Author Archives: Tim Hibbs

TVD Recommends: Hard Working Americans, The First Waltz at Acme Feed & Seed, 12/20

In 2013, tenacious troubadour Todd Snider called some friends to help play some songs he’d been collecting by some of his favorite writers. Answering that call were Dave Schools from Widespread Panic (bass), Neal Casal of Chris Robinson Brotherhood (guitar/vocals), Chad Staehly of Great American Taxi (keyboards), Jesse Aycockand (guitar/vocals), and Duane Trucks, Derek’s younger brother (drums). Alt-country chanteuse Elizabeth Cook helps out on background vocals sometimes as well.

This collective took on the name Hard Working Americans and proceeded to play marathon shows full interactive musicianship and camaraderie. They hoisted their freak flag high, right beside the Stars and Stripes, proclaiming that you don’t have to attend a tea party in order to be patriot. Mostly, though, they just played kick-ass music.

Appropriately enough, they recorded their self-titled debut album at Bob Weir’s studio. The process of putting this group together was captured by filmmaker Justin Kreutzmann in the riveting rockumentary Hard Working Americans: The First Waltz.

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Nicole Atkins,
The Best of the 2014
TVD Interviews

Nicole Atkins first came to national prominence with the release of her debut album, Neptune City. Since that album on Columbia, she issued Mondo Amore on Razor & Tie and has just released the first album on her own label, Oh’ Mercy! Records titled Slow Phaser.

We chatted with Nicole to talk about the new album, her love of vinyl, and a surprise comeback from a beloved melodic rock band.

The first time I heard about you was when my friend and former colleague Sky Spooner raved about you.

Oh, yes, Sky! He was the A&R scout for Columbia who discovered me.

The title of your new album, Slow Phaser, conjures vivid images for me, but what does it represent for you?

It’s funny how that came about, actually. We were recording the album, testing out different sounds, and I said to my producer Tore Johansen, “Hey turn up the slow phaser, man!,” as a joke. As soon as I said it, I thought, “Slow phaser: that’s a really good album title.”

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense because there’s a shit-ton of slow phaser on the album, soundwise. Also, I equated “slow phaser” with late bloomer and that’s what I feel like I am. I’ve always felt that way, so the title felt very appropriate.

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Jody Stephens:
The TVD Interview

The story of Big Star is the very definition of “cult band.” Born slightly out of time, delivering sparkling British Invasion-inspired pop several years after it fell out of vogue, their music went largely unheard during their existence.

However, like their contemporaries The Velvet Underground, their recordings have had a remarkable afterlife and gathered many acolytes who gleefully spread the word about Memphis’ best kept secret. With0ut Big Star, the careers of R.E.M., The Replacements, The Posies, The dBs, Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub and scores of others would have been significantly altered if they existed at all.

On the occasion of the re-release of the Big Star boxed set, Keep An Eye On The Sky, I spoke with drummer and sole surviving original band member Jody Stephens about the group’s enduring legacy.

In the late ‘60s/early ‘70s, Memphis was a hotbed for British Invasion-inspired bands. What do you think caused this convergence of power pop?

I don’t know. I would think that the British Invasion swept through the whole U.S. population as did soul music just after that. I think everyone was pretty taken with both. I can’t speak for Cargoe or bands like The Scruffs. I just know I was a huge Beatles and Rolling Stones fan along with The Kinks, Badfinger, Procol Harum, and many others. People with like interests tend to connect and I think that’s why Chris and Andy and I got together initially. I think Alex was a fan of that music, too, and he came on board to due to our similar music interests.

Was there a particular record that caught your ear and made you think, “I want to create something like that”?

Any Beatles album! It doesn’t matter which one, they were all pretty inspirational.

At the same time you’re listening to this inspirational music, you have Ardent, one of the top studios in the country, at your disposal. How much did Ardent and, particularly, its owner and chief engineer/producer John Fry shape the sound of Big Star?

John Fry was everything about the sound. First he made sure the instruments—drums, guitars, bass—sounded good on their own. You can’t make a good recording if you don’t start with a good base sound. Outside of that, the way John captured those songs in the engineering process just added that extra bit of sparkle. I think that Big Star’s music is still relevant because of the way John Fry captured it on tape.

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Rosanne Cash,
The Best of the 2014
TVD Interviews

To find her voice as a musician, Rosanne Cash had to work diligently to move beyond the long shadow cast by her iconic father. In that journey, she felt compelled to move away from her native South and become a New Yorker, reveling in the creative chaos of Manhattan.

However, a series of life-changing events drove her to get in a car and drive across the South, visiting historic sites and touchstones of her early life. As she did, songs began to flow and she and her husband John Leventhal began writing what would become her new album, The River and the Thread, a concept album chronicling her recent travels.

Did moving away from the South help draw it into sharper focus for you?

Oh, yes. I think I pushed it away for a long time, it felt a little suffocating to me. In my mind, I was a New Yorker and I had to get away from it. I thought the South was in my past except for the people I love who are still there and I’m connected to. Two of my daughters live in Nashville, my sister lives in Nashville, my cousins live in Memphis, so I have family scattered throughout Tennessee in particular. But having a perfect storm of events happen in my life between 2011-2013 gave rise to a lot of songs.

Could you have written this record if you still lived in Nashville?

No. I do not think so. You have to get perspective. To try and write these songs there, it would have been too close. I had to let my heart expand and let down my defenses. That was crucial and my heart did expand when Marshall Grant died, when my friend Natalie Chanin taught me to sew, when I took my son to Sun Records in Memphis and to the place where I was born…those things were powerful.

What is it about the South that makes it such fertile ground for music, literature, and art?

I wish I had the answer. A huge part of this record is the mystery of that situation. As we say in “Money Road,” “we left but never went away”– that haunted quality stays with you. Why did Faulkner come from right down the road from where Emmett Till was killed and the Civil Rights movement began? Which is just down the road from where B.B. King, Charley Patton, Howlin’ Wolf, and Pops Staples started, which is next to where Eudora Welty grew up…you can’t help but be flabbergasted! My husband John and I kept saying, “What is it about the Delta? What is it?”

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Glyn Johns:
The TVD Interview

Glyn Johns’ career as an engineer and producer has been so successful that it almost seems like a Hollywood script. To tick off his list of collaborators is to name many of the most influential artists of the rock era: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Small Faces/Faces, The Kinks, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Paul McCartney, The Eagles and legions more.

While there is an element of right place, right time in his story, his simple yet extraordinary gift of capturing the authentic, organic sound of musicians playing together in a studio is remarkable. When “Good Times Bad Times,” “Satisfaction” or “You Really Got Me” explodes out of your speakers, it’s because Glyn Johns had the good sense and skill to get it down on tape correctly.

While on a book tour to promote his new memoir, Sound Man, we had the opportunity to speak with Glyn in Nashville recently to discuss just a fraction of his work. Smartly dressed and full of energy, he sat down at the interview table, ready to get on with it.

We spent decades as a culture working on better and better music reproduction fidelity, only to throw it all away for the convenience of having 5,000 songs in our pocket. What has the shift to MP3 done for the listening experience?

Oh, it’s dreadful! Not only is the sound bad, nobody listens to complete albums anymore. They just pick and choose tracks. Attention spans are minimal. The worst thing about digital recording is that bands don’t record all in the same room anymore. Songs are built track by track. When the guitarist, for example, is putting down his performance, he is reacting to the tracks already recorded. The problem is, the musicians already recorded can’t react to him! When everyone is playing together, there is a back and forth, a give and take that happens almost subconsciously. My fear is that this method of recording is becoming a lost art.

Of course, some artists are very successful recording this way (digitally), obviously. I don’t necessarily like their music, but our parents didn’t like our music, either.

Do you still listen to records?

Yes! There is nothing like that experience. Back when I first started buying records, there was the excitement of rushing home to listen to it, or going over to a mate’s house who had a better system and listening to it there. Much of what I listen to these days is digital, as it is sent to me in file form, demos and whatnot. But I try to listen to these files in the best way possible.

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NRBQ’s Terry Adams:
The TVD Interview

I have made up a few rules that I hold dear and one of those is Rock & Roll Band Quorum. This rule states that if you don’t have a simple majority of original band members on stage, you are not that band. “The Who,” “KISS,” competing versions of “Foghat” and scores more are serial offenders. However, every rule has an exception and I just came face to face this rule’s anomaly when I saw the new lineup of NRBQ.

Terry Adams formed NRBQ with Steve Ferguson in Louisville in 1966 and since their inception, the band has seen members come and go. Most people cite the version with Adams, Joey Spampinato, Tom Ardolino, and Al Anderson as being the “classic lineup,” but somehow, Adams has kept their approach and intent intact over the decades. He is the common thread running through this off-kilter sweater that only seems to improve with age. Noted Nashville musician Bill Lloyd likened this phenomenon to the bands of Count Basie and Bob Wills, ensembles which retained their signature sounds through regular lineup changes. I compare it to having a great coach who always manages to field a winning team. Whatever your analogy, NRBQ continues to be one of the most adventurous outfits making music today.

NRBQ’s new album, Brass Tacks, sounds of a piece with band’s substantial catalog.

It’s the way I see things. I’m not saying I did everything but it is a vision of mine.

How did that vision develop?

You learn a lot from different musicians. For me, it showed me that there was more to the world than what they were showing me in Louisville, Kentucky. I could hear in the speakers that there was something else going on.

What was the first record that really grabbed your attention?

It’s not really about individual records, it was about sounds. When I was very young, there was a Mother Goose 78 RPM set I had and I liked the sound of that organ. I played it over and over again. Later, it was Elvis Presley and stuff like that. But I was fascinated by all sounds. I would even play records I didn’t like very much because I was interested in what was going on, sound-wise. Things like Doris Day records that I would play again and again and again.

After a while, it gets more personalized. I heard something in Thelonious Monk. Obviously, it had something to do with New York City but I had never been there. But I could hear the city in his music. Perseverance, sticking with what you believe in was a major lesson from him. If you love the music, then you have to obey what you learn.

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TVD Live: The Forecastle Festival, 7/18–7/20

When southern musical meccas are mentioned, Louisville is often overlooked and that’s a shame. The city has a very strong arts community, thriving live venues, and a world-class public radio dedicated to music, WFPK. Where music hubs like Memphis, Nashville, and New Orleans have a certain brash, in-your-face presence, Louisville presents itself in much more genteel manner, which may partially explain why it is not top of mind for many music aficionados. However, with the growth of the city’s Forecastle Festival, ignoring Louisville is destined to become a thing of the past.

The annual festival, located in Waterfront Park along the Ohio River, is extremely user-friendly. The spacious grounds feature large green spaces, great sitelines for all four stages and an extremely polite staff ready to assist you. Their eclectic approach to booking ensures that you will witness a wide variety of music and the 2014 edition was certainly no exception. EDM, bluegrass, indie rock, country, and many other genres were represented, offering the concert goer a rich experience. With four stages going simultaneously, it’s impossible to catch everything, but below are my highlights for each of the three days.

DAY ONE | Friday opened with a drizzle and remained that way for most of the day, in a perpetual “should I put the poncho on?” mode. It never turned into an all-out rain storm, though, so the main result was cooler temps, thankfully. If anyone was feeling sluggish due to the moisture, Against Me! burned through that immediately.

Too much recent press has focused on frontwoman Laura Jane Grace’s gender change and not nearly enough on the band’s music. They are one of the strongest American rock bands currently working and they proved that in spades with their incendiary set on the Boom Stage. It was an auspicious start to our festival experience and one that set bar very high.

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TVD Live: The Replacements at Shaky Knees Festival, 5/10

As legacies go, it’s a beaut. The problem with legacies, though, is that once removed from their protective amber shells, they become extremely volatile. Used to be, a band wouldn’t have to deal with this conundrum. Once you broke up, that was it, and even Lorne Michaels dangling a $3,000 check on live television couldn’t dissuade you. However, the recent flurry of band reunions, led by the resurgent Pixies, has put many long-term reputations in play. Does the money grab overrule concerns about tarnishing past glories? That is the question currently before The Replacements.

What is The Replacements these days, anyway? Bob Stinson is long gone, Slim Dunlap is battling a stroke-related illness and Chris Mars can’t be bothered, apparently. Thus, it’s down to Paul Westerberg and Tommy Stinson to carry the ‘Mats mantle into the 21st century, at least as far as live performances go. The band was always an erratic entity on stage, but those indiscretions were more easily excused when they were wayward youthful impulses. How well can a middle-aged, relatively sober and professional outfit hold up against the image of their reckless, rule-breaking, hell-raising former selves? As it turns out, pretty damn well.

Prior to their set at Atlanta’s Shaky Knees festival on May 10th, I had last laid eyes on The Replacements during the Dallas, Texas, stop for ‘89’s Don’t Tell a Soul tour. I interviewed Chris Mars for my radio show before the gig and the resignation in his voice foreshadowed the lackluster performance that followed. The band that took the stage that evening was out of steam and almost out of ideas. Mars had already launched a solo career and Westerberg was soon to follow, spending the next two decades releasing alternately brilliant and disappointing material, sometimes within the same song.

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BR-549’s Chuck Mead,
The TVD Interview

As a member of BR-549, Chuck Mead helped revive both hardcore honky-tonk and the Lower Broadway district of Nashville. The band’s performances at clothing-store-turned-venue Robert’s Western World drew people back to an area where Ryman Auditorium was collapsing from disrepair and most of the businesses were either pawn shops or porn emporiums. Lower Broadway’s reinvention as a “hillbilly Bourbon Street,” with rows of packed shops, saloons, and, indeed, Nashville’s new-found reputation as an “it city” owe much to the sweat equity Chuck and the band laid down in the early ‘90s.

Full disclosure: I have known Chuck for several years and I do work for Plowboy Records, his current label home. What follows is a discussion between friends about his new album, Free State Serenade, ‘70s AM radio, and growing up in the strange and wonderful state of Kansas.

I don’t think anyone was expecting a concept record about Kansas from you (laughter). How did this idea come about?

A few years back, I wrote a song about my wife for her birthday, “Reno County Girl.” After I wrote that, a couple of other songs cropped up that seemed to be about my past in Kansas. During this time I got involved with the “theater thing” [Ed. note: Mead is the musical director for the musical Million Dollar Quartet] which made me think about things more conceptually. I thought, “Yeah, it would be a good idea to do an album of short stories about things I thought I about when I was a kid, growing up in Kansas, including legends that loomed large in my psyche.” Once I made that decision, I started writing toward that goal. I did it in spite of people thinking that Kansas is not interesting, but it is. A lot of creepy things have happened there.

While there are some sweet and happy-go-lucky moments on the album, some very sinister things are also chronicled. On “Evil Wind,” for example, a rollicking, high-spirited beat conveys what is, essentially, a demented murder ballad.

Dick Hickock & Perry Smith were the boogeymen when I was growing up. [Ed. note: Hickock and Perry murdered the Clutter Family in Holcomb, Kansas in 1959, which became the subject of Truman Capote’s first book, In Cold Blood.]

If you grew up in Kansas, people my age and older clearly remembered that happening. When they filmed the movie version of In Cold Blood in 1966, they went to Holcomb to film it and Robert Blake looked so much like Perry Smith that it really freaked people out all over again. It’s something that happened in a place you’d least expect it. Since it happened in the late ‘50s, I thought it should have a rockabilly feel, so I took it there. The only way I could figure to get the whole story across was to tell it through the eyes of Perry Smith, the guy who supposedly pulled the trigger on everybody.

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Robbie Fulks,
The TVD interview

Robbie Fulks’ 1996 debut album may have been titled Country Love Songs but the type of country music he was creating was miles away from contemporary genre fare. With songs about a drug overdose, the Pennsylvania pork mush known as scrapple and a forgotten 45 RPM record, it was a perfect country album for those listeners who felt alienated by the boot scootin’, bland pop that commercial country radio was offering (and still does, for the most part).

In the intervening decade and a half, Fulks has continued to write and record songs that challenge the listener as much as they entertain. Stylistically, he has explored rock, Bakersfield twang, smooth countrypolitan, and bluegrass all while keeping his unique songwriting voice intact.

Blessed with a high, lonesome tenor and razor-sharp fretboard skills, Fulks is a masterful entertainer who can hold an audience in rapt, pin-drop attention or make them convulse with laughter over an acerbic aside. His new album, Gone Away Backward, finds him in a quieter, more contemplative mood with sparse, mostly acoustic arrangements framing his songs. We spoke with Fulks prior to his recent set at storied Nashville bluegrass club The Station Inn, a room he hadn’t played in over twenty-five years.

I’ve been reading your blog and frequently laughing out loud. What made me chortle recently was your description of rock clubs, those “shoals of silliness,” particularly the venue where your son entered a battle of the bands. I would imagine such clubs are an occupational hazard for you.

Really, I don’t play them much anymore. I don’t know how many of them I do every year, but I would guess it’s no more than four. The rooms I tend to play are places with seats: community centers, “folk nazi” rooms, listening rooms, and places like that. Over the years, I winnowed it down and I know where I like to play. I don’t play a ton of new rooms, in other words.

Good rooms like The Station Inn?

Yes. I haven’t played there since the ‘80s but I have attended several shows there in the interim.

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