How did you develop your love for honky tonk music? Could you give us your origin story?
JD: I grew up going to honky tonks in and around East Texas as a kid. This is where I first heard and saw what made this music so unique and why the folks who danced to it loved it so much. Plus there was always country music around my house as a kid. Willie Nelson and Ray Price were constantly playing.
What performers from the past have inspired you?
JD: So many have inspired me. My fav country guys were always the ones who somehow transcended the genre of country & hard rock and even R&B fans because they were so undeniable. Waylon, Buck Owens, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash all had a mass appeal because they were really trying to do something different with their music. I love Faron Young and Carl Smith too, but they were strict about not veering away from tradition and that bores me.
Which of today's performers do you think are putting out good music?
JD: Oh there's some great stuff out there today you just have to weed thru a lot of mediocrity to get to it. Depends on what mood I'm in, but I like Brennen Leigh, Hayes Carll, Rev Horton Heat, Dale Watson, Shooter Jennings, Ryan Bingham and lots of others. Sometimes I feel like hearing traditional music like country or rockabilly like Deke Dickerson or Chris Scruggs and sometimes I wanna hear something like Social Distortion or The Yawpers.
What is your favorite part about being a musician? Your least favorite?
JD: Favorite part of being a musician is being able to create a song out of thin air, rehearse it, then play it live and have people immediately respond to it. It's the best job in the world. Playing with your heroes is also an unbelievable experience. Worst part is the business. Dealing with all the folks who are constantly trying to rip you off or folks who are in the business for all the wrong reasons, other than being true music fans.
Where is the most unique place you've played or your favorite venue ever?
JD: Most unique place I've played was in Laos for the American Ambassador and several other Ambassadors that were there. Unbelievable night of music, French-Vietnamese food & open discussions about everything out on a huge beautiful porch that overlooked the Mekong River. I've played all over Europe, Russia, South America, and even Africa but that was by far the most exotic. Favorite venue is Gruene Hall outside of Austin TX.
Who is the most famous musician you've gotten to know along your musical journey?
JD: A lot of them. Played all the guitar on the Waylon record "Right For The Time" which was amazing. Had some great times with Waylon. Recorded with Willie Nelson, Ray Price, Glen Campbell, Johnny Bush and also some rock n roll acts like the Supersuckers, Rob Zombie and X from Los Angeles. Chrissie Hynde from the Pretenders just came to our show in London so we got to hang out and have been talking. People are people to me.
Have you always been a natural performer or how have you been able to deal with the anxieties that come with being on stage?
JD: Never had an anxiety issues about performing. I guess, in my heart of hearts, I think people are inherently good and want to see me do well. Our crowds know I give them everything I have and they know I care. It's not about me, it's about them having the best concert experience ever. Not all musicians feel this way, but I'm a giver, it's just my nature.
What's an average day like for you?
JD: When I'm not on the road are usually wake up and go to the gym, I eat pretty clean because it's not easy to tour so much and not be in shape, and I'm always working around the clock on music for the next record or music for film and television productions. When I'm on tour it's a completely different thing. I usually sleep in on the bus because we play late at night and travel late at night but I still do a pretty good job of trying to eat the cleanest food I can and stay away from all the garbage. When I'm home I spend some time with my hot rods and motorcycles and labradors and do trail running with my wife. Touring used to be about the party for me and that still happens sometimes but mostly it's about coming home in one piece and making the shows as successful as possible.
Willie Nelson named his favorite guitar Trigger. Do you have a favorite instrument and have you named it?
JD: I have an acoustic guitar at home that's a mid 60s Martin called Lulu Bell. Other than that have a lot of guitars but I don't name them too much. I have friends that are super in-depth geeky nerds about guitars. I love them, but for me they've always just been tools.
What advice would you have for someone just starting out in this industry?
JD: I would say do not worry about what other people are doing. Do not try to jump on some hot bandwagon because everyone thinks it's cool. Do your own thing right. Play as many shows as possible. Build your following one fan at a time and make cool records on your own. Don't worry about record labels or radio, just try to build your own following no one will ever be able take away from you.
Every month, we ask one of our favorite honky tonk artists to answer 10 questions.
We are extremely excited to kick off this feature with an interview with Austin's own Jesse Dayton. Jesse is known for his virtuoso guitar work, his muscular defense of traditional country music, his off-the-beaten-track ventures with Rob Zombie and John Doe from X, and his time on stage with country music legends such as Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Glen Campbell, Ray Price, and host of other superstars. Jesse's daddy was a badass and Jesse's been one himself since he was 15 playing in blues clubs near his home town of Beaumont, Texas.
Check out Jesse's latest album The Outsider available from his web site.
I've seen you describe your music as NASA Country. I hear the urban cool of Lou Reed combined with the cosmic cowboy sound of Doug Sahm. What does NASA Country mean to you?
GTC: NASA Country is a collective of artists and musicians in San Antone. We are currently working on the follow up to "In the Shadows (Again)". It will be way more far out. The term is a play on "space country" which is what we use to describe our atmospheric / psychedelic sound. Sound artist Justin Boyd plays an important role in the lineup. He manipulates my acoustic guitar sound through his modular synth setup to create ambient soundscapes. The NASA Country collective does not perform too often, but we will be doing a short tour of the Tejas valley in mid December.
You perform with a cowpunk edge as well. There seems to be a lot of younger honky tonk musicians who started out in punk bands. Could you tell us where you got that influence in your music?
GTC: I love rock n' roll. I grew up listening to all sorts of music, especially some of the classic stuff like the Rolling Stones, my dad loved them. When playing live, you got to give it all you got. That can mean different things for different performers, but for me, my energy turns in to some "punk rock thing". That's just the way it happens. When I write my songs they are usually in a Texas country/folk vein, and live I like to turn it up. Things are a bit more relaxed when I perform with "NASA Country." A lot of the energy can be harnessed in the synth department, but when I'm playing in a more conventional rock band setup, we have to bring it.
I saw you put on an incredible live performance in Chicago. I also noticed that your song Born in San Antone was used in the Showtime Series Billions as its theme song. Where are you most comfortable? On the road or in the studio?
GTC: I'm most comfortable on stage or writing.
Texas, of course, has a storied legacy of great songwriters. What performers from the past have inspired you?
GTC: All the Texas people: Steve Earle. Robert Keen. Sahm. Alejandro Escovedo. Townes. etc.
Where is the most unique place you've played or your favorite venue ever?
GTC: I really enjoy performing in this cool mid-century furniture store in San Antone, Period Modern.
Who is the most famous musician you've gotten to know along your musical journey?
GTC: Kinky Friedman
Have you always been such a physical performer? Where does that come from?
GTC: I'm a drummer at heart. That's probably where it comes from.
What's an average day like for you now?
GTC: Wake up. Eat some tacos. Play roggenroll.
You just released your latest album entitled "In The Shadows (Again)."
Who did you write this album for?
GTC: Not sure on that one! it's a collection of songs, both old and new. Some are for loved ones (Baby Please, Here Right Now), some don't really have a specific person in mind (Born in to a Ballroom, Trouble's Callin').
Your about to head on tour to The Netherlands. Have you been there before? How do you think you will be received in Amsterdam?
GTC: I've never been. It is going to be a rippin time. I think Amsterdam will love us if they are drunk.
San Antonio's most civic-minded son, Garrett T Capps joins us today. Garrett's epic, cowpunk tribute to his hometown, Born in San Antone, is featured on the critically acclaimed Showtime drama, Billions.
We got to appreciate Garrett and his Austin pals, Mayeux and Broussard, when they put a Tex-Mex infused whuppin' on their Chicago audience late September at the world famous Montrose saloon.
Garrett graciously took the time to speak with us before jumping overseas on a month-long tour of The Netherlands.
His space-country, two-step friendly new album, In The Shadows (Again), is available on his web site at: www.garretttcapps.com
"Made it to Europe, by way of a boat
Stranded in Dublin, without no coat
Somebody asked me: "Where you comin' from, bloke?"
"I’ve come from San Antone!"
Sped right through Paris, Prague and Rome
Drank red wine till the blood rattled my bones
Lost my direction - ten times alone
Too far from San Antone "
Garrett T Capps, I Was Borne In San Antone
You are from the city of Chicago originally correct? What neighborhood did you grow up in and how did you ever get started with country music. Seems a little counter-intuitive to think of Chicago and honky tonk music.
DW: I actually grew up in four states, New York, California, Illinois and Arizona. Age nine through sixteen, I lived in the suburban Chicago town of Buffalo Grove. The first country recording I ever heard was a Johnny Cash prison record my older brother owned, then I started getting into the early 70s Grateful Dead records like Working Man's Dead and American Beauty, which were pretty country. I started listening to country more seriously after my first divorce in my early 20s, hitting the Willie and Kristofferson stuff pretty hard. It helped me immensely and sunk into my bones. At that point, I was sold and wanted to integrate some country into my rock band.
You and The Shinebenders been playing together in the Chicago market for almost two decades. How do you see the Chicago market for honky tonk music compared to places you've been nationally. Is it more or less favorable than when you first started out?
DW: 2019 will be our 15th anniversary as a band. When we started there were a handful of country bands in Chicago and seemingly a lot fewer country bands nationally. Back then bands were just starting to get on the internet and I don’t think the scene had really developed nationally or internationally like we have now. In hindsight, I see there were some good alternative country acts going at this time, but I was not aware of them aside from a few Bloodshot bands.
The Chicago market for country is good, although I’m disappointed more local venues don’t make it more of a priority. I do see some national venues such as Westport Saloon in Kansas City, along with lots of Texas venues that are dedicated to country and honky tonk. Montrose Saloon here in Chicago is probably the closest place we have to a honky tonk.
You've been doing a lot of touring lately. Austin, Nashville, Brooklyn, and others. Has there been a place or show that stuck out in your mind on your last tour?
DW: Our show at Skinny Dennis in Brooklyn was my favorite. The place was packed, and we played a long set, everybody in the house was grooving along with the band all night. Strangely enough the night began badly for me when my amp blew up. Luckily there was a house amp there I could use (it had no reverb so I played all night using my phaser pedal!). It was also nice to have Charles Hill Jr along for that show.
When I hear you play, I hear all the traditional sounds of honky tonk and western swing music, but, depending on the night, you guys can turn into a bit of a psychedelic, honky tonk jam band. How do you categorize what you do?
DW: It is difficult to categorize the band. Honky tonk country is probably the most general label you can put on us. I’ve used an assortment of labels over the years including urban honky tonk, freak country, 21st century honky tonk, whiskey drinking and hell raising, etc. We do go off on tangents sometimes, or “freak outs”, as we used to call them in my old rock band June Bug Massacre. I don’t put any specific limitations on the types of country we do, as long as it’s good. For example some of our stuff is straight shuffle/swing like Bob Wills or Ray Price, while other stuff may sound more 70’s outlaw-ish, hillbilly or jazzy. Country is a rather wide spectrum and I like to explore all areas of it short of Bro country, which obviously sucks.
What's your favorite track off your latest album "Anything You Wanted To"? Is there any backstory to this song?
DW: I don’t really have a favorite track of the latest album, but I will give you some backstory on The Legend of Kye Lafoone. This was the first song I ever completed, although I changed and augmented it along the way over a few decades. I wrote the verses back in early high school about a fellow student that I got to know briefly before he was mysteriously absent. Kye was from Texas but the rest of the story I just made up to create a legend around him. I wrote and performed the song for an English class project using my friend Howard Covitz’s guitar. I only knew a couple guitar chords at the time. Playing the song in front of my class, I put a little comedy into the performance, and as I recall the teacher didn’t really understand that. I recorded the song originally on the Great Plains Gypsies album One Dark Day in the late 1990s. That version sounds a little different since it uses a rock beat over the chorus. Scott Schenke came up with that cool riff which I reproduced for this latest version using a Mike Hagler’s Fender Jaguar at Kingsize Sound Labs.
You opened up for Shooter Jennings the other night at the Beat Kitchen in Chicago. How did the show go and how was it sharing the bill with a little country music royalty?
DW: It was a cool show. The place was packed, and we went over really well with the crowd that came to see Shooter. It’s always nice to open for national acts since the crowds they bring out are much different that the crowds that show up for local band shows. Shooter himself was in and out of the place like Elvis, so unfortunately I didn’t get to meet him. I would say that he has forged his own sound and is distinctly different than Waylon.
What was it like to get nominated for an Ameripolitan Award (Best Honky Tonk Band - to be determined in Memphis in February 2019).
DW: I am very happy to be nominated for the 2019 Ameripolitan awards. It’s something I’ve been working on over a few years now. We went to the awards last year just to check it out and we had a great time meeting people and seeing the showcases. This year will be a huge step up since we were actually nominated. I think Ameripolitan nominations are noteworthy since they can really put an artist on the map that people may have not been familiar with before. The band is looking forward to heading to Memphis in February.
Really enjoyed your cover of Mel Tillis's Mental Revenge the last time I saw you and the Shinebenders. In talking to you, it seems like you have an extensive knowledge of country music history. Who is your favorite performer or performers of all time?
DW: I’ll comment just on the performers I’ve actually seen in person. In all genres I’d have to say my favorite performer is Nick Cave. The man is simply electric! In the genre of country my favorite performers are Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Dale Watson, and Wayne Hancock. There are countless country artists I wish I had seen but they’re dead, and others where I’ve just missed their shows. Oh for a time machine!
You are also part of an online radio station available through www.chicagohonkytonk.com. Could you talk a little about what your role is and what you are trying to do with it?
DW: Chicago Honky Tonk is a website I started with JB Duckett, Benjamin Miles and Megan Williams primarily to draw more attention to Chicago country music. We do listings for local shows, we curate shows and we have an internet radio station. I’m primarily doing the radio station. It’s set up to play 24/7 and features both new and old country. There’s also lots of local artists on there which works well since we do listings for these artists’ shows. The radio station is starting to get international listeners now, which I’m excited about. If you live in Chicago or are visiting the city and you’re looking for something to do I would suggest you check out the website to find out what options you have for live music. We also have a monthly show we set up at Empty Bottle that showcases a couple bands and features dancing and dance lessons. It’s usually held the third Sunday afternoon of the month.
What do you have coming up either from an album or tour point of view? Are you back in the studio soon?
DW: We’ve winded down our touring for a few months but will still play locally and in some adjacent states over the fall and winter. I have a new batch of songs that we’ve started working into our live repertoire and we hope to record those tunes for a new album sometime this winter or spring. The touring will start again in spring. You can stay tuned with our happenings by signing up for our monthly newsletter at https://danwhitaker.com
Dan Whitaker is the front man for Dan Whitaker and The Shinebenders and a long time veteran of the Chicago Honky Tonk scene.
Dan and The Shinebenders have been nominated recently for an Ameripolitan Award in the category of Best Honky Tonk Band. The awards are handed out annually at the Ameripolitan Awards Show in Memphis in February.
We last saw Dan and The Shinebenders open up for Shooter Jennings at the Beat Kitchen in Chicago in mid October.
All Dan's albums are available on his web site at: https://danwhitaker.com
What part of Japan are you from, and how long have you been playing rockabilly music?
KY: I am from Kanagawa prefecture, next to Tokyo. I live in a small city that is very close to the sea. I have been playing rockabilly music for 35 years.
Were you always into rockabilly or did you start in other types of music first.
KY: First, I was knocked out by Japanese rock’n’roll music that included several Chuck Berry and Little Richard covered songs. Then, when I was 16 years old, I started to play electric bass. In those days, I did not know that rock’n’roll music was from America. So, I believed it was Japanese originally when I played electric bass.
What initially drew you into playing rockabilly?
KY: When I was 19 years old, my friend told me “If you like rock’n’roll music, try listening to this.” And he gave me a cassette tape of the Stray Cats. That was amazing. It taught me rock’n’roll music was made in America. And I knew rockabilly music was real rock’n’roll, because The Stray Cats played their roots music like Eddie Cochran, Gene Vincent, Johnny Burnette, and so on.
I was really interested in the rockabilly world and started to look for any information about rockabilly. Not only music, also 1950s culture including individual instruments, clothing, cars, furniture, and so on. When I saw The Stray Cats on TV here, I was very surprised with their playing style, like fingerpicking on their big archtop electric guitar, the slap bass, standing drum -- they were all brand new for me. Never an old style. Then I started to play rockabilly guitar. Rockabilly changed my life.
There seems to be a dynamic rockabilly community in Japan, and everyone seems to try to outdo each other with their rockabilly style. What's that like, and do you have any idea how this started?
KY: There were some rockabilly stores like record stores, clothing stores, pubs here from around 1980, and most of them had customers that enjoyed music and rockabilly culture with each other. In those days, though, the internet had not appeared yet. In 1980s and 90s, we used to have to go to such stores for all our rockabilly information.
Your guitar playing is amazing and so is the look of your guitars. Are they custom built for you? What specific Gretsch model do you play?
KY: Thank you. That is a 1959 Gretsch #6117 Double Anniversary model. When I got that in LA in the 90s, it was 100% original, and good only for watching on the wall. Though it was a very beautiful brown sun-burst color, I wanted a red Gretsch guitar in middle of 1990s for the photoshoot on our new CD. Then, I decided to use the guitar for both the photo and the show on stage, so I changed the tuner, painted the guitar red, added a Bigsby tailpiece, and a locked bridge. A few years later, I added pinstriping at a hotrod shop. Oh, then…since 2005, I have added the autographs of many rockabilly musicians on the back body.
I've seen interviews with Levi Dexter in which he calls the Gretsch Brothers his favorite people to play with. What's it like to play with one of the original and legendary British teddyboys?
KY: Big honor. Because he is a rockabilly idol for me, since I fell in love with rockabilly music. So, I was very nervous when I met and played with him first in the early 1990s. But in 10 years, Levi and I have recorded a full CD album together and played some shows in Japan. In the studio and on the road, he used to tell me so many funny stories from the time when he was a young teddyboy. Those times were very interesting, and we became more familiar with each other. Nowadays, he is my rock brother. Though we are apart, usually with him in England and I in Japan, I really enjoy playing with him.
I know playing in Nashville in the summer was a big deal to you. Can you explain how you felt about playing there?
KY: That was amazing! First, Nashville was the place where I took my first trip to the US in 1992. Since I play rockabilly music, and I was very interested in country music too, Nashville is sacred place. So, I was very happy and excited to play there. And, as rockabilly music was born in the U.S., it was big honor, and I felt thrilled to play in the U.S. When I play rockabilly in the U.S., I always feel like I am in a dream.
Are there any rockabilly pioneers who you look up to? What early players do you admire?
KY: Brian Setzer, and his Stray Cats. Levi and the Rockats, Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps, Bill Haley and his Comets, and many, many more. Also country guitar players too … like Albert Lee, Jimmy Bryant, Chet Atkins, Merle Travis, and so on.
Your enthusiasm for playing this music is obvious when we watch you on stage. Do you have any idea how you developed your playing style? Where does it come from?
KY: I used to like to watch the rockabilly videos of the Stray Cats, the Polecats, Levi and the Rockats, and so on. They all have high playing technique and high energy for performances. It is the point and the reason that I love rockabilly music. So I play guitar thinking about both the technical elements and feeling the passion. My guitar style is the mixture between rockabilly and country guitar I guess.
What's coming up for you? Are the Gretsch Brothers on tour again soon? Any plans to visit the U.S.?
KY: I hope that the Gretsch Brothers play in the U.S. in near future. But no plans yet. Maybe next September 2019, Levi will come to Japan, and we will play several shows here. As I have two other rockabilly bands, I am always busy with tours and recordings. But I hope to go play at the birthplace of rockabilly music in the near future! Because the U.S. is my dreamland forever!
(Above) Stylish international rockabilly guitarist from Miura, Japan and formidable frontman for the group, the Gretsch Brothers, Kenichi Yamaguchi plays with ferocious abandon on the stage at the Nashville Boogie.
From his home in Miura, Kanagaw Prefecture, Kenishi graciously agreed to answer our Ten Questions.
We met Kenichi last May in Nashville while he was playing his gorgeous 1959 Gretsch #6117 Double Anniversary guitar in support of Levi Dexter, legendary British teddyboy and rockabilly pioneer.
All Kenichi's albums are available on his web site at: www.johnnykool.com
You are originally from Colorado, and you started playing music serving as a member of the US Coast Guard. Could you tell us a little more about how you first got started in this business?
MC: As a performer, I started in stand-up comedy. After going to a show, a girlfriend suggested I should try it out. I won an amateur open-mic and started getting booked as an opener. I did stand-up for about 4 years. I was also listening to a lot more music and it was opening my mind up creatively. I picked up the guitar to learn Bob Dylan songs. My sister gave me an old Goya and my brother gave me a binder with chord charts printed out. At some point I thought, “I can do this too.” I learned a few songs, wrote a couple, and ventured to open mics. I’d say while I was still in the Coast Guard, in New London, CT, were the first times I performed music. It was a few years after that I had made my way to New York City for school and started picking the guitar up with more intention.
Where did the name The Robert’s Troubadour come from and how did that start?
MC: Robert’s Western World is an iconic honky-tonk in Nashville. It’s become a central location in my Nashville experience, starting with being a bar-back one day a week. There’s something about that place, the spirit of the place, the people in the place, the orbit. I’d never been so happy to take garbage out. The lyrics to a song came to me while I was at work and a story developed out of that, that the real value to being there was the relationships, the shared experience, and the ability to take it all in with some perspective. A friend of mine wanted to make a video out of it and we asked if we could film it there. It caught on with Julie, the GM, and Jesse Lee Jones, the owner, and they shared it on their website calling me “The Robert’s Troubadour.” A truly classic and fun honor! I’ve worked about every job you can there from doorman to cook, so I suppose it’s fitting. It’s also humbling because, while I’ve played at Robert’s sporadically, others have played that stage for years and much better than me. There are some incredible things happening in there. Sarah Gayle Meech, John England & The Western Swingers, Rachael Hester and her bands, Don Kelley, Josh Hedley, Eileen Rose, Scott Icenogle, so many more... John McTigue on drums, Brad Albin on bass. Just the best players.
Congratulations on having your song, “The Night That I Found Jesus Down At Robert's Western World,” featured in Rolling Stone's 10 Best Country and Americana Songs of the Week (Oct 5). What did this mean for you?
MC: Thank you! I appreciate it. I was taken back a little when I read it. It means a tremendous amount that someone takes the time to listen to your songs, to put a critical ear to it, and to have it come out the other side resonating. That’s the real goal. To have the nod from them, it feels good to hit a benchmark. It means they think their audience can benefit from hearing the song and I appreciate them for that. I hope I can give them more to listen to.
By now of course, many of us are aware of Blake Shelton's comments regarding the current state of country music (Nobody wants to listen to their grandpa's music, ...) and Dale Watson's classic reply (Well, I'd rather be an old fart than a new country turd ... ). In your songwriting, how do you avoid certain time-worn, country clichés while bringing so much vitality, modernity, soul, and grit to this art form?
MC: I appreciate the kind words! For me, I’m focused on taking the concepts in my mind and using language to bring them to life. I seem to let lyrics and words cycle through my head, finding the right combinations, phrasing them, twisting them, and on... It’s important for me to engage the listener, so I use a lot of active verbiage and alliteration (maybe too much), to keeps things flowing. I also see things in a very visual way, so I want to give the listener something to grab onto so that they can relate and personalize the experience. The art of country music is an amazing thing, because at the heart of it, it’s about the listener. That’s just not something very many songwriters are focused on, regardless of what side of country you’re on.
You are about to release your new album, The Man With Everything, on November 9th (Recorded and produced with Joseph Lekkas. Flour Sack Cape Records). The songs are tight, perceptive, and contain a lot of classic American imagery. I hear you in this album as a fire-side legend teller, a traveler in need of mercies, and as a restless poet still trying to find a home. Can you talk about some of the things that inspired you to make this album? What does it mean to be a man with everything at this moment in history?
MC: I usually write songs in groups and once there are enough that have a cohesive feel, I’ll set about recording them. It’s a constant process and each is sort of a progress report. The songs are snapshots of my own journey. I moved to Nashville with the idea of fostering relationships with like-minded people, musicians, producers, etc. Also, to be heard in the marketplace. That’s the benefit of being here and I knew it would be valuable in my development as an artist. From that standpoint, this is a great step. Joe and I met early in our Nashville experiences, along with a few others in the Flour Sack Cape orbit... Ben Douglas, Charles Harger, Ben De La Cour. To watch the steady stream of great players come into the studio was a real thrill for both us. I have hard time writing about things that I don’t know, but the comforting thing I’ve learned is, most people’s daily concerns are similar. Most people are in need of mercies. Most people feel restless at one time or another. Most people have hopes and ambitions. They just don’t know how to voice it. Not just this record, but all the records I’ve made are inspired by the need to let others know that they’re not alone. That’s what music did for me. That’s what Bob Dylan did for me when I was a confused kid in the Coast Guard. The lyric in the song is “The man with everything may yet be empty still.” It’s a song, and ultimately, a record about perspective. If there’s one thing folks need at this moment in history, it’s perspective. The conclusion might be that many of the things we seek externally are already available to us, internally. That in terms of time, our own collective journey is a footnote in history. That doesn’t mean it’s not important.
This might be a little difficult to do, like a parent who has a favorite child but tries to hide this sentiment from the others, but do you have a favorite track off your latest album and can you give us any backstory to this song? Or, what is the first track we should listen to off this album if we haven't heard a Matt Campbell song before.
MC: “Twice As Big” - I was on a train tour in 2011. It was the first real touring I had done, and I bought a 30-day pass on Amtrak. I made a loop around the country, playing solo, mostly in places I’d never been. I was on a train from LA to San Antonio and in the dining car had a great conversation over dinner with 3 strangers. We covered all the bases... travel, sports, religion, politics. At that time, sort of crawling out of recession, people feeling down about the prospects of the country, I think I was being cute when I said, “Some people see it half full, and some see it half empty, but I think it’s twice as big as it needs to be.” It drew a few snickers, but it stuck with me. I hear sometimes the idea that current generations are worse off than previous ones. I couldn’t feel more different. As a culture, we live a life far more advanced than our parents did, much more so than our grandparents did, and under less adverse conditions. The world is at our fingertips, every day. It’s about how we engage that opportunity, personally, professionally, creatively. Those are the ideas I struggle with. What is it from life that I’m supposed to want? It took 5 years to manifest itself as a song, but that idea has informed nearly everything I’ve done since. It’s sort of magical when you have a perspective shift like that. When you come to see the world in a different light. That’s how living in New York City was for me. It altered my worldview. Sitting on the train with those folks in that moment, I took another turn.
In your opinion, what are some elements needed to make a great country song? Any examples from this generation's crop of artists? Someone we may not be aware of?
MC: You need to be able to pick a listener up in one moment and transport them somewhere else. I think you do that by engaging the audience and giving them something to relate to, hold on to, take with them... really, something to believe in. That could be the result of many different elements. I do like Kristina Murray quite a bit. I appreciate her determination, her grit. She’s less packaged than some, but it’s a benefit to her. Her songs are good and she has great presence. I can believe in that. My favorite songwriting contemporary is more folk, but Mikal Shapiro from Kansas City is one of the best. She’s engaged in pure expression. It’s whimsical and serious, light and dark, all at the same time. A great voice. She makes me write better songs. Logan Ledger is another. Most folks don’t know him, but I imagine they will.
People have noted the influences of Bob Dylan on your work. Your only cover on this album is Dylan's Simple Twist of Fate from Blood on the Tracks. Why did you choose to sing this song and how did you approach interpreting this music in your own style?
MC: I love the song. Traveling so much, living such a fleeting lifestyle, I can connect to it. As a band, we play a lot of honky-tonk shows, so being able to two-step to a song is important. It’s great to see people dancing to a Bob Dylan song. Many don’t know it’s him, and the ones that do think it’s a real treat. Nashville Skyline was the first Dylan album I owned. They would play “Lay Lady Lay” on the oldies station my Dad listened to. I was so taken with that song, the pedal steel, the easy rhythm. I was working in a drugstore with a small CD section and that was one of them. I hadn’t recorded a cover before, so it seemed fitting. I’m sure I could fill a few pages on his influence. Suffice to say, he opened the door for me.
You host For The People,” a weekly radio show presented by WSM 650AM that streams over the internet. Can you tell us a little about your show? What's it like to have a show on the same station that hosts the Grand Ole Opry. Lots of history there.
MC: It’s a dream to host the show in conjunction with WSM and Route 650. I’m grateful for the opportunity to do it. I had the idea for a weekly showcase that was recorded and broadcast for some time. I started to book live shows and record them in the hopes of building up content. Robert’s got involved as a vocal advocate for my idea and WSM having interest was very serendipitous. I’ve picked up great production tips/ideas and began doing freelance work for them too. It’s an important skill to have and I use it to present other voices and perspectives. We have some great live recordings and interviews. I’m a big Ernest Tubb fan. He was very aware of his audience, as well as the talent that surrounded him, and he marshalled his resources for the benefit of others. It’s another way of engaging the audience and the creative community. That’s the spirt of the show and the Route 650 stream. Eric Marcum at WSM and music folks like Brendan Malone and Post 82, The Farmer & Adele... We have our own shows, so it feels like a cavalcade of country hucksters! I think about my parents as kids in the 40’s and 50’s, picking up the Opry or one of those shows on the old tube radio. Now, their son is part of the same tradition. Pretty special.
What are your plans from here? After releasing The Man With Everything, are you touring in support of this new album?
MC: I’ll be out on the road in support of the new record. I love to get out and tour. I’ll be trying to make the jump to Europe this coming year too. It’s all just a continuation of the body of work. It never stops. I’ve got new songs to record and few more new ones to write. I’ll always be out there trying to engage new audiences. That’s what really inspires and motivates me. The people.
(Above) Matt Campbell plays a rousing set live at the Empty Bottle for the Honky Tonk Showcase presented by www.chicagohonkytonk.com.
Matt joined us on tour in support of his latest album, The Man With Everything. He also hosts a weekly podcast presented by WSM 650AM that streams over the internet. www.robertswesternworld.com/for-the-people/
Check out Matt at his web site: www.mattcampbelltroubadour.com
"Last to leave and I'm all alone. And I got to rambling home. I don't know that it's over but I'm leaving. Pull down the pictures and pack up my things. I'm trading teardrops of tomorrow in on a set of them silver wings."
Matt Campbell, Trading Teardrops
From playing in the national touring emo band Hot Rod Circuit and Colorado's country-rock band Drag the River, how did you make the transition over to classic country and honky tonk?
CJP: My parents were into Beatles/Zeppelin/Beachboys. Those were cool influences to grow up around. My parent’s parents, especially my mother’s side, were huge Elvis/country fans. Andy Jackson and I started Hot Rod Circuit (with others) sometime around 1997. I was living in Auburn, AL. He resided in Montgomery. I acquired my Mom’s mother’s lap steel around 94. I started playing it in HRC sparsely. That turned into me getting an old Fender 1000 cable pedal steel guitar. Andy and I were just kind of being ourselves and let ourselves connect with our roots. Jay (the bassist) really got me into Gram Parsons. And I was hooked. To feed that, I started playing a lot more steel guitar and was taking lessons, eventually started playing sessions.
There came a point when I wanted the music I was playing to be a specific style of country...and I thought, why not write and sing it.
It's rare to see the insightful introspection of a quality songwriter blended with the theatrical flair of a dynamic live performer. How do you manage both? Does one role come more naturally for you than the other?
CJP: When Andy found me in 94, I had written and recorded my first full length as a singer/songwriter. He hired me as his lead guitarist, a role I wore for at least 12 years. I was sort of a wild ass in that band and learned how to “perform” and engage with folks that way. Songwriting is way harder. And I, like most, am critical about it. I started as a kid, writing solo. Then, co-wrote with my rock band for years. I started writing for an old side band, and a couple of those songs just naturally were country. So, I landed on wanting to only do that around 2005.
I have started co-writing again with friends. But mostly just have to catch myself in an honest moment when I write. When it all comes clear, it’s usually at the most inconvenient times. We are writing a new Casey James Prestwood record now.
Casey James Prestwood and The Burning Angels wear some of the most colorful and detailed rhinestone suits in the business. For all the western wear fashionistas out there, have you always worn them and where did you get them from?
CJP: I started collecting vintage western wear when I was still in Hot Rod Circuit. Probably got my first Nudie stuff around 2005. In the early days, all I wore was vintage Nudie stuff. In fact, my blue suit on Born Too Late is a vintage Nudie. Nowadays, I mostly wear Manuel Cuevas designed suits. I met him around 2007. We ended up recording the Honky Tonk Bastard World album at his house in 2012.
I read an interview with you that described an encounter that you had at a concert attended by a Belgian serial killer. Can you give us a few details around that event?
Yes. We toured Europe in 2016. We played a lot in Belgium actually, including two maximum security prisons. They both had killers among the inmates. But yes, there was one individual that was a convicted serial killer. He spoke with me a bit after our set. It was a bit of a nervous experience to say the least.
We decided to only play prison/murder ballad type songs. Not beat around the bush, just go for it. For the most part, things went as planned. Two or three songs in, a fight broke out. It was outside the very small recreation room that had us, 20 or so inmates, a guard, and the warden. The guard and the warden immediately left (while we were playing). So, we just kept playing as this alarm, which was blinking the light in our room, was blaring. Our sound guy/driver slowly started to walk up to possibly shield the band if needed. But other than above said inmate (who stood up-apparently only to stretch, as he was a big guy) everyone remained calm. Probably lasted a minute in time. Felt like album length in slow motion.
He eventually told me he liked the set but told us if we returned that “Folsom Prison” wasn’t necessary (not a song we usually play). He mentioned that every band that plays there, no matter the genre, plays it. Fine by me.
Tell us about your development as a song writer. Looking back at the success of your early emo career to where you now, how have all the miles you've traveled and the places you been influenced the lyrics on your latest album, Born Too Late.
CJP: One of my favorite songs I’ve ever wrote for this band period is “Whiskey Peroxide and Smoke.” That was the first song I wrote, for my first album The Hurtin’ Kind. That record had a couple other decent, lucky tunes that I wrote. That album also had a couple covers on it.
Our sophomore effort, Falling Apart at The Seams, was like most. I had sort of lost myself. I was creatively empty. All my other bands had come to a screeching halt, and I had to get a job. I relied on doing four covers and wasn’t super thrilled on some of the others. Although, I’m really happy about how my song “Rebel on My Side” and our cover of “Willow Garden” came out.
Then we made the weird choice to do The Jukebox Is Busted Volumes One and Two. (Two was never completed/released) Those were all standards/covers including B-side and outtake stuff. The band was changing personnel a lot then. These records are out of print and can be found on our Best of The Early Year’s album.
When we recorded Honky Tonk Bastard World in 2012, I had been writing a lot. My wife was no longer playing in the band, and we had our first child around then. The band had been playing out a lot more, same lineup. And I think it showed on that record. I’m pretty happy with the writing on that one and Born Too Late.
One of my favorite songs on the album is King of All Losers. From what I understand, your life is pretty good now. How did you channel a level of misery necessary to write that song or other songs of that nature?
CJP: I am definitely in a happy spot in life. I usually have to be sort of bummed out to write. And usually draw upon my past, or live through others close, who are going through something real.
From your lush duets with Jeremi Hush and Amber Digby (readers should check out “Not a copy” on Born Too Late) to your stage wear and animated live performances, talk about the influence that Gram Parsons has had on your music.
CJP: He caught my attention when I was really getting into steel guitar. He kind of made me look past my rock influences and dig into my grandparent’s record collection. Which eventually led me to the classic hard stuff. Haven’t really looked back much since.
Congratulations on your nomination for an Ameripolitan Award (2019 Honky Tonk Male). What does this recognition mean for you?
CJP: Thank you. This will be my forth nomination, second in the Honky Tonk Male category. The other two were for Honky Tonk Band. It’s a fun party to see everyone. And an honor to be in such good company. I appreciate the nod.
How can we find you in Memphis in February? Are you playing one of the showcases in downtown Memphis or at the Awards Ceremony at the Graceland Resort?
CJP: Haven’t heard too much yet about Memphis. But I will be at the Legion Post 82 in East Nashville the February 23 and 26. Check my website as we add more shows. (CaseyJamesPrestwood.com)
Where to next? I know we have a little bit to go in this year, but what does 2019 look like for Casey James Prestwood and The Burning Angels?
CJP: I hope to be hitting the road more. We just had a lovely time in Chicago, Milwaukee. I just got back from playing three shows in the San Diego area. Hopefully, NYC again. Have to hit Austin, Texas again ASAP.
I will be singing with The Cowpokes on the Midnite Jamboree, Nov 10th in Nashville. Also, at the Legion Post 82 East Nashville, Dec 11. Again, with the Cowpokes.
We are working on a new album. (no ETA on the release)
We did, however, record a 7-inch, 45 split record with my old friend Josh Berwanger (“Anniversary/Only Children”). Our song is a duet I wrote and sang with Zephaniah OHora. It will be released on the Lowe Farm Label, which put out my first album, The Hurtin’ Kind.
Check for updates on pre-orders for this as the art and color variant vinyl will be very cool.
(Above) Virginia native, Casey James Prestwood sings to the enthusiastic two-stepping audience of the Honky Tonk Showcase at the Empty Bottle in Chicago.
Casey has been nominated for four Ameripolitan Awards (to be held in Memphis in February), including the 2019 award for Best Honky Tonk Male.
All Casey's albums, including his latest, Born Too Late, are available on his web site at CaseyJamesPrestwood.com.
"I've blown so many chances,
you'd think I've got an iron lung.
Like yesterday's romances,
dried up in the summer sun.
The king of all losers
is still a king.
Dress him up, give him a guitar,
and let him sing."
Casey James Prestwood, "King of All Losers"
from his latest album, Born Too Late.
Somewhere on the internet, I read that you were born in Nunavut, Canada's northernmost territory? Is this true? As a fellow Canadian, that even sounds harsh to me. How long did you stay there, and what happened to make you relocate to New Orleans.
PR: Well. Funny thing is I’d had a few drinks and told someone that and then forgot all about it. So, one day, I was loading into a show at a really nice cultural arts center in Donegal, Ireland — my first show ever outside of the USA — and the first thing I see are handbills on every table that read “Born in Nunavut, Canada, Pat Reedy...” and so on. I’m glad I didn’t say something weirder.
I was actually born in Meeker CO. Grew up in Illinois, then moved down to New Orleans. I lived there more of my life than any other place. I just returned from New Orleans to Nashville where I now live. I played a set at the All-Star Country Covered Dish Jamboree with my old New Orleans lineup, kind of a birthday present to myself.
I’ve lived in 8 states: Colorado, Illinois, Texas, Oregon, Montana, Wyoming, Louisiana, now Tennessee.
It's well-documented that you wrote down bits and pieces of your album That's All There Is on bits and pieces of construction site wood and paper scraps during breaks on the job. Are you always on guard for new material for your songs? Could you describe how you begin the process of composing a song?
Most of my songs came to me when I was on a job site or driving a truck. I have no process really. The songs come uninvited into my head, and I write them down as soon as possible.
You worked for years as a blue-collar worker helping to build the shiny new version of Nashville that we see today. What's the toughest construction (or other) job you ever had? What was the best one?
PR: I worked construction my whole life, other than some time in mining and the oilfields out west.
I worked as a heavy equipment operator in an oilfield waste landfill on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota for a year or so. Basically, a toxic waste dump. Place was remote, cold, and lawless. I mean this place was dangerous. No one knew what they were doing. Drill rigs everywhere. At least two people died every day seemed like. I would, on a regular basis, climb out of my excavator and have teach some fella’s girlfriend how to operate her truck so she could dump in my mixing plant. It was like this:
2 week “hitches” 1 week off, 12-hour shifts. I lived 17 hours away in western Wyoming. The “man camp” trailers were a 3-hour drive from the actual landfill. So, I’d drive every morning 3 hours from the trailer to work, then operate equipment and pull trucks out of the mud for 12 hours, then drive 3 hours back to sleep. At the end of the 12th day, I’d drive straight back to Wyoming to go on a 5-day party. Then they changed it to 28 days on, 14 days off.
This wasn’t close to the hardest work in the oilfield though. The rig hands worked harder.
The lyrics to your songs are full of clever word play, insightful humor, working class ethos, artful story telling -- something sorely lacking in today's country music. Where did you get this from? Are there any similar story tellers or artists in your family?
PR: Thank you. To my knowledge, I’m the only serious musician in my family. But I never knew my father’s side so who knows? I know I have half brothers and sisters out there somewhere.
In February, no less than Rolling Stone magazine describes you as a new country artist we need to know. What did the mention in Rolling Stone mean to you, and what did it do for your career?
PR: I was very honored to get that write-up. A lot of my friends have congratulated me, and my family told me they’re proud of me.
You began your career as a 21-year-old busking on the street corners of New Orleans. How did this early experience affect your later career as a live performer?
PR: Well, they’re not a captive or intentional audience, if it doesn’t have rhythm, it won’t grab them, and they’ll walk on by. Also, the ethic is different. Buskers in New Orleans are damn proud of code. When I started playing mandolin with my old friend Troy’s band down there, I knew I wasn’t that good, so I tried to take a smaller portion of the money. He gave me a strict non-negotiable line, “Pat, you’re taking full pay, everyone does. If you’re good enough to play you’re good enough to get paid.”
Nominations for the Ameripolitan Music Awards (held in Memphis in February) are in, and you are up for Best Honky Tonk Male. How did this testimony to your recent successes make you feel?
PR: Great! I really love what they’re doing with the Ameripolitan Awards. There are so many amazing, talented, and hardworking musicians involved in that. I’m deeply honored that I got on this list.
You've recently come back from a tour that spanned much of northern Europe. Any notable stories or shows from that long tour?
PR: Man, we stayed in an honest-to-God windmill built in 1740 and got to see how it worked. We went on a boat ride. We ate weird fermented herring in Sweden -- the list goes on. Whenever I go somewhere, I want to do the things they do there. And I love traveling too. The audiences were appreciative and generous. I love Europe. I went swimming in a different mountain stream every day before our shows in Switzerland.
George Jones and Dwight Yoakam are always listed as early influences in your career. Who of this generation of players do you like to listen to?
PR: Thing is, when I was a kid, they still played real deal country on commercial radio. It’s sad that they don’t anymore. As far as the big names, I’m a big fan of Merle Haggard and Billy Joe Shaver. They really lived those songs.
What's new for you? Are you heading back into the studio soon?
PR: I am. In February I’ll be recording a new one through Muddy Roots Records. Then I’ll be doing a tour of UK again. Won’t make it to mainland Europe until August though.
If you are looking for a performer who has lived his music, it's hard to find one who has driven down more hard roads than Pat Reedy. If wisdom can only be earned, the time he spent on the oil fields in North Dakota, the construction sites of Nashville, and the street corners of New Orleans where he busked as a twenty-one-year-old, gives Pat a special vantage point to sing about the loves and lives of the common man. In his latest album, That's All There Is, Pat delivers unapologetic, steel-toed country music that surprises with insight and wry humor.
Rolling Stone Magazine called Pat “a new country singer that you should know” (Feb 2018) .
Pat has been nominated for an Ameripolitan Music Award for Best Honky Tonk Male 2018.
There's a few things that you'll learn in this city. Some that might just stick there in your craw.
Everyone's an outlaw, til the cocaine wears off.
The only thing that's cheap in these bars is talk.
Pat Reedy, "Nashville Tennessee at 3am"
from his latest album, That's All There Is.
For more on Pat, his music and videos, click here.