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New Music Seminar: A Conversation With Tom Silverman, Plus Chatting With Marty Stuart and Jesse Winchester

Posted: 05/09/2012 9:10 am

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A Conversation With New Music Seminar Exec and Tommy Boy Founder Tom Silverman

Mike Ragogna: How are you doing, Tom?

Tom Silverman: I'm doing fantastic! A little crazy, but fantastic.

MR: Is it fantastic because of what's on this year's New Music Seminar slate?

TS: Indeed, it is. It's really coming together, and it's a key change in the history of the music business.

MR: It's going to be held at Webster Hall?

TS: Yes, Webster Hall, the oldest night club in America. In 1886, they started having parties before the first phonograph record was even sold.

MR: And what did they call the New Music Seminar then?

TS: (laughs) The New Music Seminar was just a gleam. There was no music business yet, but Webster Hall was, I guess, a pre-vaudeville nightclub and performance center on 11th St. in New York. It's the oldest nightclub in America, which is really interesting. It makes it an interesting place that predated radio by like 40 years. It's even older than the one in Nashville where The Grand Ole Opry had it's home. It's pretty exciting to go into a place with that much history.

MR: When you combine its history with the concept of new music, it's like a bridge, a reminder of the heritage of where entertainment has come from.

TS: It is amazing, yes. And there have been disruptors, if you can say that Thomas Edison was a disruptor, and now you think about the disruptions in the music business with Sean Parker, who's one of our key notes. Napster, back in the day, disrupted the music business, and all of the other digital players, changing the whole business and how the industry is trying to adapt to that and reinvent itself to remain relevant and to thrive again.

MR: It's interesting how imperative it is that artists' management and labels continue to apply whatever the latest social media is and the latest marketing tools that are available.

TS: Yep, that has to happen. And the other thing that has to happen is the economics have to drive investment into the music sector. People have to invest in artists and help artists develop, and that used to happen a lot more. 80% of the money that was going into artist development is gone now from where it was ten or twelve years ago, and we need to see that come back because fewer artists are getting a shot than used to. You can put plenty more artists out there that are doing it themselves, but very few are breaking through because the investment money is dried up. Now we're seeing it start to turn around again, but it hasn't affected investment in artists yet. We do believe that we're on the cusp of a revival of the music business, or a resurrection, as we like to call it.

MR: It seems like Napster and the like forced the downsizing of an industry that was so bloated.

TS: Yes, it's true. It was a wealthy business. The change of CDs really increased the business by about 70%. People were re-buying their old libraries of music again on CD, and the CD was almost double the price of the vinyl and cassette that it replaced. Initially, you remember, the CD wasn't a recordable format, and once it became recordable, that kind of changed the game a little bit because people could start recording files. Recorded a file is a clone, unlike a recorded file on a cassette. You're just cloning. You've got copies, so it's an exact duplicate, and that changed everything, and that made Napster possible, the whole concept of music files. And then the invention of the MP3 file, which was a much smaller file, was a big breakthrough too.

You can always look at technological advances that made possible changes in music listening habits and music sharing habits and acquisition habits and access habits. That's what we're looking at now, and what are our potentials to grow the business based on looking ten years to see what's happening. The big thing is the growth in cell phones, specifically music-capable cell phones and smart phones. In America, 50% of all cell phones are smart phones, and that's a total growth area everywhere, not just here. All around the world, there are over 1.3 million activated smart phones. I mean 1.3 billion, and there are 6 billion cell phones. There's probably a couple billion activated music-capable cell phones between the smart phones and the other ones that are music-capable. So that shows the potential size of the music market.

MR: Will this be one of the many subjects that will be talked about at the New Music Seminar?

TS: Yes, everything will be talked about at the New Music Seminar, everything to do with change and vision and new directions, and how we grow the business from the low point it's at now to well beyond the highest point it ever was twelve years ago. We believe there's a path to a profitable and sustainable music business, and we've assembled the real leaders and visionaries in that space to discuss it -- the CEOs, founders, and presidents of most of the companies that are innovating.

MR: Yeah, I was looking at this list, and you have some pretty powerful people that have been confirmed for NMS. Tom, is there anything tangible that comes out of the New Music Seminar in the end?

TS: Absolutely. We have a history at the New Music Seminar that runs back to 1980. It started in 1980 and ran to 1994 before it took a hiatus, and then we came back in 2009, but we always were a catalyst for changing the business. Things that were spoken about at the seminar became reality in a matter of years in some cases. The same thing will happen here. Everything starts with a vision. Nothing turns into reality before it's spoken about or seen as a vision, so these are people who are seeing things others haven't seen yet, and they can talk about them in a way that's understandable, and then we can create a path to make that a reality. We have the real change agents, all of them, and also the power brokers who can really plug into change and lead this thing. So in every area -- the creative area, exposure area, and in the monetization area -- we have those people, founders of all of these new businesses like Slacker and the founder of Pandora, the chairman of IHeartRadio and Clear Channel, the CEO of HD Tracks that downloads high definition music tracks, all of these new concepts. They're all here -- the CEO of ReverbNation -- basically, pretty much all of these various areas like Rhapsody, all of them, pretty much all of them are coming to the seminar. It's the first time they've all come under one roof. Then we expect the CEOs and presidents of all of the major labels and most of the independent labels will also be in the same room, and also it's the first time that there's been an additional broadcasting summit that SoundExchange is hosting. SoundExchange is the agency that collects and distributes royalties from licensing fees from digital broadcasters to artists and rights holders, and that's a business that's growing to be a $350 million business from the small percentage of radio listening. As more radio becomes digital, all of those fees are collected and paid out to artists and labels.

MR: I noticed that the performance rights organization BMI is involved. What's the relationship there?

TS: Yes, BMI and SESAC are both involved. They are performing rights organizations for songwriters, and SoundExchange is a performing rights association for the recorded song or for labels and artists. They may not be the composition creators. For example, a good way to look at it is Diana Ross, who never wrote any of her songs. All of her songs were written by other people, so she doesn't get any royalties when her music gets played on the radio in America. In the rest of the world, she would get them because every other country has that right except for US FM radio, which doesn't pay for music to artists. They only pay for the composition creator, so the songwriter gets paid and the publisher who controls the composition gets paid, but the actual artists don't get paid who perform the song.

MR: Right, and that's always been a sort of bone of contention, hasn't it, because the angle has always been that radio is a promotional tool for record for sales?

TS: Those days are coming to an end. Just because you get promotion from exposure to something doesn't mean there shouldn't be payment for use of that creation. If you look at the internet, most of the big businesses are driven by eyeballs or by attention that's gathered by user-generated content or other use of creative content. They don't pay for the content, so they fill their sites with content that attracts eyeballs that they then monetize and create businesses like Instagram that they can sell after two years for a $1 billion.

MR: Right, exactly. And going back to the '80s, MTV started up with free content.

TS: Viacom exists off the back of the major labels' investment in hundreds of billions of dollars in videos that they created, and there was only a very small annual fee paid for that usage, which doesn't begin to cover the cost of making the videos.
MR: And now that YouTube has everything up for free, that's another investment that the labels inadvertently made.

TS: I don't know if you notice, but I watch YouTube and there are more ads on there than ever before, and it's frustrating. One thing that consumers are going to have to get used to is more commercials on stuff they watch on the Internet that in the early days of the Web was free because they couldn't sell spots. Now, not only are they selling more spots, they're selling for higher prices, so you're going to see advertising. There's already almost $50 billion a year in online advertising, and you're going to see that go well over a couple hundred billion in advertising over the next five years, which means more commercials interrupting what you want. So at that point, if you want that, you'll have to pay a subscription. That'll be your choice.

MR: Yes of course. You pay a subscription or you get subjected to the advertisement, so an entity like YouTube ends up making profits, right? Now, if the entity makes profits, where's the excuse that it's promotional, so they should be able to use clips for free?

TS: Well, they all have deals with the creators where they do share the revenue, so there is a revenue split with labels, not on all of their revenue. It's only on the revenue for whatever video is playing at that time. However, there's plenty of advertising that comes around YouTube that doesn't get paid out, and it is generating content that's not licensed or set up for payment. But more and more, artists and labels are actually getting paid. One of the artists that we're looking at hoping to come to the seminar is a guy out of the UK who had the #4 record on Christmas week without being on the radio for sales off of YouTube alone. It generated enough YouTube spins to really blow up his music sales, and he didn't have airplay, so it's a really unusual thing. He didn't even have a label. He did it all on his own.

MR: Where does one go to find information on attending the New Music Seminar?

TS: The New Music Seminar is in New York City. You go to the website http://www.NewMusicSeminar.com and you'll see everybody who's speaking, and it also includes the New Music Seminar New York Music Festival, which will have over 150 artists playing in at least 15 venues throughout New York, which will get you into all of that as well. There's an amazing guide book that comes with it that's sort of a guide to the new music business and how to plug into it right now, and it's filled with great opportunities to meet all these people and connect with basically the future now and build your business and relationships around all of the right people in one place. It's a fantastic opportunity for anybody within the business or thinking about being in the business to learn and expand their connections and walk away with actually potential business plans, and maybe even partners.

MR: Tom, what advice might you have for new artists?

TS: My advice to new artists is that you have to make yourself happy. We do a thing at the New Music Seminar called the Reflection Award that we give to the top artist on the verge of breaking. Thousands of artists get nominated by different music industry experts, and we get them down to the top 100 artists most ready to break, and then the top three come and perform at the seminar, and the number one artist is picked and wins about $250,000 with promotional benefits and prizes and things like that. What they've all learned is that they have to do it themselves. They win the Reflection Award, and it's like a gold record, except it's a mirror. It's a mirror in the shape of a record, and when you look at it, you see yourself. The purpose of that is that we tell artists that you are the ones you've been waiting for. Don't wait for a record company to break (you) because it's not going to work that way.

In the old days, the music business had scouts everywhere, and they were signing a lot of artists. Now, the only artists that are getting signed are ones that have a head of steam that are going 30 or 40 miles an hour, maybe even faster, and creating their own buzz, selling out bigger venues, selling music on their own, and have a huge number of YouTube views or have something going on that shows that they have an audience that they're starting from and they're not starting from scratch. Very few artists get signed and then are successful unless they build a big audience, so the whole game is to build your audience. The artists that are successful at building their audience are the ones that are going to be successful. The artists that are sitting around and waiting and they make a record and want to send demos around to people are going to be very unlikely to have a possibility. I always say a lottery ticket is a much lower risk investment than making a record and thinking you're going to get signed by sending it to a record company. You have to have a plan to build yourself as an artist and build your fan base. If you're not planning to build your fan base, then you're not really going to be taken seriously.

MR: So Tom, how does the future look as far as the music business?

TS: The future is bright for the music business! It's seen the darkest days and it's coming to a point now where it's starting to kick in. We're getting closer to the one click, where when you hear music, you're only one click away from owning it or accessing it, and the systems flow of revenue from the people who are utilizing music to the people who are creating the music are finally becoming fully formed. So there's a great opportunity for the music business to start growing with the expansion of cell phones and smart phones and the advent of connected automobiles is going to even further drive that and accelerate the movement. I believe that we are going to see a new way of looking at the music business and the expansion of that. Last year, the music industry saw the most music transactions in history. That's a big sign. A lot of those transactions were single transactions as opposed to album transactions. So the numbers weren't as great as they have been historically, but it just shows the number of people that are engaged with music is continuing to grow. More people are going to shows and festivals; more people are listening to music in more ways than ever before. Music is more accessible and more engaged, and you hear people talking about music everywhere, so I think there's a much greater awareness and involvement and engagement in music than ever before. Now all that remains is that we find a way to monetize that so the right amount of money can flow back to artists, and that's what's getting ready to happen. So the next ten years will be the beginning of skyrocketing growth in revenue for music.

MR: Let's go over the dates.

TS: Yes, it's June 17-19 at Webster Hall, and the Festival continues on right to the 21st of June. It's New York Music Week in NY, and we expect to be involved with hundreds of artists performing, and we think that we'll have thousands of people from the music business coming to NY for the concerts. We expect to probably be sold out because we're limited at Webster Hall in how many people we can get in there, so it would be a good idea to go to http://www.newmusicseminar.com and get tickets as soon as possible.

MR: Thanks. I'm fascinated by the continued changes in the music business, things seem like they're changing hourly.

TS: Well, one thing we can say is it's not the record business anymore.

Transcribed by Kyle Pongan


A Conversation With Marty Stuart

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Mike Ragogna: Marty, your new album, Nashville, Volume 1: Tear The Woodpile Down, is a thoroughly "country" country album.

Marty Stuart: Authenticity is the watch word. I love traditional country, fell back in love head over heels with it five or six years ago. Me and my band were just kind of out there doing whatever appealed to us and one day, traditional country music appeared, and it's really where I started in country music almost four years ago. It's a precious piece of American culture. It owns its own place within the arts. It seemed to me like what bubbled up in my heart was to throw a lasso around what was left of that end of the culture, shore it up, love it, inspire it, protect it... But the big job was to hopefully forge a new chapter in this century and write some new songs and make some new events happen around it. This album truly is a part of that.

MR: There's a lot of love in your heart for Jimmie Rodgers and Johnny Cash, right?

MS: There is. It's not only old heroes. I started professionally when I was 13 years old with Lester Flatt. In a lot of ways, those was the guys who raised me, my old chiefs, my old mentors and it's kind of a family thing.

MR: Can you go into your title track, "Tear The Woodpile Down"?

MS: Well, the truth of the matter is, it was simply written. I have a TV show on RFD-TV and Dolly Parton was going to be our guest a couple of seasons back. I needed a song to kick the show off for when Dolly walked around from behind the curtain, so we needed to set the bar pretty high on a song for her to step out to. So I went home and wrote the song, and the next day, we performed it on my television show. But, as time has gone on, we just kept refining the song, I kept refining the lyrics.

MR: What about "Sundown in Nashville"? It really nailed the scene there.

MS: That song actually comes from about 1967. There was a country duo, a husband and wife team called Carl and Pearl Butler, and they had a huge hit in the early '60s called "Don't Let Me Cross Over." I recorded that song because I loved what it said. I rewrote the last verse to kind of bring it into the 21st century. But, it's very true. If you don't believe me, get in your car, drive down to lower Broadway tonight or any night in Nashville and just look around and that's it, right there. I can tell you from being around 40 years, when things are going your way around Nashville, it's a wonderful time. But, when things are not going your way and nobody cares, it can be a very lonely place at sundown.

MR: You're right. It can vacillate between, "This is the most amazing thing that ever happened to country!" to "What was your latest hit again?"

MS: And that happens very fast. I think of the same thing when you go to LA or New York. They're just kind of industry towns. When everybody loves you, everybody loves you, but it can get cold real fast.

MR: Though 16th and Broadway is still one of the honky-tonk capitals of the world, I think.

MS: Yeah.

MR: Corey Hickenbottom, let's get you in here. Got any questions for Marty?

Corey Hickenbottom: Marty, you were talking about your TV show and I've got to tell you, that's my favorite show on TV right now. It's just fantastic. I appreciate it so much as a country music fan. I feel it gets so segmented these days -- there's the bluegrass, Americana, modern country... You pull them all together. It's the only place I know where I'm going to watch Riders in the Sky followed by Brad Paisley followed by Del McCoury followed by Charlie Pride. Can you talk about some of what you're doing there, bringing them all together.

MS: First of all, thanks for watching. I love that the show has become the band's theater, if you will. It's kind of become our platform. I was riding through the backwoods of Missouri, I guess, six or seven years ago, and I was coming off scoring films. What I learned in the film world is if the music and the scene line up together, the scene flies by. But, if the music and the scene don't line up together, the scene can feel like three hours long. I was riding through the backwoods of Missouri, looking around at cows and tractors and horses and looking at clothes blowing on the lines and country people. I was listening to contemporary music on the radio and it just didn't quite line up. But, I stopped and I put in Hank Williams and I put in Porter Wagner and all of a sudden, life came back to one. I thought, "How about if we do a TV show and we take our case back to the people?" I have a pretty good Rolodex. I have a pretty diverse date book with names in it. Make it entertain. Make it dance. Do what I know how to do, and that's simply what we did. It either entertains or it don't. Just because somebody don't have a hit record don't mean a thing. I've always contended a fiddle player with the right song in their hand could wreck the room a whole lot more than somebody with my latest single that nobody cares about.

MR: Disposable recordings.

MS: Yeah. I'm guilty of those, too. I have a lot of those at The Great Escape record store. Go get you some.

MR: I miss The Great Escape, I lived in Nashville when I was a country act with my musical partner Steve Mosto. We were a group called Almost Brothers, and we recorded your song "There Will Always Be of Them In Me" for a single. Beautiful song, you're a great writer, sir.

MS: Thank you, kindly.

MR: Corey, what else you got?

CH: Hey, Marty, you said you grew up on Lester Flatt's bus. Any words on the passing of Earl Scruggs?

MS: Well, that's the last of my chiefs. It was a wonderful service at the Ryman Auditorium. So many wonderful people came and sang songs for Earl. The first two records I ever owned in my life were by Lester Flatts and Johnny Cash, and the only two jobs I ever had was with Lester Flatts and Johnny Cash. So with the passing of Lester, of course, back in '79 and John in 2003, and now Earl and Dusty, that's the last of my chiefs.

MR: What are your thoughts on Johnny Cash?

MS: Well, he was a lot of things to me. He was my first old country music hero, my mentor, my boss, my ex-father-in-law, my old bandleader. But he was truly my lifelong friend and I really miss him everyday.

CH: "Hangman," from your last album, was the last song Johnny had a hand in writing, is that true?

MS: Yeah, four days before he passed away.

CH: Marty, with the show, what are we looking at, the fourth season? Is that what we're on?

MS: Nah, we're just coming off of the fourth season. If we get around to it, season five is in the future, perhaps.

MR: Marty, what guests are you planning on having on your show?

MS: Roger McGuinn, Alison Krauss, Stonewall Jackson, Lyle Lovett, Wynonna...those come to mind.

CH: Well, I'm looking forward to that.

MS: Thank you.

MR: By the way, you mentioned Hank Williams before and you do one of his songs on the new album, "A Picture From Life's Other Side."

MS: With Hank 3.

MR: Yes, with Hank 3. Gotta love that. What's that story?

MS: Hank 3 came out to our television show. I love him, the Williams family...they're like family to me. Sheldon came out to the warehouse. We were going to rehearse the song before we did it on television and I have one of his grandpa's suits here. He said, "Can I try it on?" When he tried it on, it fit him perfect. He wore his grandpa's suit on our television show and we did his grandpa's song "A Picture from Life's Other Side" and it really was a stout moment. We re-recorded it. It's a cool way to close the record.

MR: Marty, "The Lonely Kind" reminds me a little of Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game" though it has your band's vibe.

MS: Basically, it's my band, a guitar player and a fiddle player. We basically just brought the band to the studio. Kenny Vaughan played a beautiful guitar part on that song.

MR: Chris would have been proud.

MS: Well, the truth is, we all stole those kind of licks from Duane Eddy.

MR: Now you love Jimmie Rogers...

MS: Well, Jimmie Rogers, the father of Country Music is from Meridian, Mississippi. I was from Philadelphia, Missouri, thirty-five miles apart. I grew up thinking I was supposed to like him and I liked him because I was supposed to. In the early '90s, the Bear Family over in Germany, a record company, came out with a Jimmie Rodgers box set that included every song he'd ever recorded. On a flight to Europe and back, I thought, "I'm going to have a reckonin' with this guy and listen to every song Jimmie Rodger ever recorded and see if Merle Haggard's been telling me the truth and Johnny Cash and everybody else that he's the Father of Country Music and he started it all. I'm going to see what my opinion of Jimmie Rodgers is," and I went through the entire catalog.

When I was on the other side of it, I understood, and I believe he is the Father of Country Music. Part of that is because he was the first one there. But the deepest part of the story to me is the songs. His subject matter is what country music is known for today. It is the empire upon which country music is built. As Merle Haggard said two weeks ago when we were talking, his songs are still the best. If you stay with the blueprint of country music and pretty much what Jimmie Rodgers set down -- rambling, gambling, hobo, love, loss, redemption, all those things we're kind of known for, tragedy, dance songs, whatever, honky-tonk songs -- that was Jimmie Rodgers. If you still abide by that template, the blueprint for the 21st century with that in mind, with that subject matter in mind, if you pick up the newspaper this morning, or if you watch the news tonight, you'll see the very same subjects apply today. They are timeless subjects. They're simply a reflective of the human condition. That, to me, is what Jimmie Rodgers did and he just happened to have the body and the style of a star, so that's where we have Jimmie Rodgers and I salute him.

MR: You're absolutely right about Jimmie Rodgers. You're also doing some work with the Country Music Heritage Trail?

MS: Yeah. The first trail that was initiated throughout the state of Mississippi was The Blues Trail, 130 stops so far. Then, I went to the Governor and asked if we could have The Country Trail next. So stop number one is at Jimmie Rodgers grave and stop number two is my hometown and we're up to thirty or forty stops now with plenty in site.

MR: You're from Meridian, Mississippi, so are you pals with Steve Forbert?

MS: I am. I haven't seen him in years. But on my first Columbia record that I made as a solo artist, I cut a Steve Forbert song. Steve and his wife Jill, and their kids are named Sam and Dave, so they're cool people.

MR: They really are cool people. I wanted to ask you about show for AmeriEquine.

MS: I think that's the first of June. We're just starting to hit the touring trail seriously. As soon as we hang up, I have about eight more television shows to edit, and today is one of those shows, so we get that out the door. The new record is coming out.

MR: What is your advice for new artists?

MS: My advice to new artists is to follow your heart at any cost. We have enough people in the world trying to be somebody else or thinking if they play like somebody else, it'll get 'em there. It's a scary thing to follow your heart at any cost. It can be very lonely and very quiet sometimes. But at the end of the day when it happens, it'll be yours. So I say, do it your way.

MR: Your new album is titled Nashville, Volume 1, so when is Volume 2 coming?.

MS: Oh, I don't know. We just got this one smoking. There's plenty more songs.

MR: All the best with everything, especially the new album, and thanks very much for your time.

CH: It's just a pleasure to talk to you, Marty. I'm glad we were actually able to sit down and talk.

MS: Well, same here.

Tracks:

1. Tear The Woodpile Down - with Buck Trent
2. Sundown In Nashville
3. A Matter Of Time - with Kenny Lovelace
4. Hollywood Boogie
5. Holding On To Nothing - with Buck Trent
6. Truck Driver's Blues
7. Going, Going, Gone
8. The Lonely Kind
9. A Song Of Sadness - with Lorrie Carter Bennett
10. Picture From Life's Other Side - with Hank3

Transcribed by Brian O'Neal


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A Conversation With Jesse Winchester

Mike Ragogna: Hello, Jesse. How are you?

Jesse Winchester: Hi, Mike! I'm good, thanks.

MR: First of all, how are you feeling these days? (NOTE: Jesse had undergone treatment for cancer of the esophagus.)

JW: I feel great, thank you. I tire a little quicker than I used to, but that's improving every day. Yeah, I feel great. Thank you for asking.

MR: So, what is the latest news on the Jesse Winchester front?

JW: (laughs) You've got to go back to the Old Testament. I looked and I saw that there was nothing new under the sun.

MR: (laughs) Well, what are you looking at lately?

JW: Well, I'm certainly not above pandering to people, but in this case it's true. My home page is The Huffington Post -- you know, the page that comes up when you start your browser on your computer. So my news comes a lot from what's on The Huffington Post. My wife criticizes me for reading things like The Huffington Post that tend to reinforce my opinions.

MR: (laughs) Is that a bad thing?

JW: Yeah, I've kind of got to agree with her. I think that you should listen respectfully to the other opinion. You know, since William F. Buckley died, there doesn't seem to be a lot of wit or whatever on the other side. But again, you know, maybe that's just me. I don't know. But I'll tell you what. The conservative column misses William F. Buckley, and badly -- more than conservatives themselves know.

MR: I agree with you. He had a humor and intellect -- though kind of snobby at times -- that his contemporaries lacked.

JW: He had a sense of humor with the multi-syllabic words. He always seemed to be sort of laughing at himself in a way. Yeah, I miss him.

MR: I think it was a charming self-deprecation as opposed to just trying to show off his intelligence.

JW: I do too. W.C. Fields always said that his language came from Dickens, and just the sort of overblown nature of it made it funny. P.G. Wodehouse did the same thing, I think.

MR: All right, enough about William F. Buckley. (laughs) Let's talk about Jesse Winchester. As a songwriter, you have so many popular songs. For instance, you had a hit with Ed Bruce's version of "Evil Angel."

JW: Yeah, he did a fantastic job on that. It's funny you bring that up because I'm asked sometimes what my favorite cover version is, and I always mention that one.

MR: To me, it just felt good.

JW: Yeah, it just felt right. He got it right.

MR: And there's "Biloxi." That has one of the most beautiful -- and especially with the Jimmy Buffett version -- cinematic descriptions, lyrically and musically. What inspired it? What were you going through when you wrote that?

JW: Well, like a lot of people in the South -- the mid-South -- we spent our vacations on the Gulf Coast, and that's where that came from. I've spent many beautiful summer days on the shores of Mexico. It was beautiful.

MR: There's also "Rhumba Man," my first exposure to it through the late Nicolette Larson's version from her hit album Nicolette. What was your reaction when you heard Nicolette's version?

JW: It's pretty much the same any time somebody covers one. There's so much ego wrapped up in it that I can't really make an objective judgment or criticism of it, so it's hard to say. I'm always overjoyed. Nicolette was such a sweet girl.

JW: Yeah, for sure.

MR: Okay, let's get into "The Brand New Tennessee Waltz." I know that one of the versions was recorded by Anne Murray. I have to ask you -- now I'm just kidding around here -- did we really need a brand new Tennessee Waltz? I mean, what was wrong with the old one?

JW: You know, I can't really be responsible for these things, Mike! (laughs) I know I collect royalty checks such as they are, but it's like Harlan Howard said, "HE wrote the songs and I just held the pen." I don't know where that title came from, I really couldn't tell you. It was a waltz, and it was about Tennessee.

MR: (laughs) And there's your very lovely "Defying Gravity."

JW: Thank you. Again, I don't know where songs come from. Apparently the singer is talking about dying and how he's not afraid of it. He will face it with a smile, which sounds like complete BS to me. But you know, we have to take him at his word, I guess.

MR: How about "Yankee Lady?"

JW: That was a little bit of fact and a lot of fiction. I was sitting in my kitchen in Montreal, and it was a beautiful day. I remember the sun coming through, and that's really all I remember about writing it.

MR: Now, I want to ask you, since you brought up Canada. Can we go into that for a second?

JW: Sure.

MR: One of the many things associated with Jesse Winchester is how you protested the Vietnam War by moving to Canada. Do you still have vivid memories of that period?

JW: Well, on my own, I don't think of it much. I really don't think about the past much at all, but the world has other ideas often. Like now, I think about it, and it's still vivid in my mind, but so are a lot of things.

MR: Okay, there's another Canadian story, which is your Robbie Roberston connection. Can you tell us about that?

JW: Yeah. I was making a demo tape in the basement of a church in Ottowa with a friend who had a nice tape recorder. Remember tape recorders? (laughs) A friend, who was a movie maker in Montreal, knew both of us, Robbie and me, and he vowed to get us together, and that's what happened. He brought Robbie down to that basement, and once the tape that I was working on was finished, I sent him a copy of it, which he took to his then manager Albert Grossman, who I'm sure you know. That was the beginning of my recording career.

MR: Nice. And you became popular for "Mississippi, You're on my Mind." Was that written before or after you left?

JW: All of my songs were written after I left. I didn't write songs until I had lived in Montreal for, I don't know, almost a year.

MR: So Jimmy Carter granted amnesty in the late seventies, and you began performing in the States. What was the reaction to your coming back?

JW: There was a lot of media attention for the obvious reasons. It was a very hectic time for me, and I have to say that I wasn't very happy with my life at that point. There's just too much to go into really, in detail. I'll leave it at that.

MR: Okay. Let's go back to happiness. "Bowling Green," which The Everly Brothers covered, the Terry Slater song, how did you come across that?

JW: It was a hit for The Everly Brothers. They did it kind of light and chipper and cheerful. The tempo was quite a bit up from the way I did it, which was more ballad-like, I guess, and dreamy.

MR: You're still touring, aren't you?

JW: Yes.

MR: We got hooked up because of the AmerEquine Event. Can you tell us about it?

JW: Well, my booking agent explained it to me, but I don't trust my memory enough to repeat it to you. Somehow the woman who does the AmerEquine thing is also connected with the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco, and that's essentially where the connection is because I performed there one time, at the Not Strictly Bluegrass Festival. That's where the connection comes from. Really, that's as far as I trust myself to talk about it.

MR: Do you like horses?

JW: You know, my experience with horses in this lifetime is over. When I was a boy, I loved them, and I rode every day. We had our own when I was young, and then when I was a little bit older, my neighbors had some. There were a couple of boys that my brother and I would play cavalry all over the west Tennessee countryside with. But gradually, I began to see horses as too much muscle compared to too little self-control. Their temperaments are a little capricious, so I stopped riding horses.

MR: That's a great way to put it. "Too much muscle with not enough intellect or control."

JW: Yeah, you can ride them all day long, and they'll grudgingly take you where you want to go. But you turn your head back to the barn, and you cannot make them slow down. (laughs)

MR: Jesse, as I'm getting older, I really do appreciate your fine crafting of songs.

JW: Thank you, Mike.

MR: Let me ask you, what would your advice be for new artists?

JW: Just keep doing it. That's really all I can say. Steal from the very best, and listen to them, and figure out what they're doing, and imitate it until you figure out your own style. But mainly, it's a matter of just persistence.

MR: Beautiful, thank you. As far as the future, we talked about touring, but will there be any recordings?

JW: Yes, I need to write about three or four more songs, and I'll be ready to go back into the studio, I hope this summer.

MR: All right, well when you get your new batch ready, and you have a label, definitely come back. I'd love to have another conversation with you, sir.

JW: Thank you, Mike.

Some of Jesse's Most Popular Songs and Recordings:
1. TELL ME WHY YOU LIKE ROOSEVELT
2. MISSISSIPPI, YOU'RE ON MY MIND
3. YANKEE LADY
4. THE BRAND NEW TENNESSEE WALTZ
5. BILOXI
6. TALK MEMPHIS
7. BOWLING GREEN
8. DO IT
9. DEFYING GRAVITY
10. SAY WHAT
11. I'M LOOKING FOR A MIRACLE
12. DO LA LAY
13. SKIP ROPE SONG
14. EVERYBODY KNOWS BUT ME
15. RHUMBA MAN
16. A SHOWMAN'S LIFE
17. DANGEROUS FUN
18. ALL OF YOUR STORIES

Transcribed by Kyle Pongan

 
 
 

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