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Keith Sykes Interview – A Songwriting Icon

Keith Sykes

Keith Sykes is a songwriter’s songwriter. I know that sounds cliche, but it’s true. From the early stages of his career up to the present, well more than 100 of his songs have been recorded by well-known artists such as The Gentrys, Rodney Crowell, Roseanne Cash, George Thorogood, and Jimmy Buffett – just to name a few. Although reluctant to admit it, he is admired and his work is highly praised by peers such as Jerry Jeff Walker, Guy Clark, and countless others.

Keith first broke into the singer/songwriter scene back in 1969 with the self-titled album Keith Sykes, and quickly followed that up the next year with 1-2-3. He toured quite a bit, working the Coffee House Circuit, forging friendships with other prolific songwriters, many of them remaining good friends to this day.

Almost seven years passed before his next release, The Way That I Feel,  hit the shelves. There were two songs on that album that threw Keith into a whole new direction. If you’re a liner-note-reading, old-timer Parrot Head like me, you know what I’m talking about. Keith’s songs “The Coast Of Marseilles” and “The Last Line” were recorded by Jimmy Buffett, and moored on his highly successful 1978 album Son of a Son of a Sailor.

Keith Sykes in Montserrat - 1979 - Photo by Tom Corcoran

From there, Keith went on to tour with Jimmy as one of the Coral Reefers. In 1979 he went to the island of Montserrat with Buffett, James Taylor, Russ Kunkel, and all the Coral Reefers to record Buffett’s tenth studio album. While on Montserrat – inspired by the then-dormant Soufrière Hills volcano on the island – Buffett, Sykes, and Harry Dailey co-wrote what was to become the title cut of the new album (and one of Buffett’s biggest hits) – “Volcano.”

That’s enough typing for now. Kick back, grab a beer (unless it’s morning… in that case, grab a scotch), relax, click the video below to watch and listen to the legendary Keith Sykes tell us all about his fascinating career. (He’ll also sing a couple of songs for us).

Interview with Keith Sykes

Keith Sykes performing B.I.G.T.I.M.E. on Saturday Night Live

On December 6th,1980, Keith Sykes appeared on Saturday Night Live (his first time on national television) and performed “B.I.G.T.I.M.E.” to promote his latest album I’m Not Strange, I’m Just Like You. B.I.G.T.I.M.E.” would later be recorded by George Thorogood and the Destroyers.

Keith Sykes – “Gray Beard and Whiskers”

This song is absolutely beautiful, and I dare you not to cry when you listen to it. “Gray Beard and Whiskers” can only be found on Keith Sykes – 20 Most Requested CD. Click here to purchase it in Keith’s online store.

Click here to see all of Keith Sykes releases available on Amazon.

Keith Sykes – Hot Springs Weekend – June 1st & 2nd, 2012

Like he mentioned in the interview – (You did watch the interview, didn’t you? If not, get your mouse back up there and click on it!) – Each year in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Keith hosts a weekend of music in the lovely Arlington Hotel. Shows are on Friday and Saturday nights and feature some of the best songwriters performing today. On Saturday afternoon Keith interviews one of the songwriters and afterwards the guests are encouraged to ask questions on the craft of songwriting and the creative process. After the evening shows there are impromptu jams where the guests can mingle with the pros and even have a chance to play a tune or two. Click here or on the poster to the left to go to Keith’s website and purchase your wristband to an unforgettable weekend!

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Todd Snider – Empathy For Assholes

 

Todd Snider at home in East Nashville

As an unexpected bonus, after Todd’s show in Eugene, Oregon, I was invited onto his tour bus, where he treated me to some beer and an early listen to some of his (then yet to be released) CD “The Excitement Plan.” I can’t begin to tell you how jazzed I was to get that surprise! (Thanks, Todd.)

I also interviewed Todd in May, 2009. We discussed “The Excitement Plan” and some of the stories behind the songs. (We also talked about wine, dogs, and pot; it seems that we both easily get sidetracked). The (unpublished) article from that interview will be posted here later this month.

(At the bottom of this post there is a link to the published version of this post).

Empathy For Assholes —

The guy in the car in front of you at the drive through window is brutally chewing out the blameless pimply faced kid working it. You watch this unfold and probably don’t give it much thought other than that jerk just wasted some of your precious time. When Portland-born singer/songwriter Todd Snider witnessed a similar incident, he thought “What would make a guy act like that?” Todd then took his thoughts, along with his food, home and digested them. “By the time I got back to my house” He said by phone from his home in East Nashville,  “I thought, if I could try to just find some empathy for this guy that acted like a total asshole… how could I write that down?” He then proceeded to piece together the possible aspects of this nameless man’s life that seemed to be pushing him off the edge of sanity: His unfulfilling, dead-end career chosen by his parents because they thought it would be practical; his brown-nosing, thankless, slave driver of a boss; his ingrate daughter that he keeps trying to please; his wife, who spends his money faster than he can make it; and his impenitent, slacker son (that he secretly admires for his shameless qualities). All of these pressures lead to the explosive assault on the innocent teenager working the window. The resultant track “Stuck on the Corner (prelude to a heart attack)” appears on Todd’s latest offering “Peace Queer” on Aimless Records. The song drives hard and fast, conveying all of the central character’s tension and anxiety.

This is just one of the extremely witty and perceptive songs that Todd will be performing when he hits the WOW Hall stage on Tuesday, February 17th armed with an acoustic guitar, a harmonica, a wry humor and a unique style that firmly places him in the company of some of America’s greatest songwriters. Todd admits that, in his early years, he idolized as well as stalked some of those very same songwriters to whom he is now compared. One of those targets of stalking back then was Keith Sykes. “I’ve got maybe ten guys on my Mount Rushmore” Todd said “And he’s always been one of them.” Todd showed up at Keith’s front door with just a demo tape and a guitar. Keith was so impressed that he introduced Todd to Jimmy Buffett in 1993.  That led to Todd opening for Buffet at a couple of west coast dates. “One day I was playing a little coffee-house in front of like ten people.” Todd said “Then I flew out to LA and played the Hollywood Bowl with him (Buffett) and then I did Portland, where I grew up, with him. Then I flew out on a red-eye… to Memphis where I played for another twenty people. It was pretty surreal.” Todd’s first two CD’s came out on Buffett’s Margaritaville Records label.

Todd Snider has gotten to a point in his life and career where he has connections, friendships and a history with those that he once and still idolizes. He doesn’t seem to take that lightly. He sincerely appreciates all life has brought. Todd is very proud to be having Keith open for him on his current tour. He also produced Keith Sykes latest CD “Country Morning Music”.

Todd’s songs can have you laughing one minute and choking up with tears the next. He stirs your emotions, beliefs and thoughts cleverly and carefully without ever being over the top or in your face. As he tells his audience at every performance “…I don’t share my opinions with you because I think they are smart or because I think you should share them. I share them with you because they rhyme. I do not do this to change your mind about anything. I do this to ease my own mind about everything…”

Click here to see the edited version that was published in the Eugene Weekly February 12th, 2009

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