Sandy Kelly

First Published March 2014

WARM, WITTY, AND WISE

They say you never forget your first time. And I can vouch for that. I mean, how could anyone forget a first time that involved a lady like Sandy Kelly?

Now before those of you with wayward minds drift somewhere you shouldn’t, I guess I should be just a little clearer on what I mean! What I’m talking about is the first time I realised that Ireland – our very own little country – could actually boast of stars so talented that even Johnny Cash wanted to hang out with them! Sandy Kelly was a household name when I was growing up and so was Johnny Cash. But Sandy was an Irish girl and Johnny was…JOHNNY CASH! And if he was so interested in singing with Sandy, then whatever she was, Sandy Kelly was not simply another Irish girl! She must have been something special. So I reasoned a way back when. And, as it turned out, I was right.

I had the pleasure of first meeting Sandy some years back when she appeared in the Bridge House on her Patsy Cline – Music And Memories tour and she was something special, a true lady of Irish music. As she prepares to perform in Tullamore again towards the end of the month, I had the pleasure of catching up with her again last week for a quick chat!

To get things under way, I asked Sandy how this tour with Mike (Denver) and Marc (Roberts) happened to come about in the first place, and if she was enjoying it so far?

“Well, how it came about, Anthony, is I met Mike, oh I suppose quite a few times at various concerts, and we always got on very well. So there was a friendship there anyway. Then Marc Roberts and I would be friends for years too. So I just got a phone call one day from Mike’s manager to ask if I’d be interested in guesting on his tour and I was thrilled to be asked. And then doubly excited when I heard Marc was going to be on the tour as well. It’s going great so far, I think everybody is delighted and amazed at how the three formats of music seem to really, really mix well. Marc, of course, is doing the songs of John Denver, while I’m doing the songs of Patsy Cline, and then of course Mike has his fans regardless of what he does, you know. So there’s a mixture of everything and for all age groups, children right up to grandmothers. It’s amazing so far.”



I wondered if Sandy’s early start in the business – she often used to appear on stage singing and tap-dancing from when she was just 3 years old, while touring with her father, Frank Ellis, who was part of the Duskey Family Show – has played a major role in helping her establish and maintain such a successful career over such a long period of time?

“Yeah, absolutely. The fact that I started in showbiz so early has actually, I think saved me, in many ways, Anthony. Because showbusiness can be a tricky enough business if you start believin’ your own publicity. I mean, if you start reading things in the newspaper about how great you are and you start believin’ it, then you have a problem! So because I was always surrounded by my family, whom were in the business, as a child and growing up, I just thought of it as being something normal. Rather than something extremely superhuman or super-special, ya know! It was always just what we did. And I think in a way, that both helped me to perform to my best, and hopefully I’m still learning to do that, and secondly, to survive a lot of the pitfalls that would be in our business.”



Certainly it sounds like it was better preparation for a life in music than is offered by so many of today’s reality based tv shows, where people are so often cast aside and left to fend for themselves as soon as this year’s ‘newer’ model steals the spotlight away. Would Sandy agree?

“I suppose in one way it’s nice that they’re given a chance and a platform to sing or perform or whatever their act is, that they wouldn’t otherwise get, you know, the tv coverage and audiences of hundreds of thousands in some cases. And yeah, that’s a good thing, I suppose. But as you say, Anthony, they are television shows and usually there’s only one winner. And even if you win, sometimes you’re not the winner! [as in, often times the acts that finish second or even third go on to greater success than the act that comes first]. And then everybody else is just cast by the wayside to go back to their normal, everyday lives. And that’s kind of what I said to you, about my family. If I was plucked from a ‘normal’ family and environment and put on the X-Factor and surrounded by all these people and media, then how would you go back to your ‘normal’ life if it didn’t work out?”



Sandy’s career has been intertwined with some of the biggest names in country music history. As well as recording with the likes of Willie Nelson and Glen Campbell, Sandy has played Tammy Wynette in the musical Stand By Your Man, and most famously perhaps, she has played the role of the late and so, so great Patsy Cline in the West End show Patsy Cline – The Musical, a show in which the fabulous George Hamilton IV also starred. But it’s impossible to talk about Sandy’s life without eventually getting around to the Man In Black himself, the one and only Johnny Cash.

When Sandy takes in the music scene of today, does she see anyone out there who might leave the same kind of legacies as Patsy and Johnny, her Woodcarver duet partner?

“Well country music has changed so much from the days of Johnny Cash. It’s gone almost mainstream poppy! There’s very little difference between a pop tune and a country tune because it’s all about the industry of selling records, Anthony. I think in Johnny Cash’s day it was more about the music. The real country music. So it’s difficult to say if anybody could directly follow in their footsteps. You’re still going to have huge artists, obviously. Garth Brooks is one, who’s amazing in his own right. But to me, it’s a different type of country music. And I don’t see anybody coming up that’s that traditional [as Johnny Cash]. Now, maybe there is and I just don’t know about them. That’s in mainstream country. Now in Ireland, I think the Irish country singers are sometimes more traditional than the Americans at the moment! I mean, you’ve got people like Mike Denver, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard Mike sing live, Anthony (I have!), but he’s a fabulous country singer (he surely is that!). Marc and myself are probably more mainstream than traditional country, so you can’t count that. And I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of Gerry Guthrie, have you? I would consider Gerry to be very contemporary, but having that traditional country feel. And also, like the Glen Campbell thing, he plays the guitar extremely well. So to me, Gerry would be someone I’d like to see going on [to success] if he’s given the chance.”



When she says ‘a different type of country music’, does Sandy mean that’s a bad thing? Or just the way most forms of music naturally evolve in some way or another over time?

“I don’t think you can actually say it’s bad, Anthony, it’s just the way music evolves, you’re right. And if that’s what it takes for it to survive and capture a younger audience, well, then that’s the way you have to go, isn’t it. You find all the young people in America, whereas they’re only catching on here, but for years and years in America they’ve been following all the country bands. And line-dancing, and wearing cute, hip country clothes which were seen as being totally uncool here! My son, Willie, is in a band called ‘Rackhouse Pilfer’, they’re a bluegrass, alternative American country band, and they’ve just come back from Nashville with their new album. And they’re a 6-piece, original band, Anthony. Totally 100% original music and that’s something new, I think, for Ireland. RTE Radio 1 play-listed them this week even though they’re unsigned. Actually, would you believe it, Anthony, they won an award at the Bluegrass festival down in Tullamore last year.”


For many involved in the arts, what they do often feels much more like it’s a vocation rather than just being ‘a job.’ What they do is just something they absolutely have to do, no matter what! That being said, of course, there are also people involved in the arts for whom what they do – unfortunately! – is little more than just a job! I wondered if this was something Sandy had experienced during her life in music? People who were involved from their heart first, and those who are never more deeply involved than their head tells them they need to be?

“I think both, Anthony. There are some people that, even though they should probably get out of show-business [for their own sake] a lot sooner than they do, and get a real job, don’t! But there’s just something in them that drives them. Nearly like an addiction. An audience and applause and the spotlight, that can become like an addiction for some people. I think there are a lot of people in show-business who shouldn’t be in it. But they’re just driven. Then you’ve got people that are exceptionally talented; singers, songwriters, musicians, whom are driven as well, but for a different reason. That’s their lifetimes’ ambition and their passion. And then I think there’s a small percentage of people who just see show-business as a quick-fix to stardom and money, and big cars! Which is something totally false. But I think because of all these reality shows and that…., I mean, have you ever seen as many kids in music, dance, singing and acting classes?! I mean they’re nearly auditioning for egg and spoon races now, you know! They all want this quick-fix, ‘discover-me’, x-factor thing.”



Having had the honour of representing Ireland at Eurovision with the Duskey Sisters (Here Today, Gone Tomorrow) in 1982, I couldn’t but ask Sandy for her thoughts on our Eurovision…ahem, ‘troubles!’, of more recent times! What does she think of the mentor system currently favoured for the selection process of our entry?

“Well, obviously I’d be very friendly with Louis Walsh and Linda Martin, and Aslan! And all the people that are fighting, so at the moment I’m keeping my head down, haha. I don’t want to be in the line of fire, Anthony! But joking aside and on a personal note, I do think they need to change it and go back to the more traditional way. So that it’s not so ‘in-house’, you know. I don’t think anybody meant any harm by trying to get these people [Louis, Linda, etc] together on panels or whatever, because after all, I suppose they are experts. But I think the old way worked best.”



Lastly, but by no means least, we came to my favourite question of all because it has the potential to offer the best insight into the lessons learned along the roads travelled by genuine stars of the stage and studio, of which Sandy is most definitely one. From everything she has experienced herself, what advice would she offer to anyone just starting out in show-business today, or to someone who is already involved, but perhaps struggling to make a breakthrough?

“Well Anthony, my advice is always very boring! But obviously, I’d say if you’re very young to not discontinue your education, because an education is very important. And no matter what line of work you’re in, but especially in show-business, Anthony. You have to be able to present yourself very well, be it at a dinner table or standing on stage, you have to be able to speak properly, you know. And you have to be able to count money, assuming you make some! So I think an education is the first thing. I think at a very early stage if you think you want to be an actress or a singer or a dancer or whatever, you have to take lessons or classes from the best possible people available to you. And then, like an athlete, you have to make that the number one priority in your life. Nothing else. That’s what I did. My singing was my number one priority in my whole life. You have to do without a social life and do without all the other normal things a teenager would do, and dedicate your life to it [singing, performing, etc]. Research it, work on every aspect of it. Because it’s difficult, honestly. If you’re struggling, if you’re already in the business but struggling, then persistence [is the key]. When I was in Nashville recording with Johnny Cash, there was a sign on the wall, in a frame. And it said, ‘Talent alone is not what helps you succeed, but persistence.’ So you must have talent, Anthony, but you must also have the persistence to keep trying. And then never give up!”



Would Sandy agree that many people have no idea about the level of sacrifice demanded of anyone who wants to be successful in the music business?

“I think most people don’t know about that at all, they really don’t. You know, that’s the one thing that’s really stood by Willie, is that he grew up around us and it certainly wasn’t a glamorous lifestyle by any stretch of the imagination! It was a lot of hard work. And a lot of people don’t get that chance, to witness that, when they’re growing up. They just see people on tv, in nice clothes, with people applauding them and records and stuff. But that’s really just the end result. If you’re lucky, that’s the end result! And that then is only part of the journey you’re about to begin. But fame is like a bubble, Anthony, it only lasts a certain amount of time and you have to be able to cope with it. You have to remember, too, the word ‘business’ in show-business. Surround yourself with good people; a trustworthy manager and solicitor and stuff like that. Because I was in court more times than I was on stage probably! So I wish somebody had given me the advice that I’ve just told you, haha. And you can tell everybody I’m not a beacon of exceptional knowledge; I’m just speaking from all the mistakes I’ve made myself!”

ENDS

Barry Kirwan

First Published December 2017

‘MOMENTS’ LIKE THIS SHOULD MAKE YOUR CHRISTMAS LIST!

How many days left until Christmas? Everybody seems to have a countdown going at this stage. And if you’re anything like me, the ever-decreasing number of days between now and Santa’s descent through chimneys far and wide is probably beginning to finally start pushing you into taking some action on the present front! The great thing about being a country music fan, of course, is that there’s never a shortage of wonderful albums to reach for, or events to pencil into your diary. And this year is no exception. In fact, let me tell you about one album in particular that’s just been released and definitely deserves a place on your Christmas wish-list. It’s called Moments, and it’s the brand new collection from one of Irish country’s finest young talents, Barry Kirwan. 


Barry, of course, comes from Irish country royalty in a manner of speaking, being the son of one of country’s top showmen and true gentlemen, Dominic Kirwan. It should be noted, however, that both men are far too humble to consider themselves anything even close to royalty, but it’s an accurate indication of their standing in the business. Barry, while relatively new on the scene as a solo artist, is neither a stranger nor a newcomer in more general terms, having earned his living as the man behind the drums for Derek Ryan for many’s a year before eventually deciding to go his own way. 
Now, as well as adding Barry’s new album to your Christmas wish-list, you should also leave room for the Christmas Country Concert Tour which comes to Tullamore on December 19th – only a few days before Santa himself, so this is definitely Christmas coming early for country fans! – where Barry, together with Dominic, the Queen of Country herself Philomena Begley, Cliona Hagan and more, will be taking to the stage in the fabulously festive surroundings of the Tullamore Court Hotel. 

Barry officially launched Moments, the follow-up to his hugely popular first album, New Beginnings, to a full-house in the Red Cow last Thursday night, but even so, the Tyrone man was up and at ’em early again the following morning to chat with us about it all. 


“Aye, it was actually a great, great night, so it was, thank God. I was delighted. Long day it was, too, because we were in Tralee on Wednesday night at Radio Kerry’s Night With The Stars show, and then we drove on to Cork to do the Today show with Daithi O’ Se and Maura Derrane yesterday afternoon, and then up to Dublin straight after that. So you could say it’s been a hectic couple of days alright [laughs].” 

So, what kind of moments can Barry’s fans expect from Moments


“Well ‘Moments’ is a twelve-track collection, ten of which are covers, songs that I would have loved growing up, being a massive fan of country music, as I was. So a lot of those ten are the artists and bands I would have loved singin’ along with, ya know. But there’s two originals on there as well, one written by my brother, Colm, and our good friend Bradley Banning, a song called ‘Merry Mary’. And there’s another original song on there which was given to me by Rory Feek (of the American country husband-and-wife duo, Joey and Rory, of which Joey sadly passed away last year), written by Rory and Paul Overstreet, a song called ‘Between The Cracks.’ It’s funny, when I knew I was gonna be makin’ the album, I just kinda out of the blue one day thought I’d give Rory a text and see if he did have anything, cos’ I know he’s a very, very busy man. But he literally came back to me within, I think, two days, and he said let me have a look. The day after that then he sent me an email with the demo of Paul Overstreet singing ‘Between The Cracks’, and it’s a completely original song which hasn’t been recorded by any other artist. So to have that calibre of writers give me a completely original song, I was delighted. It’s a very Don Williams kind of a song, a half-time tempo, with a brush kind of a feel. But you know yourself, Rory is a major lyricist and an amazing storyteller, so the song is really about how things in life can fall between the cracks, small things that you might not realise are big things really, and they’re slipping away. It talks about love and other things that can just slip away from you so easily if you just take your eye off the ball, so to speak.” 

And the story behind the other original, Merry Mary


“It tells the story of a young lad who becomes friends with a girl when he’s really, really young, and obviously likes her, and tells how they progress in life, ya know, from an early age.”

I always love finding out exactly why albums end up being called what they are, so with Moments, I wondered was there a track of the same name included in the set? 


“There is a track on there called ‘Moments’, aye. And it’s funny, this album has been released by Rosette Records, and it’s the first album I’ve done with them. But at the very first meeting I had with them, with Mick Durkin, down in Dublin, we were just talking about different songs that we both liked, just general chat really. It wasn’t even about me releasing an album with them at that stage. We just pretty much talked music for about two hours. And as it happened, ‘Moments’ was a song he mentioned to me that he thought would be a good one to record, that it has a great message. It was originally done by a band called Emerson Drive, a Canadian band, and they had a number one hit with it in 2005. But not long after that, 2007 I think, their guitarist was killed in an accident. So they’ve never really had the same kind of success since then, sadly. But nowadays, with mental health being a major issue everywhere, and homelessness as well, ”Moments’ is just a great message song because it kinda talks about both. And actually, Bradley Banning, the co-writer on ‘Merry Mary’ with Colm – we’ve become very good friends with him – but he was Emerson Drive’s tour manager for the past few years. The last time I was in Nashville I actually had dinner with one of the guys from Emerson Drive, so it’s all a bit crazy the way things can fall into place and link up.” 

On any artists new album, every song is special to them in some way. And of course the originals usually even more so, because often times no-one else will have recorded them or put them out there before. But is there a particular song on Moments that Barry is especially looking forward to fans hearing? 


“It’s funny, I think a lot of artists will tell you that when you record albums you’re working on it so much that you don’t really like listening to it after! [laughs]. But I have to say, the other night there I was driving home from a gig and I had the album on the whole way down the road and I just loved listening to every track, so I did. But to answer your question, there’s a song on the album called ‘Why Don’t You Spend The Night’, and it seems to be a favourite for a lot of people who have heard it, and it’s definitely a favourite of mine. My manager actually suggested that song to me. I think it was written by Bob McDill, and recorded by Ronnie Milsap. It’s just a lovely, lovely song. But that’s just one of the ones I like. I mean, I’ve been a massive Garth Brooks fan over the years as well, and ‘The Dance’ has always been a favourite of mine. And even though it’s such an iconic song, and there’s nothing much you can do to change it, I really love what Jonathon Owens (the album’s producer) has done with this version.” 

With December now upon us, and the Christmas season well underway, I asked Barry if he was looking forward to all the coming weeks would bring, including his trip to Tullamore on December 19th as part of the Christmas Country Concert Tour? 


“I absolutely love Christmas, getting to spend some time with family. And my partner and myself have just moved into a new house, and we’re expecting a new baby as well in February, so it’s exciting times ahead! This will be our first and last Christmas alone in this house. Yeah, Christmas is always a great time of the year, and obviously Colm comes home from the States as well. And the tour, yeah, I did it with Brian (Cunningham, the promoter) last year for the first time. And again, I think all artists on the Irish country scene will tell ya, it’s just always great to get to spend some time with other artists cos’ we don’t really get a chance through the rest of the year. And sure the characters that are on this tour, the likes of Philomena Begley, and even Cliona as well, it’s good banter on the road and it’s good fun to be around.” 

And if Barry could be assured that his own letter to Santa would make it straight into the great man’s hands, what would Mr. Claus be asked for this year? 


“What would it be? Well I think I’d love a number one album if I could possibly have that! [laughs]” 

ENDS

Nathan Carter

First Published November 2020

“I LIVE FOR THE GIGS”

If you’ve ever been to a NATHAN CARTER show then you’ll understand exactly why the man himself says, “I live for the gigs.” Sold-out and jam-packed venues, excitement all round, laughter, fans singing along with every song, and smiles everywhere you look, whether that’s from the stage looking down into the audience or from the audience looking up at Nathan and his band on stage. More than just Nathan have lived for those nights. 


A Nathan show, you see – and I’ve often said this – is more than just a night-out, it’s a celebration of everything that’s great, powerful, and positive about music. And you’ll see that too at the end of each show when fans queue for as long as it takes to get a moment at Nathan’s side and have their photo taken with the biggest draw in Irish country music. What those moments at the end of every show also illustrate perfectly is exactly why Nathan has become the superstar that he is. As long as there’s someone waiting to meet him, Nathan will be there ready to meet them too. But as Nathan will tell you, that success didn’t arrive overnight. It’s been a decade in the making. 


I had the pleasure of catching up with Nathan again last weekend, with the main reason for our chat being his brand new album which celebrates the last decade in his career, THE BEST OF THE FIRST TEN YEARS . This anniversary collection drops tomorrow, November 12th, and is essentially a greatest hits album, a huge milestone in the career of any artist. Now if there’s one thing that 2020 has given Nathan in bucketloads, it’s time to look back over those first ten years. So, when he does, how does he feel to have reached the point in his career where he is today? 


“To be honest, it’s been a great journey over the last ten years, gigging and playing and going from small pubs and clubs, to dance-halls, to theatres, and then the 3Arena, and the SSE Arena. It’s been a journey that I never imagined really, that it would be so successful. Looking back over the last ten years, which I’ve had to do picking these tracks, it’s brought back a lot of great memories of the venues I’ve played, the people I’ve met along the way, the ups and the downs of the music business and show-business! But yeah, we’ve put together twenty tracks, some of them from when I first started out to the most recent singles that I’ve released over the last couple of years, and there’s some newly recorded songs especially for this album. So it’s an album filled with the old and new, something that I’m very proud of, and it’s been nostalgic looking back over the last ten years at where I’ve got to.” 

As Nathan mentioned, there are twenty tracks on the album, four of which are new songs. And one of those – Wings To Fly – was to see its video premiered later in the evening on which we spoke. Nathan had mentioned on his social media that this song was dedicated to a good friend of his who is sadly no longer with us. I asked Nathan if that might be the late Nicky James, and also if he’d tell me a little bit about writing what must be one of his most personal songs…


“It is, ya know [one of my most personal songs]. I don’t write songs that often, and I wouldn’t consider myself as a great songwriter or anything like that really, I consider myself more of a singer. But I do a bit of writing, and I’m very proud now of this song in particular. As you say, it’s written about a good friend, Nicky James, who unfortunately passed away at the start of this year. I kind of put pen to paper and came up with this song, ‘Wings To Fly.’ It was very emotional really, writing it. But I’m so glad I did. And we recorded a video there in a castle not too far from my house where I live in Fermanagh, a castle called Belle Isle Castle, we were lucky that it was empty last weekend. There were no weddings obviously, due to Covid, so we took over the Castle for the whole day and did a load of filming. That video, as you said, is being released tonight online. I’m very proud of the song, so looking forward to peoples’ reactions to it and just seeing what they think of the lyrics and the actual recording.” 

I wondered if recording the video and putting himself back into that emotional space of what the song is about, was a hard thing to do? Or was Nathan able to distance himself from what the song was actually about until the recording was in the can? 


“I kind of tried to distance myself from it a little bit, ya know, cos’ I’d only end up getting emotional doing it. But at the same time, I did want a bit of emotion in the video. To be honest, the guys I work with, Mick Bracken and the crew who do the filming, they’re good fun. They had me laughing hysterically most of the day, so to try and then be serious again for the song was quite tough [laughs]. But I’m very proud of the video as well, and I’m looking forward to people seeing it this evening, so hopefully people will check it out on Facebook and YouTube and let us know what they think.” 

Another of the new tracks on the album is Sarah Jane, and as it so happens, OTRT will be talking to Sarah Jane herself – the wonderful Sal Heneghan – in the next few weeks. I asked Nathan to tell me how he and Sal came to link up for that project…


“Basically I wrote that song at the start of this year, and we were shooting a video in Dublin. So we needed a fiddle player who was preferably good looking! [laughs]. A friend of mine, Peter Maher, who owns a studio in Tipperary, he knows Sal from through the years. He sent me a picture of Sal, and a video of her playin’ fiddle, and I said that’s our one! [laughs]. She looks great, and she sounds great, so we got in contact with her and asked if she’d mind playing a role in a music video. And she said she’d love to. So Sal Heneghan ends up being ‘Sarah Jane’ for the day, and it turned out really well. She’s a great girl, and very talented as well.” 

Nathan said in a recent interview that back at the beginning of lockdown, when he didn’t really know what to be doing with himself, some people told him to just go and use the time to write some songs. Nathan, however, replied that he just had no interest at all in music there for a while around that period. I wondered if he’d rediscovered that spark since the, and if putting this album together had helped him to do that? 


“Yeah, I definitely had kind of just lost interest in music for a while when lockdown did kick-in. I just had no want really to do anything. I kind of live for the gigs, to be honest. The gigs are the thing, being on stage and with a live audience, interacting, that’s what I do it for really. When that was taken away, it kind of just felt like a big hole was there. But no, definitely, when I started picking tracks for the album, and I’ve been doing a bit more writing there recently, that’s definitely helped, a lot! Just in getting inspiration again for music, and wanting to be involved in the whole music business side of things.” 

One of the things that a new album always usually means – at least in normal times – is a new tour as well. That, of course, is impossible right now. But Nathan, his manager John Farry, and their team, have been working hard to try and put a show together for Nathan’s fans in Crumlin Gaol. Having already had to be rescheduled a couple of times, it’s now set for January 16th. Is that really looking like being the next time Nathan actually gets to perform? 


“Unfortunately, it is. I’m actually recording a TV special for BBC at my home, myself and Jake, my brother, in the coming weeks which is going to be shown at Christmas. I haven’t actually told anybody that yet, you’re the first guy I’ve mentioned it to. But when it comes to actually performing in front of an audience, I think, yeah, that really is going to be the next time I’ll be lucky enough to perform in front of people, next year in January. If we’re lucky! Keep everything crossed, fingers, toes, legs and everything [laughs]. To be honest, until we get a vaccine and get this thing [Covid] kicked into shape, I don’t think ‘live’ music is possible until we get that sorted, ya know.” 

While it’s very difficult to look too far forward at the moment, in terms of looking back, could Nathan remember the last show he played before all of this began, back in the ‘good old days’? And on that occasion, did he have any idea at all that it might have been his last show for at least a while? 


“The last professional gig I did was on a cruise ship in February, myself and the band, and a lot of other different artists were on the ship as well. Mike Denver, and Daniel O’ Donnell, and The High Kings. That was our last gig. And looking back now, we definitely didn’t imagine this! And even if we did, when we first heard about it we thought it was going to be three or four months, and then, ah sure we’ll be back in May or June, ya know. That’s what we were sayin’. We’ll get the festivals in, and then we’ll be back doing a Christmas concert tour. But obviously all that went out the window! We are where we are, and all we can do is hope and pray that this time next year it will all be a distant memory and a thing of the past, and we’ll be back to normal.” 

When we do get back to normal, and Nathan gets back out on the road again, and back up on stage around Ireland and around the world, will 2020 have changed him as far as how he approaches and enjoys his music career? 


“Definitely, yeah. Yeah. I will definitely appreciate it a lot more, I think. I’ve had a lot of time to spend at home the last nine months and I don’t know if I’d go back gigging as much as I had done previously, because I’ve kind of enjoyed just being able to do other stuff, other than music, and airports, and tour buses, and travelling. There is more to life. And I’ve kind of realized that over the last year. So I will appreciate the gigs I do a lot more, and I probably will do slightly less of them than what I had been doing.” 

Is there anything in particular that Nathan has found himself doing in this ‘time-off’, which he’s really enjoyed and just wouldn’t have had the same time for before this? 


“I took to bike-riding, and doing a lot more exercise in the gym, that’s something that I’ve really enjoyed and it’s definitely helped mentally, keeping me focused and keeping me busy. Which I need to be, because I’m the type of character that can’t be doin’ nothing, can’t have no projects or aspirations. I always have to be doing something. So all of that has helped for sure, exercise and staying busy.” 

One high-point of this year for Nathan was winning the UK Male Country Singer of the Year Award. But apart from Covid, there have been several sad moments for him too, with the passing of his great friend Nicky James whom we already spoke about, but also the founder of The Irish World newspaper Paddy Cowan, and of Highland Radio presenter Pio McCann, three men who all played important roles in Nathan’s career in their own ways. I wondered if, when looking back over the last ten years that this new album celebrates, Nathan could pinpoint one high-point and one low-point that were each in their own ways very significant moments in the shaping of his career? 


“Over the last ten years? Yeah, well definitely losing Nicky James has probably been the toughest thing. Just because Nicky has been involved with me since I was a kid. Music is my whole life, and he basically put me on that path. So that’s been the low-point. The highest point, I’d have to say, is probably playing the 3Arena, with that many people. And we were very lucky to have been able to do it twice. That’s something that I never, ever would have dreamt would be possible, me singing country songs and old folks songs [laughs], at a venue like that. So that’s definitely been a high-point. And for me, longevity is key, ya know. And if I can still be singing and entertaining people in ten or twenty years time to come, then I’ll be a happy man!” 

Nathan had briefly touched on the subject of his mental health, and indeed, that’s one thing that everyone is trying to be especially careful about this year. But his profile as one of the biggest entertainers in Ireland seems to mean that he’s also ‘fair-game’ on social media. I see some of the stuff that’s often written about him, andit usually ranges from the utterly stupid to the utterly disgusting. I assumed that Nathan himself must see some of it as well from time to time, so I asked him how he makes sure that abuse like that doesn’t end up getting to him? 


“Yeah, I mean that is one thing with social media. It’s great for advertising, and it’s great to chat to people, but it also opens a lot of floodgates and doors for people to just pull ya down straight away. As you say, that’s the problem with being in the public eye. I do see a lot of those comments. And years ago, it would have affected me a lot more. Nowadays, I still would take them on board, and I’m not gonna say it doesn’t annoy ya, it does when ya see someone having a right go at ya for no reason. And you don’t even know them, generally, the person having a go at ya. And you’re never going to meet them, because they won’t come to a gig. And the funny thing is, they would never say it to your face either. Most of these people are just keyboard-warriors, and they love to just comment on stuff. So I’ve kind of learned that during the last few years. I’d like to think that now I’m a bit more accepting of it, and just go well listen, everybody’s entitled to their opinion. You’re never going to please everyone, that’s a given fact. So yeah, I’d like to think that nowadays it doesn’t affect me as much as it did.”

It’s been a while now since Nathan last had a chance to play for his fans here in the midlands of Ireland, and it might well be a little while longer yet before he gets a chance to again. So, until then, what message would he like to send to his fans…apart from please buy the new album?! 


“[Laughs] Well, I’d like to say that obviously every year we would normally play Mullingar, and Tullamore, and a lot of other shows around the midlands, Ballinasloe as well, and I’m definitely missing that. And we look forward to the day when we can get back and play a good few shows, and hopefully bring a new show to all of those towns. We’ve got some new music from this album. So we want to get back on stage, entertaining, and putting smiles on peoples’ faces. I want to wish everybody a happy Christmas, and stay safe. We will all get through this, and I look forward to seeing everybody on the other side.” 

~ Nathan’s brand NEW album, THE BEST OF THE FIRST TEN YEARS, is released TOMORROW, November 12th, available on all platforms and from all good record stores nationwide. 

ENDS

Jim Lauderdale

First Published October 2017

LAUDERDALE’S LIFE – A SONGWRITING LEGEND

It’s not too often that you get the opportunity to speak to someone like Jim Lauderdale, where most of the names that come up in conversation have all secured their own places in the music history books, too. Harlan Howard, Buck Owens, Ralph Stanley, Buddy Miller, Robert Hunter, Patty Loveless, George Jones, Harry Chapin, John Oates, Lucinda Williams, Rodney Crowell, John Levanthal, Emory Gordy Jnr. And for good measure, a tale relating to John Lennon that almost steals a beat of your heart when you think about it for a moment.

Nope, it’s definitely not too often that you hit lucky enough to chat with someone like Jim. Hardly surprising, though, given the fact that there aren’t many like Jim out there. In fact, when we talk about Jim Lauderdale, we’re into talking about once-in-a-lifetime talents territory. And it was my good fortune, and great pleasure, to talk to the man himself recently.


Sadly, when we spoke it was only a few days after the shooting at Jason Aldean’s concert in Las Vegas, followed by the untimely death of a true rock and roll icon, Tom Petty. It would have been impossible not to begin by touching on both for a moment, so I asked Jim if he’d like to share what was going through his mind on either event? 


“Yes, oh my gosh. It was mind-numbing, both of those different tragedies. What happened in Las Vegas was just unfathomable. I’m still, and I think everybody is really, we’re just reeling from it. And then Tom last night. I mean, he’d just wrapped up a very successful leg of his tour and seemed to be very healthy. His music really brought a lot of enjoyment to millions of people. He was a real master [entertainer] and he’s really gonna be missed.”


Jim’s new album, London Southern, is his 29th, an extraordinary output by anyone’s measure. It includes a song co-written with John Oates, called If I Can’t Resist. Now Jim has described Oates as being, “More hungry than most guys that are on their way up.” I put it to Jim that, given his vast back catalogue, that same could be said of him. And I asked him, what keeps him hungry to keep on writing and recording? 


“It’s just the desire to get these songs out as they come to me, or if I’m collaborating with others. It’s just a need I have. Something I have to do is to write, and then to sing. So I stay in the studio frequently and I tour more and more these days. It seems like both the recording and the touring has continued to grow through the years, and I’m  really glad about that. So writing songs and recording them, it’s just such an intense, challenging, but wonderful process. And like I said, I just have to do it.” 


I’d read somewhere once that Jim never ‘refuses’ a song if he feels one coming on, even if it has nothing to do with whatever specific project he might be working on at that time. If the song comes to him, Jim takes it. 


“Yes, that’s right. And I often wonder if my mind plays tricks on me, that when I’m working on a particular project, that’s when I get song ideas for a different style of music [laughs]. If I’m working on more of a soul type thing, then I might get an idea for a bluegrass song, or a traditional country type song, or vice-versa. But that’s o.k! I let my mind play those tricks! [laughs].” 


Whenever I’m thinking of buying an album by an artist I don’t really know much about, one of the first things I do is check out the song titles and the songwriting credits. That’s how I first discovered an amazing Texan artist called Sunny Sweeney, she has three of Jim’s songs on her Heartbreaker’s Hall of Fame record. In other words, if I see a Jim Lauderdale song on an album, that’s good enough for me: sold! And Jim is often referred to as a ‘songwriter’s songwriter.’ I wondered what it meant to him to be the subject of such a description? 


“It’s very flattering. But I try not to…well, I feel like I’m still in the beginning stages of my career, so I don’t let that stuff go to my head because I’m always onto the next project. And it’s always challenging for me to get through those projects and come up to the level of other writers that are out there. So I’m always kinda doing the next thing and not thinking too much about my past work.” 


As a writer Jim is nothing short of prolific. A few years back, he released a staggering FOUR records in just ONE year. How does something like that work on a business level? 


“[Laughs] It doesn’t! It doesn’t work that way [laughs]. And even though I get told that by people trying to advise me, I just do it anyway. And actually, this record that’s out now, ‘London Southern’, those records came out after I’d recorded ‘London Southern’ and I was waiting for the right home for it. So these other things were kinda coming out, these other songs and project ideas, and I thought, well, ‘London Southern’ will hopefully be out in the spring-time so I’ve got to clear the decks and get these others out. And this went on for three or four years. So finally, I found a home for it which is in the U.K, on a label called Proper Records, that really liked the album a lot. I knew from their enthusiasm about it that it was in the right place at last so I’m really happy about finding that home for it.” 


Another area in which Jim moves at an astounding pace is when he co-writes with Robert Hunter, lyricist of The Grateful Dead, with whom Jim has recorded and released a number of albums. Once, they wrote EIGHTEEN songs in just EIGHT days! And another time, a phenomenal TEN songs in a day and a half! In those instances where Jim and Robert write together, are they going in with ideas ready to bounce off each other, or does every song start from scratch? 


“Starting from scratch, usually. In the early days when Robert Hunter and I started writing, I was doing my first album with one of my bluegrass heroes named Ralph Stanley. So I contacted Robert just on a whim, thinking, you know, he’s probably not going to return my message but I’ll at least try. But I think he and Jerry Garcia were such fans of The Stanley Brothers that he agreed! So we went from there. And either he would give me a completed lyric and I would write the music to it, or I would give him a melody. And when we’re in each other’s presence he would either hand me a lyric or a melody would just come out, which I would record quickly and send to his computer. Then he’d work in one room, while I’d work in different room coming up with another melody. Usually one or the other of us gives our contribution to the other to get things started. But during those circumstances we’re both usually pretty fast with each other. And it’s something I still have to pinch myself about, to realise that I’ve written with Robert. I think we must have written about one hundred songs together.” 


J.T Osbourne, of The Brothers Osbourne, observed recently that he feels like Nashville songwriters these days might be thinking too much about what they think people want to hear, and not enough about what they, as songwriters, actually want to say. What was Jim’s take on this? 


“He might be onto something there. I think that there are so many talented songwriters in Nashville. And I think that it’s hard to know what’s going on in their creative process. But in a lot of circumstances when you’re co-writing the goal is to get someone to record that song. So I think that’s sometimes how trends happen in the music market, when one thing is successful then it’s followed by a lot of things that sound like it, whether it’s melodically or thematically. So, it could be a conscious or a sub-conscious thing with writers sometimes. But there are just so many talented songwriters that end up in Nashville and write with each other, and with commercial music in general, even the most mundane type songs will be written by great writers who are still more than capable of writing profound and deep songs. But these other ones ended up kind of making it through the cracks and somehow being commercially successful. But those writers, there’s more than meets the eye as far as their abilities go. Does that make any sense?” 


One of my favourite songs of Jim’s – and one of my fav country songs, come to think of it – is The King Of Broken Hearts. I love the story of how Jim wrote it after hearing Gram Parsons describe George Jones as being just that; the king of broken hearts. But what’s always intrigued me is the story of how George himself came so close to recording the song….


“That’s right, that’s right. I was working on an album that was being co-produced by Rodney Crowell and John Levanthal and I got a call at the studio from Emory Gordy Jnr., who’s married to Patty Loveless, and is a very talented producer and bass player, and he told me that George wanted to record the song. So I was totally overjoyed. Then Emory said, ‘But there’s a problem. George is having a hard time singing this part of the song, could you change the timing of it?’ So I thought for a minute, and I think I said well, yeah, sure, sure. But then I think I thought for another minute more and I said, ya know, it just won’t work. Unfortunately. That’s like such a huge part of the melody of the song. So I had to say gosh, ya know if there’s any way he can do it that’s great, but I can’t change it. And it wasn’t a matter of principle or stubborness or anything, it was just that it would it would totally change the song. So it wouldn’t be what it was if I did that. But I did get to perform that song in front of him at one of his birthday celebrations at the Grand Ole Opry house so that was really special. And there was a play that was in Nashville at the Ryman Auditorium, about Tammy Wynette, and I actually portrayed George Jones in that. And that was a real thrill for me. And he came to the show, too. I’m a George Jones…freak, I guess [laughs]. I just love his music so much, and his voice.” 


Harlan Howard, even today, some fifteen years after his passing, is still regarded by many as the master of country music songwriters. And naturally, there’s another great story here about Jim, and when he and Harlan wrote together. I’m sure there’s probably far more than one, indeed, but one I particularly love concerns the song You’ll Know When It’s Right. Essentially, Jim was telling Howard his story of one particular heartache and Howard reassuringly replied, “You’ll know when it’s right”, and went on to craft the song from the rest of the details of Jim’s pain! That, folks, is songwriting genius! But what was it, in Jim’s view, that made Harlan Howard so special as a writer? 


“Well, he was very in touch with mankind. He had worked in a factory in Detroit before he ended up moving to California for a while, He was roommates in California with Bobby Bare and kind of got into getting cuts with Buck Owens and things, so eventually moved to Nashville. But I think that when he worked at an auto-factory in Detroit at like a eight-to-five job, that he had a strong work ethic. And he wanted to get away from that kind of life and just be a songwriter. But one thing he would tell me when we wrote, was that he really wanted to go abroad, to places like the U.K, and Ireland, and just sit at a bar and talk to a guy who drives a truck. He said, ‘I just want to sit there and talk to the everyday working man.’ I just feel that he had such an understanding, and an empathy, with the everyday person, somebody that didn’t have great wealth or a title or whatever. He was more comfortable in that kind of situation. I think his understanding of the human psyche really, is what came through in his songs. He had a very conversational way of writing as well. He was really a great guy, who was very passionate about life and about music. It was a great experience to write with him and to be his friend.” 

Patty Loveless once said that Jim, as a songwriter, knew how to, “Gut an emotion, head right to the truth, and keep going.” Is that an instinctual ability, or something that can be learned? 

“Well, maybe both. I know that songwriting is something that, for me, parts of it are effortless and come easy. But then other things take a lot of effort on my part to finish. The melodies are always the easiest things for me. And sometimes titles are as well. But to really get into a song and make it work is the challenge for me.”

So how does Jim know when a song is as bare as it can be, how does he gauge when it’s ready? 


“I just kinda know. I have that feeling. There’s an expression, ‘Stick a fork in it’ [laughs], so I think you just kind of instinctively know. It’s like, o.k, I’ve said it, I’ve gotten the point across, and it doesn’t need to be edited or tweaked, or added to. Mind you, with most songs I worry if something is over five minutes! Buck Owens used to say, ‘Well, you’re only two and a half minutes away from a hit!’ Meaning that at any given time, not me personally, but a person can write something and it lasts two and a half minutes and hey…it’s a hit song! And radio has changed a lot, and records have changed a lot. They don’t have to be as short these days. But that was kind of a formula for many years in pop music and country music, that songs were roughly that length or less.” 


My last question was one I tend to end with whenever I can. One about advice for songwriters. Michael Weston King, the British singer/songwriter, said the best piece of advice he ever received came from the legendary Townes Van Zandt, and it was just two simple words: Keep going. Now Jim himself has said before that whenever he’s feeling bad or going through something a little on the tough side, he tells himself that he needs to write himself out of that situation. Which, when you think about it, isn’t too far off what Townes advised. But what is the best piece of advice Jim has ever been given? 


“I was living in New York city years ago, and Buddy Miller had moved up there at the same time. And interestingly enough, there was an influx of country music writers and singers and musicians that converged on New York city, of all places! Buddy Miller calls it The Great Country Music Scare of 1980 for New York city! [laughs]. I had just gotten a job in a house-band at a large new country venue in Jersey, and they would have national acts come and play there and we’d be the opening act. So that was a big deal for me, and I though this was my big break. But I had auditioned for a play where I was playing the banjo and the guitar – the play had a small bluegrass band – and one actor ended up being called Cotton Patch Gospel. And Harry Chapin, the singer/songwriter, wrote the music. So I auditioned, but I didn’t get it. But the man who did couldn’t fulfill his duties in the show so they offered me the role, but I turned it down. Because I said I had this new thing where I had to do my own music. And Harry Chapin said to me, ‘Well, you’ve got to do your own songs, and don’t forget that.’ He was very gracious. He said you’ve got to do your own things, don’t just do other peoples.’ And that’s what I really wanted to do, but he really reinforced it. He said, ‘Keep that fire in your belly.’ In other words, that passion, that urgency about things. And I thought that was really good advice.”

I was very fortunate years ago”, Jim continued, “I used to sing on Lucinda Williams’ albums back when her ‘Car Wheels On A Gravel Road’ album came out, and she had allowed me to open the show playing solo acoustic, then be in her band singing harmonies. So during that time I had already recorded an album and I was ready to put it out. But hearing her songs, and singing them night after night, I realised that the record I had just wasn’t up to par. Not that I wanted it to be like her record, which it couldn’t be, because nobody could do that. Now she didn’t say this to me about my record, even though she had heard it. But for me, from being around people like her, and Robert Hunter, and Harlan Howard, it’s almost like osmosis..it’s like your own kind of understanding of their process, and what they do, or the end result of their work. And in that case, with Lucinda, I just knew that I had to try harder and dig deeper. Because her songs were such masterpieces. I knew I had to go back to the drawing board, so I did, I scrapped that album. You’ve got to be honest with yourself.”


Before I let Jim back to the studio (he was recording on the day we spoke), there was one other thing I had to ask him about. I’d read before – but I was never sure if it was true or just a myth – that Jim had actually been outside The Dakota Hotel in New York on the day John Lennon was shot….? 


“That’s right. I used to have to pick up and deliver camera equipment for Annie Leibovitz, so that was the tragic day that she did that last  photo-shoot with John and Yoko. I had a gig the night before, a country gig, and I had one [coming up] that night, and I was really tired. I was waiting outside in the hope of catching a glimpse of John and Yoko, and I waited for a while but then I thought I only live a couple of blocks down the street, I’m gonna see him again, ya know.”


And did he really believe that he had actually seen Mark Chapman, standing there, waiting, as it would later transpire, to carry out his evil plan? 


“I did, I did. I know I did because part of my thoughts were was I gonna stand around like this other guy waiting for an autograph, and he had an album in his hands at the time. And there was a woman standing with him at the time, but I think she was just another bystander.” 

ENDS

Scotty McCreery

First Published October 2020

SEASONS CHANGE, CLASS REMAINS

When it comes to ways to burst onto the music scene and introduce yourself to a global audience, there aren’t many better ways to do that than by winning a show like American Idol. That’s exactly what SCOTTY McCREERY found out back in 2011 when he was the last man standing on the tenth series of the show. Since then, the North Carolinian has established himself as one of the greatest country voices of the modern age, and that’s something that can be stated without any exaggeration, and probably with pretty much unanimous consent. 


It’s not just the power and the beauty of Scotty’s voice on a song by song basis that proves this, either. All four of his albums to date – Clear As Day in 2011, Christmas With Scotty McCreery a year later, followed by See You Tonight in 2013, and most recently, 2018’s Seasons Change – back it up, and all four have debuted at #1 on the Billboard Country Albums Chart. That most recent collection, Seasons Change, contains what is easily one of my favourite songs of the last couple of decades in the shape of Five More Minutes, which made history for Scotty when it topped the Billboard chart in 2018, making him the only country artist in Country Aircheck/Mediabase history to achieve that feat without the backing of a record label. 


Scotty has just released a brand new single, and as with everything the man has put out there over the course of his career, YOU TIME is class. And as well as the song itself being brilliant, the even better news for his fans all over the world, including those here in Ireland, is that You Time is also taken from Scotty’s forthcoming new album. And lord knows that after the 2020 we’ve all been experiencing, the news that there’s a new long-player from Scotty somewhere in the not too distant future is the tonic we all need. I had the very real pleasure of spending a little time in Scotty’s company recently, and we started our chat with You Time. The lead-off single from any collection is always important, of course, so I asked Scotty why that honour went to You Time this time? 


“Well thank you for the kind words on the song. Ya know, it’s just a song I fell in love with the minute we wrote it. And we wrote it, I guess, early last year, early 2019. We were super busy on the road touring, and my wife is a paediatric nurse here at a hospital in North Carolina, and she was busy at work, so we weren’t getting a lot of time to spend together. That’s where the song kind of came from. And just listening back to it, it just felt very me, very us as a relationship. And it felt like a good representation of the new album. And for that new album, we’re working away at it. We’ve got a lot of it finished, but we still have a little ways to go. I wrote half the songs, and half of them will be outside cuts. Hopefully the middle of next year, it will be ready to go.”

Staying on the subject of albums, Scotty’s latest is Seasons Change, a #1 in its own right and continuing a remarkable run for him, as all of his albums have hit that top spot. Seasons Change also contains three #1 singles for Scotty; with In Between, Five More Minutes, and This Is It all featuring. I loved his choice of the song Seasons Change as the album’s title-track, though, because I thought that really hinted at the fact that when the album came out back in 2018, Scotty was in a place in his life where acceptance, expectation, and his love for what he does were all in close to perfect balance. Would that be a good read on how things were at that time? 


“Yeah. When we wrote that song, ya know, it was coming out of a pretty rough year for me professionally, which affected things personally. 2016 was a strange, tough year for me. But all of a sudden in 2017 we kind of pulled ourselves up by the boot-straps and got going again. And really the momentum, and just the feeling of everything started feeling good again. So that’s where that song came from. We took that energy and ran with it on that album, and a lot of the songs were written after we got ourselves goin’ again. But yeah, ya know, I feel like sometimes when life throws things at you, you can either sit there and mope and be sad, or you can pick yourself up and say, ‘Well alright, let’s get goin’ again.’ So that’s what we tried to do.” 

One of those #1 singles from Seasons Change, the glorious Five More Minutes, won Scotty an N.S.A.I. (Nashville Songwriters Association International) Award for ‘One of The Top Ten Songs I Wish I’d Written.’ That’s definitely one of the best-named awards I’ve ever heard of! But far more importantly, the song that won it – Five More Minutes – is definitely a song I wish I had written, too. I asked Scotty if he would mind taking us back in time and behind the scenes to the moments when that song was first coming to life…


“Yeah, absolutely. And I appreciate you sayin’ that. Again, Nashville, ya know, I love that town for the songs that get written there. So to get that kind of award was very cool. But yeah, when we wrote ‘Five More Minutes’, I was in Nashville with a guy who has produced my last couple of albums and has been a mentor to me over the years, Frank Rogers. And another one of my favourite songwriters in town, Monty Criswell. I had just lost my grandaddy Bill about two weeks prior to that, and this was one of the first songs that I’d written since then. I just showed up to the write that day and started talking about grandaddy to Frank and Monty, just the type of guy he was, and if I had just a little more time with him how I’d love to play another round of golf with him, that kind of thing. I think it was Frank that said, ‘It’s just like you wanted five more minutes with the guy.’ I said, that’s exactly right, and that’s the song we’re gonna write today.” 

Would Scotty find that, as a songwriter, he’s someone who tends to put a lot of his own personal life experiences into the songs he writes? 


“Yeah, ya know, I think for me, that’s kinda something that I enjoy. I enjoy writing about my life, and expressing myself and what I’m going through, through music. Some songwriters can pull things out of thin air, and imagine something, and come up with an incredible song. But for me, I struggle with that. So I’m much more of a  – if I live it, if I love it – that’s kind of what I write about.” 

Scotty had mentioned that 2016 had been a strange year for him personally, and it’s fair to say that 2020 comes into that same category for pretty much all of us. One thing Scotty will definitely remember from this year is the remarkably serendipitous turn of events that saw him as the last artist to play the Ryman Auditorium before operations were temporarily suspended there, AND become the first artist to welcome a ‘live’ audience back to the famous old venue as well. The world, in so many ways, literally changed in the time between those two performances. Did it feel that way for Scotty when he finally got back on stage? 


“Yeah, that was a night I won’t forget. Ya know, for me, any time you get to play the Ryman – the Mother Church of country music – is a special night. You can just feel the history the moment you walk in there. I got to play it in March to a sold-out crowd, there was an interview there, people were standing, it was an amazing night. And it was the first night that I saw people, like, starting to elbow-bump instead of shaking hands! And I was like, oh…this is kinda gettin’ weird! [laughs]. Then all of a sudden, the next day was shut-downs and everything, that was strange. But getting to go back and welcome a ‘live’ audience to such an historic venue, it was amazing too. It was different! It was a sold-out crowd again, but it was a much smaller crowd, everybody was wearing masks, you couldn’t see them singing or smiling. But just to have humans in there with us, and to play ‘live’ music again, to feel the beat of the drums and the energy of the guitar, that was just a moment I won’t forget after taking off for so long.” 

Does Scotty have any idea when he’ll get to be back on stage in front of an audience again? 


“There are still some shows on the books for me this fall and this winter, if they happen. I’d probably be surprised at this point. I’m not too sure. I think for a normal, ya know, thousands of people kinda show, that’s a ways away. But there’s options for a drive-in shop or something that we can work with.” 

Back in 2011, Scotty won the A.C.M. (Academy of Country Music) New Artist of the Year Award. And just the day before I spoke with him, I’d had the pleasure of talking to Tenille Townes, this year’s recipient of that same honour. If Scotty could sit his 2020 self down with his 2011 self – or indeed, with Tenille, for that matter – what words of wisdom would he pass on for surviving life in the music business, having come through everything he has and made it back to the very top again over the last few years? 


“I love Tenille, first off. She’s an amazing artist, and very deserving of that. For me, if I could go back and talk to myself, I think I would just say enjoy the moment. Enjoy the time you have on stage, and writing songs, and making albums and stuff. I think I was maybe just a little caught up in making sure that everything was so perfect…I wanted my show on stage to be perfect, my album, every little thing, instead of kind of just sitting back and letting things happen, and enjoying the moments. It’s a special time. Starting out as a new artist, and everything is so new, just sit back, smile, enjoy it. And kinda be a sponge around all the veterans that you’re around too, because they’ve been doing it for so long.”

Scotty lost a very dear friend – Yamir – in a tragic accident a few weeks before we spoke. He paid an emotional tribute to him by performing a beautiful rendition of Vince Gill’s timeless classic, Go Rest High On That Mountain, on his Instagram. After offering my sympathy and condolences, I asked Scotty if he’d like to share anything about the kind of person Yamir was, and also, on songs like Go Rest High On That Mountain, are there favourite country songs like that one that Scotty would turn to in times of pain or sorrow, ones that always bring him some sense of comfort to hear or to play? 


“Yeah, absolutely. You know, I think that’s the power of music, it’s tremendous. It can make you stand up and bounce around and dance, and smile and be happy, but it can also bring you to your knees. So ‘Go Rest High…’ is one of those songs. There’s a bunch of ’em. ‘Movin’ On’ by Rascal Flatts, too. Music is something I always turn to. Yamir, he was one of those guys, his smile was contagious, everybody loved him. He had a rough upbringing too, so he could have gone either way, with how it was a struggle for him growing up. But he ended up just being the best, salt of the earth kinda guy. I learned a lot just being around Yamir, so it was ough to see somebody get taken away so young, and senselessly. He was a great guy, tough to see that happen.” 

Staying with songs and songwriting, while I know that You Time and a lot of the next album was written in pre-Covid times, I wondered if Scotty had been doing much writing since this all started? Has Covid had any knock-on effect on his songwriting? 


“Yeah, for sure. Like I said, we’re still working on this album, we’ve got some of it finished but we still have a ways to go with some of it as well, so we’re still writing songs and finding songs to finish out the album. I’m not sure it will be such an obvious effect of like talking about wearing masks and quarantining and stuff [laughs], but more the not taking for granted the days we have on earth, living life to the fullest, and the appreciation for life, I think, will definitely show up on this album. That’s kind of what I’ve taken out of all this time at home, really looking back and remembering how things were. I think once we get back to normal, I won’t take for granted the days on the road where I’m kinda like, ‘Aw man, I’m bored today’, or ‘I wish I could go home.’ No, I’ll be enjoying the moment. That will definitely show up.”

Scotty is a big, big golf fan, and he and some of his friends enjoyed some success out on the course back in June, something which he shared with his followers on Instagram. How good did that feel, I wondered, the chance to get back out and enjoy some golf with his friends after not being able to for a while? 


“[Laughs] It felt great! It’s luckily one of those things you can do outdoors. And for me, I socially distance very well in golf, because I’m always hitting my ball in the woods anyway! [laughs]. So that’s a pretty easy thing to do [laughs]. But yeah, we had fun, and I’m hoping to play some golf in Ireland, that’s always been a bucket-list thing for me!”

Earlier in the week we spoke, Scotty had what he called his Elvis Presley Tuesday. And sadly, just the day before we spoke, the great songwriter Mac Davis, who wrote In The Ghetto for Elvis, passed away, adding to some of the other great writers and artists like John Prine and Joe Diffie who have taken their leave of us this year. I asked Scotty who were the songwriters and artists who have been most central to shaping his love of country music, and inspiring him as a writer and performer himself? 


“My goodness, there’s a lot of them to pull from. And yeah, it’s been a tough year losing artists and songwriters. It’s been a tough year all around. I grew up listening to more of the classic stuff, guys like Randy Travis, Ronnie Milsap. And Elvis was obviously a huge influence on my life. I dressed up like him for Halloween, and sang all his songs in school! He was obviously a big guy for me. Songwriting wise, I mean, I’m writing with a bunch of the folks that I love. Brad Paisley is a guy that I grew up listening to. Allen Shamblin, there’s a guy who wrote a lot for Randy Travis, and who I’ve had the chance to write with. Every time I get the chance to write with him, it’s a really cool experience. Luckily, there’s still a lot of those kinds of guys who are still around that I can sit down and write with. But unfortunately we’ve lost a few of them this year too, and that’s sad to see.” 

When Scotty gets to meet someone like Brad Paisley, and to sit down and write with him, because he would have been someone Scotty looked up to, how long does the weirdness – for want of a better word! – last before he gets over the fact that he is actually in a room writing with Brad Paisley? 


“It took a while, for sure [laughs], just because I’m such a fan. And I still am a fan. He took me out on my first tour in 2012, and we got to go January through December playin’ shows with him, and gettin’ to meet his family, and meet his road-family. He’s always just been super cool to me. But, I mean that is a thing when you get to meet your heroes, and it’s pretty obvious, I think, for them to see that I’m a fan cos’ my jaw is on the floor [laughs]. Luckily, I really haven’t met any of my heroes and after that been like, man, I wish I didn’t meet him. Everybody’s been so kind and so cool.” 

Like almost everybody who planned on hitting the road in any direction or for any length of time this year, Scotty has had to reschedule a lot of tour dates. But, God willing, we’ll be seeing him on this side of the world in 2021. But his shows in Dublin and Belfast next May will, somewhat astonishingly, be his very first in Ireland! So as we ended our chat, I asked Scotty why he’d been keeping us waiting so long?! 


“[Laughs] Aaaw man…if it was up to me, I’d have been there every year for the last ten! [laughs]. Ireland is a place I’ve wanted to go for so long. You know, we didn’t even get overseas to play any shows until last year, I don’t know what that was, whether it was logistics or whatever. But it wasn’t for the lack of wanting to go! The McCreerys, my side of the family, is from over there, I think, Northern Ireland. So we’re excited to go. I’ve never had Guinness! I’ve been holding off, I want to have my first Guinness in Ireland! And hopefully get to play a little golf too, and get to meet and talk with a lot of amazing folk. I can’t wait!”

~ YOU TIME, the brand new single from SCOTTY McCREERY, is out now and available on all platforms. Scotty plays The Academy in Dublin on May 9th 2021, and The Limelight in Belfast (which is sold-out) on May 11th. 

ENDS