I recently had the chance to finally see Margo Price in concert. We caught two shows and a live interview on the Outlaw Country Cruise. I’ve been listening to her music and watching her from afar for the last few years, but let me tell you, she’s the real deal. Singer, check. Songwriter, check. Bandleader, check. Boss, check.

Margo commands the stage with her songs and style. She reminds me of some of the greats in country music such as Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, and even Patsy Cline. She is clearly having fun, but she’s also clearly in charge. Her songs are catchy, funny, original, but also address some of the things she’s seen in the business.

It’s no secret anymore the challenges that women face in the music. The stories are hard to bear of what they often have to put up with, and Margo’s not afraid to share the truth, three chords or not. These challenges are important to address across society and business, as a whole, but the country music world has seen it’s unique share of challenges.

I love many of the older country tv shows. From the Wilburn Brothers to Porter Wagoner to Ernest Tubb, they all have entertained me through the years. However, the moniker “girl singer” was often added to phenomenal talents that happened to be female. Margo Price is part of the generation that is exploding this mold. She’s a businessperson and a great artist and writer, a real force to be reckoned with through the years to come.

If you get a chance to go see her, please don’t take your time like I did. My wife and I had a chance to meet her, also, and she is a phenomenally nice and generous person. The kind of person you want to pull for to have even more success. I’ll be watching, as I know bigger and bigger things are going to come from her.

(photo by Chris Davis)MargoPriceOutlawCruise

The cold weather has arrived here in Oklahoma, and the polar vortex has kept me inside a lot the past few weeks. While I’ve not been able to be out on the porch or enjoying the outdoors, this has given me the time to reflect on some good music and to get back around to writing some new music of my own.

This time of year is a time of new beginnings, and a time to refocus our energies on the goals that we always want to accomplish but never seem to get around to. I’ve had some songs bumping around in my head for awhile, and now their starting to firm up. But, it takes time to do it. It’s easy to be distracted away from your craft, and if your not careful, those distractions can become habits. I know this first hand.

I’ve had a lot going on over the last year personally and professionally, and I haven’t had the time to write songs. If I’m truly honest, I haven’t made the time. That cuts to the bone, but it’s the honest truth.

But, I’m taking that truth and recommitting to my craft. I’m challenging myself to spend more time writing and more time reflecting. It’s something that’s important to me, so I know I’ll make more time for it. I hope that whatever you need to make time for, you will do so, as well. Now’s the time where we need more creativity and more art. Life’s a one-time shot. Let’s all make the best of it.

I don’t do the typical New Year’s resolutions because, not to sound too corny, but I feel like I need to try to be a better person year round, not just at the first of it. There’s always time for self betterment, and I don’t want to try to sit in any kind of judgment seat on anyone, anyway.

But, I did put together a list of Music New Year’s Resolutions-for everyone to enjoy:

  1. Support more local music – this means getting off the phone and off the couch and showing up to support local artists and venues. I’ve been there, and it sucks to show up to play a gig and have 5 people attend. You still play your guts out for them, and some of the best shows I’ve ever played have been for small groups, but we gotta all do our part to keep this music thing going. Pick out some artists and follow them. Pick out some venues you’ve never been to and go to a couple of shows there. I always take the chance to plug the Blue Door in Oklahoma City. It’s one of the best live venues and so much fun to see great shows. I’m stoked to finally catch a show at the renovated Tower Theater next month (Todd Snider, anyone?), but there are awesome venues and artists in your town. Another way to support the artists is to buy their merchandise. Merch is the most profitable way for the artist to make money, and it’s also super cool. Why go to some mall or website to find cool t-shirts, hats, or mugs when you can get awesome stuff from artists at their shows?
  2. Spend more time on your art –  I won’t lie. I love writing songs. It’s one of the hardest and most frustrating things you can do, but so rewarding when the chords and words work right and when you can convey how you feel. It’s even better when you see it resonate with others. I love studying songwriters and songs and ascribing meaning to them. Because you see the song is always up to what it means to the hearer. It can mean different things to different people. The same goes for your art, whatever it is. If it’s building websites, shooting videos, scrapbooking memories of your children, or painting, it’s your art and treat it as so. Spend time with it. Work on it. I know from my experience the longer I do without trying, the hard it gets to complete the next step. You gotta get your chops back.
  3. Go see something you always said you would, before it’s too late – Loving music, I tend to equate this to artists that I haven’t seen. I’ve seen the Rolling Stones, but I still want to see them again this summer, while I can. I saw Tom Petty several years ago, and it was a phenomenal show. His 40th tour rolled around in 2017, and I said to myself, “I’m too busy, I’ll catch him next tour.” Then he passed on. I’ll never get to see Tom Petty again. It might be Mount Rushmore or the Mona Lisa or the sunset over your hometown, but go do it. It could be that friend or family member that you haven’t seen in awhile. Make it a priority. Don’t put it off. You’ll feel better for the experience. You never know when your bingo number is gonna be called.
  4. Learn a new instrument – This can be a bit of challenge, but pick out some instrument you aren’t familiar with and try to learn it. It’ll be hard at first, and you may never master it, but the ride is worth the price of the ticket. I’m working on ukulele and lap steel guitar this year. It’s pretty rough, but you know, different instruments always remind me to look at life from different perspectives. When you can see things differently, maybe it’ll help you have more empathy for other people and their plights.
  5. Love more – The older I get the more I realize that life is really all about love. Love what you do, love your spouse or partner, love where you are. I know this is pie-in-the-sky and sometimes life is hard. And, there are plenty of people that are going through some tough times right now. But, 90% of us complain about things that don’t matter. Stop and listen to the singer. Throw some money in the tip jar at the club or on the street corner for the busker. We get one shot at this, and those of us that are blessed with so much plenty ought to enjoy it. Spread some love to someone that needs it.

 

Not that you asked, but I’ll tell you my pick for album of the year is “Bit Logic” by the Bottle Rockets. If you don’t know the music of the Bottle Rockets, then go and go now to your favorite place to buy music and buy everything they’ve done. They’re not only one of my favorite bands, but are quite simply one of the best bands in the world that not enough people know about.

I first “discovered” the Bottle Rockets through their front man Brian Henneman’s connection with Uncle Tupelo (he was a member at the end and also sold merch) and then had the pleasure of catching them live in the early 2000s opening for Lucinda Williams at the old Beaumont Club in Kansas City. I was hooked, but that also started a long span of me trying to see them again and not having it work out schedule-wise.

I think they may have played the Blue Door in OKC many years ago, but I ended up having a gig or something else where I missed it. Same thing happened when I had the chance to catch them in Dallas or Wichita. Finally two years ago, my wife and I were on the Outlaw Country Cruise (highly recommend), and low and behold a last minute add were the boys from St. Louis. We caught every set they played, and got to visit quite a bit with them…having breakfast with John on the back deck one day. I could go on and on about my favorite songs, “$1,000 Car”, “Indianapolis”, “Wave that Flag”, and of course, “(I Love My) Dog.” These guys rock it every night and make you feel great to be alive.

Seeing them this year at VZD’s in Oklahoma City was one of my 2018 concert highlights, along with seeing Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. Their show was, as always, fun, fast-paced, and rambunctious. I sang along with every song, and as one does at a Bottle Rockets show, I felt like part of the family.

Which brings me to my album of the year…their latest “Bit Logic.” Full disclosure, I participated in crowdfunding this record as an “executive producer,” but this was the most anticipated record of 2018 for me, and it doesn’t disappoint. Kicking off with the title track talking about technological changes we all face and transitioning right into “Highway 70 Blues,” which feels like an update on Indianapolis, and it keeps on country rockin’ from there. “Low Fi” is another great track and any musician in the alt-country field can relate to the music business struggles relayed in “Bad time to Be an Outlaw.”

This record is 14 tracks solid of great Americana, Outlaw, alt-country, or whatever you want to call this music. The bottom line is, it’s just damn good. Do yourself a favor and buy this record (and as I said earlier, buy their other records, too). Also, go see these guys live. Bands like this are awesome and great, but their gigs are what pay their bills. It’s their main source of income, so do what you can to support them. The Bottle Rockets will be embarking on a tour starting in January. I’ll miss their Oklahoma City show, as I’m already booked out of town, but I’ll catch another one of their shows somewhere. You should too. “Bit Logic” is well worth the listen, and it’s my album of the year.

Last Thursday night, I had the pleasure of seeing Ramblin’ Jack Elliott at the Blue Door in Oklahoma City. Anyone that knows me, knows how much I love the Blue Door. It’s a great room to see a show, but as a performer, it has a great spirit as a room, as well. I always have a great time seeing the owner Greg Johnson and the crowd is generally there for the music, which is always a plus.

Now, back to Jack. Anytime you get to see history, you should take that chance. And, seeing Ramblin’ Jack live is like seeing history right in front of you. This was the guy that traveled with Woody Guthrie. He toured Europe with Derroll Adams and was friends with Pete Seeger. He met a scraggly-haired young guy that was hanging around when Woody was in his last stages of Huntington’s. That young guy said his name was “Bob Dylan.” Jack always has stories to tell, and they’re never canned or the same. I’ve heard him spin yarns on his now-deceased dog Caesar, on getting awakened by Arlo Guthrie via toys being thrown at his head, and on the joys of Cutty Sark whisky.

Thursday was no different. Jack was feeling good. After an opening set from Michael Fracasso, Jack ambled to the stage and even jumped up on it (almost falling). We were sitting towards the back, and I had seen him swing at the bathroom door. As always, a tour manager is there to announce “no photos while Jack is performing” not because of vanity, but because the flashes and sounds tend to distract Jack. I’ve seen his wrath when people don’t listen to this because it really does fluster him. Also, funnily, the tour manager asked that no drinks be sent to the stage per the last time Jack played and complaints by the local authorities. (NOTE: I was there, and I don’t think anyone passed any drinks to Jack or that the authorities even knew he was in town. In fact, he was drinking from a mug from my old band The Davis Brothers.)

Songs, “Cuckoo,” and “San Francisco Bay Blues” were highlights for me. I always get a little melancholy when I see some of my heroes, especially when I know it may be getting near the end. Jack is 87 now, and his songs and stories still move me. He makes me want to go all in on my art and not worry about what anybody thinks. The fact that he’s still touring and not playing big venues shows that he does it because he loves it. That love is what I see every time I see Jack. Whether it’s his stories or the way he talks about not being able to find good coffee, you can tell that everything he does is because he loves it.

On the way out, after the show, artists at the Blue Door walk down the center aisle and greet folks (though, some keep moving). Jack was moving through and spotted my wife and I. We’ve met him several times, and he is always glad to see my wife. He’s told me multiple times that I “done good” by “marrying up.” He’s not the only hero that’s told me that (I’ll tell the Levon Helm story some time). He stopped and told my wife how pretty she is and that he was glad to see her and shook my hand.

I don’t know if I’ll see Jack again. I hope I do. But, if I don’t, I know his music and spirit will live on. I also don’t know if Jack knows how influential he is. If you get the chance to see Ramblin’ Jack on tour, don’t miss the chance. Go see him. You’ll be glad you did. As long as he’s out there ramblin’, I’ll keep looking for him.

For more information on Ramblin’ Jack, visit his official Facebook page.

I met Guy Clark once. He was super gracious to me, especially since I was a fan and acted accordingly, gushing all over him about how much his music meant to me. He probably just wanted another cigarette in the alley behind the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, but I was there to bug him. Even though he’s been gone for over two years, Guy’s music still inspires me to this day.

Tamara Saviano wrote a great official biography of Guy, and I’d encourage you to pick up a copy of it. 

Earlier this afternoon, my wife and I were driving home from an afternoon of errands and minutiae when “Dublin Blues” came on the old satellite radio. “Well, I wish I was in Austin….”

I turned it up, like I’m known to do when it’s a song that I love and sang to my heart’s content. I really did wish I was in Austin. I really was hoping my wife would forgive me for my anger and my faults. That’s how Guy’s music works. Too many people don’t know enough about Guy Clark.

The song also reminded me of a photo I carry in my wallet. It’s a snap that we had some random stranger take of my wife and I on our honeymoon in Rome. We’re sitting on the Spanish Steps, and the picture shows how happy we were. Well, we’re still happy and loving life. (I’ll not try to be the tortured artist – my wife is my best friend and biggest encourager.) But, every time I hear “Dublin Blues,” it takes me back to that moment in 2007, when we were in Rome…”I loved you on the Spanish Steps, the day you said goodbye.” It still almost makes me tear up.

So, I carry that picture with me every day. And, knowing that it’s there, is a comfort for me. Kind of like how I used to have comfort by knowing that Guy Clark was there. Guiding the ship and influencing the songwriting world. But, while he might not be here physically, his presence still influences.

I’m lifting a Mad Dog margarita for Guy tonight. Thanks for the songs and for always taking me back. You still inspire me, and yes, I did love her from the get-go, and I’ll love her till I die.

For more info on Guy Clark, visit his official site here.

 

“One good thing about music, when it hits you feel ok…”

I was riding in a van along the north coast of Jamaica recently when my wife leaned over to me and said, “One person can change the world. One Love.” We were driving past a mural of Bob Marley in Ochos Rios, and I knew she was right.

People all across the world love Bob Marley. Music aficionados, guitar players, singers, dancers, one and all can feel his spirit. I still tear up when I hear “No Woman, No Cry.” I can even sense the feedback that is coming in the live recording that made the song a worldwide anthem.

Marley had the ability to take music and transcend cultures, nations, and religions. The messages in his song speak of his own battles, his people’s struggle for equality, and the way that love conquers all. Did he make a difference? Did he change the world? You bet he did. Some 37 years after his untimely death, and you still his image on shirts and flags everywhere…not just in Jamaica. But, his influence does loom over the island, and I think it looks down and smiles on the visitors that come to see it for themselves. Pilgrims still flock to the area he was born and to his burial site in Nine Mile.

Back in Ochos Rios, I stared for a long minute at a statue of Marley that we found in city park, and then let my gaze wander out to the water and the distant shoreline. I could feel the ocean breeze blowing on my face, and I knew that in some way, Bob Marley was the reason that I and so many others first heard about Jamaica. He brought the culture and the struggle to us. He made it real and showed it through the music. His memory still shapes and influences the world today.

“So, hit me with music, brutalize me with music.”

I recently received a copy of the latest Bootleg Series by Bob Dylan: More Blood, More Tracks. It’s a great piece documenting the making of Blood on the Tracks. These sets are put out for the purists and artist junkies like me, that eat anything their artistic heroes release. A behind the scenes look at the making of it.

This one’s different. This one stung. Blood on the Tracks has always been one of my favorite, if not my all time favorite albums. Those who don’t have a taste for Dylan, don’t really get it, but his different phases speak to you (me) at different times in my life in different ways. Time Out of Mind helped me get through my grandparents’ deaths. Blonde on Blonde helped me make it through college when I didn’t really fit in. Tempest is an unsung treasure that is special to my wife and I. But, Blood on the Tracks was always different. I felt an affinity and a relation to it that I didn’t with any other of his work. From the first line of, “Early one morning, the sun was shinin’, and I was layin’ in bed. Wondering if she’d changed at all, if her hair was still red,” the album felt like a compass for my life.

Knowing the pain, he was enduring when writing it, could make you view it poignantly. But, rather, he transfers the heartbreak to you, the listener. You FEEL it. If you don’t know what I mean, you probably should stop reading now. But, the songs show a meaning to you the listener. Not necessarily the author’s meaning, but your meaning. “Simple Twist of Fate” still cuts to my soul. I’ll never forget the first time I got the chords right on “Tangled Up in Blue.” “Idiot Wind” is bitter and pure and haunting all at the same time.

I don’t claim to know what’s in Bob’s mind. Heck, most of the time, I can’t claim to know what’s in my mind. But, this music stands the test of time and challenges me to be a better writer, a better story-teller, and a better poet. Dylan never seemed to want to challenge anyone (other than Donovan with “It’s all over now, baby blue”), he just seems to do it. That kind of ease would be great to have. Just translate it in every other area. No competition for being, for taking the best picture, for posting the best dinner. Just know your own greatness.