Tag Archives: No Depression

Music, News and What Not: The Pirate Broadside


For those of you who visit No Depression: The Journal of Roots Music website for the latest music news, reviews and columns…May 2017 marks the month that the site has hit the pause button on fresh content in order to run a subscription drive for their quarterly print journal. You can read about it here, but the deal is this: you commit to just $6 USD per month and you receive four copies of incredible music journalism each year delivered to your doorstep. And you can cancel at any time. Took me a second to punch in my numbers and take the plunge.

To give you an idea of the quality of writing you’ll be getting, No Depression has sidelined all new content this month in favor of running some of their past long form stories that originally were published in the print journal. So if you want a sampling, here’s a few complimentary stories to check out:

Songs from The Gut: A Conversation with John Prine from Holly Gleason

Sweet Freedom: Jason Isbell Has Hit His Stride by Kelly McCartney (No relation to above pirate.)

Re-Trace: Jay Farrar Looks Back on 20 Years of Son Volt from David McPherson

So there it is…my personal Public Service Announcement; a swing and a pitch to keep No Depression alive and well. Keep in mind this is a non-profit organization, and most of us who contribute do it for literally peanuts or soy beans. Money and writing are like oil and water these days, so unless you’re James Patterson or Stephen King, flipping burgers is in your future.

Enough….let’s pull something new out of the ether and take a music break. Even though No Depression is in ‘send me money mode’…there is plenty of news, music and what not. Here’s Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit performing ‘If We Were Vampires’ live in TV Studio A at KCPT in Kansas City, Missouri. This is on the new new album and it sounds great.

The 2017 Americana Music Awards‘ nominees announcement ceremony included special performances from the Milk Carton Kids, the Jerry Douglas Band, Caitlin Canty and more — but it also featured one particularly special moment: Jason Isbell and the Drive-By Truckers‘ Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley coming together for an acoustic performance.

Isbell, Hood and Cooley sing “Outfit,” originally from the Truckers’ 2003 album Decoration Day. Written by Isbell alone, the song is one of two songs that the then-24-year-old penned for the album; the other, also written solo, is the record’s title track. Earlier this year, in late January, Isbell — now, of course, a solo artist — reunited with his former bandmates during a Drive-By Truckers show at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. (From theboot.com)

Speaking of the AMA awards, I was taken aback by the announcement of Van Morrison receiving a lifetime achievement award for songwriting. No disrespect: Van is indeed The Man, and we know that the organization loves to recognize those from the UK (Richard Thompson and Robert Plant were past recipients), but I just don’t get it. Although I know this guy probably doesn’t give a damn and wouldn’t show up anyway, I think he might be deserving of anything with the tagline ‘Americana’ in it.

The folks over at Pitchfork have published a User Guide to The Grateful Dead that focuses not on their studio work but rather the gazillion of live tracks that are out there. Which reminds me…Jerry Garcia and Robert Hunter…a songwriting team that deserves acknowledgement from the Americana cabal. You know, since the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame people are often slapped around for missing folks like Gram Parsons and The Flying Burrito Brothers, the AMA might be moving into their elitist territory. Sad…to quote the POTUS.

By now you’ve heard about the sad passing of Austin singer-songwriter Jimmy LaFave. Local radio station KOKE-FM published the statement from his label and family, and you can find it here. And No Depression co-founder Peter Blackstock covered LaFave’s Songwriters Rendezvous for the Austin American-Statesman, and I think it’s a beautiful piece of writing. Click here to get there. This video was recorded at SXSW in 2011. Rest in peace.

“Every day, every minute, someone in the world is singing a Pete Seeger song. The songs he wrote, including the antiwar tunes, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?” “If I Had a Hammer” and “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and those he popularized, including “This Land Is Your Land” and “We Shall Overcome,” have been recorded by hundreds of artists in many languages and have become global anthems for people fighting for freedom.” So begins a story of Pete, and how we keep his spirit alive.

Writer Susanna Reich and illustrator Adam Gustavson have produced a book dedicated to that objective. In 38 pages of text, paintings and drawings, Stand Up and Sing! Pete Seeger, Folk Music, and the Path to Justice provides a wonderful portrait of Seeger, focusing on how his strongly-held beliefs motivated his music and his activism. The book introduces children to the notion that music can be a powerful tool for change. As Reich notes, Seeger saw himself as a link in “a chain in which music and social responsibility are intertwined.”

Read more about Pete and his music in this wonderful article posted at Common Dreams.

This year marks 50 years since Otis Redding died. He’d ignited the crowd at the Monterey Pop Festival in the summer of 1967; later that year, he and his band were en route to a show in Madison, Wisc., when their plane hit rough weather and crashed in an icy lake. Redding was 26 years old. Half a century later, Redding’s influence as a singer and spirit of soul music remains. Author Jonathan Gould, who’s written a new biography called Otis Redding: An Unfinished Life and you can read more about it here.

Guess it’s time to close the ‘pirated’ version of my Broadside column out with something that captures Mr. McCartney’s early acting career. In the meantime, while I’m officially on hiatus, please feel free to come visit me at therealeasyed.com ,  The Real Easy Ed: Roots Music and Random Thoughts which is my Facebook home where I aggregate daily and feel free to subscribe to my Flipboard e-mag of the same name.






Thirty Years of Guitar Town, Steve Earle and The Dukes

steve-earle-guitar-townOn a high-temp Sunday in Manhattan, after a train ride on an excruciating slow-moving local that stopped at every single station, I took a 36-block stroll downtown with music in my head. It’s not unusual to occasionally find Steve Earle walking the western grid between Houston Street and 14th Street, so I began to look for him as I cut across Washington Square looking for shade.

Forty-five minutes earlier, somewhere between Fordham and Harlem, I had made the decision to hand him a 20 dollar bill. Had I checked to see where he and Shawn Colvin were appearing, on what The Guardian has tagged the “nine divorces, two addictions, one perfect mix” tour, I’d have known they were down in Virginia.

What prompted me to seek Earle out was that I’d listened to the complete digitized bootleg Magnetised Motherf**kers along with the second shorter edition More MMs. Together there’s over 75 live tracks, B-sides, promo-only songs, collaborations, duets, tribute albums, and compilation appearances which are not so easy to find in this post-pirate world of online streaming. Both are essentials in my Earle collection, and I felt the need to make amends.

Loosely calculating that if these albums were ever released Steve might actually see 20 bucks after performance and publishing fees, it seemed like a good gesture on my part. And since we didn’t connect, I’ve taken a bill, folded it into thirds, and tucked it into my wallet behind my driver’s license. Next time I see him on the street, it’s his.

Anyway, to my point. Guitar Town, the first full-length album from Earle and his band the Dukes, was released on March 5, 1986. It topped the Billboard country album charts and the title song reached number seven on the country singles charts. There were two Grammy nominations. The album is turning 30 years old this year, so it seems too important an anniversary to skim over.

Ten years after the release of Guitar Town, a new magazine called No Depression put Earle on the cover of their third issue, and Peter Blackstock wrote an excellent profile that was part interview, part history. Earle had already crashed, burned, and risen again. Blackstock wrote:

Guitar Town, which presented the most definitive synthesis of country and rock ‘n’ roll during the 1980s, is generally considered Earle’s debut, but in fact he had released a rockabilly EP titled Pink & Black in the early ’80s. Furthermore, he had been a fixture on the Nashville scene for more than a decade before Guitar Town came out, ever since he had moved there from his boyhood home of San Antonio to play bass for Guy Clark.

In the late seventies Earle left Clark’s band and began to get work as a songwriter. He told Blackstock:

People [publishers] would keep signing me because they knew I could write, but nobody got a lot of cuts on me, so they’d usually drop me eventually, and then somebody else would sign me. I had the odd cut here and there.The first record I ever had that made any money was a Johnny Lee single in about 1980 that I co-wrote.

You can find Lee’s “When You Fall In Love” here on You Tube, and it was co-written with John Sherrill and produced by Jim Ed Norman. Released in 1982, it made it to just the middle of the charts and peaked at number 14.

Of more interest to me is a song that came out almost exactly one year before Guitar Town was released. Connie Smith was planning to come out of semi-retirement, and “A Far Cry from You” was written solely by Earle. Released as a single and never on an official album, it was dead on arrival. Reaching number 71 on the Hot Country Singles chart, it was anything but. Yet to my ears, it’s the first song of his that I hear written in the “Earle-style.” This past year, it was re-recorded beautifully and released by Marsha Thornton, a label-mate of Earle back in the early ’90s, at MCA.

To mark the anniversary of Guitar Town, Universal announced that they would do what they usually do these days: remaster and reissue it on black 180-gram heavyweight vinyl, and sell it for 17 bucks. That’s some brilliant marketing. Checking on Amazon, it’s ranked today at #39,430. In a press release from back in March, there’s also a two-disc set and a digital download (who does that anymore?) deluxe edition coming before Christmas. Huh.

Does anything else really need to be added to the 34 minute and 35 seconds ten-track original? I think not.

In an article titled Albums of Our Lives written by Lucy Shiller in 2013 and posted on The Rumpus, Shiller nails the essence of what makes Guitar Town so special. In her youth, this disc became the soundtrack for family road trips. She wrote:

Here was a harder-edged voice than I was used to, yelping and sneering about having a “two-pack habit and a motel tan.” I barely knew what a two-pack habit might be, and I had no idea about a motel tan. But I wanted both. My father and I screamed the lyrics as we entered the dreaded hour five of a day’s drive—just about the time when you feel you should almost be there but know you’re only halfway, and with each passing hour, you become, in the parlance of my family, increasingly “rumpsprung.”

Steve’s guitar was rambunctiously cheery, bolstered by swift pickings on the mandolin. The instrumentation belied gloriously bitter lyrics. Singing them, singing them loudly, was being full, suddenly, of a rightful rage about a discovered outsider status. “Hillbilly Highway,” the album’s third track, was an epic: a young man leaving his country home for a job, years later, his son leaving for college, and then, finally, the grandson — Steve Earle — picking up his guitar and hitting the road. He’d had enough.’

While Earle’s ten songs alone would be cause for tribute, it’s the entire package of collaboration between songwriter, band, and producers that makes it work as well as it does. The Dukes, or more accurately this version of the band, breaks down like this:

Bucky Baxter-Pedal Steel Guitar
Richard Bennett-Guitar, the infamous Danelectro 6-string bass, slap bass and associate producer
Ken Moore-Organ and synth
Emory Gordon, Jr. -Bass, mandolin and producer
Harry Stinson-Drums and vocals
Paul Franklin-Pedal Steel Guitar (‘Fearless Heart’ and ‘Someday’)
John Barlow Jarvis- Synth and piano
Steve Nathan-Synth
Tony Brown-Producer
Steve Earle-Guitar and vocals

The album was recorded in late 1985 and early 1986 in Nashville at Sound Stage Studio. Overdubs were later recorded at Emerald Studios. It was one of the first country music albums to be recorded digitally, utilizing the state-of-the-art Mitsubishi X-800. Each of the album’s ten tracks was either written or co-written by Earle.

Thirteen years after it’s release, Guitar Town was certified gold by the RIAA in 1999. Reno Kling on bass and Mike McAdams on guitar joined Baxter, Moore, and Stinson as the touring Dukes.

This article was originally published as an Easy Ed’s Broadside on No Depression dot com.