“I have gone on before about certain records in my dad’s record collection—The Buddy Holly Story, Elvis’ second LP, Ray Charles’ Genius + Soul = Jazz, Beach Boys’ Endless Summer, to name a few—but I wanted write about my experience with a certain 45: Jackson Browne’s ‘Runnin’ on Empty.'”
“My parents divorced when I was around twelve years old. Like a lot of ‘70s kids who went through this experience, I felt like my world had fallen apart. My mom and sister and I had moved to a new house in a new neighborhood. Everything was different. And I experienced a new emotion: sadness. Not the I-didn’t-get-what-I-wanted-for-Christmas kind of shallow surface sadness, but the my-world-has-irrevocably-changed-forever-and-there-is-nothing-I-can-do-about-it kind of deep sadness.
Maybe it was depression? My memories are so fuzzy I can barely remember. But I do remember holding the purple 45 in my hand. Bought at a garage sale, a tiny 25¢ sticker written in ballpoint. On the cover, a huge, clear drum set sitting in the middle of a western highway. Huge, open chords that sounded just like that open highway. Screaming lap steel, hitting notes that resonated in my soul. A man telling his story—looking back at his youth, wondering where to go from here. Empty tank of gas metaphor. The song expressed a fatalism tinged with a hobson’s choice of optimism that I had heretofore not experienced in music and lyric. It sounded like a sunset. It sounded like I felt.
I loved that record, and I remember listening to it over and over and over. I still love it, whenever I hear it. Of course, I see the song clearer now as a grown man, a songwriter, and a musician.
I was only twelve or thirteen, after all. But if I had to try to analyze how and why I became a songwriter? The way that song made me feel has got to have something to do with it.”
Lucky Guy, the new full-length release from Greg Humphreys Electric Trio, is in stores now—on vinyl.