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The Lost Snider Tapes – Part 1.2

This interview with Todd Snider took place the morning of May 9th, 2009. Todd’s upcoming record, The Excitement Plan, was due to be released a month later. In this second part of the interview, we cover everything from pot to Dock Ellis to being lucky in life.

OKOM: The last time you were in Eugene, we were talking on your bus, and you mentioned that you and Dave had gotten popped for possession. Now, I’m assuming that’s the backstory for “Greencastle Blues.”

Todd: Yeah, it is.

OKOM: Yeah, and I couldn’t help but make comparisons between “Greencastle Blues” and “Tillamook County Jail.” But, “Greencastle Blues” has a serious and somewhat dark, more mature tone to it. There is even a hint of regret in there. What were your – if this isn’t too personal – what are your thoughts about what you went through that ended up being the inspiration for a very personal song.

Todd: Yeah, I was feeling more ashamed about getting caught smoking marijuana than about smoking marijuana. At the age of 42, I think it was my seventh little trip to jail, and they are starting to get old. I would like to shake that side of my life but the thing that sticks with me is that I still smoke weed and I assume that I probably will for the rest of my life. So, that means that I always have to be real careful and try not to be disrespectful to the people that don’t want me to do it.

OKOM: What also came across in the song – besides being so personal – was that last line that spoke like a little act of defiance – “less than an ounce of possession, shit, I can do that kind of time standing up.”

Todd: Yeah, I feel like I was trying to show the cycle of how somebody stays a person like me. And most of the cats in my neighborhood are like that too. You find yourself – well I guess I shouldn’t say you, I should say I – you know how someone says, “You find yourself.” I’m like, no, you find yourself. Don’t tell me what I should do. So anyway, I find myself – damn, after that I forgot what I was going to say. But I liked the other point. [laughs]

OKOM: [laughs] A little side thing, last night I read that the New York Times had dubbed Jackie Greene as the Prince of Americana. I couldn’t believe that when I read it but… So, what would that make you?

Todd: Ummm, The Grand Imagineer!

OKOM: [laughs] That sounds much better than Prince.

Todd: [laughs] Yeah!

OKOM: Okay, onto the next one. “America’s Favorite Pastime” – the title alone can be taken two ways – is our favorite pastime baseball or hallucinogenic drugs?

Todd: Yeah! [Laughs] Wow, I love you, man! You really appreciate the lyrics. I like to hear that you listen to it because it makes me feel understood. I always try to put in little things like that, you know?

OKOM: [Laughs] Man, you’ve got a lot of stuff like that. Now, when did you first hear about that game? I mean, you were only about four years old when that game was played.

Todd: Oh yeah, sure, I know. Maybe it was about two or three years ago. Maybe it was from one of the guys in Yonder Mountain String Band. I know it was backstage at a hippie festival, and the conversation went to – because a lot of the hippie bands take acid before they play – and the conversation turned to Dock Ellis having thrown a no-hitter that way. And I was just very fascinated by that.

OKOM: So did you have to do some research about Dock Ellis and that game?

Todd: I did. I had my friend Peter Cooper show me how to get on the computer and get the box score. Wait a minute – was it him? Anyway, somebody showed me how to get the box score. That was all I needed.

OKOM: You give a rundown of the whole game and a lot of the stats in the song.

Todd: Yeah, I did. My innings and my scores… I believe are correct, and the coach’s name – Murtaugh. I used the box score pretty much for all that. And I had heard of this one part, that I couldn’t quite get in because I couldn’t get it to rhyme. It was a part about somebody hitting a dribbler at him and he hit the dirt like it was a line drive. I had heard that supposedly happened.

OKOM: Yeah, I believe it did. Okay, “Bring ‘em Home.” I love the viewpoint from the soldier’s side and it is not your typical end-the-war songs.

Todd: It was important to me, for some reason when I was working on that song, that I don’t come out and tell anybody to bring somebody home. So I felt like I wanted to tell it from the point of view of somebody else.

OKOM: Right, and why not somebody that’s out there in the middle of it? One of my favorite lines from that song is “it seems like all I’m ever almost dying to do” I mean, listening to that, it’s like you’re saying – or he’s saying – that he knows that any day he could die.

Todd: Exactly, and he’s just trying to get back. And I don’t know the answer. I know some people with some kids over there that just want to come home, man.

OKOM: I hope you don’t mind, Todd. I’m just going down the list.

Todd: No, I’m enjoying it. I appreciate you doing this for us and thank you for listening to it.

OKOM: That’s what’s always got me about your stuff. I always tell people when I turn them onto your music – listen, because you’ve got a lot to say.

Todd: Well, thanks man. That means a lot.

OKOM: It’s not superficial shit, it’s deeper than that. You work hard at it, and it shows. Next one – “Corpus Christi Bay” is one of my favorite Robert Earl Keen songs. But you didn’t just do a cover, you made it your own.

Todd: I tried to.

OKOM: I think it’s your vocal style and when that haunting fiddle of Molly’s comes in on the second chorus just sets that sad and pathetic mood.

Todd: Yeah, you got it.

OKOM: Now, was there a personal reason for the choice of that song?

Todd: Yeah, I’d heard that it was true for Robert Earl. Every time I’ve heard that song it reminded me of me and my brother. If you took the Corpus Christi Bay and replaced it with, say, the music world; and took the oil rigs and replaced it with the road and honky-tonks, you’d have our story. He [my brother] was out there with me for a while and now he’s home.

OKOM: Where does he live?

Todd: He lives across town here. He works in a booking company.

OKOM: So, you guys are still close?

Todd: Oh yeah, very much so, I talk to him every day.

OKOM: Are you far apart in age or are you very close?

Todd: I think it’s only about a year.

OKOM: That’s good to be close. My brother and I are nine years apart; we’re like two only children.

Todd: Oh wow, that’s weird.

OKOM: The years don’t matter; we love each other like brothers. And I think  – shit, I know – I was an accident. My mom told me I was.

Todd: [laughs] Hey man, that’s cool, accidents are fantastic!

OKOM: [laughs] Hey, as long as I’m here! Enough about me. Okay, a couple of songs – “Slim Chance” and “Good Fortune” – it’s obvious, well at least it seemed obvious to me that you’re talking about Melita. Does she inspire you a lot?

Todd: Yeah, oh yeah.

OKOM: Do you consider yourself lucky?

Todd: Oh yeah, very much.

There’s more to come next week. Right now, I’ve got to get ready to go to Reno for Todd’s two shows at John Ascuaga’s Nugget. See you there. It’s gonna be a blast.

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The Lost Snider Tapes – Part 1.1

This interview with Todd Snider took place the morning of May 9th, 2009. Elmo Buzz and the Eastside Bulldogs were scheduled to play a Full Moon Party at The 5 Spot that evening. Todd’s upcoming record, The Excitement Plan, was due to be released a month later. In part one of this interview, we talk about “Money, Compliments and Publicity” and how Don Was came to be the producer of The Excitement Plan.

OKOM: Hey, Todd. How are you doing?

Todd: Hey man, I’m doing good. Are you calling from Eugene?

OKOM: Yeah, I am.

Todd: Right on. Good to hear from you again.

OKOM: Well, it’s always good to talk to you. What I was hoping to focus on today was the upcoming CD [The Excitement Plan].

Todd: Oh great, I’d love it.

OKOM: Yeah, I’ve been listening to it quite a bit since Courtney sent it to me a few weeks ago.

Todd: Oh man, well, thank you. We worked hard on it.

OKOM: I wanted to talk a bit about some of the songs – and well – why don’t we just get into it.

Todd: Sure. Sounds good.

OKOM: Okay, since this is an interview – and we know what comes from an interview – I thought the appropriate song to start off with would be “Money, Complements, and Publicity.”

Todd: [laughs] You got it.

OKOM: Personally, I learned a very valuable lesson from that song. That is to never listen to one of your songs for the first time while driving my car…

Todd: [laughs]

OKOM: …because I damn near got in a wreck when you got to that line about taking care of your friends.

Todd: [laughs] Yeah!

OKOM: You know, because the song starts out as sounding so sincere and then it takes a sharp turn towards narcissism.

Todd: Yup, yup.

OKOM: Then you thank everyone including Clive Davis. Did you get your inspiration for that song from watching the Grammys?

Todd: You know what it was, I was working on the record, and I’d come up with a ton of songs but I only liked nine of them. In my head, at the time, I just needed another song. I’d never done that before; I’ve never looked at anything like that before. So, I got up one morning, and I sat down at the piano, and I thought – okay, what can I sing? And I realized, I said to myself, “You know, you’ve never done anything like this. You’re just sitting down at the piano to make up a song just to have another song. What the hell are you doing? You’ve never done this before.” I was disappointed in myself. And I thought, wow, what’s the point of singing a song if you don’t actually have something in your heart. And then I remembered this thing that I had read about this Eddie Rickenbacker, a World War II pilot. He’d said that man had reached his pinnacle of success when he ceased to care about money, compliments, and publicity. And I thought, the only reason I’m sitting here at this fucking piano – if I really wanted to be honest with myself – is because I’ve got to get a record done. And what you do a record for, right?

OKOM: [Laughs] Right.

Todd: [laughs] So, then I started just singing it like that. And I started writing that out and all, and about halfway through, I thought – Hey, I’m going to get a real therapeutic, real normal song out of this. And I don’t know if I would actually do what I said in the song, you know. Like I tell all my friends when they hear that song, “Of course I’ll call you! Just you, me and my old lady.”

OKOM: Right, don’t take it personal.

Todd: Exactly, don’t take it personal. I’m talking about everybody else, man!

OKOM: Yeah, yeah.

Todd: Man, there’s some dark, gross truth in there. I’m one of them people that can get in my own home and stay in it for months. I enjoy my friends, but they know that I can disappear for long periods of time. So, I ended up really getting something really good out of that song. I always like it, when I write a song, and end up with something like that, no matter how it comes out at the end. Even “Alright Guy” that I made up years ago, came to me when I had just been dropped from some job, they gave me a record contract, and then they told me that I couldn’t have it anymore. I was like 25 at the time. And I remember, even though I was purging, I don’t know, it was sad – it was a very sad day that I wrote “Alright Guy.”

OKOM: Yeah but you got a lot of good stuff out of those times.

Todd: Yeah, I like those types of songs.

OKOM: And this one [Money, Complements, and Publicity] is another one of those songs of yours that starts out going one direction and then doesn’t end up the way you think it’s going to end. At least to me, you had that turning point in it. It started out sounding so heartfelt, and then you hit us with that line – buy an island, run a phone line, call and tell them all to get fucked – and I thought, shit, that’s classic!

Todd: [laughs] I’m glad you liked it. I’m glad you liked that.

OKOM: Oh and by the way, I hope you guys have fun tonight. As just my little way of showing support, I’m wearing my Elmo Buzz and the Eastside Bulldogs T-shirt.

Todd: Oh, kick ass! We’re going to rock tonight. We’ve got a saxophone kid that came out the other day and a piano player too. It’s cool. We actually had a practice!

OKOM: Oh, yeah?

Todd: We’d never done that before. It’s sort of changed. It used to be that we –

OKOM: Wait a minute. You said you have practiced before or you haven’t?

Todd: We haven’t ever before. It used to kind of be a practice when we played under that name. And then we started making up songs to do just as that. Now we have a bunch of songs that we play.

OKOM: I’d heard that you were planning to put out a CD under the name Elmo Buzz and the Eastside Bulldogs. Is that true?

Todd: It might happen.

OKOM: That would be cool.

Todd: Yeah, we’ve been thinking about it. If we can do it, we will. We almost did it last week, but we decided to just wait.

OKOM: Were you thinking along the lines of a live CD or a studio CD?

Todd: I don’t know, I don’t know. We’re not quite ready yet. But we’ve been thinking about it. We sure have a lot of fun. The thing with that group is that – the rule behind it is that it has to be absolutely, positively fun. It can never not be fun. The couple of times that we hinted at making a record, man, when you start to do that, it changes everything. So, we have to find a way to just disappear someplace and do it without telling anybody so that it doesn’t turn into work. You know, my job is really, really, really fun. I love it. But when I get with these guys, and we plug in our electric guitars and we go jam – I don’t ask anybody on my team about it, you know? Like my manager, I tell him, “You can come, but you better be drunk and you better leave me alone.”

OKOM:  Well, I’ll be having a glass of wine for you and wishing I could be there.

Todd: Hell yeah.

OKOM: And I hope you’re getting some use out of that “Keep Eugene Weird” T-shirt that I gave you last time I saw you.

Todd: Oh my God, I had it on yesterday. As a matter of fact, it was for a photo thing. So maybe you’ll be seeing it come back at you.

OKOM: No shit? That’s great! Alright, let’s get back to the CD, because I easily get sidetracked. Okay, you teamed up with Don Was.

Todd: Yeah.

OKOM: He’s got a hell of a history. You also have Jim Keltner – he’s one of my favorite drummers. Anything that he plays on, I just love what he does, he makes it sound so simple but so perfect. What he did on some of your tracks was just that – perfect.

Todd: Yeah, I love his style.

OKOM: Yeah, and you’ve got Greg Leisz. They’re all legends. How did that all come about? And how jazzed were you that it did all come about?

Todd: I was really excited and shocked. It started as I was working on the album and I was seeing that I had run out of ideas as a person who was basically producing myself with my friends. At least I thought so, and so did the rest of us. We were like, “You guys, we’re doing the same thing that we had already done.” So, I was starting to get into that Kristofferson that he had just made and taking this as maybe more as where my head was at. Actually, there was one track on there – “Loaded Again” – I went in and played that for my manager. And I told him that this is what I wanted to do, I wanted to sort of go in this direction and fuck around down here for a minute and that I think I should get somebody to produce me. He called me back later and he said Don Was wants to do it maybe. And I went, “You’re fucking joking around right?”

OKOM: Wow.

Todd: Yeah, he said, “No, I know a guy who knows him. He’s the one who made the Kristofferson record and I thought to call him. They’re on the road right now, and he said to go out there and get on the bus with them for a while, see what happens.” So, I rode around with the band – there was like 13 of them. Then me and Don went to a Brewers game and talked about records, and why you make them and what they’re for and all that. He asked me if I wanted him to help me. So we went right back to his hotel and he pulled out a whole lot of equipment. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the video on YouTube.

OKOM: Yeah, I saw the one where he’s sitting in the corner recording as you’re playing.

Todd: Yeah, that’s the one. We had just got back from the Brewers game. We had recorded like 16 songs that day. And my tour manager, Elvis, was filming those. That’s what that is. And then, he said he would do it. And everything that I was telling him that I wanted or was looking for, I never had that in my life, you know? I’d say that I wanted a sound like that Ry Cooder record or that JJ Cale record. And he’d say, “Oh, that’s Jim. You want to get Jim?” And I’d be like, well sure… you can do that? You know that guy? And then I’d said something about a Joni Mitchell thing or something about steel guitar. And he’d say, “I’ll get Greg Leisz.”

OKOM: He’s played with a ton of people too.

Todd: Oh, yeah. And he [Don] knows I’m a big fan of all [Rolling] Stones. I’m a huge fan of all of Don’s Stones period stuff. And it was so exciting for me to get to be around somebody who watches them work. And then he got the engineer that did the Bigger Bang record. And it was just the five of us, and we did it in like 2 1/2 days. Live, completely, there’s no overdubs on it.

OKOM: I was wondering about the recording of this record because it has a very raw but clean sound to it. It’s not overproduced or anything. So that is the case; you just laid it down live.

Todd: Yeah, we did it real spontaneous and loose and they just recorded it real good. I even told him that one of my favorite records was Tapestry by Carol King and he just said, “Yeah, we can go there.” [laughs] I just said, “Man you’re the best!” And now he is going to come play Bonnaroo with me. I really feel like I’ve made a friend, you know.

OKOM: A friend like that is rare.

Todd: He’s been really kind to me. That was probably the most fun I ever had playing music.

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I Owe You All…

…The Lost Snider Tapes

Photo by Todd Purifoy

Over a year ago I conducted two interviews with Todd Snider – one in January, 2009, and one more in May, 2009. I intended to write a interview/CD review article – based around the interviews – with hopes of getting it published in a national magazine. I sent query letters (sans the article) to a bunch of national publications, trying to get my foot in the big door only to find it locked (or maybe there were other writers leaning on the door from the inside). Then I got busy with other projects and pushed the Snider article to the back-burner – a couple months later my laptop crashed and the audio files of the interview were among the things lost.

BUT – guess what I just found on a flash drive buried at the back of my desk drawer? Apparently, at some time before the crash, I had a moment of clarity and good sense, and backed the audio files onto the flash drive – and then forgot I had backed them up.

So, my resolution to you all is that I’ll get them transcribed and up on my blog. That is, if you are still interested in reading them. The May, 2009 interview – that I’ll post first – has some very cool conversation about the (then) soon-to-be-released The Excitement Plan, Don Was, jail-time, wine, relationships, and some personal subjects that I promised Todd would be kept off the record – and they will stay that way. Since we talked for damn near an hour, that interview will have to be broken up into three or four parts (like I did with the Will Kimbrough interview).

The interview done in January, 2009 – that I’ll post after the May interview –  was a lot of fun too; We talked about his tour, living on the road, and his (then) upcoming Eugene, Oregon show. I’ll also share my experiences on the Todd Snider tour bus here in Eugene…

BUT FIRST – My wife, our dog Zack, and I have to pack up and move again at the end of January. You see, I got laid-off from my full-time job at OBEC Consulting Engineers in Eugene, Oregon over eight months ago and have had no luck finding full-time work here. I know that there’s a lot of that going around, I’m not the only one, so I won’t whine about it.

So I PROMISE, once we get settled in, sometime in February, I’ll get busy transcribing those Once-Lost Snider Tapes. Thanks for understanding. I hope your 2011 is better than your 2010!

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Robert Earl Keen Interview – Part 3 of 3

On August 18, 2010 I was given the opportunity to interview the legendary singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen. In Part One of this three part interview we talked about a variety of subjects – a burning car, Todd Snider, and Robert’s not-so-traditional love songs. In Part Two of the interview we explored some of his more bizarre recordings and one of his somewhat unorthodox songwriting methods. In this final installment, Robert tells us some more about his songwriting methods, some of his thoughts on mainstream country music, and an interesting side-story about a song that is probably his most popular – “The Road Goes On Forever.” Enjoy!

Robert Earl KeenOKOM: Okay, you’ve already mentioned one of your methods of songwriting – lying naked on the floor with your guitar –

REK: [Laughs]

OKOM: [Laughs] So, I don’t even know how to ask this next one. When it comes to songwriting, when compared to mainstream – oh hell, I can’t compare you to mainstream, I can’t even listen to that shit – anyway, you seem to get it so right when others seem to be getting it so wrong. I guess the question is – how do you approach a song? Is it story first, lyrics first, melody first, or does it vary?

REK: Because I’m not a genius musically, I really like to latch on to some kind of music that stirs me or something that piques my interest. So, I do kind of just strum guitars. My God, when I really get set up to writing, I set about five, six, or seven guitars around me. I’ll strum on one for a while, and maybe I’ll feel like it’s kind of dead. So, I’ll pick up another one until I sort of get a vibe. What happens with me is that the music will bring out some sort of image. Then I’ll take that image and try to describe it. Maybe it’s a car in a parking lot under a street lamp, or maybe it’s a girl in a doorway – any kind of an image. That’s where the beginning starts to blossom a little bit. Then once I describe it to my satisfaction, then I’ll try to create a puzzle. And then I’ll try to solve the puzzle.

OKOM: That’s really interesting. That’s a cool approach, I mean, starting without knowing the ending.

REK: Yeah, I know. I like to read. One time I went on this Leon Uris jag where I read all his books. Then I read some of his biography stuff, and when I read that he’d started with the ending, I went, “Well shit, that’s cheating!”

OKOM: [Laughs]

REK: You know? [Laughs] Anybody can work backwards. Let’s work forwards and find the mystery, you know? Where’s the mystery? So, I’ve never been much on starting with the ending. I don’t know why. It’s just one of those things. I like to stumble onto the ending, you know?

OKOM: Yeah.

REK: It’s more why I don’t write from titles much. I’ve written a few songs from titles and they’re never as good as a song that I write from an image. So people will give you those – “Hey, here’s a good title for you!” – shit, I don’t know, man, I can’t write from a title. It’s a tried-and-true method; it’s just not my tried-and-true method.

OKOM: So, where do you do most of your writing? Do you do it on the road?

REK: No, no. I have this place; it’s a little shack on a side of a hill that I’ve owned for about twelve years. I do most of my writing there. I used to say that I didn’t write on the road. But, I’ve got where I’m on the road so much that I’m working on that. I’m working on getting over that whole fear. I’m not saying that it works all the time. It seems to be harder to really kind of mine some serious lyrical pay dirt on the road. However, I do try a lot more than I used to. I’m on the road all the time, so I got to write something.

The Rose HotelOKOM: Hey, one of the songs from Rose Hotel – “Village Inn” – Have they ever called you and thanked you for their increase in business since that song came out?

REK: [Laughs] No, they never did. But I haven’t been back. So, if I go back, I’m definitely going to hit them up for it!

OKOM: Yeah, they should at least put you up for free, right?

REK: Yeah, yeah.

OKOM: So you actually did write it there?

REK: Yeah, I wrote it right there. Even though there was some tongue-in-cheek stuff going on there, it truly was an inspiration. I was truly inspired. As a matter of fact – and I’m not a big [guitar] tuning guy but – I found a tuning on that, I swear that it was just because of where I was and what was going on. That’s how I ended up writing the song. Like I was telling you, I have to find some type of music to follow. I found this little weird small change in tuning that just made that song happen. That was what it was.

OKOM: Another song on Rose Hotel – “Wireless in Heaven” – You haven’t caught any heat from the Vatican over that one yet, have you?

REK: No, I don’t even worry about it anymore. [Laughs] Actually, I was worried more about heat from Starbucks.

OKOM: [Laughs] Yeah, they’re pretty tight with their trademark.

REK: Right, they are.

The Road Goes on ForeverOKOM: Okay Robert, this next question comes off the Todd Snider Listserv – they call it The Shithouse Wire. [Robert laughs] I put this question out there – “If you had one question to ask Robert Earl Keen, what would it be?” So, this comes from Eric Kincaid in Grand Rapids, Michigan – damn, I sound like Casey Kasem…

REK: Yeah. [Laughs]

OKOM: Anyway, he asked, “Have you ever been approached about making a movie based on the song ‘The Road Goes on Forever’?”

REK: Well, that one – I used to have a stack of screenplays that people used to send me based on that song.

OKOM: Really?

REK: Yeah, yeah, and I was always like, yeah, go ahead and write this screenplay or go ahead and make this movie. And I read some of them, and they all really just pretty much reflected the song scene for scene.

OKOM: They didn’t expand on it?

REK: No, not much, not importantly. Then, this girl from somewhere around Dallas wrote one and won some kind of little local screenplay writing contest with it. They sent it to me and it was great. It was really great! It was sort of Smokey and the Bandit meets The Road Warrior [Mad Max 2] sort of thing, and it was really interesting! It clipped along and filled in lots of stuff. It had some exposition and it had a lot of back-story for the characters. It was great! So, William Morris – I don’t know whether they’ve optioned or something – there was no money, of course, that changed hands – but it’s been sitting on somebody’s desk somewhere for the last couple of years like that. But, that was cool.

OKOM: Yeah, that is cool. I’ve got to ask you about a trilogy on Walking Distance – that pretty much makes Walking Distance one of my favorite albums of yours – and that’s the trilogy of “Road to No Return” – with “Carolina,” “New Life in Old Mexico,” and “Still Without You.” Do you do those much live?

REK: No, I did when I first [released] it. It’s not what you’d call a crowd-pleaser. I did it back then because I really loved doing it, and it was fun to do. I’d have to dust it off; we haven’t done it in a long time. It was a lot of fun but it took eighteen minutes. So, if you have a crowd full of beer-drinking screamers, it didn’t hold their attention very well.

OKOM: Do you have a preference when it comes to types of crowds? Do you like a crowd that really listens?

REK: I love a crowd that really listens but you have to be on your best behavior and you got to keep moving. You’ve got to be a little bit more on your toes with a crowd that really listens. Since I’ve been playing with this band for the last fifteen years, we’ve played so many crazy, rowdy, drunk crowds and stuff; I’d have to say that getting up for that is a little more difficult than riding the wave of a crowd of screaming, yelling, happy people.

OKOM: Do you have to sometimes adjust your set list on the fly?

REK: Yeah, I do. As a matter of fact we have – what is called in the band – The Secret Mike that’s located in front of the drums where I run over to Bill, the bass player, and tell him, “Alright, slash this bunch of stuff, and we’re going to go to these songs!” Then he’ll tell the rest of the band.

OKOM: Yeah, I can imagine that the crowds can really vary so much.

REK: Yeah, they really can.

OKOM: Robert, thank you very much for your time. I’m really looking forward to seeing you in Roseburg.

REK: Great!

OKOM: I really appreciate your time, Robert. Damn, I could go on for hours about your songs but I know you’re busy. I’ll see you in Roseburg.

REK: Well, I appreciate it, too. Be sure and say hi!

Note from author: I didn’t make it to Roseburg BUT I did go to Robert’s show the next night (8/25) in Portland, Oregon. What a great show it was, too! It’s always a treat to see him with a large group of true REK fans.
Some personal highlights – hearing “The Great Hank,” “Farm Fresh Onions,” “A Border Tragedy,” “Feelin’ Good Again,” and the tattooed girl in the baby blue dress who danced non-stop for two hours in front of my cousin Brian and me.
Thanks for an unforgettable night, Robert!

Go back to Part One

Go back to Part Two

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Robert Earl Keen Interview – Part 2 of 3

Robert Earl KeenOn August 18, 2010 I was given the opportunity to interview the legendary singer/songwriter Robert Earl Keen. In Part One of this three part interview we talked about a variety of subjects – a burning car, Todd Snider, and Robert’s not-so-traditional love songs. In this portion of the interview we explore some of his more bizarre recordings and one of his somewhat unorthodox songwriting methods. Enjoy!

OKOM: Now, going back to your What I Really Mean album – There are two songs on there that I love, that’s “The Great Hank” and “Mr. Wolf and Mamabear.” Both of those make me want to ask a two-part question – Where did those stories come from, what were you smoking at the time, and where can I get some?

REK: [Laughs] Well, “Mr. Wolf and Mama Bear” has to do with a personal small-town politic thing that I got involved in. Well, I didn’t get involved in it; I got sucked into it. I didn’t ever want to be a part of it.

OKOM: Wow, really?

REK: Yeah, and it [the song] was my vindication.

OKOM: [Laughs] That’s great.

REK: That’s how I vindicated the entire scenario, to be able to write something in kind of a puzzle form. What do they call it? It’s kind of an allegory without any religious overtones.

OKOM: I’m assuming that you can’t say where that took place.

What I Really MeanREK: Yeah, it was where I was living there in Bandera, Texas. It was all pretty well documented. It was in all the papers and all kinds of stuff. My thing was – because I tried to really hold the noble and gentlemanly line on the whole situation – I never felt like I got my true emotional indoctrination out there. I never really let them have it like I wanted to, so I did it in a song.

OKOM: So, that was your payback.

REK: Yeah, that was my payback. [Laughs] Oddly enough, I have a few songs like that, and every time you sing those kinds of songs, you kind of get your own inner-grin going about that kind of thing.

OKOM: Yeah, I can imagine.

REK: And “The Great Hank” was kind of a combination of some long thoughts on Hank Williams and his career, the strangeness of it, and the shortness of it. And I was in a play in Philadelphia about fifteen years ago that had some elements of Hank Williams. I was truly trying to do one those things that was really interesting and really sideways. I got naked and laid down on the floor in the shack that I write in –

OKOM: [Laughs] You’re kidding, right?

REK: No, I’d lay on the hardwood floor and I’d play the guitar until that kind of popped out. Once it popped out, it was all there in front of me like a hologram. I thought, “Wow, this is it!” So I just stayed with it. I even thought of changing the end but it came out so smooth and beautiful that I didn’t even want to mess with it. I could have tweaked the end a little bit because it does kind of fade off into the dust.

OKOM: Yeah, it does.

REK: I could have come with a little bit more of an impact or something like that, like I like to do, but it just fell out so great – I left it alone.

OKOM: The first time that I listened to it, I had to back it up and listen again where you have that line about him being in drag.

REK: Yeah.

OKOM: Plus, the visuals of him sitting there under the glow of the TV with mascara running down his cheek – it’s just priceless.

REK: Yeah [Laughs]

OKOM: [Laughs] It’s just great, man.

REK: Well, thanks. Yeah, I love that one. That’s fun, but it’s hard to do on stage though, because there’s a bunch of words, a lot of words. It’s almost a tongue twister. If I get started and I stumble – I’ll stumble big time.

OKOM: So, that’s one of your personal favorites?

REK: Yeah, I like to do it. It’s fun to do. It’s more of a performance piece than it is a song.

Gravitational ForcesOKOM: Another one of yours – that just popped into my head – that’s along those lines is “Gravitational Forces.” Were you actually in a club like that?

REK: [Laughs] Yeah, yeah. That was all, like I said, more journalistic. I was pretty much talking and telling what I thought. But what I wanted to do with that was the music gave it that spaceiness, gave it the total weird vibe that was really occurring at that place. That was a nightmare from start to finish. I could write another song about the gig itself.

OKOM: Wow, so that actually did happen.

REK: Yeah, oh yeah. It was this place called the E9 Club in El Paso, Texas – the worst place ever. I mean, I’ve played worse places, but that was one of the more bizarre bad places.

OKOM: Man, that’s great. I thought – as bizarre as it sounded – this place can’t really exist. If it did, that’s really something.

REK: Only in El Paso, basically.

OKOM: I guess anything goes there.

REK: Yeah.

Go read Part Three…

Go back to Part One…


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