Legendary country artist Don Williams sat down with longtime producer Garth Fundis and WSM’s Bill Cody to discuss his new album Reflections, which is out today. The album finds Williams performing new songs and covering old favorites by Merle Haggard, Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Jesse Winchester and Steve Wariner.
Here’s some choice nuggets from their conversation.
Don: To me, a great love song is just the same as any other song. I mean the lyric and the melody have to be married. They have to saying the same thing. There’s no such thing as a new thought, a new song, a new whatever. But if it’s in today’s terms, whenever that day is, something about that just really interests me. If it’s really well written and has a very good message, you can get by with a lot of things that aren’t super clear with a lot of songs — but with a love song it’s so personal it has to be very direct, because it’s so one-to-one.
Don: I’m a song person. I love good performances on great songs.
Country/folk duo The Secret Sisters (Laura and Lydia Rogers) released their acclaimed self-titled debut album four years ago. Now the sisters and their fans are ready for new music. Their second album, Put Your Needle Down will be released on April 15th via Republic Records. It was produced by T Bone Burnett, who also helmed their first album, and contains the new single “Rattle My Bones.”
Put Your Needle Down also features “Dirty Lie,” an old Bob Dylan song they brought to life. Dylan started writing “Dirty Lie” back in the ’80s; bootleg copies exist of the tune in it’s unfinished form. When Dylan’s office heard that the Secret Sisters were recording a new album, his representative sent several demos to Laura and Lydia for their consideration. They chose “Dirty Lie,” and Dylan gave the Sisters the nod to finish the song and record it.
Download Ashley Monroe’s The Nashville Time Machine Sessions
Here’s a fresh spin on “traditional country.” Critically-acclaimed country artist Ashley Monroe is releasing a four-song sampler of her solo performance for the Nashville Time Machine series, which was recorded on an old tape machine that dates back to the 1940s.
The tracks hail from her latest and greatest album, Like A Rose, and includes a stripped-down version of Rolling Stone’s #1 Country Song of 2013, “Two Weeks Late.”
Watch the trailer below, and pick up the album here. You can also enter our Lyric Contest for a chance to co-write with Monroe.
Song Premiere: Ronnie Milsap, “Georgia On My Mind”
Before becoming one of the most successful names in country music, Ronnie Milsapwas a half-hearted college student in upstate Georgia. He’d sailed through high school with the dream of becoming an R&B singer after graduation, but his teachers had other plans, convincing Ronnie to start taking law classes at Young Harris College instead. He went along with the idea for several months… but by 1963, the guy was getting restless.
Looking for inspiration — or maybe just a good excuse to ditch class — he hitched a ride down to Atlanta, bought a ticket to a Ray Charles concert and sweet-talked his way backstage. The two musicians met in the dressing room. Ronnie, who’d grown up listening to people like Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis transform the piano from a classical instrument into a rock & roll weapon, introduced himself and asked for some career advice. After listening to the kid play a few songs on piano, Ray told Ronnie to follow his dreams and forget the courtroom. Ronnie didn’t need any more convincing after that.
The Artist:Will Phalen, a country musician for city people. The Song: “Done” Fun Fact: Will is a member of an exclusive songwriting group called “The Song League,” which is made up of a handful of Chicago songwriters and other writers from around the country. “We write and record a song every week and then share it with the group via email,” says Will. “In one sense, it’s a great source of motivation because it forces us to produce on a deadline. But it also keeps us on top of our game as writers because no one wants to share a lousy song with the group, because everyone in it can write beautiful songs.” Will wrote “Done” as one of his Song League submissions. “Most of the main ideas were in place right then and there, but the band really helped to breathe life into the song, bringing an energy and vibe that just took it to another level.”
Rising country artist Maggie Roseleft Potamac, Maryland — where she was singing in a Bruce Springsteen cover band — for Nashville on the advice of music mogul Tommy Mottola, an early supporter. There, she cut her debut album Cut To Impress, with the help of veteran producers Blake Chancey and James Stroud. Rose chatted with us about songwriting, Calvin and Hobbes, her early material and more.
Who are your songwriting heroes?
If I have to keep it at three I would have to say Paul McCartney, Don Schlitz and Stevie Nicks.
how would you describe Cut To Impress?
It’s fearless. I’ve picked from my favorite songs that I have written or heard since moving to Nashville. From those songs I made another selection of those that best represent me at this stage in my evolution as an artist. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew what I wanted when I made it. I had no template to follow and I wouldn’t have wanted one because I think it sounds like me and it’s the perfect introduction of my sound to my listeners.
Do you have any rituals or tricks you like to use in the studio?
The Country Music Association Song of the Year is often a tear-jerker, with the award for that song going to the writers, not to the artist who recorded it (though the artist often has a hand in the writing). Very seldom does a song about tractors or tailgates or taking a roll in the hay get this honor; the award normally goes to a song of more emotional substance, like “He Stopped Loving Her Today” or “Always on My Mind.” But this year’s CMA Song of the Year, “I Drive Your Truck,” was more than just another tear-jerker. It had a story of selfless patriotism behind it that helped make it a shoo-in for the award.
A hit single from Lee Brice‘s Hard 2 Love album, “I Drive Your Truck” was inspired by the sacrifice of Army Sgt. 1st Class Jared Monti, who died in Afghanistan while trying to save a fellow soldier, and by the story of how his father, Paul, keeps his soldier son in his heart by driving his Dodge Ram pickup. Written by veteran Nashville tunesmiths Connie Harrington, Jessi Alexander and Jimmy Yeary, “I Drive Your Truck” could have been recorded by any number of major Nashville acts, and Lee Brice was forward-thinking enough to know a hit when he heard it. Or rather, when he felt it.
When Alabama arrived on the scene in the late ’70s, they converted the slim gates of Music Row into saloon doors and blew through with guitars and fiddles cocked at their hips. They sported generous amounts of facial hair, and had magazines full of songs as ammunition. It wasn’t a quick and dirty takeover by any means – any proper holdup takes time, persistence, a little strong-arming – but after the dust had settled, Alabama had sold over 75 million records and seen 43 singles rise to number one, changing the definition of what sells in country music forever.
And though it’s hard to believe it now in the era of Taylor Swift, Lady Antebellum and Rascal Flatts, what sells wasn’t the crossover pop anthems, flashy stage sets or idea of a country group in general (as opposed to a solo vocalist) that three boys from Fort Payne, Alabama – Randy Owen, Jeff Cook and Teddy Gentry – proudly brought. Alabama’s music merged a sense of rock-driven fun with a firm base in southern roots – the fiddle was a permanent resident on their records, not just a trend-induced guest – and they sang about the lives they knew, the places where they grew up and learned to be men, the strange plight of being a steadfast American who loves, loses and plays the circle game. They went from being rule-breakers to one of the best selling acts of all time, a dichotomy that only adds to their undying appeal and unique niche in the evolving tale of country music.
Buck Owens: Buck ‘Em! The Music Of Buck Owens (1955-1967)
Buck Owens Buck ‘Em! The Music Of Buck Owens (1955-1967) (Omnivore) Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Timed perfectly with the release of Buck Owens’ autobiography, Omnivore continues to expand their reissue campaign of Buck Owens’ catalog that has included standard releases, a covers EP, and even a coloring book. The whopping 50-track compilation follows Owens and his bandmates during an incredible 12-year run of hits and his Bakersfield sound across two discs.
Country music was his forte, but we also get a sense of other genres he could touch upon like the rockabilly-leaning track “Hot Dog” and the Elvis-like “Sweet Thing.” The collection unfolds chronologically, giving us a sense of how his sound developed. The first couple of tracks (especially “Hot Dog”) sound as if they’re vinyl-sourced: not terrible, yet not pristine. Still, even with those bits of hiss, we get to hear the original mono single versions on more than a dozen tracks, often prized by collectors.
How do you drive up to Guy Clark’s house, pull out your guitar, and write a song with the country legend without getting completely star-struck and tongue-tied? Ashley Monroe asked herself that very question when she found herself collaborating with Clark on “Like A Rose,” the mostly autobiographical title track from her second album. In that situation, she says, “You’re very aware of where you are and who you’re with. But when I get like that and my nerves get to me, I have to remind myself that hey, we’re all people. I belong here. It’s okay. I can write, too. I have to give myself pep talks every day, though.”
Monroe has given herself many, many pep talks over the last few years. She psyched herself up to work with the Raconteurs and Ricky Skaggs. She screwed her courage to sing with Wanda Jackson. She steeled her nerves to write with Trent Dabbs. She rallied herself while recording with Train. By comparison, forming the country supergroup the Pistol Annies with long-time friends Miranda Lambert and Angaleena Presley was downright relaxing.
Monroe’s secret to surviving a collaboration without resorting to fangirl hysterics: “More than anything else, just remain calm at all times.”