While on the Cayamo roots-music cruise Buddy Miller mentioned several times a collaboration with Dr. Ralph Stanley that had been produced in his home studio in Nashville was being released the Tuesday while we were at sea. Here’s the details on that release:
The three-time GRAMMY Award winner’s new CD features Stanley performing duets with guest artists including Dierks Bentley, Elvis Costello, Del McCoury, Buddy Miller & Jim Lauderdale, Old Crow Medicine Show, Robert Plant, Ricky Skaggs, Nathan Stanley, Josh Turner, Gillian Welch & Dave Rawlings and Lee Ann Womack, while also performing two solo songs. Ronnie McCoury and Womack’s daughter, Aubrie Sellers, also appear on the album, along with Stanley’s band The Clinch Mountain Boys. The 87-year old International Bluegrass Hall of Honor inductee recorded the album in Nashville with Miller and Lauderdale as producers.
“I’ve always enjoyed singing with other artists,” said Stanley. “Everyone who joined me on this record did a fine job. I think this will be a project that my fans will really enjoy.”
“Cracker Barrel is delighted to bring Dr. Ralph Stanley and Friends’ CD, Man of Constant Sorrow, to our guests,” said Cracker Barrel Marketing Manager Julie Craig. “The performances are wonderful, the music is timeless and the project is a great addition to our exclusive music program. We know our guests will look forward to discovering this album.”
The 13 songs on Man of Constant Sorrow are:
1. “We Shall Rise,” Ralph Stanley and Josh Turner with The Clinch Mountain Boys
2. “I Only Exist,” Ralph Stanley and Dierks Bentley with The Clinch Mountain Boys
3. “We’ll Be Sweethearts in Heaven,” Ralph Stanley and Ricky Skaggs with The Clinch Mountain Boys and Ronnie McCoury
4. “Rank Stranger,” Ralph Stanley and Nathan Stanley with The Clinch Mountain Boys
5. “I Am the Man, Thomas,” Ralph Stanley, Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale with The Clinch Mountain Boys and Ronnie McCoury
6. “White Dove,” Ralph Stanley and Lee Ann and Aubrie Sellers with The Clinch Mountain Boys and Ronnie McCoury
7. “Red Wicked Wine,” Ralph Stanley and Elvis Costello with The Clinch Mountain Boys
8. “Pig in a Pen,” Ralph Stanley and Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings with Paul Kowert
9. “Two Coats,” Ralph Stanley and Robert Plant
10. “Brand New Tennessee Waltz,” Ralph Stanley and Del McCoury with The Clinch Mountain Boys and Ronnie McCoury
11. “Short Life of Trouble,” Ralph Stanley and Old Crow Medicine Show
12. “Hills of Home,” Ralph Stanley
13. “Man of Constant Sorrow,” Ralph Stanley and The Clinch Mountain Boys
Ralph Stanley’s Man of Constant Sorrow is the latest CD release in the Cracker Barrel Old Country Store® exclusive music program. Since 2005, Cracker Barrel has released CDs with a wide variety of artists including Alabama, Rodney Atkins, Mandy Barnett, Clint Black, Jason Michael Carroll, Steven Curtis Chapman, Dailey & Vincent, The Charlie Daniels Band, Ronnie Dunn, Edens Edge, Sara Evans, Bill Gaither, Vince Gill and Paul Franklin, Amy Grant, The Grascals, Merle Haggard, Alan Jackson, George Jones, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Neal McCoy, Montgomery Gentry, Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out, Craig Morgan, The Oak Ridge Boys, Brad Paisley, Dolly Parton, Smokey Robinson, Kenny Rogers, The Secret Sisters, Ricky Skaggs, Michael W. Smith, Aaron Tippin, Randy Travis, Josh Turner, Wynonna and the Zac Brown Band
One of he bloodiest periods in American history, the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression as it’s often referred to south of the Mason/Dixon,) left deep and lingering cultural wounds in the nation’s psyche. These scare are often picked at by the ignorant, the malicious and those depraved enough to exploit them for power.
It’s said that music as a healing and uniting force. I believe it can be. Like Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1972 watershed release, “Will the Circle be Unbroken, Movie soundtrack producer Randall Poster’s “Divided and United – Songs of the American Civil War” beings together generations of country and roots musicians to interpret’s songs from both sides of the conflict.
Legends abound on “Divided and United.” Loretta Lynn’s take on “Take Your Gun and Go, John” is a stark with Lynn’s accompanied by banjo and fiddle. Her Southern lilt put an odd twist on this popular Union call to arms.
Del McCoury and Ricky Skaggs conjure bluegrass magic on the lost love lament “Lorena” and the bloody tale of brothers-in-arms “Two Soldiers,” respectively.
New blood represents the past equal aplomb. Sam Amidon’s gives a spirited performance on Joseph Philbrick Webster’s 1860 composition “Wildwood Flower” and new Opry inductees Old Crow Medicine Show give passionate performance on the globally popular “Marching Through Georgia,” though their double-time conclusion would have troops marching right past their destination.
Dirk Powell and Steve Earle trade off dutifully on the “Just Before the Battle, Mother Farewell, Mother” and makes me wish that Earle would tackle more music in this vein. Vince Gill’s expressive voice brings out the innate melancholy of a drummer boy fatally wounded at the Battle of Gettysburg on “For The Dear Old Flag, I Die.”
Charleston duo Shovels & Rope give a woozy ramshackle rendition of, naturally, “The Fall of Charleston.” John Doe’s cajun flair to “Tenting on the Old Camp Ground” and it’s ground-level account of loss and battle.
A collection like this wouldn’t be complete without the presence off T Bone Burnett, But instead of his usual shepherding of the effort he lends his halting voice to recounting the single bloodiest event in American history on “The Battle of Antietam.”
In many ways “Divided and United” tills the same ground as Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s 1972 watershed release, “Will the Circle be Unbroken.” Ages-old, deeply rooted, American music draws together generations in common reverence and celebration. This wonderful collection has the added dimension of addressing past scars and bringing just a little humility, understanding and empathy.
This fall, ATO Records, and music supervisor Randall Poster (‘Moonrise Kingdom,’ ‘Boardwalk Empire,’ ‘Rave On Buddy Holly’) will release ‘Divided & United,’ a two-disc set of Civil War songs freshly interpreted by lends and newcomers of country, bluegrass, folk and Americana like Contributions from Old Crow Medicine Show, A.A. Bondy, Taj Mahal, T. Bone Burnett, Ashley Monroe, Steve Earle, Shovels & Rope, Dolly Parton, Cowboy Jack Clement and others (No, The Civil Wars oddly not represented)
The collection celebrates music deeply rooted in American history in tribute to the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. Fresh interpretations of period parlor songs, spirituals, abolition and minstrel numbers. the songs hold a mirror to the past and explores themes of race, identity and reconciliation while reflecting contemporary issues.
Loretta Lynn’s rendition of “Take Your Guns and Go, John,” (below) is a beautifully spare, earnest version of the traditional detailing a man off to war.
“I had such a great time recording this song for this album,” Lynn tells Rolling Stone. “I loved the song and sound of that banjo, played by Bryan Sutton, made me feel I was back on the front porch in Kentucky where I came from. Glad to be a part of this record.”
‘Divided & United’ also features an essay by noted musician, filmmaker and historian John Cohen, who writes: “This record aspires to erase the legacy of segregation and through music seeks reconciliation instead, in order to celebrate a great musical heritage of America, born in pain, war and prejudice.”
1. Take Your Gun and Go, John – Loretta Lynn
2. Lorena – Del McCoury
3. Wildwood Flower – Sam Amidon
4. Hell’s Broke Loose In Georgia – Bryan Sutton
5. Two Soldiers – Ricky Skaggs
6. Marching Through Georgia – Old Crow Medicine Show
7. Dear Old Flag – Vince Gill
8. Just Before the Battle, Mother/ Farewell, Mother – Steve Earle and Dirk Powell
9. The Fall Of Charleston – Shovels & Rope
10. Tenting on the Old Campground – John Doe
11. Day Of Liberty – Carolina Chocolate Drops
12. Richmond Is a Hard Road to Travel – Chris Thile and Michael Daves
13. Two Brothers – Chris Stapleton
14. The Faded Coat Of Blue – Norman Blake, Nancy Blake and James Bryan
15. Listen to the Mockingbird – Stuart Duncan feat. Dolly Parton
16. Kingdom Come – Pokey Lafarge
1. Rebel Soldier – Jamey Johnson
2. The Legend of the Rebel Soldier – Lee Ann Womack
3. The Mermaid Song – Jorma Kaukonen
4. Dixie – Karen Elson with Secret Sisters
5. The Vacant Chair – Ralph Stanley
6. Hard Times – Chris Hillman
7. Down By the Riverside – Taj Mahal
8. Old Folks at Home/ The Girl I Left Behind Me – Noam Pikelny & David Grisman
9. Secesh – The Tennessee Mafia Jug Band
10. The Battle of Antietam – T Bone Burnett
11. Pretty Saro – Ashley Monroe
12. Aura Lee – Joe Henry
13. Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier – AA Bondy
14. When Johnny Comes Marching Home – Angel Snow
15. Battle Cry of Freedom – Bryan Sutton
16. Beautiful Dreamer – Cowboy Jack Clement
The website for the legendary Bluegrass stalwart and banjo innovator Dr. Ralph Stanley has announced the Man Of Constant Sorrow Tour: The Dr.’s Farewell. His final tour beginning in October 2013 to run through run through December 2014. The site states that the event is projected to cover more than 80 shows at festivals, folk clubs and performing arts centers.
Accompanying the multiple Grammy winner and Grand Ole Opry star will be his band, the fabled Clinch Mountain Boys. Various country and bluegrass artists will appear as supporting acts along the way. The start of the tour coincides with Dr. Stanley’s 67th anniversary as a professional performer. He began his career in 1946 with his older brother Carter, touring and recording as the Stanley Brothers. Carter died in 1966, after which Ralph moved to center stage as a solo artist.
From the site ” “What an honor it is to be a part of a musical legend and to work with my all-time hero’s final musical journey,” says Josh Trivett, Stanley’s co-manager. “Dr. Ralph is an American and an international musical icon who has influenced so many modern stars with his trademark mountain sound. Man of Constant Sorrow Tour: The Dr.’s Farewell will be a fantastic celebration of the life of Dr. Ralph, the mountain music he’s made famous and his legacy that will endure through the course of time.” (Photo by Will McIntire)
Over his historic career, Dr. Stanley has won virtually every honor America has to bestow on its master musicians. He has three Grammy awards, one as best male country vocalist, a category in which he competed with Tim McGraw, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Lyle Lovett. His was the distinctive sound behind the seven-million-selling O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack album. He was the first performer to be inducted into the Grand Ole Opry in the 21st Century. Dr. Stanley is a member of the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame and a recipient of the National Medal of Arts.”
As a bandleader, Dr. Stanley mentored the careers of Ricky Skaggs, Keith Whitley, Larry Sparks and Charlie Sizemore, among others.”
The following dates for the opening weekend of the Man of Constant Sorrow Tour: The Dr.’s Farewell are:
Oct. 18 The Dunn Center – Rocky Mount, NC
Oct. 19 Morehead Center – Morehead, NC
Oct. 20 The Birchmere – Alexandria, VA
Oct. 21 The Arts Center – Carrborro, NC
If you’re a struggling musician I suggest you take a look at the career of Jim Lauderdale. Between early setbacks as a Bluegrass banjo player, and being marginalized in Music Row there were plenty of opportunities to chuck his guitar in the gutter and call it quits. But he persevered and used his songwriting as a musical dowsing rod to move him always forward toward unexpected and exciting places.
If the Americana genre didn’t already exist it would have to be created for Lauderdale. He’s worked in multiple genres (Bluegrass, country, rock, soul) with multiple artists (George Jones, Ralph Stanley, Elvis Costello, Lucinda Williams, Steve Earle and more), but the music has always been grounded in honesty with a twist of risk. This will to be daring, attention to legacy, while pushing forward has allowed Lauderdale to become something you don’t see music in the music industry, unique.
He’s now a Grammy winning singer/songwriter, the subject of a crowd-sourced biopic (Jim Lauderdale: The King of Broken Hearts)
He hosts, along with Buddy Miller, “The Buddy & Jim Show” Saturdays 10 pm ET on SiriusXM Outlaw Country. He also hosts the “Music City Roots: Live from the Loveless Cafe”, weekly Americana music show broadcast live on WSM from the Loveless Barn on Highway 100 in Nashville. He is also the MC for the Americana Music Awards and Honors show in Nashville where his catch-phrase “Now THAT’S Americana” is as much of a delight as the stellar performances on the storied Ryman Auditorium stage.
I talked to Lauderdale, through spotty reception, on the road to Nashville the day after his birthday performance at the Music City Roots spin-off, “Scenic City Roots, in Chattanooga Tennessee
Twang Nation: Jim? How are you today?
Jim Lauderdale: Just fine. Driving on a beautiful, crisp spring day heading back to Nashville from Chattanooga Tennessee.
TN: Happy belated birthday, You share a birth with Bob Harris ( “‘Whispering Bob Harris” the legendary is the host of the BBC 2 music program The Old Grey Whistle Test, and a supporter of country and roots music)
JL: Really? It’s also George Shuffler’s birthday, who played guitar for the Stanley Brothers.
TN: Cool. So you’re taking some time off from your tour supporting the “Buddy and Jim” album. How’s that going?
JL: It’s been great! We too some time off because Buddy is producing the Wood Brothers and he also co-produces the music for the TV show Nashville with T Bone Burnett. He’s got a pretty full plate most of the time. Our next date is in San Francisco at the Great American Music Hall. I love playing that space.
TN: I’ll be there. The first time I saw you and Buddy working with the new material it was at last year’s Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival. It was a morning slot but the place was still full.
JL: I love that festival. Warren Hellman has done so much for the community. He’ll be missed.
TN: True. So let’s visit your childhood in Troutman, North Carolina. Your father was a minister and your mother was a music teacher. How did this shape you musically?
JL: I believe it helped to train my ears. They were both great singers, so it was a combination of hearing a lot of church music. Hearing my mother, who was a choir director at the church, a chorus teacher, and a piano teacher, I was hearing stuff all the time. My older sister was the first to start buying records like the Beatles when I was in the first grade. At the time music was just exploding and so much was coming from the radio and in North Carolina radio then was a mixture of rock and roll, soul music like Stax and Motown, and then there were peripheral country stations where Bluegrass was being played. So there was just so much great music being played and available. I think Buddy and i share a lot of the same influences. that’s how all these influences made me want to sing. I started singing really early and then started playing drums for a few years when I was 11 and then, when I was 13, I started playing blues harmonica. When I was 15 I started playing the banjo and getting more into Bluegrass music. I always wanted to do a Bluegrass record but it took me a long time to get a deal to do one. When it happened I got to do it with Ralph Stanley and his band, the Clinch Mountain Boys (1999’s I Feel Like Singing Today)
TN: Not bad company to keep for your inaugural Bluegrass venture.
JL: That was kind of a dream because I grew up loving his work. I used to try and play banjo in his style and sing in a tenor like Ralph would. One of the best things to happen out of that was that I began writing with Robert Hunter (poet and lyricist for the Grateful Dead.) A friend of mine, Rob Bleetstein, put me in touch with him in the Bay Area. i knew that Robert and Jerry Garcia were huge Stanley Brothers’ fans, so that’s how I started writing with Robert and since then we’ve created 4 albums. The last two were Bluegrass of stuff we’ve done together. I have an upcoming album with the North Mississippi Allstars coming out in the fall and it has stuff that Robert and I wrote as well. So, even though it took me a long tie to get something out in that world, it was worth the wait because of all the good things that have happened.
TN: Making up for lost time.
JL: Right. And the same with Buddy. We had met back in New York in the early 80’s. We were both living there and both had country bands going and Buddy, to me, had the best band there. There was a nice country scene going on in New York at the time. There were about 5 bars in New York like the Lone Star Cafe that featured country music. So there was a lot of work. Eventually we both ended up on the west coast and started playing gigs together. Then Buddy came to Nashville first and ended up playing with Steve Earle and Emmylou Harris. His career really took off! So we’ve known each other for 33 years and have talked about doing a record for the past 17 years so this new album was also worth the wait. Our schedules just wouldn’t allow it. But last year we started this radio show last summer on SiriusXM Outlaw Country (The Buddy & Jim Show , Saturdays 10 pm ET) and that started moving things toward us sitting down and writing material. It happened pretty quickly, we spent a few days in pre-production and wrote some stuff but we cut the album in three days in his home studio. He produced the album and we’re really happy with it. I love playing with Buddy, he always makes me smile.
TN: There’s a song you wrote that was covered by George Strait called The King of Broken Hearst. It’s got a great story.
JL: I moved to L.A. partly to be in the same atmosphere that Gram Parsons had been in. There was this story that came from (former rock ‘n’ roll groupie and author) Pamela Des Barres, who was a friend of his, who said he had this L.A. party and was playing George Jones records. These people had never heard him (Jones) and he started crying. he said “That’s the king of broken hearts.” It was one of those times when an idea just comes to you. I play that song all the time and I love it.
TN: Gram is seen as the patron saint of the Americana genre and , I believe, you and Buddy have earned a place at that table. With your work with the Americana Music Awards and Music City Roots would you consider yourself an ambassador of Americana?
JL: Oh, I don’t know about that. But I’m certainly happy it’s out there. The guy I mentioned before, Rob Bleetstein, helped to coin there term (along with Jon Grimson of Nashville) for a trade publication that’s no longer around called Gavin Report. It was like Billboard and R&R (Radio & Records) magazine. They needed a chart for rootsy American music and Rob said “How about Americana?” So that put a name on it. But to me it’s just great that Americana allows a broad umbrella for roots music – Blues, Bluegrass, folk, rock, country – music that is not overproduced and it’s all connected, And it’s a place that, in his later years, someone like Johnny Cash can get played on the radio. And Merle Haggard, and folks like Guy Clark and Joe Ely, Butch Hancock and jimmie Dale Gilmore. Stuff that’s too rootsy for mainstream radio. it’s nice to have a place where people can be recognized.
TN: You’ve worked in the Music Row world and the Americana world and been successful in both. What do you think contributes to your success to work in both of those environments?
JL: Well I had plans but things would work out a different that what I thought. It was accidental in some ways. I wanted to make Blue grass records as a teenager, but it never worked out. Then in my early 30s I finally got a record contract in the country genre. But that record was too country at the time to be accepted in 1988. Dwight Yoakam’s producer and guitarist Pete Anderson did it with me (The unreleased CBS album that later appeared on an overseas label as Point of No Return.) My next album wasn’t as traditional but it was pretty far out there. It was co-produced by Rodney Crowell and John Leventhal (1991’s Planet of Love) Even though that album didn’t have a lot of commercial success, 8 of the 10 songs went on to be recorded by other people like George Strait. So that too me into that world of songwriting though my plan was to have a successful career with my own records. I kept putting out my own records and, when it wouldn’t work out, the only way to rise above of the disappointment was to write myself out of it. I still had a contract for a few more majors, but I started doing some independent labels and was more eclectic. Bluegrass with country mixed with R&B ad soul. The work I’m doing with the North Mississippi Allstars I did with Robert Hunter is more blues, rock and soul. I’m also trying to finish up a stripped down acoustic record that I’m writing with Robert. He’s really important in my like as far as music, so I want to keep that going.
TN: Speaking of Robert Hunter lest year you were in the Bay Area with the American Beauty Project. How did that come about?
JL: Those two albums (Grateful Dead’s) Working Man’s Dead and American Beauty opened up a door in my spirit when I heard them. All the things I’d done before – country, Bluegrass, rock – came together in those two records. To me they were like the Gram Parsons solo albums with Emmylou, those records are touchstones. The New York Guitar Festival which was put together by David Spellman, each year, would choose a different album and then singers and guitar players would play a song from that record. A few year’s ago they chose American Beauty and it went over really well. The singer Catherine Russell, Ollabelle, Larry Campbell and his wife Teresa Williams became the core of the American Beauty project which we took around the country. We still do it occasionally and will probably do some more shows in the future. It’s always a lot of fun.
TN: Tell me about your work with the roots-rock band Donna the Buffalo.
JL: I met them at the Newport Folk Festival while opening for Lucinda Williams on her “Car Wheels on a Gravel Road” tour. I met this group of folks that were really friendly, but I had missed their show earlier in the day. We made this friendship and we then jammed together at Merlefest in North Carolina. They then invited me to play their festival that they put on in the summer and offered to back me up during my set. So over the years we’ve worked festivals and sat in with each other. I started to write songs for all of us to do and when i had an album’s worth we went into the studio and did it (2003’s Wait Til Spring) We still do stuff when we can. They’ve got a new album coming out in June which I’ve heard and it’s fantastic (tonight Tomorrow & Yesterday – June 18) They are one of my favorite bands as an audience member and I love to sit in with them. We have a few new songs we’ve written but i need some more material to do another record.
TN: Any other new artists that have caught your ear?
JL: There’s a lady that just moved to Nashville, Lera Lynn. There’s another band that just moved from L.A. to Nashville called HoneyHoney that I like a lot. There”s a songwriter named Ryan Tanner I think is really good. And there’s a guy in North Carolina named Daniel Justin Smith that I think is really good. There’s no shortage of new, young singer, songwriter and pickers that are acoustically influenced and have their own style of country and roots music. I’m really encouraged by that. When i host the Music City Roots showcase it gives me an opportunity to be exposed to new performers. There was a band on the other night out of Birmingham, Alabama called St Paul and the Broken Bones. They are a kind of soul review kind of band and they are just out of this world. There’s a woman called Sara Petite out of San Diego who I like a lot. I also love Shovels and Rope, Robert Ellis , Max Gomez and the Milk Carton Kids.
TN: Who would you like to write music with someone that you haven’t?
JL: Gosh, I wish I could work with Eric Clapton. I love his work. I would also like to work with Keith Richards. I got to sing harmony with him on the song Hickory Wind on a Gram Parsons tribute called “Return to Sin City.” Norah Jones was on that, I’d like to work with her. I did a song with John Leventhal called Planet of Love that was pitched to Ray Charles to do with Norah Jones, but that didn’t happen before he passed away. I always wanted to work with Doc Pomus before he passed. And I always wanted to do something with Jerry Garcia and I’m sorry that didn’t happen. I’m slowly getting to work with a lot of folks I hold in high esteem. I got to write with Dan Pen and we’ve been working on some things in England with him and Nick Lowe’s great band. I got to song with George Jones years ago and that was a treat. You just never know in this up and down world of music.
TN: You’ve moved deftly between genres in this time, is there a musical era you would like to travel to and perform?
JL: The 60’s and early 70’s for the soul, country and rock music that was coming out and then the late 50’s early 60’s for Bluegrass. And the 50’s for Blues music. Being able to work in those times at the peak of the music would have been great.
TN: You’re a great singer, songwriter but your also a consummate showman. You’re very personable and funny on stage. Many have also taken note of your rhinestone bedecked clothing when you perform. How many suits do you have and where do you get them?
JL: Oh, I think i have 20 or 25 suits with shirts. I have gotten a few vintage pieces here and there, but i get most of my things new and custom made from Manuel (Cuevas) who is a designer and tailor here in Nashville that used to work with Nudie (Cohn) out of L.A. when he was a teenager. He’s still here producing things for people like Jack White.
TN: Thanks for your time and keep your eyes on the road.
For a movie slated for test-screening next month in Charlottesville, VA (fitting since the the movie takes place in Virginia) details on My Fool Heart (Facebook) are as rare as hen’s teeth.
Here’s what we do know, first the official story brief : “… Jim Waive stars as a humble Virginia diner singer who is the target of two London hit men in the debut feature film MY FOOL HEART from writer-director Jeffrey Martin.” “Throughout the movie, Jim Waive keeps losing his treasured possessions. Justin plays the Mysterious man who finds Jim’s lost things on the sidewalks of Nashville.”
Then there’s the extraordinary cast from Americana, Country and Bluegrass music fields – Elizabeth Cook, Justin Townes Earle, Merle Haggard, Wayne Henderson, Sarah Jarosz, Jim Lauderdale, Charlie McCoy, Jesse McReynolds, Dr. Ralph Stanley and Jim Waive and the Young Divorcees
I contacted the writer-director Jeffrey Martin on the road to shed some light on this intriguing film. He was very forthcoming in an email interview on his motivation for the film and how how love of music helped to influence My Fool Heart.
I very much look forward to seeing this film soon and readers of this blog might feel the same way after reading this interview. Enjoy
Baron Lane – Who are some of your influences as a director?
Jeffrey Martin – MY FOOL HEART was influenced by Cassavettes and other directors who believed even if your bank account was low you could grab a camera and make a movie. It’s a stupid idea but it obviously influenced me. When you make a really cheap film, you get to call the shots and take extravagant chances. Sometimes they pay off.
BL – My Fool Heart is billed as a comedy, but based on what i’ve been able to glean online it looks more like a black comedy. Is that accurate?
JM – Most black comedies have a more bitter or cynical take on life. I think of MY FOOL HEART in the classical sense of comedy. It’s about how things come out in the end and in this movie things do come out okay in the end. But coming out okay is a serious struggle. For me, whenever you look closely at anything in life, especially the serious things like love, marriage, children, death, there is something comical. It’s like when things in life get so bad and crazy you have to just laugh. In the South, tragedy and comedy seem tightly intertwined. Weird and terrible things happen and people laugh about it. Humor makes a lot of things more bearable. Life is hard. There’s not a lot of cynicism in this movie.
BL – What time period is the movie set in? How did that time period shape the music chosen for the movie?
JM – The movie is set today. It’s also set in Virginia which is a place where long ago and today sit side-by-side. That’s what I love about Virginia. I grew up in California and Florida suburbs so when I first went to Virginia I was enchanted by the old things. Even current things seem to have an old feeling in Virginia like a faded photograph or like you’re looking through wavy antique glass. I love Virginia. I spent 30 years there, but I’m not a native. To be really from Virginia isn’t like a jacket you can buy or just put on. The music chosen began in Albemarle County, Virginia and moved outward. If you’re into Americana or bluegrass music, you’ll notice all the lines and connections. The geography lessons.
BL – Where did your story of My Fool Heart come from?
JM – I don’t know. Strange things just pop into my head. I saw Jim Waive, a local Charlottesville musician, playing for tips at the Blue Moon Diner and this whole crazy idea came into my head about a musician like Jim being hunted down by professional killers. It seemed both serious and funny. Like what kind of great music he might start writing under the pressure of death. Like in the old westerns when the bad guys shot at your feet and made you dance.
BL – Cameron Crowe and Quentin Tarantino create films where the music becomes a character in the film. Does music come front and center in My Fool Heart?
JM- Music is huge in this film. It’s the subject and it’s the air you breath watching the movie. But the movie’s plot and characters are also commenting on the music you’re hearing which is a little unusual in a fictional feature film. Also the bluegrass, country and Americana music – old and new – blend together in a way that maybe makes you think of the music’s history if you’re a music fanatic. Crowe and Tarantino are both great, but they use music differently.
BL – What did you grow up listening to?
I had older brothers so I grew up deeply immersed in the music of the 1960’s and 1970’s: Dylan, the Beatles, the Band, the Beach Boys, Van Morrison. I went to college in North Carolina and first heard Emmylou Harris who had just moved away from Greensboro and cut her first album. I got to see Lester Flatt when Marty Stuart was his teenage guitar player. Also lots of bluegrass and pickers and bands like the Dillards who were playing locally then. I was listening to that first Scruggs Brothers LP, Doug Sahm Band, John Hartford, Johnny Cash, Earl Scruggs, Mac Wiseman, Doc and Merle Watson. The mid-Atlantic was an amazing musical region during the 70’s and 80’s with people like Emmylou Harris, Danny Gatton, Stevie Ray Vaughn playing in ridiculously tiny venues. I stood next to all of them playing their sets, two feet away. The Band, as well, with Richard Manuel singing in that beautiful voice. I always liked old American sounds.
Lucinda, who co-produced the movie, was from Charlottesville, Virginia and took me up there when I was 18. She’s from really old Virginia culture. Her great grandfather, Col. Charles Marshall, was General Lee’s military secretary who spent the entire Civil War on Lee’s personal staff and wrote Lee’s famous Farewell to the Troops and is the guy between Lee and Grant in the schoolbook Appomattox painting. Lucinda introduced me to the mountain people still living in Sugar Hollow where they had a farm. Hand-churned butter, brown eggs, horses and wagons – I thought I was dreaming but there it was: time frozen. A lot of that gets into the movie somehow. Lucinda went to country dances out there in the Hollow with the Virginia Vagabonds playing, some of those guys played at the White House for FDR. For her, this would have been as a litle girl around the early 1960’s when Paul Clayton had his cabin near there. Bob Dylan visited the area for a week in 1962 and it seems to have revolutionized his world when he went back to New York and came up with “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright.” Dylan writes about all that in “Chronicles.” Dylan’s deep inside this movie. Jesse McReynolds and other older bluegrass guys told me about Dylan’s influence on them. We tend to think the river flowed the other way, but it was definitely two directions according Jesse. It’s hard to underestimate the influence of Bob Dylan on music. He’s way bigger than Hank Williams and that’s a stupid comment to make if you haven’t thought about it too much. I dug into Appalachian music up one side and down the other and kept seeing Bob Dylan peeking out. Growing up though I also listened to whatever came on the radio. It was a great time. As a teenager, I moved to Winter Haven, Florida where Gram Parsons was from. He was a Snively so he was related to everyone down there. I remember my next older brother talking about him and all that country music. And in college in Greensboro, N.C., Emmylou Harris was playing down on Tate Street just a few years before so I picked up on her when the first album came out and never let go. I remember being 15 in Florida and turning out all the lights in the house and listening to Johnny Cash “Folsom Prison” and imagining I was in jail. Until I left Florida, part of me was.
BL – The cast for My Fool Heart – Merle Haggard, Dr. Ralph Stanley, Jim Lauderdale, Elizabeth Cook, Justin Townes Earle – reads like a who’s who of classic country and Americana. What was the motivation behind casting such a heavy assortment of musicians?
JM – My joke rule was that nobody who was a SAG member could be in the movie. Keep it to nonprofessional actors. We did become a SAG movie though when Merle joined us. The inspiration or idea came from this thought I had. I sat and watched Jim Waive play at the diner for tips and drew this imaginary line from the guys at the bottom playing for free and going all through the middle level and to the very top of the music business, the icons. I thought the story was about that. What is success? Is it talent? Luck? I knew people at the top always considered themselves just a step away from that diner tip jar because you never forget where you came from. And sure enough, a bunch of them dug the idea and wanted to play a part in it. We wound up with Dr. Ralph Stanley and Jesse McReynolds, two IBMA Bluegrass Hall of Fame members. Also Merle Haggard and Charlie McCoy, two Country Hall of Fame members. I used to sit on my bed reading Dylan’s liner notes and I would always see the name Charlie McCoy. It came full circle for me when Charlie agreed to give me a tour of Nashville and that old recording world of working with Elvis, Roy Orbison, Johnny Cash – all the greats. That’s in the movie. It’s worth the price of admission. And Jesse McReynolds tells about playing with Bob Wills, amazing stuff. But it’s not a documentary. This all unfolds in the course of the story.
BL – Finding one musician that can act is pretty rare, where you concerned with the high odds of bad acting in such a large roster of musicians?
JM – Filming musicians is like handling dynamite. You have to be on your toes.
Everybody gets nervous. Merle was nervous. I was nervous. Ralph Stanley told me that he’d been dreading it for days. But if you can help them relax and just take the temperature down and get into that space, strange and wonderful things happen. Merle is powerful and mesmerizing. I wrote his lines, but Merle went deep into the country preacher. And Justin Townes Earle is fantastic. Most of the film, he’s silent. Then at the end, he finally talks and he has the entire film on his shoulders. Justin is a sweet, soulful, deep guy and he brought something to the film that I never expected. I actually expanded his part to use all his great footage. Merle too.
BL – What was your background in music and how did you choose the music for the movie?
JM – I have no background in music. I sang in my elementary school choir until the director tried to isolate where the bad voice was. When I stopped singing and just faked it, she said, “That’s better.” I have no talent which is good. I’m 100% enthusiastic fan. Musicians fear no competition from me. I’m in awe of musicians. I can’t duplicate what they do. I’m not a director or writer with a guitar at home. I suck at everything musical except loving it. MY FOOL HEART’s soundtrack is the music I love: Elizabeth Cook, Merle Haggard, Charlie McCoy, Jesse McReynolds, Wayne Henderson, Jim Lauderdale, Ralph Stanley, Justin Townes Earle.
BL – If you could make a biographic film of one musician’s life who would it be and why?
JM – I don’t think I’d be interested. The magic is in the songs, not the person. Documentary is a better angle on hitting that target. A biopic wouldn’t be my thing.
The 12th year of the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival shows the premier showcase for great (and FREE!) Americana and roots music is showing no signs of slowing down. This year might prove to be the best yet as old friends like Emmylou Harris, Steve Earle and Ralph Stanley are joined by event newcomers like punk-turned-folkie Chuck Ragan, Texas sweethearts The Trishas and Americana darlings The Civil Wars, who pulled out of last year’s HSB.
Have fun, and remember to wear layers and stay hydrated out there (and upwind.) Below find the schedule with my picks in bold.
Friday Oct 5 (10:00am – 7:00pm)
Star Stage 10:00am Poor Man’s Whiskey and Preservation Hall Jazz Band
12:00pm John Reilly and Friends (featuring Becky Stark and Tom Brosseau) 1:15pm Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys 2:40pm The Jerry Douglas Band 4:15pm The Time Jumpers (Vince Gill, Dennis Crouch, Paul Franklin, Larry Franklin, Andy Reiss, Dawn Sears, Kenneth Sears, Joe Spivey, Jeff Taylor & Billy Thomas) 5:45pm Elvis Costello Solo
Arrow Stage 12:00pm Chuck Ragan
2:10pm Chris Carrabba 3:20pm Patterson Hood & the Downtown Rumblers 4:45pm Jon Langford & His Sadies feat. Sally Timms
Rooster Stage 12:00pm Simone Felice 1:00pm Chuck Prophet & the Mission Express
2:20pm Beachwood Sparks
3:25pm Ben Kweller
4:25pm Jenny Lewis
5:45pm Conor Oberst
Saturday Oct 6 (11:00am – 7:00pm)
11:00am World Famous Headliners (Big Al Anderson, Shawn Camp, Pat McLaughlin, Michael Rhodes & Greg Morrow)
12:10pm Alison Brown Quartet with Stuart Duncan 1:25pm Buddy Miller 2:45pm Tribute to the Founding Fathers: Warren Hellman, Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson featuring Alison Brown, Stuart Duncan, Tim O’Brien and Bryan Sutton, with special guests Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris with Heidi Clare & Colleen Browne (from the Wronglers), Peter Rowan, Nick Lowe & more!
4:15pm The Chieftains 5:45pm Steve Earle & the Dukes (& Duchesses)
Rooster Stage 11:00am The Go to Hell Man Clan with Special Guests the Wronglers featuring Jimmie Dale Gilmore
12:00pm Lloyd Cole 1:10pm Guy Clark & Verlon Thompson
2:30pm The Lumineers 3:50pm Patty Griffin 5:30pm Robert Earl Keen
Star Stage 11:00am Roger Knox and the Pine Valley Cosmonauts 12:30pm Dirty Three 2:10pm Dave Alvin & the Guilty Ones 3:45pm Cowboy Junkies
5:45pm Chris Robinson Brotherhood
Towers Of Gold Stage
11:40am Red Baraat 1:20pm Justin Townes Earle
3:00pm Les Claypool’s Duo De Twang
4:45pm The Head & the Heart
Arrow Stage 11:00am The Trishas 12:05pm Reckless Kelly
1:30pm Bill Kirchen & The Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods
2:45pm Heartless Bastards 4:05pm Jerry Jeff Walker 5:35pm The Flatlanders feat. Joe Ely, Jimmie Dale Gilmore & Butch Hancock
Porch Stage 11:00am Joe Pug
12:10pm Sara Watkins
1:25pm Little Green Cars
2:40pm Allison Moorer
3:50pm Robyn Hitchcock
4:50pm Sierra Hull 6:05pm Seasick Steve
Sunday Oct 7 (11:00am – 7:00pm)
11:00am Dry Branch Fire Squad
12:05pm Laurie Lewis & The Right Hands
1:20pm Peter Rowan 2:45pm Ralph Stanley & The Clinch Mountain Boys
4:15pm Tim O’Brien Party of 7 5:45pm Emmylou Harris
Rooster Stage 11:00am Jim Lauderdale 12:05pm Kevin Welch & Kieran Kane & Fats Kaplin
1:10pm Jesse Winchester
2:20pm Glen Hansard
3:35pm Nick Lowe 4:50pm Todd Snider 6:10pm The Civil Wars
Star Stage 11:00am Giant Giant Sand
12:40pm The Knitters 2:15pm DOUG SAHM’S PHANTOM PLAYBOYS featuring: dave ALVIN, steve EARLE, delbert McCLINTON, boz SCAGGS, jimmie VAUGHAN… and whoever the cat drags in… 4:05pm The Del McCoury Band
6:00pm Keller Williams, Steve Kimock & Kyle Hollingsworth featuring Bernie Worrell, Wally Ingram & Andy Hess
Towers of Gold Stage
12:00pm The Milk Carton Kids
1:30pm Soul Rebels 3:10pm Dwight Yoakam
5:00pm Patti Smith and her band
Arrow Stage 11:00am Lucero
1:25pm Rubblebucket 2:45pm Son Volt 4:10pm Luther Dickinson & the Wandering
11:00am The New Orleans Bingo! Show 12:10pm Tiny Television
1:25pm The Barr Brothers
2:40pm Amanda Shaw & the Cute Guys 3:55pm The White Buffalo
5:10pm Walter Salas-Humara
6:20pm Jonny Two Bags & Salvation Town
Nick Cave is one of those performers, like Tom Waits and Neil Young, that occupy a music landscape outside of genre.
I always thought Cave would make a create a great Americana roots album if he wanted to.
His love for the genre is evident. Cave covered Johnny Cash, one of his heroes. Cash’s “The Singer” (originally “The Folk Singer”) appeared on Cave an his band the Bad Seeds third album Kicking Against the Pricks album. Cave also cut Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” a duet with Cash himself for Cash’s American IV: The Man Comes Around album (2002). Johnny Cash returned the favor by covered Cave’s “The Mercy Seat” on the album American III: Solitary Man.
Cave also penned the script for the western The Proposition, which was set in his native Australia. Cave also created the film’s soundtrack with violinist Warren Ellis. Cave is back at it again. He has written the screenplay for the upcoming Lawless, based on a novel by Matthew Bondurant about a family of bootleggers living in Virginia during the Depression. Cave and Ellis have again collaborated on the movies soundtrack.
the two christened themselves the Bootleggers and recorded punk-bluegrass versions of songs, including Link Wray’s “Fire and Brimstone,” Townes Van Zandt’s “Fire in the Blood,” Captain Beefheart’s “Sure ‘Nuff Yes I Do” and the Velvet Underground’s “White Light/White Heat.”
Because Cave wasn’t interested in singing the whole soundtrack they recruited vocalists to accompany them. Emmylou Harris and the Duke Spirit’s Liela Moss signed on without reservation. Stanley wasn’t such an easy sell.
According to RollingStone.com the conversation between Cave and Stanley just about as well as the one between DJ Pretty Lights for the RE:GENERATION film.
In the end Cave prevailed and Ralph Stanley’s cover of VU’s “White Light/White Heat” is pretty damn excellent. I can’t wait for the rest of the soundtrack.
The upcoming Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, the 12th annual and the first after the passing of benefactor and spiritual leader Warren Hellman, continues a practice it began last year by teasing us with audio hints to reveal it’s roster.
It’s a fun undertaking that social media helps to uncover the more obscure performers. Once the audio mystery has been solved you find HSB 12, as as it has in recent years, offers a stellar roster of roots and Americana performers with the occasional current rock favorites (Heartless Bastards) and baby boom indy darlings (Patti Smith, Nick Lowe.)
These latter, I’m assured when bemoaning the Americana acts that could have filled the slots, put the “Hardly Strictly” in Hardly Strictly Bluegrass. Personally I’d put The White Buffalo (The White Buffalo is now on the bill!) or Corb Lund in any of their places.
As mentioned HSB 12 is the first Hardly Strictly since the festival benefactor Warren Hellman passed away December of last year. Hellman made his bones in private equity investing and, in the truest form of benevolence and love of music (that I share) funded the free festival out of his own pocket every year since its inception, I’ve been told that his will has provided for the event’s continued funding for at least a decade after his death.
The beautiful stretch of Golden Gate Park where the festival’s 5 stages are erected had it’s name changed from Speedway Meadow to Hellman Hollow in tribute.
The festival’s being a free event has led to serious overcrowding the last few years to the point where moving from stage to stage has become a chore and, on hotter days, a risky endeavor. Most of my my friends pick=jk a stage with the roster they most prefer and settle in with a blanket and cooler.
I spend the day braving the crowds and visiting these friends. After all, as an Americana music blogger it will not do to lay in the grass while Ralph Stanley or Buddy Miller echos from a distant stage.
Remember bring water, stay upwind from the weed, and leave your young children and pets at home, Especially on warmer days they don’t deserve the self-inflicted torture of the crowds.
Here’s to great music and here’s to Warren Hellman, a man I met briefly (and fittingly at the Ryman Theater in Nashville.) He was warm and gracious and his love for this music poured from him. Bless you Mr. Hellman and the legacy have left San Francisco. If you haven’t see it take a look at the archived Hellman tribute concert from Ocean Beach,
Here’s my best guess at the bill so far; Emmylou Harris has not been mentioned yet but as the sole performer that has been on the bill since the first HSB look for her addition.
Elvis Costello, Patti Smith, The Head and the Heart, Glen Hansard, Patty Griffin, Dwight Yoakam, The Lumineers, Nick Lowe, Heartless Bastards, Robert Earl Keen, Son Volt, Ralph Stanley, Lloyd Cole, Les Claypool, Todd Snider, Dirty Three, Dave Alvin, Rubblebucket, Sara Watkins, Buddy Miller, Jerry Douglas, The Milk Carton Kids, Del Mccoury, Soul Rebels Brass Band, Peter Rowan, The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Laurie Lewis, Red Baraat, Giant Giant Sand, Little Green Cars, Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express, Tiny Television, The Wandering, Laurie Lewis And The Right Hands, Amanda Shaw & The Cute Guys, Mike Farris and the Roseland Rhythm Revue, Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys, Tim O’brien Party of Seven, Time Jumper, Steve Earle and the Dukes (and Duchesses), The Go to Hell Man Clan, Patterson Hood & the Downtown Rumblers, Old Crow Medicine Show
I’m not a religious man but I would like to have a word with god. I’d look up at his cloudy beard and steel-blue eyes and say “Stop.” I’m tired of writing posts sending off out legends. Scruggs, Helm and now Watson.
Men who’s storied careers shines a glaring light of authenticity and richness on the current music industry of glib irony and planned obsolesce. Where AutoTune and beats take precedence over song-craft and instrumental dexterity.
A vascular disease Arthel Lane (Doc) Watson as an infant left him blind for life. He drank in the musical styles and lore from his family and became prolific on the harmonica. then at 10 he took up the banjo his father had crafted for him. By the time he was in his teens he settled on the guitar, the instrument he helped to revolutionize touring the folk circuit with his flat-picking virtuosity.
I’ve never attended MerlFest, the annual music festival held the last weekend in April in Wilkesboro, North Carolina named in honor of Watson’s only son, Eddy Merle Watson, who died in a farm tractor accident in 1985.
Over it;s 24-year history on the four-day festival’s 14 stages you could have see some of bluegrass, folk and country music’s greats – Dolly Parton, Willie Nelson, Earl Scruggs, The Kruger Brothers, Emmylou Harris, Jerry Douglas, John Prine, Alison Krauss and Union Station. You would have also caught some of roots and Americana music’s shining stars -Gillian Welch , the Carolina Chocolate Drops, The Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, coming up in the ranks. You would have also seen genre-crossers like Robert Plant, Elvis Costello and Linda Ronstadt making the pilgrimage to stretch their boundaries and pay their respects.
The festival always concluded with Doc holding court performing music of the ages with humility, spirituality and grace.
Of the dozens of artist I’ve seen perform at the roots festival Hardly Strictly Bluegrass over the last three years, three artists rose above the rest by emodying the ages and representing a deep musical legacy the other musicians on the bill drew from – Hazel Dickens, Ralph Stanley and Doc Watson.
Thank you Doc for sharing your gift with the world.