Thursday
Dec022010

Darrell Scott Interview

With a long career that has seen him travel the roads of the US and Europe playing his music solo or as a member of a number of varied combos during which time he has released 7 albums under his own name. The latest of which is a double album Crooked Road. He has also recorded with and is touring with Robert Plant’s Band Of Joy. 

 

Can you tell us something about the genesis of Crooked Road your new double album which has been described as a reflection on your personal journey?

It's very specifically about being a guy and my relationship with women. I first got married at 20 and also I turned 50 while making the record and it was something about that coming of age that made me want to do something significant, what felt like a personal significance. I'm not necessarily industry orientated. I mean who puts out a double record these days. Especially in these iPod times of downloading one track. The other part of it was I wanted to play and sing everything on it. That goes back to when I was 16 and I got a four track reel-to-reel. I spent nights and night and nights, days, weeks months just throwing things on different tracks. I'd play bass on one track, the sign on another.

 

So it was a combination of that 50 year old guy going back to an idea I had when I was 15 when I wanted to play and sing everything. It's not like I want to do that the rest of my life but It's something I wanted to do.

 

When your recording on your own do you have a set template that you work to?

What I do is, well I wanted to have a click (a guide rhythm track) but I never did. The engineer didn't have one and neither did I but I still wanted to record so I didn't bother going around looking for one. So what I did was to start with the principle instruments and the vocal. So if it was a piano vocal that's what I did. If it was a banjo vocal I did that and if it was a guitar I started with that. I figured if I got that and it was right in it's essence, not so much in its production, and got the song across I thought that was a good place to start. So I added to that and if anything took away from that essence I knew it wasn't the right overdub or not the right instrument. That was my criteria. 

 

Was that a lengthy process?

You know, I had thought that it would be, but the truth is it was the quickest album turnaround I've ever had. Which seems ridiculous for a double album and something that I played and sang everything on. The only reasoning was it was important that I got the record done so whenever I was home from the road I would schedule with the engineer that I had four days home and I'd spend three of them in the studio. I was really diligent. There's something about turning 50 that spurred me on. It's something - it's not everything. It's just a number but I'm still alive and I wanted to keep going and the songs are still passing through me and I do play all these instruments ... so go sue me if you want to. It's what I do.

 

Had you accumulated songs over a period of time for the project?

I kinda make records based on themes. So some of these songs I've had for eight or nine years and I love them as songs but they never fitted with the theme of the album I was working on. So there songs about relationships there since I was 20 years old. So I realized that I has these songs that I had floating with that subject. In another way it was chronological starting from that first marriage at 20 where I had a song or two. So then in the end I narrowed it down to songs related to three major relationships from that start. Then I divided them by instrumentals that I included on the record. I write instrumentals by just noodling on the guitar or dobro or something. That can turn then into a song sometimes and I'll add lyrics. That became the way of dividing the album into chapters or the next relationship or something. Before I knew it I had enough material that wouldn't fit on to a single disc. So I had to make the decision to trim it down onto one CD or do I find a mid point and divide it into two. Which is what I did. 

 

Was that a decision that was in anyway effected by the way some people now receive music?

I sell my records through gigs and at Amazon and through the website and believe it or not there are actually some stores that have it in the US and in Europe. You through them in a suitcase or in the back of the rental car and see if anybody wants to buy them. 

 

Is there a lot of difference between doing it on your own and paying with a group like The Band Of Joy?

No, it's all music to me. Playing with Buddy and Patty and Robert is great. The singing is fantastic and they take great care of us of course. We walk in and everything is set up and when we walk away the take everything down, so it's all posh compared to what I usually do but what I usually do is actually pretty easy too. I walk in with an acoustic guitar and if they have a piano, great, I'll play that. I just see it all as music and the truth is I love doing my own stuff and I find it really refreshing to do my own thing I wouldn't want to lay back and just be doing all the Robert stuff. 

 

Will you be playing with The Band Of Joy beyond this immediate tour?

Yes, were back in Europe in a little while to do Italy, France some TV and stuff, Jools Holland as well. In January we'll be doing some regular dates in the States which will carry on through Spring.

 

Your songwriting has brought you some high profile covers how do you get the songs out there, is it through a publisher or from your recordings?

It tends to be from my own albums, which has always been to me the reason that there should be our own albums as writers because though my songs do get pitched in the regular publishing way but if you consider that the Dixie Chicks, whoever - fill in the blank name, are making a record how many pitches will they get per day? It would blow your brain. So when you one of dozens to hundreds of pitches you don't really stand a chance but if the artist or producer, or someone in the camp is a fan of my music then it bubbles up from there. A way better presentation, so to speak. When I look at the songs of mine that have been covered there's absolutely a pattern that they were on my records first. So I'm led to believe that that's where they are hearing them rather than through the giant pitch machine.

 

In some cases songwriters will use a demo singer who may use a vocal style similar to that of the artists they're pitching the song to. Have you ever tried that?

I always sing my own demos, but I'd try anything, however my publisher will always say "you sell this better than anyone". I'm not the usual cut anyway. So either the artist wants to say what this song is saying or they don't. It's that simple. There's no middle ground you want to say what my songs are saying as an artist or you don't. I don't mind that, to me that's perfect. 

 

You made an album with your Dad Wayne a while back. Do you have any plans to follow it up?

Yeah, I have another whole album in the can. I need to get off my butt and put it out. When I did that first record I had made enough recordings for two. I'd figured out some songs that would make a good album and released that and there's enough for another good one that I just need to do. He wants it done too. He got enough of a taste of whatever he got from the first one. There was no great shakes in sales but it's out in the ether now. He's a guy who was a labourer, who worked all his life. He's dreamed of making records and having his songs out there but so do a lot of other workers. But the gigs I got him on, and I only do one or two a year, are one's I picked on purpose where I knew they were going to like him as opposed to dragging him around all over the planet. So he got enough of a taste so that he wants that next record out.

Do you have a favourite place that you love to play yourself?

You know really it's anyplace where people are listening. In some places like North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia for some reason I've noticed that areas around mountains are good and I don't know why. There must be some anthropological reason for it. The same with the Rocky Mountains. Maybe the people are a touch closer to the earth. Maybe then they like more earthy kind of stuff. There people seem to know the songs and they want the new record. 

 

Do you play these gigs as a solo artist for the most part?

It's almost always solo. Sometimes a festival

will want a three or four piece band. Sometimes it's a bluegrass festival so they'll want it leaning towards that. But to me, I love it all, so there's no giant leap from playing with Robert to playing solo. That was that and this is this. 

I've wanted to come back to Ireland for a long time. I travelled here with Tim O'Brien and we'd come over to Ireland once or twice a year. I guess I haven't been back since I played in Belfast a year and a half ago. I love it over here. But sometimes it's just a money thing. A case in point is I'm here on Robert Plant's flight. So I'm just able to extend it and do some of my own shows. I thought that maybe I could do Dublin while I was here.

 

How did you get to play with Robert, was that through Buddy?

Yes, through Buddy. Basically it started as a two week recording session with no promise of anything. It may not have gone the whole two weeks if it didn't work out. It may not have worked in the first two days. I didn't have any giant notion. First I knew it was Buddy which is always good. Then it was with Robert - so that's a good way to start. 

Robert is one of the biggest music lovers I've ever known. He knows steel guitar styles. He will talk about this player and that player and he knows their strengths and what their thing was. He knows old mountain songs as well as all the rock and blues stuff as well as rockabilly. He's like an encyclopedia. 

Ronnie: Who have you played with over the years who stand out for you as a defining moment?

I started playing when I was thirteen in a family band. When I left the family band that would probably be one. It was like one door closing and another one opening. Moving to Boston, Massachusetts was another. Moving to Nashville was another. Another would have been working with Guy Clark on three or four records because of the great writer that he is. He's respected and he's the real deal. I don't have any giant strategy I walk through any door that seems like it's open. It's been fairly organic. 

 

When I was 17/18 I played in a house band so on a Friday and a Saturday night we'd have guests that could range from people like Roy Clark to Dorsey Burnette. So you had to back them up so there were a bunch of names from that time. Guys who hadn't had a record out in 30 years but still had an audience. So I was doing that at that age. But there was a point where I thought I'm either going to keep doing this or try something else and basically I quit music for about 5 years and went to school in Boston. I was tired of music as I had know it. I'd thought "if this is all there is too it well I might quit".

 

Did the mechanics of the music business put you off?

Oh yeah, but the music must proceed and it did. If I don't do it and put out my songs who will? Either we're going to do it or were not as the songs are passing through. You have to get off your ass and take them out there to a little club or where ever. Otherwise those songs go to the grave and what's the point. People like a new Dylan or Springsteen have to do it in the way that they can. They don't have the industry on their side so they have to do it by the means available to them. A case in point for me would be Loudon Wainwright, he's as good as anybody but if were waiting for home to fill an arena like a Springsteen we'll never see him so we have to make sure we go to him wherever he plays. 

Saturday
Nov062010

John Miller talks to Lonesome Highway

 

John Miller has been a lifelong country

music fan, his heroes include icon Hank Williams.

John was also the vocalist/frontman, guitarist

and principal songwriter with Glasgow’s Radio

Sweethearts. He now performs solo or with his

band The Country Casuals.

He has released three solos albums One Excuse

Too Many, Popping Pills and his current album

Still Carrying A Flame, as well as two album

with the Radio Sweethearts New Memories and

Lonesome Blue.

What was the spark that made you decide to write

and play country music as against any other genre

you listened to growing up?

I’ve always had an inclination to sing. When I was

a toddler, according to my mother, I would put on

a regular show in the front room just for her.

This involved standing on the dining table (my

first stage) with a dolly-peg for a microphone

belting out Beatles hits.

I had very varied tastes in music as I was growing

up. When I was at school my friends and I had a

reputation of always being in on the very early

days of the next big thing. I was very into punk

rock in my early teens closely followed by a brief

period as a ska loving skinhead. I remember being

very excited at hearing U2’s Boy and Crocodiles

by Echo and The Bunnymen who quickly became

my favourite band. I was content with that until

1984 when, at the age of 20, my infatuation

with The Smiths began. Their debut album was

released one week before my 20th birthday. What

a gift that was.

When I was 16 I sang in an indie band who were

kind of Echo and the Bunnymen meets The Walker

Brothers. At least we thought so (ha ha). We played

a load of shows, mainly in Glasgow, but sadly never

got to make a record.

The main influence in my life was always Country

Music and has been pretty much the one musical

constant for as long as I can remember. When other

people scribbled pop band names on their school

exercise books I would be writing Hank Williams

in the fanciest font I could manage.

Hank was, I guess, the main influence for me but I

was also exposed to Johnny Cash, Patsy Cline and

Jim Reeves who were almost household names in

the UK. I listened to loads of other great country

singers too, people like Merle Haggard and Waylon

Jennings, and later I would go out and discover

the earlier Country Greats who had influenced

them. Artists like Wynn Stewart, Bob Wills and

Lefty Frizzell.

So, even as an 18 year old playing Glasgow indie

clubs like Maestros (the King Tut’s of it’s day)

I would be happily playing Hank songs at the

soundcheck. This led to me fronting The Hank

Williams Memorial Band formed in late 1983 to

commemorate the 30th Anniversary of Hank’s

death. Interestingly enough the drummer in that

band was one Craig Ferguson (of Late Late Show

fame).

I suppose eventually a country band was inevitable.

Once you had made that decision how did you set

about bringing it to reality?

I actually stopped making music soon after the

Hank thing. That lasted for almost a decade but

I knew if I ever went back it would be to make

Country Music.

My chance came about when Duglas Stewart of

the BMX Bandits introduced me to their drummer

Francis Macdonald.

Frank and I hit it off and he quickly became one

of my best friends. We’d talk endlessly about music.

He liked Gram Parsons and I introduced him

to some older Country Music. One day I pitched

the idea of forming a Country band and very soon

after Radio Sweethearts were born.

The first Radio Sweethearts album was produced

by Kim Fowley, not a particularly established

country music fan and someone who is finding

celluloid fame now in the new Runaways biopic,

how did that happen?

Kim was actually in town to work with BMX Bandits

and Frank persuaded him to stay on and spend a

day recording a single with Radio Sweethearts.

The night before we went into the studio Kim

made me sit down in Frank’s bedroom with an

acoustic guitar and sing every song I had written

while he sat with a sheet of paper giving them

marks out of 10. I still have that sheet of paper.

The next day we were waiting on Kim and Frank

arriving at the studio when we got a fax from Kim

listing the songs he wanted us to record. Unfortunately

the band hadn’t even HEARD some of

them which led to a frantic effort to teach them

the songs before Kim arrived. One fraught 18

hour session later we had 15 songs recorded and

mixed.

These songs formed the basis of the New Memories

album which was released in the US under a deal

brokered by Kim and later, with extra tracks, in

the UK on Francis Macdonald’s Shoeshine label.

Talking of Francis MacDonald (of Teenage Fanclub),

he has been there from the start writing

songs on both Radio Sweethearts albums as well

as playing drums. He was also your label boss for

a couple of albums, how important was he to you?

Frank is a real go-getter and is now a very successful

band manager as well a being a label

boss. Being naturally lazy and entirely ignorant

of the music ‘business’ I wouldn’t have got anywhere

without him. He was the one who found all

the Radio Sweethearts guys within what felt like

5 minutes and was certainly within days of the

band idea being mooted.

He also organised shows and recording sessions

where I wouldn’t have known where to begin.

He continued to support me even after the band

split, playing drums on and releasing my first two

solo albums. He plays drums on the new album

too and continues to be not only my very dear

friend but also a great person to go to when I have

any questions about the business side of things.

Your influences come from classic 50’s to early 70’s

country as well as inspiration from contemporaries

like Dale Watson and Tom Armstrong who draw

from similar sources but has that style of country

music lost it’s path in the dash for cross-over mainstream

success?

You’re absolutely spot on about my influences. I

love lots of Country Music from those decades.

Nashville was producing some great Country Music

then but I think I’m much more influenced by

the California sound of singers like Wynn Stewart

and Merle Haggard.

Meeting people like Dale Watson and Tom Armstrong,

and also Robbie Fulks, was definitely inspirational

for me. It was amazing for me to find

and become friends with people who shared my

idea of what real Country Music was.

The so-called mainstream Country Music of today

bears little resemblance to the Country Music I

know and love. Dale Watson has been very vocal

about it and even states that he doesn’t want his

music to be known as Country because that term

has been hijacked by some other kind of music. I

wouldn’t go that far (ha ha).

To me what I’ve always regarded as Country Music

is still and always will be ‘Country Music’. I just

don’t think of that other music as ‘Country’ at all

though I can see a funny look in some people’s

eyes when I mention that I play Country Music.

I don’t think the confusion is such a problem in

the UK though as a lot of people still have a great

affection for the real thing.

Another factor for the music seems to be, on this side

of the Atlantic at least, the need for some audiences

to listen to nothing but old cover songs. Has that

been a drawback in getting your songs across?

I don’t know how it is in Ireland but we have a

very strange beast here which is known as ‘The

UK Country Scene’. I’ve never been very closely involved

with it, though I have occasionally dipped

my toe in the water, but it seems to resemble no

other ‘Country Scene’ on the planet.

There are a whole load of ‘covers bands’ around,

some of whom are excellent at what they do, but

all of whom seem to be doing much the same

thing.

You can often see 3 different bands over a weekend

at one club but you can safely bet they’ll be

playing the same songs. The sad thing is that

that’s what the audiences seem to want. I guess

there’s a comforting familiarity about it.

There are some bands on the scene who play some

original songs but there’s very little scope on the

UK scene for a band doing predominately original

material. Saying that, I have found some clubs who

are happy to listen to what I’m doing so there is

some hope that things may change.

Another substantial part of the Country Music

scene now is the Linedancing fraternity. They often

have no real interest in the music unless they know

which particular dance accompanies that tune.

Sadly, the linedancers are not confined to the UK.

I recently saw a linedance exhibition in the street

in Grindelwald, Switzerland and have had them

turn up at my bigger shows in Germany.

I don’t mind them too much if they’re dancing at

my show but it does irk me a little bit that I can

tell they’re not really listening to the music. They

generally spend half the song discussing among

themselves which dance they think will fit and

barely get into their stride before the song is over.

It amuses me to see that and I generally follow up

with a song in a different tempo just to confuse

them. The old fashioned waltzers and two-steppers

need no such debate of course. They simply hit the

floor running and have much more fun.

I guess it does make it difficult to get my music

across in those circumstances but I feel it would

be wrong for me to compromise too much. I can

only do what I do and hope for the best.

At this stage in your career what are your expectations

for your music and where it may bring you?

I never ever expected to be a ‘star’ but at one time

I expected I would make a living with my music.

I realised a long time ago that neither of those

things was going to happen. It disheartened me

for a while and for almost two years I turned my

back on music completely. I then spent another

couple of years slowly working my way back in,

still unconvinced if I really wanted to or not.

Once I got used to the idea that it was simply a

passion and not a career I became much happier

again. I made my new album with no expectations

except to share my music with friends around the

world and, hopefully, recoup my costs. If I do that’s

great, if I don’t that’s also great. The main thing

is I’m getting out there and sharing my music. It

would still be nice to make a living though (ha ha).

That you’re still writing and recording is a testament

to your need to get the music out there. You

also play live with your band the Country Casuals

which aspect of the process do you enjoy most?

Yes, I realise now there is still a need inside me

for my music to be heard, or as I prefer it, shared.

This, I imagine, is the case for all music makers.

The writing and recording process can be fairly

stressful as I am on my own mostly and there is

a nagging insecurity that asks if you’re doing the

right thing. I always think my music is never any

good until someone comes up and tells me it’s good.

Playing live is completely different. Your audience

will soon let you know if they’re enjoying the music

or not. Although the lead up to a show, the

arranging and travelling and such, can be tiring

or stressful the time spent on stage is such a thrill.

You can build up a relationship with an audience

that can never exist in a writing or recording environment

so I guess it’s safe to say that playing live

is my favourite part.

Plus the big bonus is that you get to meet some

great people at the live shows. I’ve met a lot of

people that I now regard as personal friends and

that I regularly correspond with.

The inspiration for the material, for telling the

stories, is part of a tradition in Scotland; one of

the root sources for the strands of music that wove

into what became Country Music. Do you feel a

part of that tradition?

Yes, very much so. I feel a great sense of pride in

the historically recognised fact that Country Music

evolved from the music of Scottish and Irish settlers.

I’ve lived my whole life in Scotland but my grandfather

was from deep in the south of Ireland and all

the songs my Mother learned at his knee I learned

at her knee. To me those songs are very much from

that same tradition. Maybe that’s why my songs are

often very melancholy?

Do you think Country Music will ever come to the

fore in the UK where it has little support on mainstream

radio and TV?

I think Country Music in the UK had it’s heyday in

the 70s when they used to have the massive Wembley

Country festivals and Country Stars appeared regularly

on the Val Doonican Show and even Top Of

The Pops. Sadly, I don’t see that ever happening

again. Even the most mainstream Country show in

the UK, Radio 2’s Bob Harris Country, is restricted

to one hour on a Thursday night.

On your myspace page you have also listed acts

like The Beatles, The Clash, The Smiths and Roxy

Music in your influences. Does that add a layer of

inspiration to your writing or are you just a fan?

Mainly I’m just a fan albeit a slightly obsessive

one at times.

Your music is up there with the best of contemporary

country. Does it frustrate you that it doesn’t

achieve broader recognition?

It’s very nice of you to say so. Thanks for that.

‘Broader recognition’ is a strange thing. I’ve no

idea how it comes about although I suspect a lot

of money and a lot of lunches help smooth the

way. Unfortunately I don’t have the resources to

go along that route. Being a truly independent

artist nowadays I don’t really have much clout or

knowledge for that matter and rely solely on the

good auspices of people like Mark Lamarr who

play my music solely on it’s merit. I suspect there

are some people I’ve sent a CD to who haven’t

even listened to it. That’s the price I pay for being

a ‘UK Country Artist’. Some folks can’t see past

that.

It’s odd that the people who consistently have the

least problems with me being a non-American act

are the Americans themselves. They seem to like

my music just fine.

The fact that the majority of the UK media choose

to tar everyone on the UK Country scene with the

same brush is extremely frustrating sometimes.

I have to point out that I do get a fair amount of

support from some sections of the UK media but

there is still a certain level of unecessary resistance

out there.

Do you have some favourite songs that you have

recorded that you feel hit the nail on the head for

you in terms of writing and recording?

Wow, that’s a tough question to answer. Off the

top of my head I’d say I still have a very soft spot

for Heart On The Line from the second Radio

Sweethearts album. Also This Pain Inside and,

from the latest album, My Dreaming Party. I also

love Two Into Three Won’t Go from my second

CD. Whether they are benchmark recordings or

not I couldn’t say but I like them as songs.

What’s next for John Miller?

Who knows? More of the same I would guess. I’d

like to play and see more places including a return

to the Emerald Isle someday. I’m open to offers

(smiles).

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