The American Diary 1999
Sunday, February 28, 1999
I'm leaving in a couple of hours for Nashville. I'm taking my camera... I'll put loads of pictures and a full account here on the site at the end of March. Hope you enjoy the BFBS1 show this afternoon. If I can get onto the net, I'll write again from Nashville. First time to America for 20 years. Now then.... where's my passport?!
Nashville, Tn. Friday, March 05, 1999
An incredible time so far...where do I start?! Well...working backwards: Robert Earl Keen played an incredible set last night at the Exit Inn. We recorded an interview and two-number session with him yesterday afternoon at Audio Sound Studios here in Nashville... to be broadcast probably in May. He really wants to visit the UK again this year, but only if he can bring his band with him this time! He had a great support band...more details of them (and tracks on the show) when I get home! The rest of yesterday was spent with Emmylou Harris, recording a long interview with her for the first 'Bob Harris Country' on 8th April. We talked about Trio 2, but more about the Gram Parsons Tribute album which comes out in May and features Steve Earle, Sheryl Crow, Beck and many more.
We'll have two world-exclusive tracks...it's an absolutely amazing CD. The previous evening (Wed) was spent at a 'Girls Night Out' concert for CMT...Sara Evans (who has just gone to No.1 on the Billboard Country singles chart and with whom we recorded an acoustic session earlier this week)
and Martina McBride were the stars. We've also recorded two songs/conversation with Gretchen Peters, and an absolutely glorious session with Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings.
Richard Wootton has introduced us to loads of people, including most representatives of the CMA and Dave Shannon and I made our debut Nashville radio appearance with a brilliant and extremely funny DJ called Jerry House. He has the No.1 show here in town (or at least did have til he let us loose on it!) and he invited us in for an hour on Wed morning...fantastic studio and really good fun. But the highlight of the week has been Steve Earle.
We saw the first of his four nights at the Station Inn with the Del McCoury Band (last night tonight), and it was absolute magic. They all play into one microphone, taking turns to step forward for their solos. There's a big article/review and photos in the local paper today, which I'll scan up onto the site when I get back. We then recorded an interview with Steve on Tuesday afternoon, then Dave and I went across to see Ray Kennedy, his TwangTrust co-producer, at their studio Room and Board.
I can't tell you what it felt like to be there. The studio is absolutely beautiful...lo-fi heaven! Steve and Ray feel that technology has added nothing constructive to the recording process since 1962... so, old valve stuff (some of it from Abbey Road!), no reverb, no tricky tricks...lots of attention given to the basic sound achieved through the choice and positioning of the microphone. In fact, been working with a manufacturer to produce a 'signiture' mic., which they're using for the McCoury tour. Ray is married to (forgive spelling here, I don't have the albums to check!) Shivon from River City People (do you remember how often I used to play them on the overnights?). Like Todd (see Boston John note below) she is working on a new album at Room and and sends 'all the best to my British fans...I'll be back!'. I've been taking loads of photographs of all of this and I'll be posting them up on the site when I get back. I'll meanwhile be keeping in touch with Boston John, who'll be posting notices throughout (thanks John!). Needless to say, tomorrows show is already recorded (more familiar tracks than usual...just the way it worked out) and I've put together a really exciting (he says modestly!) mix for 13th and particularly 20th. The next leg of the trip will be Austin, Texas and SXSW. More from there if I can find a modem. All this and Man Utd beat Inter 2-0. Bliss!!
Monday, March 15, 1999
Hey! Well, here I am...just arrived in Austin, Texas...and lo and behold there's a Kinko's about a block from my hotel. Kinko's is a 24 hour net-access facility, so thanks to them I'm able to catch up with news. (Slightly worried that text seems to have disappeared from the front page of the site, but maybe it's just the connection here! Anyway...) The past week has been spent with my family in Galveston, enjoying a wonderful 7-day break on the Gulf beach. For Trudie, Miles, Dylan and Flo this was their first visit to the USA and they all absolutely loved it, Dylan in particular, who wanted to stay 'at America' and travel on with me to SXSW! We had the radio going the whole time and I can tell you that by far the biggest band right now is Matchbox 20. (Yes!). The single version of' 'Back 2 Good' provided the soundtrack to the week, but we also heard a from other bands I've been playing on my shows...New Radicals and Semisonic are particularly prominent. We also loved a most wonderful track a group called Golden City... a song called "City Of Gold", which I'm now trying to find to play when I get back live on air on the 27th. The most British band is definitely XTC...their new album is being played on all modern-rock formats here. Sarah McLachlan has a new live collection out in a couple of months... I heard a track late last night on local Austin station Magic 94.7FM. I arrived at the hotel to discover a fax from Windmill Bob...and yes, Bob, it is as wonderful here as you suspected it might be. I've just been taking a walk around town...up and down 6th Street (the 'bar' district where many of the clubs are situated) in brilliant sunshine, temp around 72 degrees. Antones is about a three minute walk from where I am right now. Austin is extremely elegant to look at. The 'style' reminds me of the best of Covent Garden...tree-lined courtyards and the rest. In fact, I've already had a pint of beer at the Irish Pub, about a block away. Nick and the R2 New Country team arrive tonight...we begin work tomorrow. I'll be compiling interviews with them for their Wed evening show and hopefully one or two more things for 'Bob Harris Country', which will begin with a major Emmylou Harris feature on 8th April. As I reported from Nashville, she has overseen the compilation of a wonderful Gram Parsons tribute album and we'll have a couple of world exclusive tracks on the night. So.. that's the state of play right now. Thanks to Boston John for posting up bulletins for me during the past ten days (in contrast to the weather here, the East coast has been experiencing the worst snow storms of the winter. It's even been snowing in Nashville, but now about clear as Spring moves in). I'll write again with all news as SXSW gets under way.
Austin, TX Thursday, March 18, 1999
It's 2.35pm here and unfortunately I don't have an enormous amount of time (we have an interview at 4) but I just wanted to say Hi y'all (!) from Austin, where the weather is cloudy, 72 degrees and yes, Patrick, I actually got to see the Man U game yesterday on satellite at a sports bar here on 6th, along with about a dozen other displaced (not all Man U fan) Brits! Edge of the seat stuff once again...but we did it!! I've just arrived at this computer from a most amazing address/speech/set from Lucinda Williams at the main SXSW conference hall, where she was presented with the keys to the city. This is a most amazing woman. The theme of her address was personal power and the need not to compromise ones ideals. The songs she performed served to emphasise her scattered but moving speech. We had the chance of a quick 2-minute chat after the press conference that followed, but turned the opportunity down in favour of setting up something with more time later. The atmosphere here is absolutely incredible. Comparisons with Mardi Gras.
6th is the hub...the whole street has become traffic-free for the duration...every doorway is the entrance to a music club, everyone with a band playing. Jazz/roots/modern rock/blues/celtic...an amazing mix of different sound til 4/5 in the morning. We walked down the street with a mic. last night, recording as we went. Thousands of people of all ages cruising the limitless array of musical styles. Carnival stuff...a sea of smiling faces. I could live here, I really could. And one of the main reasons why centres around the word ATTITUDE. I didn't realise quite how jaded we Brits had become. Here, people are wonderfully outgoing and positive. Eye contact and a smile. We've all been struck by this...SXSW in many ways sums it up. No boundaries...live and let live.
We were in a club last night, the front of which was a hip-hop joint, at the back country music playing for the pool hall kids. Now where would you find that in the UK?! Best new band so far? Reckless Kelly, who I first saw in Nashville supporting Robert Earl Keen a couple of weeks ago. They have three CD's out here...I'll be playing them on the 27th.
We recorded a couple interviews last night at the Austin Music Awards...I talked to Shawn (who MC-ed part of the event), Nick Barraclough spoke with the extraordinary and eccentric Kinky Friedman, who has a major new release coming out soon (more on that when I've got more time). Producer Gus Dudgeon is in town...we spoke to him last night and on a 'Room And Board'/Twang Trust level, we spent a wonderful couple of hours on Monday with Ray Benson at the Asleep At The Wheel studio, listening to tracks from a Bob Willis tribute album he is just completing...Reba, Sq Nut Zippers etc etc. Brilliant stuff.
In addition to Lucinda, I hope to be talking to Guy Clark, Jimmie Dale Gilmour, Slaid Cleaves (a new name everyone is very excited about) and possibly Lynn Miles. Nick is interviewing Willie Nelson (!!) after the recording of the Austin City Limits TV show tonight and has also done stuff with Darden Smith and BR 549. Mike Harding, John Leonard and the rest of the Smooth Operations team arrive tomorrow and all of this will be broadcast through the two hours of Nicks/Mikes shows on the 31st. I have to be up at 6.30 (!!) morning to appear with Nick on the breakfast show of the big AAA station here 107.1FM, which is comprehensively covering SXSW. And of course yesterday was St Patricks Day, with a huge open air concert centred around Logans Irish Pub about two blocks from here. Head-spinning stuff, I have to say.
Team message: I'm sorry not to have been in touch directly...phoning Trudie is costing about 25 dollars a call, but thanks for the faxes, Bob and for the message today, Alan. Keep a spare week/month clear when I get back, so that I can tell you more about one of the most amazing adventures of my life.
Austin TX Thursday, March 18, 1999
The reason below message appears twice is because it was initially rejected by what's called 'Surf Watch' (about which I previously knew nothing), which is a kind of cyber-space censorship system. It didn't like the 'k' word!!!!
Austin, TX Thursday, March 18, 1999
Me again! Just a couple of minutes free before I pick up the latest batch of photographs of the trip so far...the Lucinda Williams interview is likely happen about 2am tonight, following a major concert she's doing here as part of SXSW. That's if I last that long, following an extremely late night last night, attending the recording of W. Nelson/Leon Russell concert for 'Austin City Limits' TV show (Nelson christian name deleted by this confounded 'Surf Watch', if you can believe it!!).
Great to see them both. Leon has a new blues album out. He now walks with the aid of a stick, while Mr Nelson looks...like he always does. The concert marks the 25th anniversary of the start of the show in '74 and consequently was a very big event. 3-odd hours sleep, then up to do the breakfast show with Nick on 107.1FM. Spaced out doesn't adequately describe the way I feel right now!! Kelly Willis interview yesterday went really well, and I had a call today from Stacey Earle, to tell me that her album has just gone into the Gavin chart at No.39. (The below Ray Benson entry, by the way, should have read Bob Wills, not the ex-England cricket captain!!). There's a new Tom Petty album just about to be released here and a Stevie Ray Vaughan 'Greatest Hits' collection, along with a re-release of his first four albums, complete with bonus tracks. I'll add those to the nearly 100 CD's I've already picked up.
Still cloudy here...we had a huge electric storm late last night. Right...I'm off to get the
pictures, then to a Rounder records event.
I need another cup of coffee!!
Austin, TX Tuesday, March 23, 1999
Hi y'all! My final day in Austin and I'm sitting here thinking back over the blur the last 10 days have been. It's very hot, humid and sunny. The rest of the guys have left...SXSW has finished and the town has returned to normal. I didn't to interview Lucinda Williams. The meeting arranged on Fri night didn't happen. But I did finally get to meet her...at the famous Broken Wheel club on Saturday afternoon.
I actually went to see Neal Casal, who was playing a set with Hazeldine at a 'No Depression' party and arrived in the middle of a driving set from a singer/guitarist Bob Kent. I'd never heard of him before but he brilliant, in George Thoroughgood style. I met up with Joe and Bryn, a couple of guys from the UK ('Bob...you don't happen to know the Millwall score...') with whom I spent the rest of the afternoon. It was Joe who introduced me to Lucinda, who was just hanging out at the club for the afternoon. She invited me to Dallas to do the recording...today, as a matter of fact. Impossible, I'm afraid, so we'll do something when she comes over to the UK... summertime, she says. Steve Forbert was there, too. And Butch Hancock. And Doug Sahm (Austin is that sort of place!).
I'm sorry...there's no way I can write this without dropping any number of names and making you feel jealous as hell. Anyway, I finally saw a full Lucinda set on Sunday night at a benefit concert at Stubbs Club, just off 6th. Robert from Cry Of Love was also there...just bumped into him. The band is no more, of course but Audley Freed is now with the Black Crowes Robert himself has joined the Bottle Rockets (new album on the way). Joe Ely also played a blistering set.
I've told everybody I've met to put stuff up on the site if they want to...hopefully we'll have more from Austin in the future. I also met Lisa Tingle (remember 'Get Thru You'?) who was playing live on the breakfast show we did on Friday...quite amazing to see her, her husband 7-month old baby. Hopefully, she'll be posting messages up here and wonderful Wreckless Kelly, my favourite Austin band. They're managed by Robert Earl Keen and support him on many of his gigs. The guys in the band were born into the music...Dads in Western Swing bands, onstage since the age of eight. They've been gigging together solidly for the past two years and expect to do at least another two to start getting really well known. Maybe when I play them we'll be able to create a demand and they'll come to the UK. They're brilliant live.
Western Swing is a bedrock of a lot of the music here. Many of the bands come from families with a long tradition of playing live music. It's in the blood. It's hard to communicate the accessibility of music here Austin calls itself the 'Live Music Capitol Of The World' and it's hard to argue. It's also a very clean city. There are draconian alcohol laws. You can't drink on the street, or in cars and consequently, even in the middle of the madness of street in the middle of the festival, it's very well behaved. America has given up smoking. You can't smoke in any building, or within 15 feet of the entrance of buildings...and all this is strictly enforced. But it is wonderfully laid-back, mostly friendly and very civilised. And I've achieved my major shopping objectives...a soft-crocodile for Dylan (he's called Jerry) and Beanies for Miles.
I just want to make a couple of honourable mentions, here. It's been an absolute pleasure working with the Smooth Operations team, as it was with Dave Shannon in Nashville. Nick, John, Mike and Duncan...thank you very much. And to Jill, who's PR company has been our guide this past 10-days...it couldn't have been better.