most part you get pretty good reviews from critics.
JT--Yeah, people, I think, who are really into music and take the time to listen to the words seem to get us. We’re just not big with the teenage girl crowd, you know.
VS--You have a deeper message too. It seems like a lot of your music is pro-America but anti-government. Is that about right?
JT--Yeah, yeah, that’s exactly what it is. I’m very pro-America, what it was founded on, what it stood for, what America values--I’ve always been--but I hate government.
VS--What kind of response do you get to that message?
JT--It goes both ways. There are a lot of people that hate what I say, especially the liberal crowd and the fucking communists. They don’t get it at all, they find everything I say offensive. I’m very critical of Barack Hussein Obama, you know, I can’t stand that guy. I think he’s the most detrimental thing to our country. He’s four times worse than George Bush, but there are so many blind people.
VS--So on the political spectrum you fall more conservative.
JT--Well, socially, I’m liberal. I’m okay with gay marriage. It’s not so much that I’m for it but I think gay people have as much right to be miserable as married people. I’m pro-death penalty but I’m pro-life when it comes to abortion. I don’t think the government should be funding abortions and shit like that. I never understood how people who are pro-choice could be anti-death penalty. It’s okay to kill babies but not a guy who rapes babies?
VS--I never really thought about it that way, but it’s true.
JT--So I’m extremely socially liberal but politically I’m very conservative. I think the government should have no say where privacy is concerned. I think they should be there only for the military and to protect the borders. State policy should be state policy and the federal government should stay out of it.
VS--I think that’s one of the reasons I identify so much with your music is because I have very similar beliefs.
JT--It’s just me and you, just the two of us.
VS--Tell me about your time in the military.
JT--I loved being in the military, all I ever wanted to be was an Army Ranger. I loved the military but I was kicked out. I was one of those guys where I was deployed and came back and my wife had split with my kid. I came back to Fort Bragg in North Carolina and everything was gone.
JT--I went nuts, man, because my little boy was everything to me, they’re still everything to me. So I went fucking insane, very violent, very drunk, very out of my fucking mind and that kind of lasted until about six weeks ago.
JT--Yeah, but I was very proud to be in the military. I hate that I was kicked out.
VS--Where were you deployed to?
JT--You name it. All over South America, all over the place.
VS--So you live in Colorado now?
JT--Actually I live in Oklahoma City but my wife and son live in Colorado. We’re trying to work things out so I’ll be moving back to Colorado pretty quick.
VS--You named one of your kids Waylon?
JT--I have a son named Waylon but my youngest boy with her is named Gattlon Gun.
JT--Gattlon Gun Diego Taylor.
VS--No shit? That’s cool.
JT--He’s a little something else. I want to have another son and name him Machine Gun but my wife is not into that.
VS--Does your music carry any weight with the kids?
JT--(Laughs) I don’t think it carries much weight. My oldest son, Jack, I think he thinks it’s kind of cool now, he watches our videos and he says his friends like it. My middle son doesn’t talk too much about it. It’s not like we’re Toby Keith famous, we’re a pretty underground, niche kind of band.
VS--I think that’s about it. Anything else you want to throw out there?
A Band Member interjects:
BM--Yeah, I’d like to say a few words. Next time he comes out can you put “the return of Satan” on there?
JT--(Laughs) We went to Italy and I went buck wild. We go there and they had these big posters that said, “The Outlaw Is Coming.” I went buck fucking wild crazy so when we went back some magazine printed “The Devil Returns.” It was like El degenerate-tay alcoholic-ay, like all these fucking words that were bad…
JT--So we went and got these Satanic shirts made, the Hell Follows shirts. They sold out so quick. It’s got a pentagram with a goat’s head with two fucking horns and a 666 and upside down crosses everywhere and it says “Los Sinners Hell Follows.” They’re badass, they’re my favorite shirts.
VS--I need to get one of those. Anything else?
JT--Yeah, God bless Waylon Jennings and fuck Barack Hussein Obama.
For more info: www.jacksontaylorband.com/index.html
Our Kind of Music is His Ray-ality
A New Interview with Ray Scott by Vinny Smith
I first became aware of North Carolina born and bred Ray Scott in 2005 while on vacation in New Mexico. I was flipping the TV channels and came across Ray’s video for My Kind of Music on Great American Country. After a few years of suffering through a lot of pop country here finally was something that made me hopeful that the record companies were finally wising up and putting out real country music again. I looked forward to hearing a lot more. But then I didn’t.
Flash forward to 2010 and I’m on a buying spree for HonkyTonkJunkie.com when I discover a second record by Ray that was as “junkie-worthy” as the first. I thought it was great that a record company had done right by Ray. Then I found out the truth which explained why I never heard anything after that first single—he had been dropped by the label. Ray, however, showing the persistence and perseverance of a true southern man, actually released his second record Crazy Like Me on his own in 2008 and is now prepping for the release of his third.
I recently contacted Ray through Facebook and arranged to talk with him by phone from his home in Nashville to discuss the new record and a multitude of other things.
VS—Do you have any plans to come out with some new music soon?
RS—Actually I just made a new record. I just sent a single, Those Jeans, out to some people who have been playing it and it’s been lighting the phones up. So yeah, I literally just finished mixing this a couple of weeks ago and it’s probably my best one yet and I’m real excited about getting it out there.
VS—Does it have a title yet?
RS—It’s called Ray-ality
VS—When do you expect it to hit the streets?
RS—There’s not an official release date right now, there are a few legal things I’m trying to tie up. I’m going to estimate that it’s probably a couple of months away.
VS—Did you do all the writing on this record as well?
RS—I did. That’s pretty much the way I work. It’s hard for me to record other people’s material, I don’t think I really do a good job of it.
VS—Are you still with a publisher?
RS—Honestly, my publisher that I was with is in default right now because the investor got locked up by the FBI. So basically my deal is officially done with them because of the default. I did initially take a publishing deal and I was just kind of hunkered down writing for the most part for a while. We went out and played a little the last year or two, though nowhere near the amount that I had been before that.
VS—Do you employ a regular band or have some core people you call up when you need them?
RS—That’s kind of the deal. My regular band—some of those guys had to go elsewhere. When I left Warner Bros., I sort of backed off a little bit and regrouped. For some of those guys, playing is pretty much what they do for a living so they had to go and seek out work, obviously everybody understood that. I still play with those guys from time to time but that’s the great thing about Nashville, there are thousands and thousands of great musicians here. You can pick the phone up and hire anybody you want to go out with you depending on who’s available.
VS—You write all of your own songs but when you write for a publisher generally you write songs that will be pitched to other artists. Do you approach the two differently?
RS—I just write. I guess, at least subconsciously, everything is written maybe for myself just because coming from that artistic standpoint it’s hard to think any other way because it’s all so connected. I’ve never really sat down with someone else in mind to try and write a song. Anytime I’ve really tried to contrive something in that manner it never really comes out as something I’m excited about. Sometimes I’ll write or co write and then maybe I’ll realize maybe this is something that will work well for someone else. There’s a lot of songs I write that maybe only I would do but I think there is a handful of them out there too that are a little more universal as far as other vocalists go. I’m tickled to death to have anyone else want to record one of my songs, that’s a rewarding thing. I love doing it myself but to hear someone else do a song is a really neat thing too.
VS—Do you do any other kind of writing?
RS—I’ve done a little bit here and there—poetry and short story type stuff—but nothing I’ve really set out to do. I’ll come up with a story and scribble stuff here and there and sometimes they just end up what they are. I’ve written things before that I first considered songs but then realized later that, they probably weren’t songs but were just short stories or long poems, if you will. It’s a creative outlet, it flows the way it flows. Sometimes I have a guitar in my hand, sometimes I don’t.
VS—Do you make time to write or do you just do it when you get an idea you’re excited about?
RS—It’s a little bit of both. I do sit down when the mood strikes me and honestly, ideas hit me at the strangest times and what I’ve learned to do over the years is to make sure I’ve got something to write with and write on nearby at all times. I’ve got one of those little hand-held digital recorders that I can maybe sing a melody into or if I don’t have something to write on, talk a lyric into just so I can remember it. A lot of times when I’m in town I sort of become a morning person and I’m up by, say, 7 am and I’ll get jacked up on coffee and have a couple of good hours where my mind is spinning like crazy and I’ll do some writing sometimes. Sometimes it’s not productive but a lot of times it’s going to be and you either write the whole song or you write a little piece of something and I’ll revisit it a week later and realize that it wasn’t any good or you might write what you think is your best song ever, you never know. That’s what’s so fun about it, you know. You have times in your life where you write something you think is good and you finish your album and you’ll be sitting around after that with writers block and in the back of your head you wonder if that’s as good as it gets, if you’re done. Then all of a sudden one day the stuff will just start pouring out, it’s such a cool, subconscious thing. I just try and harness it when it comes and I’m glad when it does because I definitely don’t know how to make it happen.
VS—Are you pursuing either another publishing or record deal?
RS—I’m always open to that and there are a couple of publishers I’ve talked to recently. I would love to still have an opportunity for a reputable publisher to pitch some of my songs and maybe get someone else to record them. For an artist like myself—I consider myself a very country artist—sometimes I’ll go a little bit left of middle, for lack of a better description, so it’s a little more challenging sometimes for me. I’m such a loner with it too especially after my experience with Warner Bros. I realized I don’t really need an A & R staff getting in my way, so to speak. I mean, I’m not a young artist who needs songs and needs to figure out who he is. That’s where A & R comes in, they help the artist become what they are, they help them improve and everything else. That’s not to say I don’t need improvement but I have a little more of a hold on who I am and what I want to write about and sing about and at the end of the day I think an A & R person for me is someone who really believes in what I’m doing and can maybe help me pick from my songs what really makes the best overall project. When I was at Warner they were out there looking for songs from other people for me to record because they assumed that that was what it was going to take; to go get the guy with the latest hit and get him to write a song for me too. That just wasn’t the case and it turned into a pretty sour experience after a while and it got really frustrating. It’s live and learn.
VS—When you left the label, was your second record ready for them?
RS—We had fourteen or fifteen tracks recorded for the second record. It hadn’t been mastered yet but for all intents and purposes as far as myself and the producer went, we were done. It had been turned in and had been one of those things where they were trying to figure out what the first single should have been. We had ideas about what it should have been but I think the head of promotions there was just scared to death that no matter what I brought him it wasn’t going to be the right thing and he was really scared to stick his neck out there. They all want to keep their jobs and I don’t blame them, they’ve all got families. I was a little bit of a risky artist at that point because my first single, even though it sold a lot of records for me, it only went to #36 and it was a very polarized song. We knew ahead of time that it would be that way but we took a chance on it because we realized that the polarizing songs like that usually are the ones that really set people apart and make them know your name and I think it both helped me and hurt me. Radio in some areas was a little iffy because they didn’t want to play that song. The approach to promotion with radio from the get-go wasn’t right at Warner. They didn’t send me out to radio and have me meet anybody up front—that’s kind of the way they do things—but they didn’t with me. They were determined to break me via the internet and almost say the hell with radio, we’ll do it without them. The guy in charge was a new guy from California and I don’t think he realized how important country radio was in the equation. Well he might have realized it but I think he was trying to prove you could do it without them so I was like a guinea pig in that situation.
VS--They must have thought it was somewhat successful, they did let you record a second record.
RS--They did get a lot of the people who were into the music and were glad to hear something different for a change and I in turn sold over 100,000 records based on no more radio success than that so that in itself is a success story. So they knew they had something with it so we had to figure out how to proceed and I think that’s where they started getting a little nervous and no matter what I brought them, it wasn’t right or whatever. I think they were just trying to take the safe road and were trying to find that perfect safe song from somebody else out there that would make me a hit on the radio and that just wasn’t the path that I was comfortable with taking. I have attempted to record a couple of people’s songs along the way that I’ve liked but I realized that just wasn’t something that I was cut out to do. So after all that, I didn’t actually get released from Warner until Scott Hendricks came in about three years ago and at that point I was ready to go. The worst thing about that whole experience is that it ties up so much of your time; you’re stuck in this holding pattern. Creatively, it’s very stifling. I got to a point where I couldn’t even really write because it seemed like no matter what I did, it wasn’t going to be anything I liked. It’s hard to be in that head space and do anything decent. So it just took getting out of there and getting away from that experience and lick my wounds a little bit and kind of getting back to the old Ray that was excited about doing music in the first place. In the meantime I released an album called, Crazy Like Me, that was kind of a compilation of some old bedroom demos and whatnot. Some of the songs on Crazy Like Me were songs that the A & R people at Warner had passed on as far as wanting me to record for that second project. A lot of the songs that I did record for that second project I still love but Warner owns the rights to and I can’t really use those just yet.
VS—So Crazy Like Me isn’t the record that was ready for Warner, it was a completely different project?
RS—Completely different. I released it on my own label called Jethropolitan Records a couple years ago. It did really well and got no promotion, it was just because I released it and was out on tour; people bought it online, people who were in the know about it.
VS—What are some of the challenges of going it alone without label support?
RS—In the country music business, everything is based on having something going on the radio. I get people calling me from all over the country wanting me to come and play a show in their town but they can’t offer me enough money to even be able to afford to bring my band and do it. Now if I had a hit on the radio it would be a different situation. A lot of the fans don’t understand the way the business works they just get frustrated because I can’t come. A lot of times I wish the business model would change and they would be more open to bringing some people out that don’t have a hit on the radio but that they know people like. One thing that’s been great about the internet is I’ve been able to get a lot of music to folks out there that were hungry for it that I wouldn’t have been able to get to a few years ago and that’s a great thing. Hell, I met you through Facebook.
VS—I wanted to ask you about a couple of special gigs you’ve done in the past. You played the Cliffie Stone award ceremony for recipient, Waylon Jennings. He’s one of your heroes. That must have been pretty cool.
RS—That was great. Anytime I’ve been associated with anything like that is cool. People recognize that I come from that same school—people like myself and Jamey Johnson. So yeah, that’s a really cool thing. I think I’ve always kind of had that association—maybe I remind some people of Waylon in a way on songs sometimes. I also got to perform a couple of Johnny Cash songs at the Musicians Hall of Fame induction ceremony for the Tennessee Two. I got up there and played Ring of Fire and Folsom Prison Blues with Marshall Grant and John Carter. It was just a really cool thing.
VS—How do you set something like that up? Did they just come to you out of the blue?
RS—It was a situation where, I don’t know if they were aware of me at first, but they needed somebody to do those songs and I think they probably got in touch with the Opry and maybe had them make a recommendation. I think since I played the Opry quite a few they though I could probably do those songs pretty well. They looked me up literally the day of the show and asked not only if I could do the show that night but if I could come down and rehearse that afternoon. I said absolutely.
VS—And you said you’ve played the Grand Ole Opry a bunch of times also?
RS—Over forty times now. It’s a great, great thing. It’s the mother church of country music and it’s just neat to be in there and to be embraced and accepted by all the old stalwarts there.
VS—I see you’re pretty active with charitable functions, bike rides and such.
RS—I’ve done things for autism, cancer research, things like that. When it comes to charity stuff, I’m pretty much your huckleberry. I think one of the great things about being an artist or anybody in a position of recognition is being able to lend your time for a worthy cause. It’s like a thank you gesture for being able to do what we do.
VS—Whose music do you like these days? You mentioned Jamey Johnson before.
RS—Yeah, like I said, I like Jamey a lot. Randy Hauser is great. I like Miranda Lambert a lot, she’s as real as it gets. There’s a band coming out soon called The Dirt Drifters that I like a lot too. They’re some guys I’ve known for a few years. Those boys kind of grew up the way I did on the real country music stuff. I think they are somebody you’ll be hearing about, hopefully in the near future.
VS—Any closing thoughts?
RS—Anybody that wants to get involved, I’d appreciate you calling your local radio station and requesting Those Jeans. It’s lighting the phones up but we need everybody’s help. And thanks for listening and the support and doing what they can do to get access to the music and we’ll let everyone know the release date on Ray-ality as soon as we can.
Country Meets Western at the Junction
By Vinny Smith
I usually spend endless hours searching for music by surfing various websites but I became aware of Red Eye Junction’s music a different way—it found me. Actually, the founder of Red Eye Junction, Reid Cain, found me early last year and sent me a copy of their second CD, In the Shadows. I was pleasantly surprised by both the unique sound and by the quality of the songwriting. There are so many artists that I play on HonkyTonkJunkie.com that I never get to see live but when I found out that Red Eye Junction was based in San Luis Obispo, just 100 miles north of where I live in Los Angeles, I knew the chances were pretty good that I was going to get to see them play in person at some point.
That point came several months later when REJ sent me an email saying that they were playing the Americana Brunch at the Redwood Bar, one of my favorite L.A. hangouts. Needless to say, they did not disappoint. Recently, upon the release of their third CD, Better Days, Reid Cain and I sat down for a phone conversation to talk about that project as well as the challenges and benefits of being a Country and Western band from the central California coast.
VINNY SMITH—I know you grew up in Colorado, but how long have you been in California?
REID CAIN—I moved to California when I was about 22. I was born and raised in a town called Carbondale Colorado, about 40 miles 'down valley' Aspen. I moved to Denver for college then moved around a little bit, traveled a bit then moved out to Oakland, California for 8 years or so. I moved to San Luis Obispo six years ago.
VS—What brought you down to San Luis Obispo?
RC—I was going to finish my degree in Architecture at Cal Poly and I really like the fact that SLO was close to the ocean as I am into surfing longboard. I got into surfing while I was up in the Bay Area. I was really tired of living in the city and my friend and I would take trips over the bridge to try and catch waves every chance we had. I wanted to move to a smaller place that had some surf so I came down here, checked this place out and surfed a couple of the spots. I really fell in love with the area, so I moved. My first time surfing here I nearly died at a reef spot in North of Pismo, tore my wetsuit and cracked a rib on the reef. It’s still one of my favorite spots here now that I know the reef.
VS—Were you playing music back in Colorado?
RC—I’d been playing music but I never took it too serious until this band. Mostly I’d been playing punk rock but I would always get kicked out of the band pretty quick.
VS—Why is that?
RC—I don’t know what the deal is. I never started the bands, I would just join in and I think I was always pushing for my ideas and that can be annoying with a 23-year-old punk A-type in your group. Usually they were drunker or more messed up than I was, I would take it more seriously than they were ready for. Now I’ve always loved country music. When I was in Oakland, I was always trying to start a country band but nobody ever wanted to play country music. All my friends were punk rockers and just try and find one that wants to play serious country music. In fact I still find that to be a problem. People want to play crossover punk stuff, rockabilly or psychobilly, but I like the traditional stuff from the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s. It’s really hard to find people who want to play music without swearing up a storm, or without a punk edge, or that gimmick joke stuff. I’m not into that. I like punk rock and I like country but I don’t really like mixing them so much, it’s not really my thing.
VS—That’s really interesting because I have seen a lot more of that lately. And I see a lot of people who have a punk background doing country. Why do you think that is?
RC—I can’t figure it out, I’ve been thinking about that for years. I think it’s maybe the stories; even regular country music tells the same kind of stories as punk rock, just in a different fashion. I know a lot of old punk rockers that like country music though I haven't figured it out.
VS—I’m kind of fascinated by that phenomenon and it’s kind of hard to get an answer, though I see it all the time.
RC—I ask people all the time and no one really knows.
VS—Do you listen to punk just as much or is country your main thing?
RC—I haven’t bought a punk album in years. Mostly I listen to some older stuff out of L.A. from the 80's, like X, Bad Religion, The Avengers. I like a lot of the Bay Area stuff from the early 90's, The Filth, Blatz, The Swingin' Utters, and early Rancid. I was fortunate to see a ton of great bands while living in Oakland. The scene was great when I moved there, not so great when I left. Anymore I listen to both kinds of music, Country and Western.
VS—As you know, that’s a pretty broad category today. Give me some examples.
RC—I listen to a ton of Waylon Jennings, Ernest Tubb, Webb Pierce, Haggard, Buck Owens and a lot of the older guys but I can’t find a lot of new stuff anymore that is interesting. I listen to Dwight Yoakam a lot, but even that stuff is 20 years old.
VS—Does all that influence what you do?
RC—Our goal is to sound current, yet classic. What we’re trying to do is go where country music could have gone in the 70’s instead of going that direction of pop. I want to be like guys like Dwight Yoakam, who are traditional yet new and have a sound that’s interesting. If you listen to a lot of songs on his records, if he wasn’t singing them, they wouldn’t be a country song. That’s what I really like about guys like Dwight and Waylon. I like people who push the boundaries a little bit. There is so much stuff that’s so generic, you know, songs about a girl, songs about your hot rod, songs about getting wasted. Is that it? Is that all you got? That’s not really a song to me.
VS—I think you’ve achieved your goal. Your sound is definitely modern but your approach and message is classic and real.
RC—Hey thanks, that means a lot to me. You know, people can bad mouth guys like Alan Jackson and George Strait as Nashville knuckleheads but their sound is great, it’s identifiable as Country & Western music right away yet it doesn’t sound like 1950’s. Some of those new traditionalists, that stuff is so cool. But we play in a scene where if I were to say I was an Alan Jackson fan it’s almost like people might start throwing beers at me. I realize he’s a mainstream guy but the guy’s a legend.
VS—It might not be hip to utter Alan Jackson’s name but I guarantee you there are a lot of traditionalist-type people that have a lot of respect for him.
RC—I just wish George Strait wrote more of his own songs; that would make him a lot cooler. I mean, Alan Jackson writes a lot his own stuff. To me, that's killer.
VS—I took a real hard listen to your newest record, Better Days, and what I find interesting is that there isn’t a lot of humor, there are a couple songs that have some, but for the most part it’s serious and real and has a distinct sound.
RC—People like upbeat fun stuff and I do too, but every time I do a borderline joke song, I kind of kick myself about it. I listen to albums that are funny and they just kind of lose their appeal so quick. Once you hear the joke a few times, it’s done, there’s nothing left. Waylon and those guys, they took it serious and I take it serious. It’s a tradition of country music that’s a lot older than I am and it doesn’t seem like there are a lot of people really carrying on that flame that was started so long ago.
VS—Waylon is the one who did it for me back in the ‘70s and ‘80s. He’s always been my personal favorite and hero.
RC—Me too, man. He’s the one. My old man got me started on this stuff. He always had the radio set to the country station, this was in the late 70's and early 80's. He loves Johnny Cash and had a few of his records around the house all the time. I was just a kid and into the Top 40 junk. I think this was like 4th grade or so. Anyway, one day we were out hunting pheasant talking about father son stuff and he says to me, I'll never forget this, he says, “Someday you're going to have a job, hair on your balls and you're going to like country music.” I remember thinking NO WAY will that ever happen! Well here it is 25 years later and he got two out of three right! (Reid has been struggling to find work because of the economy.)
VS—I see you had a record label at one point?
RC—We were on Big Bender out of Colorado for a while, same label as the Railbenders. My brother still lives in Colorado and he turned me on to them. I like that they are legitimate country band, so I looked up their record label and signed a distribution deal with them for a year. For the new album I figured I would try and find something a bit more local, in California at least, though that hasn't happened. A label is not what it used to be. I come from the DIY punk rock ideal so it's no big deal to not have support in that area.
VS—So how do you handle distribution now?
RC—CD Baby is the business end for a lot of independent records and they’re kind of dominating the marketplace. It’s a pretty good service. You go one time to them then they put you on iTunes and all these places I would never have thought of, so they kind of work as the middleman. A lot of these bands, if you go on CD Baby, that’s pretty much their record label. They take a cut but hey, they get us all over the place. Places we would never think to have or would be a nightmare to manage.
VS—I’ve discovered a lot of music through CD Baby.
RC—Me too. I just ordered this kid from Texas today, Will Banister. It came up as an editor’s recommendation, it's great stuff!
VS—Do you purchase a lot of music?
RC—Before the economy died along with my career in architecture I used to buy quite a bit of music, though, mostly on vinyl. I’m still spinning records. A lot of that old stuff is not repressed and you can get about ten records for the price of a CD. I listen to a lot of internet radio; things like Rhapsody and some of the live365 stuff. I would buy more if I could afford it right now.
VS—Is it tough to promote a small independent band like Red Eye Junction?
RC—It's hard to promote this kind of music because it’s hard to find the people who like country music. People like us, we like real country music but you have to go out of your way to find it because it is just not available, it's not on the radio. People like me have given up on mainstream stuff. Everybody like us has given up on it. I’m like, it all sucks, I’m not going to listen to the radio, I’m going to put on this old Waylon record and rock it. You really have to work to find new good stuff, you can't just turn on the TV or radio.
VS—It’s quite the challenge to make and play good country music these days.
RC—People will say, I hate country music but I like you guys. I’m like, you hate what’s on the radio. You like country music, you just don’t know there is a difference. We’re a country band, it drives me crazy to have to quantify it all the time. We don't play Honky Tonk, we don’t play Americana, we don’t play Roots, we play Country and Western, there’s a whole proud tradition behind it. I say, country music, and people just change the channel. I say Honky Tonk they're like, “wow cool.” It’s rough. Thank you, Nashville.
VS—Have you ever been down to Nashville to check out the scene down there?
RC—No I haven’t, but my drummer on this last album is from Nashville. He says I should go down there and pitch songs. But you know, it’s probably such a long line and I don’t even know how to approach it. There’s like five people writing all the music coming out of Nashville. What I’m writing is country music and that’s not what they want. You know, if I write what I think is a great song, and it’s not about how sexy my tractor is, they’re not going to play it on the radio. I feel like I can write songs that would work on radio, but hey, they’re selling a hell of a lot of albums so what the hell do I know?
VS—At least you’re doing it with a clear conscience and it’s not all about the money and fame.
RC—Yeah, I don’t really believe any of that b.s. I see on TV anyway. They are all just pop stars made for TV. If Hank or George Jones were new artists today no one would give them a chance which is insane. Nashville would say they sing too weird, or they aren't good-looking enough. It’s just bullshit and what’s with those fake southern accents? I don’t really get that.
VS—I see you made a couple of music videos. Tell me about them.
RC—We like to tell stories and the videos are just an extension of that idea. The ones I want to do, that I have in mind are outside my ability to edit, coordinate or pay for. I just use iMovie so I can’t sync up any vocals or anything. I’m hoping to shoot some new ones myself here around town and then send them out to edit. Every time you cut a record you have to take the whole package to the next level. The music has to step up, the stage show has to step up and the videos should get better too. Everything’s got to go to the next level. The one I just cut for “A Little Wild,” just uses stock footage from this a public domain website. My friend David Vienna, he shot our first video, had made a public domain video that I thought was fun. I thought I could do one for REJ. I was searching to see which songs I could make work so I started typing in ideas from the songs. I typed in “Stripper” and all this stuff came up that I thought was perfect. So I just started building on that. It’s got this old western show with square dancing and whatever, a stripper and some anti-drinking footage from the 50's. Not my dream video but fun nonetheless. The band’s not in it but it worked out okay. A YouTube presence is pretty important to marketing the music.
VS—I’ve heard you mention painting before. Do you do that as well? You sound like an artist in every sense of the word.
RC—Originally, I went to art school in Colorado fresh out of high school. As it turned out I liked drinking beer more than going to class. I do paint and draw and I do all the art work on the albums except for the photography, though I do the photo direction. I do all the flyers, I think you’ve seen them online. They’re usually illustrated unless I’m short on time then sometimes I’ll steal a photo from my girlfriend who does photography and run it through the poster process. I do all the shirt designs which is cool because when I worked in commercial art, it wasn’t fun because you’ll draw something you think is cool and then the client wants a little fairy on a mushroom or some shit. With the band, though, I get to do whatever the hell I want. That’s one of my favorite parts of the band—creating flyers and posters and artwork.
VS—How did you get the name Red Eye Junction?
RC—Chad and Buck (the original drummer) came up with the name. I didn't care what we called it as long as it wasn't someone's name, it was catchy and you could Google it and come up with nothing.
VS—That’s an interesting way of going about it.
RC—Yeah and now some blues band in Australia uses it. They’re something 'Blues and the Red Eye Junction' or whatever. It’s like, come on guys!
VS—Man that sucks.
RC—It really does. I guess they figured they’re in Australia so who cares, but the internet cares, buddy, the internet cares.
VS—How does your location play into what you’re trying to do? You’re not really in L.A. and it’s not San Francisco, it’s somewhere in the middle. Do you think your location is a hindrance?
RC—I don’t think so. We get paid more on a Friday night than any band in L.A. that’s for sure and that’s because we’re out in the sticks. San Luis Obispo is kind of our base of operations, but we're playing a ton of small town honky tonks in places like Creston, Lemoore, Bako, and Paso Robles. They are all over the area and that is where country music still lives. We do okay in the urban areas but we’re a country band. I think it’s tough to sell cowboy music in the urban areas, but out here everyone understands it. They understand your language and they understand why you sing with twang; they understand all that, you don’t have to try to explain it or try to pull the hipster thing or whatever, it’s just people coming to see the music. I’ll go up to the Bay Area and the crowd will all be people in their twenties and thirties, there won’t be any old-timers. Here I get the old-timers. They come out and listen at 78 years old.
VS—Sounds like you’re talking about quality over quantity. You don’t need to be in an area with 12 million people.
RC—Yeah, it can be seedy and clique-ey in the cities. I like it here, I think it’s a little broader. Bakersfield isn’t too far; Fresno, Paso Robles, Santa Maria; we’ve got a little spot in each town. It not like it’s L.A. every time. We’re in a different town every other weekend.
VS—Have you been doing any touring?
RC—Not so much this year but last year we ran all over the place, up to Portland and the Northwest. We did three weeks in Belgium and Holland, we did a Colorado tour and we ran down to L.A. quite a bit.
VS—You produced this album yourself. What was that process like?
RC—I was able to make all the adjustments I wanted but it’s such a long process that by the end you can’t tell whether you made the right decision or not. This record turned out the way I wanted it to because I took the time and got all the musicians I wanted. When you’re building a rep in this industry I think people are hesitant, you can’t get the big ballers to play with you, you can’t get the superstar guitar and you can’t get the pedal steel guy to show up, but once you start building your rep and get to the point where you can pay them a couple of bucks then you start pulling some talent. In any starting band you have to find the people that want to play this kind of music and once you start playing around and building a rep, people kind of come out of the woodwork.
VS—Any surprises while recording this new record?
RC—I’m always looking for weirder and weirder instruments to stuff on the record. This time I had a cello guy Bob Liepman show up and he just shredded. It was great. I have a lot of cello on this record. The cello player is just a badass so now I’m using him all over the place. It’s weird but it fits perfect for what we’re doing, I thought it was really successful.
VS—It’s great that you’re able to do whatever you want.
RC—That was the big thing with this record, I really wanted to get all the musicians I could find and find them a spot. I wanted to make it fit but not make it feel like it was forced. I think it worked pretty well. We used a ton a guest musicians on 'Better Days' we have banjo, pedal steel, fiddle, cello, harmonica, dobro, and mandolin. It's really fun to work with all these people and create the music.
VS—So what’s on the horizon for you guys?
RC— We’re going to continue to cut records and maintain our presence and build our sound. I want to continue with the songwriting, it’s kind of like painting; it’s experimental and fun. I really enjoy writing songs, I write a song almost every week and then I weed them out. The new album is already written and I’m starting the demos now. Hopefully I’ll have it done in a year. We’re going to try to do a record a year, that’s what George Strait gets to do. I’m writing one a year, that’s my big goal. So far, so good, we’re three for three.
All Alone, On His Own and Keeping Good Company
By Vinny Smith
If internet radio had a best friend it would be singer/songwriter, Joey Allcorn. Not only is the Columbus, Georgia native an artist in the tradition of his heroes, Hank Williams, Ernest Tubb and Lefty Frizzell, but he’s a man who walks the walk and makes no apologies for it. Back in 2007, he testified at a congressional committee hearing on behalf of all internet broadcasters and the artists that need internet exposure to thrive and in many cases, simply exist. In addition, he’s involved with helping to bring the widely scattered Hank Williams entities together under one banner to preserve the rich history of a true American legend.
Even with all the positive things he has done and continues to do, he has experienced some negative criticism from people who think he’s trying to be another Hank. In our recent phone conversation he addressed that criticism and many other topics including what it was like to work with legendary steel guitar player, Don Helms. Joey is currently working on his third CD.
VINNY SMITH--I know you’ve been playing guitar since you were about 14 but I’ve also seen a few photos where you’re playing fiddle. Did you pick that up around the same time?
JOEY ALLCORN—Actually I started playing that first. Down here when you were in 6th grade you had to take band, orchestra or chorus so I picked orchestra so I could learn to play the fiddle like Charlie Daniels or something like that. They had you take General Music also where they taught you a couple of chords on the guitar. That was my first ever formal instrument training as far as that goes. A couple years later I got a guitar that kind of sat in the closet for a while then when I got into Hank Williams I thought, well, I could probably play some of this stuff so I got it out and learned it.
VS—I read on a message board where someone said you had a punk music background. Is that true?
JA—That came about back when Hank III came out and they thought everybody was punk. They wanted to do interviews and they’d want to talk about the rock music I did listen to and it got misconstrued as punk. I do like some of that stuff like The Misfits but I was way bigger into Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and those kinds of bands. That’s what was popular when I was 13, 14 years old and it’s about that time you usually start finding your own kind of music. But yeah, I did like some of that stuff back then. But I’d say it was definitely more—I never liked the word grunge—I liked alternative. That’s still my favorite kind of rock music.
VS—Do you come from a musical family?
JA—No. They never had any interest in it I guess.
VS—How many shows a year do you do?
JA—I would say we did maybe 100 to 150 shows a year from about ’05 to ’08 but in the past two years it’s just gotten real hard with the economy I guess. My theory is that all the bands that used to tour kind of stay close to home now and all the clubs we used to play are just real hard to get into. That’s just kind of changed my business plan, so to speak, for the short term until things get better. I’m just going to just lounge down here in Georgia pretty much. I’ll probably do a couple of steel guitar shows with Lynn Owsley (Texas Troubadours). I enjoy doing those kind of things. But as far as going out and touring by yourself, God bless the guys that can do it. I’m not a salesman, I never was. A lot of these people are their own biggest fans but I’m not one of those guys. I appreciate people that like my music and buy my records, but I’m not the kind of guy that’s going to get out there and toot my own horn all the time.
VS—Do you have a regular band that you play with or maybe just a couple of core musicians that know your music?
JA—It depends on what we’re doing. I’ve got a band here at home in Columbus and in Nashville I’ve got four or five guys I could call up to work with, it just depends on what’s going on. A lot of the stuff I’ve been doing the past few years now have been things where I’ll just show up and sing a couple of songs with a house band there. You just give them a chart and they play it. That’s pretty fun because you don’t have any kind of headaches or traveling worries. But hopefully things will turn around and we can get back to touring more in the future but for right now, financially it’s just ridiculous to try to do that.
VS—Do you spend a lot of time in Nashville?
JA—My situation is I own my house here in Georgia, the same house I was brought to when I was born, so I’ll always be down here. Then I’ve got good friends in Nashville. If I need to go up there and stay for two weeks, I can. So I just bounce back and forth, if I get tired of being down here, I’ll go up there and hang out for a couple weeks then when I get bored up there I’ll come back home for a while and sit around and play video games and stuff. I claim both places.
VS—Have you ever tried to go the route of trying to get a major record deal?
JA—No. I’ve never been approached and honestly at this point, for what I do and the genre I do, I really don’t think a major label thing would be good and at times I don’t even know that an independent one would be good. I did meet a guy in Nashville through a buddy of mine—he’s on the music row side of things. I went over to his office and hung out and talked to him and everything. He liked my music, he knows there’s a market for it and on and on so I said well, what do we need to do? This was like two or three years ago. He said what you need to do is go out and find investors and if you can get about $100,000, come back up here we’ll make a run at it. We’ll cut you an EP and I’ll shop it around and we’ll try to get you a deal. So I went home and thought about that and I thought, well, I might be able to find some people that would put some money into it. So I went back up there and ran into him again and hung out with him and I asked him if I get the money what’ll I do? He said, “Well you bring it up here to me.” I said, “What do you do?” He said, “I help you spend it.”
JA—But basically that’s all a record label is anymore. You put the money into your project and then they own it. I would rather find people that I’ve met from touring and playing and being around to help me finance what I do and then we’ll keep the money.
VS—Plus a label makes you pay back everything. You may get some tour support and all that but that’s about it.
JA—I don’t even know anybody that gets that anymore but if they do, it’s minimal. It’s amazing to me that some of these people can do what they do. A guy that worked on my first record with me, Tim Lawrence, he lived up in Hendersonville and he worked with Linda Ronstadt, Trick Pony and some of the more 90’s pop country people. He even toured with Usher for a while and doing front-of-house sound and I asked him one time if you’re better off to make records and push at that side or do live shows and push that side. He said there have been guys that can make a record, sell a million copies and can’t sell out a show and then there are guys who can sell out a whole tour but can’t sell records. I do pretty good on the record sales side of things. This kind of music is such a niche market now. It would be nice for it to grow and get really big and be able to draw three, four, five hundred people a night. The way I look at it is Hank III sells out five hundred people venues and Wayne Hancock or me or Dale Watson, we might go to that same place and draw 75 to 100 so that tells me that all those people that are going to Hank III, and I’m just using him as an example, they go to his shows because they’re fans of him, not traditional country music and to me, that’s a big thing. I mean, how do you get those people to be fans of the music itself and not just the person?
VS—You go to one of his shows and there are punk rockers and all kinds of people that you get the feeling aren’t necessarily regular fans of traditional country.
JA—I think Shelton (Hank III) has realized that and you can tell from his show and from his music now that he’s changed. I mean his best record was Lovesick, Broke and Driftin’. To me, that record was his masterpiece thus far. And since then his music has moved more into Hellbilly and that sort of thing. And that’s fine, they can have their music but then those people want to criticize people like Kenny Chesney. I say the same thing about both of them, they’re not real fans of traditional country music.
VS—Do you feel like pop country has a place in music or do you think it’s a waste of time?
JA—Who would I be to say they don’t have a right to that kind of music? I mean they have a right to that just as much as we do to what we like. There’s room for all of it and there are fans for all of it. The thing that kills me about the kind of music we like is that it’s just repressed, it’s not given as many avenues as pop country and that just comes down to money.
VS—Well for me, pop country is where I started so I feel like if that’s going to be the springboard to somebody’s musical evolution then that’s great.
VS—Do you ever feel like what you’re doing is not working at all or feel like packing it in?
JA—No. A lot of times I sit back and think it’s crazy with respect to selling records around the world and people covering your songs and things. That’s a really cool thing and a really cool feeling and I’m proud of that. I’ve accomplished more than I ever thought I would on my own. On the business side of it, I had a publicist for a year-and-a-half, maybe two years and she helped me a lot with interviews and the first record but pretty much everything I’ve done has been just been throwing it out there and letting it go. I don’t do any big marketing or advertising or anything. Now on the touring side, that’s a whole different ballgame and that’s the one where I’ve struggled the most. I love playing shows and performing and I don’t care if it is fifty or hundred people or whatever but financially it’s just a pain. You try and get a band together and go out on the road and go on tour and you go man, I don’t know what we’re going to make this time or I don’t know if we’ll make any money tonight. It’s hard to find guys that are willing to do that and I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t go to work at Wal-Mart not knowing what I was going to get paid. So in the past two years that’s something I really started taking more into account is making sure my guys get paid decent money. If somebody wants me to come play a bar for $150, I don’t need to do that, it has to be realistic before I’ll be interested in it.
VS—What would you do if you didn’t do music?
JA—Probably be in law enforcement or some kind of legal field or politics or something like that.
VS—Are politics something maybe you’d pursue down the road?
JA—I’ve always said my dream thing would be to do music until I was about 45 or 50 and then go into politics. It’s funny because when I got to go to Capitol Hill back in 2007 to testify for SaveNetRadio that was kind of my two favorite things crossing paths and that was really enjoyable. I thought it was really cool to get to go up there and testify before people in Congress. But realistically, no, I’d probably never do that but it’s always something I’ve been interested in. It’s kind of like a sport to me, that’s the way I look at it.
VS—How does one get to testify in front of a committee like that?
JA—I was hooked up with the Roots Music Association through my former publicist and I was the “True Country” delegate for that organization so when it came time to do that, the people from D.C. that were the lobbying group called the RMA asking for somebody to go up there and speak from a country or folk sort of scene, anything that depends big time on internet radio for airplay. We went up there and lobbied one time and then they flew me back to testify. It was a lot of fun.
VS—I watched the video of it. You did a great job.
JA—Thanks! You’re pretty nervous when you walk in there. The guy that I was with, he owned an Indie Rock label in New York, we were outside and he said, “Man, are you nervous?” I said, “Nah, I’ll just go in there and read it.” We had rehearsed it for two days but when they opened the door and we walked in, there were little cups of water and the microphone and the paper with our name and we were like, “Oh shit!” It got real all of a sudden and we thought, wow, this is a pretty big deal.
VS—You take on some criticism once in awhile that you’re trying to be someone else. What do you say to those critics?
JA—I say to them what Jimmie Johnson says about his critics: The hell with ‘em. If you like my records, if you like my music, great, I appreciate it. I’m generally influenced by all of the people I like and have been fortunate enough to spend time with. Their sound will always be in my music and that’s the way I want it to be. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel, I’m not trying to come up with a genre of music that’s never been done, I’m doing something that’s been done and perfected by people fifty years ago and you just don’t hear it anymore. But I don’t worry too much about what people say. Everybody’s got their opinion, I’ve got mine and if I wanted to get up there and say what I thought of everybody playing music, I could but, you know, who cares?
VS—The thing I like about what you do is, I love the old music but I’m not crazy about the sound of the recordings, so if you can take that genre and use all the modern tools, I love that.
JA—Oh yeah and that was the thing on both my records when I went work on them I said I want to sound like what Hank or Ernest or Lefty would have sounded like if they were making records today. One thing we’re going to be doing is putting those records out on vinyl this year. I want to go back on 50 Years Too Late, because my budget for that one was a lot smaller than the second one, and I want to fix some things, some little EQ and mix things that bugged me. We’ll hopefully get the first one out this summer and All Alone Again out this winter.
VS—That will be great. Who else to you recommend who plays music in your genre?
JA—I’m a big fan of Robbie Fulks, BR5-49, Dale Watson; I like Wayne Hancock’s music a lot; Johnny Dilks and the Visitacion Valley Boys; my buddy Jake Penrod down in Texas. Miss Leslie and The Juke-Jointers, they make real good music. I’m just a big fan of traditional-sounding country music—fiddles and steels and somebody singing and yodeling—whatever it takes. I like Alan Jackson a lot. I think he’s a great writer and I think there’s a lot more depth to his songs than people give him credit for.
VS—You had Don Helms, one of Hank Williams’ Drifting Cowboys, play on your latest record. How did you meet and become friends with him?
JA—That came about through my buddy, Lynn Owsley, he played steel for The Texas Troubadours, he was Ernest Tubb’s last steel player. I had met Don years ago down in Montgomery at one of the Hank things but it was just a, “Hey, how you doin’? I’m Don Helms, see you later.” That was back when I was about 17 or 18. But when I started hanging out in Nashville a lot a couple years ago I became buddies with Lynn. Don Helms had played with Ernest and he got Lynn the job after Don quit. In Ernest’s band, you had to replace yourself, so Lynn got the gig. So anyway, I was up at Lynn’s and I said I’d really like to go meet Don one day and just talk to him and hang out with him some. A couple of times he said we’d go over but we never got around to it. So finally one day I brought it up and he called Don up and told him a friend of his was coming over. I went and sat and talked to him, went to dinner with him. We just kind of got to be friends and worked together some, I’m honored that he played on All Alone Again, I’m real proud of that. It was just a real treat to get to know him the last years of his life and spend time with him and talk to him and travel with him. It’s definitely one of the highlights of everything I’ve gotten to do and I don’t know how anything will ever top that in my book.
Lynn Owsley, Joey Allcorn, Don Helms
VS—Did he give you any advice?
JA—In roundabout ways just through conversation. It was just cool to get to sit and travel with somebody, just sit there in the car with them for hours and just talk and pick his brain about the past, his life and the people he worked with. It was really educational for somebody like me who is a student of that era of country music.
VS—So In terms of that kind of music, to take a line from your song Honky Tonk Ramblin’ Man, why do you like songs about murder, drinking, God, drugs and jail?
JA—It’s just the old adage about country music that I’ve always thought was really cool, and I don’t really know who said it but all kinds of music, Rap, Rock, everything, is about Saturday night having fun, drinking partying, whatever, but country music is the only one that really takes on Sunday morning as well. Those things are all polar opposites but they make for good stories. I guess that’s it. Overall it’s just the things that people experience in life—tragedies and happiness—everything is summed up in it.
VS—Exactly, it’s real.
JA—I like things with good stories. If something doesn’t have a story to it, I just don’t care about it.
VS—In terms of royalties, I’ve heard people complain that they’ve never seen a dime from radio or anything. Have you had problems with that? Do you get checks like you’re supposed to?
JA—I started getting some from LastFM and Napster. This sort of came up during SaveNetRadio. The way I look at it is if someone’s using my music to promote, like what you do, I mean you’re not getting rich off of it either, I don’t care. When I come out with a new record I don’t have to worry about only 100 people buying it because 10,000 downloaded it, at this level in the game it’s just not a big deal. If somebody hears a song of mine and it turns them on to this kind of music and they go buy a Hank Williams or Lefty Frizzell record then mission accomplished. I’ve done a little bit to expose somebody to the music that inspired me and brought me here today.
VS—What do you want to do from this point on?
JA—Just make records that people like and if something came about touring via a legitimate booking agency, I’d entertain that because I do like doing that. If you don’t have any big expectations for something you’re never disappointed. I could sit here and tell you I want to take over the world and have everybody listening to old country music but that will never happen. I just do what I do. There are people that like it and I appreciate them buying the records and playing the music and we’ll just keep on doing what we can.
VS—Anything else you want to say before we wrap this up?
JA—I’ve got some things in the works with the Hank Williams museum in Montgomery, AL. Cecil Jackson, the founder of the museum, died recently. I’ve known him since I was 16 or 17 and Mary Wallace who was the founder of the Hank fan club in Georgiana, AL, died by accidental gunshot in December, so right now the whole Hank Williams community is in turmoil and I want to help get some of that together and work with some other folks. I want to get all the Hank Williams, Sr. stuff under one banner. We’re going to call it the Hank Williams Legacy Foundation and do good things in Hank Williams name that promotes his memory and music and helps people.
VS—Do you work with the Williams family on those kind of projects?
JA—The only one that deals directly with any of it is Jett Williams and her husband Keith Adkinson, he’s a lawyer. It’s weird because in the Hank Williams community, it’s very fragmented. There’s a guy that has a Hank Sr. mailing list, then there’s the Hank museum in Montgomery, Alabama and the Hank museum in Georgiana and there’s the Hank International Fan Club. Cecil Jackson and Mary Wallace both of whom died in the past 6 months, were the people that pretty much held it together to a degree. Hank Jr. kind of entrusted them to see about what was going on and if someone was using Hank inappropriately they could contact Hank Jr.’s office and let him know so his people could take care of it. Me and Cecil’s daughter, Beth, are going to try and do something like what they did when Dale Earnhart died. Dale doesn’t have a fan club any more because he’s dead and Hank Williams doesn’t need a fan club. What we want to do is start this legacy thing and try and make it appeal to the younger people that do like traditional country music as the place you go for anything Hank Williams. If you want to use Hank’s name in this or that, this website is where you go to do all that. It can help you get in contact with the right people, it can help you with information about Hank Williams. So that’s one of my projects for the rest of this year, to get that off the ground. I do this because if it wasn’t for Hank Williams, I wouldn’t be doing what I do and I’m thankful for that. I will always be involved in the Hank Williams stuff and promoting him in a positive way and making sure people get the facts straight. There is a lot of misinformation out there about Hank Sr and as more of the people that knew him leave us it’s just going to get worse. There’s probably only ten or so people left alive that I know personally that ever met or had anything to do with Hank Williams. It’s kind of like the WWII thing where they talk about how many WWII veterans die every day and as each one does, so does some of that history.
VS—That’s a great project. You’ve got to keep things like that alive.
JA—We also want to do things where like when the Haiti quake happened you can donate through the Hank Williams Legacy Foundation and give money in Hank’s name. There are also a lot of cool things that go on with Hank Williams that people don’t even know about because there is no community that’s together enough to get the word out right now. Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, their call signs for their planes are WHNK for Hank. Little things like that are pretty cool that people do to remember Hank Williams. I just want to bring all those people that are interested together and start a new newsletter, a message board, all that stuff, just do the whole thing and have this really nice place where you can go for all kinds of information on Hank Williams.
VS—That a pretty hefty project but it sounds like you’re the right guy to work on it.
JA—I enjoy it and I owe a great deal of what I’ve done and my success to Hank Williams and I’ll always be appreciative of that. It’s just another way to give back what you got out of something.
On a Quest for Honky Tonk's Best? Try the Northwest
By Vinny Smith
I came across the music of Portland, Oregon’s Lisa & Her Kin much the same way I always do: Surfing the internet. I was on the CDBaby site, it was 3am and my credit card was begging for mercy as it always does after a night on CDBaby. I was just about to grant it clemency when a CD at the bottom of the page caught my eye (I am easily seduced by shiny objects). The logo looked cool, Lisa & Her Kin spelled out with wooden planks and the word Texas prominently displayed at the bottom. Okay, one more, I thought. The first song I clicked on, River of Regret, completely knocked me out of my cat-clawed, dog-chewed, imitation suede office chair. I picked myself up and played a random song from the middle to make sure it wasn’t one of those bait-and-switch situations where they place their only good song first so lazy people will go ahead and buy based on a killer first song. The fifth song down was, Preachin’ to the Choir. Another winner. Lisa & Her Kin were for real. I immediately downloaded their Two Weeks in Texas album as well as their current offering, Chicken Shack. Surprisingly, I didn’t hear any whining from my credit card.
Since then, every Kin song I have played on HonkyTonkJunkie.com has consistently been among the highest rated at any given point in time as well as among the most requested. Recently Lisa & Her Kin (which includes her two brothers, Chris and Ian Miller) made a trip down to Southern California where I got to see their live show which confirmed for me just how real this band is. They were every bit as good live as I hoped they would be. And then some.
What became apparent while talking to Lisa in person as well as in our subsequent emails is that “Kin” is much more than just a band name to Lisa -- it’s a lifestyle
Vinny Smith--Your Facebook page lists Powell’s Books as an employer. How long have you been there? Did a love of books or maybe the written word lead you there?
Lisa Miller--I am all about the written word! It’s sort of a dream come true. If you love books and live in Portland, then you want to work at Powell’s. I have worked there for 14 years.
VS--I'm sure you have quite a few favorite authors. Can you name a few?
LM--Well, I am a big fan of Sherman Alexi. I love David Sedaris. Sarah Vowell, Willy Vlautin--he has a great band called Richmond Fontaine--but also wrote a great book, Motel Life. Too many to list really.
VS--You write a lot of songs. Do you write in other forms such as fiction or poetry?
LM--I do. I write short stories and have a few that I am trying to put into a screenplay kind of format.
VS--Speaking of screenplays, you and your music have been involved in a couple of movie projects. How did you get involved with those and are you pursuing more?
LM--Yes, we would love to do more of that. Rabbit Hash came to be through our bass player at the time, Pete Ficht, who went to school with Jude Prest, the director. Jude was looking for original music and loved our song Preachin' to the Choir. The Faraway Film folks who made the documentary, Ridin' & Rhymin', approached us at a show and asked if they could use one of my songs, Rodeo Jewel, for their film. After we met and talked for a bit, they asked if I could write something for a few of the other scenes which I did instantly upon seeing the film, which is truly great by the way. Ian and I went and recorded at the filmmaker’s house and that was that. Ian and I really enjoyed the process and look forward to doing much more.
VS--You have a track on a compilation CD called, Rock and Roll Mamas. How did that come about?
LM--When we got involved with Faraway Film and the Ridin' & Rhymin' film, they introduced us to Jackie Wiesman who was putting together the Rock & Roll Mamas film. One of the fundraising efforts for the film was the compilation. There are a bunch of great women on there. The film still hasn't been finished though, and I don't know if my interview is even in it anymore, although I am in the promo reel.
VS--In terms of music, what is your writing process? Do you make time to write or do you wait until you have an idea or two? What comes first, the music or the words?
LM--The words almost always come first--or at least the first line or two--and then I build from there. Ideas for songs usually come from experiences or something someone says in conversation that rings true to me. Of course, with two brothers who are also very strong songwriters, it's sometimes a competition who will write the song first! Once I have a song started I get kinda hard to be around until I get it finished. It doesn't usually take more than a day and if it does, I am usually wondering if it's really going to be any good. I don't make time to write, that doesn't seem to work for me--at least for songwriting. For story writing I DO have to make time, it's a bit more disciplined and harder to find time for. In a perfect world I would make my living writing and then I would have all the time I needed.
VS--What's your favorite song you wrote?
LM--I think right now it's, No More Roses, which will be on the next recording. It's an homage to Tammy Wynette's style. It has turned out just as I hoped it would and the audience response has been consistently strong.
VS--What's your favorite song someone else wrote?
LM--Sheesh, that's tough, I love so many. Lately I have been doing a cover of Bill Anderson's song, Once A Day, but doing it in the style that Connie Smith did--powerful and sad. The lyrics are so great in that song but that's only one of a million. I love Roger Miller's writing; Charlie Rich, Gary Stewart, Rose Maddox, Loretta Lynn. Chris Gaffney's stuff never fails to inspire me and I think my brother Chris (Miller) is one of the greatest songwriters around. He's got a new song out there, Tell It To The Jukebox, that is a perfect song.
VS--You have an instrumental song on your Chicken Shack CD called, Babushka, that has a kind of Russian flavor to it. How did that come about? Do you have some Russian in your background?
LM--Ian wrote that song...he can tell you all about it.
Ian Miller--Oh man, let's see...No Russian in our lineage that I'm aware of, but Eastern European melodies/chord changes have always appealed to me on some deep level, especially the minor key changes, it's just beautiful to me. No idea where that comes from but I have been an avid devotee of movie soundtrack music for as long as I can remember starting with one of my melodic heroes, Henry Mancini (The Pink Panther). Someone who probably had the strongest impact on Babushka was the great, Ennio Morricone (The Good The Bad and The Ugly), so that's probably the seed. Beyond all that, I was sitting in Lisa's old basement (pre-compound, or "Music Row NW", as we like to call it) messin' around with my Danelectro echo pedal and the riff just sort of appeared, with the song writing itself from there on out! While it was not initially something we took super-seriously, the song started to get very positive reactions whenever we played it (and still does, which continues to give me great pride) and now it's a solid part of our repertoire. Now if it can just be picked up for film and television use, I will be ECSTATIC!
VS--Besides music in the movies, what are some of your other aspirations?
IM--I probably have too dang many aspirations and interests to realistically achieve even half of them, but some would include writing a book, though I'm not sure what the subject of said book would be, I also write DVD reviews for avmaniacs.com
, directing music videos, learning more about photography and graphic design, to name a few. In the immediate? Well, I've been getting deeply into playing steel guitar (both pedal and non-pedal), which is more of a personal project than career move, but I do love it because it brings out something in my playing that regular 6-string does not. What else? Well, Lisa and I sure would love to host a Wilburn Brothers/Porter Wagoner-style C & W variety show (which Marty Stuart is doing a bang-up job of on RFD-TV currently, but the NW needs its own), with a mix of local and touring talent. Ultimately, though, I just want to grow as a musician/singer/songwriter for the rest of my life, and continue bringing happiness and joy to those who happen to be listening!
VS--Name two people, one living and one dead, you wish you could play or otherwise collaborate with.
IM--Just one of each? You're a taskmaster! Living: mmmmmm, how about Buddy Emmons? That would be a blast. Dead? Jeez.......well, I gotta say my hero of the honky-tonk pickers, the great Roy Nichols. Not even real gigs or recordings, just informal jams/gab sessions would be ideal.
VS (to Lisa)--You and your two brothers are very talented. Do you have other siblings and if so, do they pursue music as well?
LM--No, it's just the three of us. We all grew up with music being a big part of our lives. Our parents had a great record collection and took us to see live music often, and we had people around the house that played music on a regular basis. We all started playing and singing at very young ages and I think we all took it pretty seriously from the beginning. My brother Chris and I were really into acting as well. I pursued that in college and did professional improv for a while, but music was always a part of what I was doing. Ian currently is doing voice over work. I think it's just in our blood. Our dad attempted to play a lot of different instruments but was never quite able to really succeed. He wasn't much of a singer either, but he did love country music! Our mom is a singer, writer and guitar player. She still works the coffee house circuit and teaches. She has a great voice, and music was a part of her growing up experience as well.
VS--Have you had interest from major labels? If a major label came calling is that an avenue you would pursue?
LM--I think we are open to a major label, but it seems that the trend is headed toward the smaller indie labels or self produced projects. The support of a label is what is attractive to me. Advertising is really expensive and touring without support is a constant challenge.
VS--Do you pitch your songs to other artists and have others recorded your songs?
LM--That is not something I have figured how to do yet but I would love to have that happen. My brother, Chris, has been very successful with it. Living in Austin helped that a lot. Lots of people looking for songs.
VS--Tell me a bit about Chris and his background.
LM-- He wrote for Wayne Hancock--he's all over the That's What Daddy Wants album. He toured with Dale Watson for a few years. He played the White House with Marcia Ball during the Clinton Administration. Chris lived in Austin for 15 years and really played with all the greats. He did a lot of cowriting with other folks like, Chris Gaffney, which eventually got him in touch with Dave Alvin. He toured with Dave up until this year as a Guilty Man. He has relocated to Portland and currently lives at "The Kin Compound" with me and my husband, my brother Ian and my two sons. Oh, and we have two dogs and a cat too!
VS--How do your kids feel about your music? Are they as enamored of your music collection as you were with your parents?
LM--My boys love music! The record collection is filled with the songs we used to dance them to sleep by. They are all grown now, and their musical interests are varied but they still seek out songs from the collection to hear the original versions. Our collection has every kind of music you could imagine so they have been exposed to everything from Polkas to hip hop-it makes us very happy that they see the value in all kinds of music.
VS--Do your kids play or write?
LM--My older son Nigel is a guitar player and is involved in several aspects of music-production, promotion and playing. He is really knowledgeable about the business. I look forward to him managing my career in my golden years, Ha! Nick, our younger son, is a talented artist and a demon on Guitar Hero! He appreciates all kinds of music.
VS--What about your husband? Is he musical/creative/artistic as well?
LM--My husband Michael is the record collector and our roadie and sound tech. He does a lot of the driving on tours and he is the guy who loads, unloads, sets up, breaks down--you know, the hard stuff. We are very lucky to have him on the road with us. He is also the guy that remembers the details from shows ten years back, or songs that I wrote and forgot about. I would pretty much be lost without him. He also helps me find new (old) material to cover and has a great ear in the studio that we rely on.
VS--I have often wondered about when people put a band together, how do they decide what instruments will be in the band? I think bass, drums and guitar are a given but some people might have a fiddle or piano rather than pedal steel like you have. How did you decide to go with what you did?
LM--Pedal steel, to me, brings classiness to your show--and with a good player like Russ Blake paired up with my brother Ian it is the perfect sound combo. Pedal steel is a difficult instrument to master and the players are a special kind of folk. I like being around them, they think about music a little differently. Also, I think it's a classic traditional sound.
VS--Have you always lived in Oregon?
LM--I was born in Oregon, but my brother Chris was born in Washington and my brother Ian was born in Northern California. We moved constantly up and down the west coast as kids. We know I-5 and Highway 101 real well. I love Oregon, especially Portland.
VS--Have you ever felt your location has been a hindrance to your music career?
LM--I think the music scene in the Northwest is pretty vibrant but I really enjoy playing in Texas, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle and Canada. They are all great places for our kind of music. Portland is a great in-between spot for getting to all those places. I would love to get the band to Europe--we are hoping that will happen soon, and to go beyond Texas and into the deeper south would be also pretty great.
VS--When is your next CD going to be available?
LM--Our hope is to begin the recording process this winter and have the new CD available by late spring. We have all the material, just have to get some more funding.
VS--What's next for the band?
LM--Besides recording, and writing more material, and officially adding our brother Chris on bass, which is exciting, we plan to head to Austin in the spring and we are hoping to hit Europe in 2010. We will definitely be touring for the new recording so keep an ear to the ground for when we hit your town ;-)
To purchase the music of Lisa & Her Kin:
Two Weeks In Texas--CDBaby
For more information:
Country For Sure
By Vinny Smith
My association with Justin Ray Jackson came about through an unusual but increasingly common source: The popular mini-blogging service, Twitter. Since the potential to reach a lot of people with Twitter is so great, I sometimes will post messages asking if anyone out there knows of any kick-ass honky tonk bands that deserve radio airplay. One of the responses I got was from a person named Pat who had the words, “Texas Team,” in their email. This caught my attention right away because I am a big fan of Texas country music and I assumed the artist Pat was talking about was from Texas. I listened to and loved the two tunes Pat sent me so I went on a quest to find a few more tunes and get some more information on the artist, Justin Ray Jackson.
I did some digging and discovered that Justin was not based in Texas but rather, Albuquerque, New Mexico. This intrigued me right away because not only am I very familiar with Albuquerque having lived there myself for two years, but also its country music scene, or should I say, lack of it. I read his bio and discovered that while he currently makes Albuquerque home, he was actually born in Longview, Texas and raised in Perry, Oklahoma, which I think officially makes him a “Texahoman.”
Though Justin works as a patent attorney now, he never lost the music bug that he caught as soon as he picked up a guitar many years ago. We recently discussed his career and his aspirations and, of course, the classic New Mexico question about chile sauce.
VS—Describe the country music scene in New Mexico.
JRJ—To be honest with you, at least around Albuquerque, it has pretty much gone downhill the entire time that I’ve been living out here and it didn’t seem to be all that great when I first got here either. Most places have either shut down or switched over to a different genre of music. Everybody seems to be listening to Hip Hop or Mexican music. I think it is real difficult for people to appreciate good country music if they’ve spent their entire life in a pretty good sized city and have never drank beer, gone fishing and shot guns out in the woods.
VS—What kind of challenges have you come up against while launching a music career from Albuquerque?
JRJ—The biggest problem by far is lack of people that seem to really be into country music. The majority of the ones that are into it seem to be married folks who don’t care too much for going out honky tonkin’ which means that it’s a challenge to build a strong fan base. Since there aren’t a whole lot of people into country, a lot of the bars that do have country bands want you to be a variety band and play some Mexican music and oldies and stuff. I’m not a variety band, I don’t care for Mexican music and I’m certainly not going to be singing it, so that puts me at a bit of a disadvantage.
VS—Did you grow up listening to country?
JRJ—Yes, indeed! I was born on country music and have listened to it continually ever since. Every once in a while I’ll flip the station over to Pop, but I’m back on country by the end of the day.
VS—Who did you grow up listening too?
JRJ—My mom and dad had a bunch of Eddie Rabbitt and Crystal Gayle records and several Hank Williams, Jr. tapes.
VS—Who are your musical influences?
JRJ—Generally country music as a whole and a little pop. My primary influences, though, include Hank Jr., Toby Keith, Garth Brooks and George Strait.
VS—Whose music career would you like to have?
JRJ—Toby Keith—he’s doing his own thing and is still able to spend time with his family.
VS—You just released your first CD, “For Sure.” Was that recorded in New Mexico?
JRJ—The instruments were all recorded out in Nashville with studio musicians, then I soundproofed one of the rooms in my house and recorded and produced the vocals there.
VS—Tell me a little about your band.
JRJ—The band is always changing and can drive a guy nuts in a heartbeat. For example, we recently finished up a four-night stand at a bar in northern New Mexico when our bass player told me it would be his last “bar gig.” He has very strong Christian beliefs and is not comfortable being in bars so much.
VS—Do you write songs?
JRJ—I’ve written a handful of songs. James Cain wrote most of my songs. I’m not as good as he is, he’s been writing in Nashville for twenty-some years.
VS—He has had some big-name success.
JRJ—Yes, with George Jones.
VS—How did you and James become collaborators?
JRJ—I was in the Albuquerque airport on my way out to Nashville and this lady came up to me and asked if I played country music—I guess my boots, hat and guitar gave me away. Anyway, I told her that I did and she told me her son was out in Nashville. Then she sat down next to me and got on the phone and told him to show me around Nashville. One of my first questions when I met him was how to get hooked up with a good songwriter. He knew James and put us in touch.
VS—Where do you go from here?
JRJ—We’ve been talking to some places in Texas and the South. I think I’ll try to head out that way.
VS—If Nashville came calling today, would you drop everything to pursue that opportunity?
JRJ—I’d sure try to find a way to do that. It sucks being an attorney because now I’m locked into some 30-year mortgages and things that require monthly payments that would be difficult to make if I had to make less money for a while. Luckily, I can pretty much do all my work with a computer and a phone so I think I would be able to keep working part time to make ends meet if that opportunity ever came about.
VS—If you could share the stage with anyone, who would it be?
JRJ—You know, that’s a really tricky question. I’ve always thought Hank Jr. was the greatest thing to country music since biscuits and gravy were invented so I’ve always wanted to meet and hang out with him. But as far as sharing a stage with someone goes, I’m sorry Hank but I’m going to have to go with Garth on this one.
VS—Changing the subject a bit, what is it you like about New Mexico?
JRJ—The mountains. I love snowboarding which, for me, mostly consists of slamming a couple of shots of Wild Turkey before launching myself down some double black diamond runs. I also like to go flying down a mountain on my mountain bike. I still try to go out rappelling every once in a while too but I tend to only drink Gatorade when I’m doing that.
VS—And finally, the question that everyone who ever sets foot in New Mexico will at some point have to answer: Red or Green?
For More Info:
Doing It His Way in L.A.: A Hardcore Honky Tonker Tells It Like It Is
By Vinny Smith
Do you remember the scene in the movie, Deep Impact, where Robert Duvall is in a bar with his space shuttle crew right before they are about to go into space and destroy an asteroid that is on a collision course with earth? You do? Good. Do you know what song was playing on the jukebox in the background? No? Well it was, This Must Be Angel Day, by Texas-born, Idaho-bred, singer-songwriter, Larry Dean (co-written with Larry Wise, Rhinestone Cowboy). That is just one of many songs of Larry’s that have been heard in movies and TV shows. It’s not the conventional way for a hardcore honky tonker like Larry to make a living but it’s one of the ways Larry does it. Another way is to play live.
That’s how I met him—playing live. I had heard of Larry prior to that night because I had played some of his songs on HonkyTonkJunkie.com and had seen his name on the calendar of a Los Angeles dance club, the Cowboy Palace Saloon. I had never visited the Cowboy Palace for two reasons: One, it’s nearly 30 miles from my home, up the dreaded 405 freeway and, two, because I assumed that since it was known as a dance club that the place was all about DJ’s and new country cover songs. I did like what I’d heard of Larry’s music, though, so when I found out he was playing a private party I was going to, I got excited I was finally going to see him play.
Larry and his band, The Shooters, blew me away. The band was tight, the songs were great and best of all, the majority of it was original music. There was not a single new country tune in the bunch. That was a very good thing.
I decided I needed to find out a lot more about him so a week and a half later, we sat down to pie and coffee at Du-par’s restaurant near his home in Studio City, CA to talk about music, movies and one famous, former Shooter, the one and only, Dale Watson.
VS—Did you come to California for a music career or for other reasons?
VS—Why here instead of Nashville or Austin or someplace like that?
LD—When I came here pretty much everybody was into rock ‘n roll, I mean I grew up around country, that’s all I heard but I was a lead player in a rock ‘n roll band. Then I got my guitar stolen the first month I was here so I went to Mexico and I bought an old gut string guitar. I took a couple of lessons for finger picking and that kind of changed what I was doing. My parents used to want me to sing country music but I always said, “Nah, nah, nah.” But during that transition I kind of started doing folky kind of music that I wrote. I started dabbling in songwriting but not seriously. Then I became a singing waiter at Poppy’s Star (a now-defunct restaurant in Encino, CA) and it was there that I started doing some more John Denver-y kind of stuff. Then I got into Merle Haggard and that whole Bakersfield scene which I’d always heard and stuff like Johnny Horton and Johnny Cash. From there it just became a passion so I put a band together.
VS—That was around 1980, the year Urban Cowboy came out.
LD—That was like a stroke of luck for me, I mean the timing, who knew? That movie came out and there was tons of work. I could have put the band together two years before or a year or two after and there wouldn’t have been any work. But then, there was just work everywhere not just five or six places. It helps to be a songwriter like myself and get BMI royalties or something like that.
VS—What area of the music business do you like better, songwriting or performing?
LD—I like the songwriting the best because that’s something that really is satisfying irregardless of whether somebody cuts the song or if it gets in a movie. Most of the stuff I write is movie oriented. I just enjoy writing. But then there’s no better feeling than a great performance. It’s a great high and that’s why you continue to do it.
VS—Staff writers in Nashville make appointments to write so it’s like, “okay we’re going to meet at this certain time and be creative.” Do you do that now and do you make time to write?
LD—I’ve done appointment writing and there are few people you click with—Dale Watson and I click. Wayne Carson (Thompson) who wrote, Always on My Mind, and The Letter, and I click. We wrote my first chart record together called, Outside Chance, and we still have some wonderful songs in the catalogue that I haven’t recorded yet. Wayne is a great storyteller; I’ve picked up a lot from him. But I’ve never liked that appointment writing. Some people don’t like to write alone and just thrive on collaboration. I prefer writing by myself; it just seems to work better for me. I usually write at night and a lot of times I’ll write all night and if I don’t have a song by morning I feel like I’ve failed.
VS—You don’t necessarily wait until you have an idea?
LD—No. Sometimes I write every day, but sometimes I don’t because sometimes you just run out of stuff to write about. But when you’re “on” the rhymes come easily, the thoughts come easily and it just bubbles out and if I find I get to a place where it’s just being forced, then I just don’t worry about it and just play the guitar and do whatever.
VS—What is your writing process?
LD—Some people will write the lyrics then put a tune to it but I pretty much write it all at the same time. I don’t necessarily wait for a magic hook that might not appear. A lot of times I’ll start with the first line and the hook comes along later. I don’t know how Willie Nelson writes but he is one my heroes. In the last 4-5 years I have come to appreciate how great he really is. I started really listening to a lot of these old records and just when you think he’s going to head off in one direction he very subtly goes and does something with the lyric that just makes you go, wow. And there are a lot of guys like that, Rodney Crowell, Steve Earle.
VS—You and Dale met here in California?
LD—Yeah, he was here for a long time. A lot of people don’t know that. They think Austin, Texas but he was here in the 80’s & 90’s. He was playing in different house bands and he had his own band. He was just kind of kicking around here for quite a while. We met on a Christmas TV show out in Lancaster. He had been back in Nashville working for Gary Morris as a staff writer and I had been back in Nashville working as a staff writer. We both had that experience and neither one of us were crazy about being staff writers. We got to talking and I said, “Well I need a lead guitar player, I’ll give you a call.” So I called him up and he started playing lead for me. That’s how we met.
VS—I had no idea.VS—There are some people that frown upon playing the large dance clubs like Cowboy Palace and Cowboy Country and would rather just play the smaller venues. Do you feel that divide in the country scene here?
LD—Yeah, he played lead for me for awhile right before he left California, it wasn’t that long, he probably played on and off for 6 months. He left right after the earthquake in ’94. That was the best thing he ever did because Austin just fit him to a T. We had written a number of songs together before that, and he flew into Nashville where I was recording and did a duet with me on, Barrooms, Broken Hearts and Beer. I wrote that song especially for us to do as a duet.
LD—There’s always been a divide and I understand why they have that stance. For myself personally, I was playing the dance halls and I was playing my own music. Very few people recognize that because I don’t get up there and tell them that this is a song I just wrote, I just play. And what is the scene on the West Coast? I mean each person has to define what their scene is; they have to play their own music. If there are bands that have this whole thing about what they will and won’t do, that’s fine. But Dale did it, Dwight Yoakam did it, we’ve all done it. You can’t tell me you don’t get better the more you play.
VS—It’s just something I find interesting. Ultimately I don’t care who plays where because for me it’s all about the music.
LD—Honestly I don’t know how people do Top 40 songs all the time. I just couldn’t take it. I have to write my own stuff.
VS—And that’s my assumption about a lot of the dance-type clubs and the bands that play there; it’s that they just play Top 40 new country songs. That’s what surprised me about you. I knew that you at least did some originals because I’d played a few of them on my station but I just assumed that you played more of that other stuff.
LD—People do assume that. I‘ve always just kind of done my own thing, whatever my thing is. It’s like I’m not part of this scene or that scene, I just do what I do. You can go in and listen to me all night long and I might not say I wrote a song and you might assume that these are just songs you didn’t hear off of somebody else’s album. I’ve made songs up on stage. A Drink, A Rose and A Candle (from the album Outlaws, Guitars & Lovesongs) was made up on stage. But guys like Dale do their thing and he’s got a unique approach to what he’s doing. That’s why he’s kind of a hero to a lot of the new guys coming up.
VS—How do you feel about the current climate of country music in general?
LD—One thing I think Nashville is really missing out on with these Taylor Swift’s. You got these 19-year-old girls telling me about life. Maybe that’s good for my daughter but I don’t want to hear it.
VS—I can’t listen to that either but at the same time I feel like she’s talented for her age group. So I recognize that, but it’s not my thing.
LD—Absolutely but because of that there’s this whole marketplace that’s kind of being ignored even though they have that disposable income because Nashville tends to be so youth oriented. But there are a lot of kids coming up now who are the sons and daughters of people who grew up on Merle or George Strait that want to hear that type of music or some offshoot of it. I think in that respect Nashville is always missing the mark. Usually things that are new and different come from Austin or the West Coast. I think the West Coast will have some impact again, it always does.
VS—I think it definitely will. The thing about Nashville, though, is there is a divide there between what the labels put out and what you can go downtown and hear at places like Tootsie’s or Robert’s.
LD—What’s funny is that there are so many wonderful studio musicians there that will go down and play those places for 30 or 40 bucks just because they want to play. Some of the best musicians in the world are down there just for the hell of it.
VS—How do you feel about where your career is at right now?
LD—I feel good about where it’s at right now. The songwriting is a strength that gets people’s attention, that’s what gets me through doors. I’d like to do an album of duets but as far as going out and touring all over Hell’s half acre to break a record I’m not sure I want to do that. It takes a lot of time and money to break an artist if you strictly go the radio route. I think that cable TV is a great place to play; I’d kind of like to do a West Coast thing on there. But you’re either moving forward or you’re moving backward so however I can get the songs out there, be it through the internet or internet video, that’s the main thing, the main direction.
VS—How do you go about getting your songs out there?
LD—If it’s for the movies, I have an agent. They’ll get them placed on a soap opera or a movie or CSI or something you may have never even heard of. A lot of times it’s background music you might not even know is there. As far as shopping songs to artists, I haven’t done as much of that as I probably could have. I don’t have a publisher doing that like the guys in Nashville do.
VS—So essentially movie work is your bread and butter?
LD—Yes. I signed with some people 8 or 9 years ago and they’re really good. They only represent two country artists so they work your songs hard.
VS—Are these songs that you have recorded or your songs that others have recorded?
LD—They are songs I have recorded. Usually they only take songs that I have written by myself so they don’t have to deal with another attorney and they can just take care of it.
VS—Are you recording new material?
LD—I get hired to write songs so I recorded some stuff that I wrote for somebody. But I have some new songs of my own that I want take in to make another album. Then there are some duets so I’m not sure exactly how it will shake out—or it may not shake out at all. This is a business where you don’t know what’s going to happen.
VS—Do you write in other formats like screenplays or novels also?
LD—Yes, I have a screenplay called, From Bel Air to Bakersfield. There hasn’t been a country music movie in a long time. I think the music industry could use a few and with them I think country music will mature again.
VS—How did the screenplay come about?
LD—I had this idea and some friends of mine who are actors and writers said I should go ahead and write it. So I thought, why not, I’ve read enough of them and I’d done some acting. So I just sat down and started writing. It was amazing how the characters took on lives of their own.
VS—That’s one of the things I love about writing. There are things that you discover about your characters that you never even knew about until it pops up.
LD—It’s like they just come alive. With songwriting you tell a story in 3 minutes but with a screenplay there is all this wonderful freedom.
VS—You have had your band, The Shooters, for going on 3 decades so I imagine a lot of musicians have come and gone in that time. Do you choose band members on musical ability or personality or both.
LD—All of the above. A certain thing happens when you lead a band. I was very lucky when I first started because most of my band members were singing waiters so nobody was trying to steal them; they weren’t musicians from other local bands on the scene. They all were terrific musicians so we just kind of hit the scene and we were a hot little band. If you listen to the music from the early records, it was so different, more pop oriented but then as you progress, you start changing. Back then I was writing more pop sounding-type stuff then I started doing more hard core country and now I’m swinging more toward melodic-type stuff. Over the years I’ve put together 3 or 4 really great bands and with each one there’s kind of a chemistry that just kind of happens. You can go through a number of years using pick-up musicians and just get by but when you do what I do which is original music, you can’t just call up somebody and say we’re going to play Luckenbach, Texas all night long. I can get really stuck if I don’t have my core players. But there’s a personality thing and a music thing, whoever kind of goes together.
VS—Anything else you want to add?
LD—I’d also like to help expose the artists here and help them along the way. I know there are some talented new artists here on the West Coast and some are really varied in what they perceive country to be but I don’t think there should be any boundaries. I see boundaries being thrown up by certain musicians that come from my era, like Dwight’s era or Dale’s but I’m more like Willie Nelson, he doesn’t seem to put any boundaries up, he opens his head up to reggae or this or that, he’s open to everything. Coming from a rock background my guitar playing tends to be a little more rock and blues-based so that gives it a little different twist than your normal country guitar sound but that’s the way I play and I just hope people accept it.
For more information please visit: