Why country music ?
~ It’s funny because I grew up listening to the Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel and one of my favorite folk artists, Gordon Lightfoot. I had a friend who was into country music at the time though. Willie Nelson (before the long hair), Charlie Pride and of course, Johnny Cash. We teased him about being a hick but I found myself liking the music more and more. Not long after that, I began going to school in Austin, Texas and got to hear the great Texas songwriters like Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt. That was also around the time Willie and Jerry Jeff Walker began hanging out in Austin and Willie was doing a lot of music with Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash. I just fell in love with the idea of writing and singing songs that told stories that were real. Genuine music about real-life people. Not slick production, synthesizers and drum machines but real guitars, real singers.
If everything would be possible (waking the dead included) , which two people should sing the ultimate country duet?
~ For me, the female half is easy. Emmylou Harris. I just love her voice, the songs she sings, her musical integrity, everything about her. The other half is kind of a toss-up and it would involve waking the dead. I would either go with George Jones or most likely, the all-time great, Hank Williams. I think I’d have Hank and Emmylou sing “I’m So Lonesome, I Could Cry.”
What song you ever recorded means the most to you and why?
~ I’m having trouble giving you uncomplicated answers. There are two that I’ve written and recorded that probably mean the most to me. One is a song called “Borrowed Time” which I wrote about the importance of focusing on what really matters in life (the people you love) rather than getting caught up in things like fame, fortune, politics, etc. When I wrote it, I was thinking about several friends who had passed away too soon before I got to make the most of our friendship and how I had missed opportunities to spend time with them. I was also thinking about my daughter, who is just starting out her career as an entertainer and has (her mother and I hope!) a long life in front of her. The thing about it though, is that we never know how much time we have (that’s why we live on “borrowed time”). I just told her to go for it and sing her heart out. The other song is one I wrote for my wife called “I Wouldn’t Miss You.” The tag to that is “until you were gone.” It’s about me taking her for granted and not telling her I love her nearly often enough. She likes that one a lot and it gets me out of the doghouse, which I’m inclined to get into every so often.
Who would you like to write a song for you?
~ One of my favorite songwriters of all time is the great Nashville songwriter, Bob McDill, who wrote “Amanda,” “Everything That Glitters,” as well as many of Don Williams’ wonderful hits. He’s from my hometown of Beaumont, Texas and I think he already wrote the song for me. It’s the great Don Williams song, “Good Old Boys Like Me.” It just captures everything worth saying about growing up in Texas and the South. It’s a masterpiece.
Whisky wine beer or water?
~ I’m tempted to go with whiskey because Jameson’s Irish Whiskey is one of my favorite things in the world (sipped in moderation, of course). However, since one of my goals in life is to taste every beer in the world before I die, I’ll have to go with beer.
What do you consider the most important change in country music during your career and what are your thoughts about it?
~ It’s something that’s been going on in country music since at least the late 70s and is still going on today. The people on the business side of the industry want to make the most money they can possibly make, which is understandable, and they’ve figured out that in order to appeal to a broader audience, including pop and rock music fans, they have to take some of the “country” out of the music. That’s a slippery slope though because the more you do that, the more you take that genuineness out of it that I mentioned above. The music just becomes more about slick production and catchy hooks than something that has substance and is real. As a songwriter, I’d rather write a song that has some meaning and depth to it, even if casual music fans aren’t interested in that. That fits me best as an artist but from the standpoint of making the most money you can make, it’s probably not the way to go. I’m sure that’s at least one of the things that has stood in the way of me becoming more popular and well-known but from my point of view, it’s been worth it. I’m sure there are other things that have stood in the way of me becoming popular and well-known, too, but I’d just as soon not dig too deep into that.
What is the question interviewers never seem to ask you and…you wish they would? (Please provide your answer as well.)
~ I had to save this one for last and really think about it. The question is “Do you think music can change the world?” My answer is “yes, if we really put our minds to it.” There’s a great video on YouTube of the song, “Stand By Me,” written by Ben E. Keith, who just recently passed away. It starts out on the streets of New York City with a street musician singing and playing his acoustic guitar. From there, every few lines, it changes to a different place in the world with different musicians and different instrumentation but the feeling you get about wanting to stand with your friends just keeps growing. It’s really a powerful video. Back in the 80s, I played in a little pub in Dallas owned by an Englishman. We had people from England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales and all over Europe who hung out there. There was an older lady from Argentina who used to come hear me every time I played there. She spoke no English and I spoke very little Spanish, yet we communicated perfectly through the music and became great friends. I’ve played music in Ireland and Canada and I’ve seen music bring people together who otherwise would feel uncomfortable being in the same room. Music is the international language and if we spent more time singing together, we’d have a lot less time for disagreeing and fighting.
Describe the ultimate recording studio (not the technique but the facilities)
~ OOOThat’s pretty easy because I was just there when I recorded my album, “Race with the Wind.” The ultimate recording studio has a comfortable, home-like ambience. My co-producer/engineer on my last project had a cute little dog that always greeted me and let me pet her for a few minutes before we got started. Once we hit the record button, she would lie there quietly until we took a break and then she’d come over for more attention. We worked hard during our sessions but when we were done, my engineer always had a nice adult beverage available for us to enjoy as we wound down and discussed the day’s progress. I guess what I’m saying is that the ultimate recording studio is less about having the latest technology and much more about helping the performer feel comfortable and relaxed. I think that’s when you give your best performances.
Johnny or June ?
~ I think June Carter Cash was a wonderful woman who probably saved Johnny Cash’s life by being there for him through thick and thin. I’d have to say, though, that I don’t think there’s ever been a performer in any genre of music that was more genuine than Johnny Cash. He was raw, he was politically incorrect before anyone even used that term and he said what was on his mind, even if it got him in trouble. He was a devout Christian but he stood up for convicted prisoners, demanding that they be treated with respect. He had tremendous passion for his music and tremendous integrity as an artist and as a human being. I’ll go with Johnny.
Are you still nervous before going on stage and if so, do you use any “rituals” to calm you nerves.
~ I rarely get nervous when I go on stage and I do have some things I think about that help me with this. One is something I learned many years ago in a performance workshop I attended. The thing is, when you give a performance, the crowd has come to be entertained, not to judge you. If you stay relaxed, you’ll most likely give the best performance you’re capable of and they will appreciate you for meeting their need to be entertained. On the other hand, if you’re nervous and worried about how they’re reacting, they’ll pick up on that feeling and they’ll get nervous, too. They’re really on your side until you give them a reason not to be. The other thing I figured out more recently is that when it comes down to it, the performance is not all about ME! It’s about this wonderful gift of musical talent that I happened to have been blessed with (to some extent) and the opportunity to share it with other people. When I perform now, I’m mostly thinking about what I can do to make sure the audience has the best experience they can so that when they leave, they feel like things are a little bit better, even if just for a little while. That’s the gift I can give them. The best way to not get nervous is to think about other people rather than thinking so much about yourself. Of course, that’s not always easy because as performers, we tend to have the focus and attention on us and it’s tempting to start thinking it’s “all about us.” It’s really not.
What was the most memorable day in your musical career and tell us why.
~ Again, I’m going to have to give you two answers. Last November, I was given the Western Music Association’s award for Male Performer of the Year for 2014, which caught me completely by surprise. The other four finalists in that category are all friends of mine and I have tremendous respect and admiration for them as performers and human beings. They’re all supremely talented and I just felt honored to be mentioned in the same sentence with them. When they announced my name, my wife gave me a big kiss and then began pounding on me (I think she was excited but she may have been trying to get a few free shots in. I don’t know). A couple of my good friends were in the row behind me and they started pounding on me, too. I had to get up to the stage as fast as I could just to keep from getting injured. Once I got up there, it hit me how much it meant that the Western music fans as well as my musical peers thought enough of my efforts to give them the very best I had every time I performed that they would confer this honor on me. I think about that now every time I perform and I try to give my best no matter whether there’s a huge audience or just a few people there. Every person who comes to hear your music deserves your best. The other moment was back in the late 90s. I was in a band and we recorded an album in Nashville. Our producer had been the engineer on Shania Twain’s first monster album and we had some of the best session musicians that Nashville had to offer. When we sat down in the studio in front of our microphones to start recording the first song, I looked around at these talented people and thought to myself, “If I have a heart attack and die right this minute, I’ll die a happy man.” It was pretty cool. In addition to being the very best musicians in the world, they were just the nicest, humblest folks you could ever imagine.