Cassadee Pope

First Published December 2020

ALWAYS RISING HIGHER, SHINING BRIGHTER

It’s said – and more often than not it’s true – that you can tell a lot about a person by knowing who their friends are. Likewise, for an artist, you can tell a lot about someone by paying attention to who they’re often spoken about in the same breath as. 


Floridian singer/songwriter CASSADEE POPE has one heck of a crossover of folk who show up in both those two groups. There’s guitar wizard Lindsay Ell. There’s the runner-up from season ten of American Idol, Lauren Alaina. There’s RaeLynn, whose 2017 debut album Wildhorse introduced itself to the world by way of the Top Ten on Billboard’s All-Genre album chart, whilst also debuting in the top spot on Billboard’s Country album’s chart, which made RaeLynn the first female country artist to do so since Maren Morris with her major-label debut long-player, Hero, in 2016. And there’s Maren herself, one of the Highwomen, a Grammy winner, and thanks to collaborations with Niall Horan and Zedd and Grey, a name known worldwide as well as being one of modern country’s superstar names. 


If Cassadee happens to be a name new to you, then knowing such artists are both her friends and contemporaries should be your first clue to her greatness. And not just as an artist, by the way, but as a person, too. And let there be no doubt, that greatness runs deep, and exists independently of anyone she might know. 


Cassadee was the winner of The Voice US back in 2012, when she was coached by country mega-star Blake Shelton. That same year, her version of Over You from the show became an iTunes #1, knocking Gangnam Style back into the #2 spot. In 2017, Cassadee became the first ever contestant from the show to be nominated for a Grammy, thanks to her duet with Chris Young, Think Of You. She’s also toured with Chris, with her friend Maren, with Tim McGraw, and with Dierks Bentley, to name but a few of the marquee names who have invited her on the road. Funnily enough, though, Cassadee’s musical journey began in what might be described as a world away from country, in a pop/punk band called Hey Monday whose big break came when Pete Wenz – bass player with Fall Out Boy – discovered the group’s demo in his manager’s office. Hey Monday’s single, Candles, even featured on an episode of Glee. 


Quite apart from her list of achievements as an artist, however, what always stands out about Cassadee – certainly to this writer – is her authenticity. She is, to put it simply, real to the bone. That was always how she came across to me before I actually had the pleasure of spending some time in her company. And, wouldn’t you know it, a little time in conversation with Cassadee proved that hunch to be right on the money. 


There were so many reasons why I was looking forward to chatting with Cassadee, and when that opportunity came my way a few weeks back, there was nowhere better to start than with the remix to her single Rise And Shine, from her EP of the same name. Now, for those who may not know, remixes in country music are generally more the exception than the norm. So when I first heard about the Rise And Shine remix, what made me most curious was why Cassadee might have wanted to present that particular track in a different light. But then, I heard Cassadee talk somewhere about when she heard that Dave Audé wanted to do the remix, which made it sound more like the idea might have come from outside of her camp. So, I asked Cassadee how, in fact, it did all come to happen…


“Well, my manager, Daniel Miller, texted and said how would you feel about a remix of ‘Rise And Shine.’ And at first, I was like, this doesn’t sound like a song that would lend itself well to a remix [laughs]. I’m thinking, you know, of it being turned into a Calvin Harris kinda remix – uuugh! – and that doesn’t seem like it would make sense. And then they said that Dave wanted to do it. Obviously I know his work, but I looked into more, and I was like ah, ok, he’s got a different vibe and it’s not super-clubby all the time. So I said ok, let’s try that. Then I got sent a verse and chorus of what he was thinking for the song. And that was so exciting, because it really just added this whole other anthemic level to the song that I wanted the song to have. But it being acoustic obviously, it only could go so far. I really felt like he took it to the next level, with a lot of the kinda big 80s snare sounds, and it was very ambient. I just felt so excited about it, I said yeah, definitely, let’s go ahead. And he was really great to work with, he was open to some tweaks. I wasn’t sure because I’ve never done a remix with somebody, so I wasn’t sure how the process would go. But it was really collaborative and I’m super happy with how it turned out.”

As Cassadee mentioned there being some tweaks involved, I wondered if it was a case of Dave sending her along some different versions as he worked on them to see what she liked and make sure she was cool with the direction the track was taking? 


“Yeah, definitely. And like honestly, there weren’t that many things. There were two little notes that I had, and they were really minor changes. For instance, the beat was coming in a little later on the second verse, and I wanted it to come in a little earlier. He sent me what he had, kind of the first round of what he felt comfortable sending me, then I had a couple of tweaks, and he did it in like an hour! And that was that [laughs]. That was the extent of the back-and-forth as far as tweaking the song [went].” 

Cassadee has described her Rise And Shine EP as being, “emo-country, acoustic record”, a description I happen to really like. As an acoustic collection, it’s obviously going to be quite different to a full-band affair anyway. But coming so soon after her album Stages (February 2019), it seemed clear to me that Rise And Shine is also a record she values just as much as her Stages long-player, and creatively-speaking, is a side of herself that Cassadee thought important enough to share with her fans right now…was I right? 


“Yeah, definitely. This album was a product of the pandemic, it was me really wanting to release something – not just for the fans and hopefully helping them out – but for myself. It was a tough year, you know. I’ve felt a big jolt in my lifestyle in not travelling and meeting fans, playing shows. So I was thinking about what I could do that would be safe, but that I could still get new music to people. And I also felt like the world at that time [early in the pandemic] was in such an acoustic state, of there not being a lot of things to be able to distract us from our problems, with not being able to go to shows, and not being able to go to house-parties or to clubs or whatever. So, I felt like it was a kind of parallel to where we were in the world, and I was really happy to see that people were appreciative of some new music and were connecting with some of the lyrics, too.” 

I wanted to move on to ask Cassadee about her songwriting. In speaking about her song How I Feel Right Now, she described going into that writing session that day with no real ideas about what to write, but then telling her co-writers on that session about a relationship she was in, and in doing so saying something like, “…and that’s how I feel right now.” And in that moment, there was their song! How important is it for Cassadee – as a songwriter – to be able to allow herself to open up like that about her personal life? And also, and perhaps more importantly, the importance of having co-writers with whom she knows she can be so open? 


“I’ve definitely learned that unless you’re willing to completely open up and share things, you’re not gonna get the depth that you want to get in a song. When I first came to Nashville, that was a really weird thing for me. I wasn’t completely trusting in the process. Telling people about my personal life felt really odd. I mean, at that point, I hadn’t been to therapy ever, so I just wasn’t used to opening up to people to that extent. But once I started, and I started to get the songs that are still my favourites – some of the songs on my first record, ‘Frame By Frame’ – I realised, well, that’s what you have to do in a session. Now, going into the sessions – and this year I’ve been writing on Zoom a lot – I’ve really been super, super intentional with the direction. I’m definitely going more pop/rock for the next full-band record. I’ve been going into these sessions with a clear, focused idea of that sound. And then also, I’ve had so many ideas that have just come up for me, maybe like two seconds before a session! Then I’m like I want to bring this up in the session. So it really depends on the day, but I’ve definitely felt so inspired, especially with the year we’ve had. Socially inspired, but also with this new approach that’s pop/rock and heading in that direction. It’s opened my mind up to a lot more ideas. If I feel a certain way that day [of a session], but someone says something that makes me want to write a different idea, then I’m being open to doing that.” 

Something else Cassadee once said is that, “I will probably never stop writing about my first love and my first heartache.” As a songwriter, I wondered if what Cassadee meant by that is that she returns to old relationships a lot to almost mine those memories for songs, looking at things from slightly different perspectives, or focusing on a slightly different emotion each time? 


“Yeah. I mean, I think that first love and your first heartbreak will stick with you, it will be so vivid, and it will be the first time that you’ve felt that thing, that deep, deep pain or that deep, deep obsession with someone. I think the first time is always the most vivid in your memory. Obviously now, fast forward to being thirty-one, and I’m writing about all relationships I’ve been in, so I’m not discriminating against the other ones [laughs]. The first time of anything is so vivid in your mind. For me, it’s so easy to go back to that feeling and write from that place. I think that’s always going to be something that people can relate to as well. I don’t ever want to just write love-songs, or just write life-songs or whatever. I want all my projects to be pretty well-rounded as far as the lyrical content goes.” 

Cassadee had mentioned this year in the context of what’s been happening socially, so I wondered if she found herself taking on any of those subjects in her lyrics? Not necessarily in a protest song style, but still directly relating to what’s been happening in the world this year, on the socio-political side of things as well as with Covid…


“Yeah, I’ve basically got a song where I’m calling people out who are basically being judgemental about someone’s lifestyle as if it’s affecting them. The actual hook-line is, ‘If you were happy, you would mind your own business’, [laughs]. I just was so frustrated with seeing my friends who are gay, or who have a new baby and posted a picture only to have people commenting saying ‘you’re not holding it right!’, or whatever! I just got so fed-up with people that were so invested in someone else’s life, especially my friends. So I just wrote a song that day and it’s turned out to be one of my favourites actually! It’ll be something people hear, for sure.” 

On Cassadee’s song Distracted, she’s joined by Lindsay Ell, Lauren Alaina, and Raelynn, all of whom Cassadee said came in to record their parts during CMA Week in Nashville, which is, of course, one of the craziest times of the year for country artists. I had the pleasure of interviewing Lindsay a couple of months back and what I noticed about her – not just during our chat, but in other interviews I’ve seen with her too – is that she always takes every chance she gets to give a shout-out to her friends who are also artists. And I’ve noticed that same trait in Cassadee. I asked her to tell me about the importance of that community of friends who are also artists.


“Oh man! I mean, it’s really saved me in so many ways. I remember really not leaning into it until three, maybe three and a half years ago. I had gone through a really weird year of transitions, getting out of a long-term relationship, getting out of a record deal, really doing all of those things at the same time. And I needed friends to really help me through that. So I leaned on my friends because I just wanted to connect with them on a level I just hadn’t been able to yet, just because of my own mental capacity I wasn’t able to really lean into those friendships as much as I could have. And also, just having someone that I was with for so long, who was my person to go to for everything, and now all of a sudden I was single, so I had to lean on my friends. The friends that I felt like I had the most common ground with are my artist friends. And it’s really the best decision I’ve ever made because now there’s just this group of girls and women that are there for each other, even when I just need to vent. Or if I just need to have a drink with someone and have it be light and easy. It’s a group of women that are going to be whatever we need to be for each other in whatever moment they need us. Lindsay and Raelyn, and Lauren, and Maren [Morris], those are the friends that I’ve really connected with over the last few years that have helped me through some pretty tough times.” 

Speaking of character traits and personality traits, from her time on The Voice on Cassadee has had some amazing opportunities to work with some equally amazing artists; Blake [Shelton, her mentor on The Voice] obviously, Chris Young, Tim McGraw, Dierks Bentley, Maren, and of course, Sam Palladio. In working with and being around those guys, what did Cassadee learn from watching how they do things that she’s been able to apply to her own career or take into her own life? 


“I think there’s a certain level of confidence that all of those guys that you mentioned have. There’s confidence, and there’s also humility. I’ve noticed that most of the people I’ve come into contact with – especially in the country world – are so humble, and so family orientated. They just want to be your mentor. Somebody that I’ve been really lucky to work with on a personal level, but also on a music level, is Karen Fairchild, from Little Big Town. She’s kind of been like a ghost-mentor for me [laughs]. It’s not like when we hang out there’s a slew of selfies and stuff. When I see her, I’m like a sponge. I’m like ok, tell me everything! [laughs]. When I had that year that I was talking about earlier, when I was really transitioning and not having a team around me, she was the one I called and I was like, can you meet with me and can I pick your brain about stuff? I asked her about a manager I was thinking of hiring, and she knew about him and was able to tell me things. And she has that humility. She has the confidence, but she has that humility. I think that’s something that is kind of a constant in the biggest country artists. There’s that relatability. And when you see them and meet them, and hang out with them, I think they all have that thing in common. And I’m lucky to have people like that that I can look up to and ask questions.” 

And speaking of Sam, with whom Cassadee is in a relationship – and who duets with her on the song California Dreaming on Rise And Shine – the pair had an actual show at the City Winery in Nashville just the week before we spoke. I asked Cassadee how it felt to be able to perform again.


“I haven’t had a full-band show since December [2019], so I was really excited to get a full-band show! [laughs]. I had done a couple of acoustic things this year, but yeah, nothing like that. We had a really good time! But it also made us realise, hey, we could do this! You know, if we want to do a co-headlining tour someday or something like that. It felt so good to be up there in general, but to be up there with him was really fun. He sang harmonies on my songs, I sang harmonies on his songs. It was just a really fun collaborative night, it was amazing.” 

Did Cassadee and Sam have an audience there with them to enjoy the show? 


“Yeah. So City Winery basically had a big outdoor tent with tables, two-tops, four-tops, and six-tops. So if a household had six people in it and they wanted to come to the show, they were taken care of. The crowd was set up…gosh…like a good twelve feet from the stage, so we were never exposed to anyone. The crowd had to wear masks, too. Sam and I, we’ve been pretty on the cautious side of things this year, and haven’t really gone anywhere or done anything. We went to a friend’s show, that was kind of a big deal for us, and we hopped up for a couple of songs at City Winery. And that’s when we realised that they were doing such a good job. So we actually said to them that if they had any open dates we’d really love to do a show because we thought they were doing such a good job. And then yeah, fast-forward to it happening and we sold it out, and it was awesome.” 

Cassadee is an independent artist now, coming from a pop/rock background from her time with her band Hey Monday, and she has the most magnificent arm tattoo that’s both beautiful and hard to miss. Plus, Cassadee and Sam live over on East Nashville, somewhere I learned all I know about from listening to the brilliant singer/songwriter Todd Snider. So it’s probably fair to say that Cassadee is far too free and independent a spirit to fit nicely into the kind of categories and products that country radio often seems to prefer. Only the actual music itself should ever matter, of course, but has Cassadee ever found that country radio can be a battle for an artist like her? 


“Oh yeah! I mean, I’m at the point in my career – and especially this year – where I’m just writing the stuff that makes me really happy. Like, my next full-band record, I’m going more pop/rock and I’m not focusing on making sure I tick all the boxes that country radio has. There has to be a country accent in the voice, you know, and there has to be a banjo, there has to be steel [guitar]. I’m really not focusing on any of that, because I know deep down that I’m a country artist and that my sensibilities lean country. But I also love pop/rock, and I don’t want to ever feel like I have to compromise who I am to fit in a box, or in a format. Just because I would love a country radio hit, that can’t be what drives my creative process, I know that now. I know that if it does, I’m not gonna get the song that stands out. Yeah, it’s definitely been a struggle over the years. I’ve had success, and I’m proud of that for the things I’ve accomplished. I definitely think if I were a little bit more what country radio is used to from a female, I would maybe get better attention and radio-play. But I also know there are women that are seemingly the perfect country-radio female specimen, and they still don’t get played. I think that’s all I really needed to realise this year. Like, wow, why am I really trying so hard and giving things that I think are perfect for country radio…and they still don’t play it? So why don’t I just do what I want, and just do the most authentic thing I can think of and just see what happens? It’s a lot more creatively rewarding that way, so it’s been nice to just do that this year.” 

Cassadee had a very special virtual Thanksgiving planned with her fans, so we wrapped up our chat by talking about that, and also her hopes for what 2021 might hold in store…


“The meet-and-greets have been so fun. I’ve been doing them through an App called Loop, and it’s basically I think twenty-five or thirty fans at each meet-and-greet. Everybody is in a line but they get to go into a chat-room and talk to each other, and I popped in there as well. It’s really kind of fun and casual. I did a Halloween one where I wore my Halloween costume, being a ghostbuster [laughs]. And I picked a few fans whose costumes I loved and I sent a little merch-bundle to them. You get a merch-bundle when you purchase a meet-and-greet anyway, but I threw in a couple of extra little things that I thought people would like. Then for the Thanksgiving one, it’s just gonna be more of a conversation, with the theme of what we are grateful for, trying to take the positive from all of the heaviness that’s been going on. Talking about the silver lining of this year and what we’ve learned. That’ll be nice. I’ll probably do a Christmas one [laughs]. I’ve just really loved being able to connect with the fans, even though I haven’t been able to in person. Then the rest of the year, I mean, I’m going to continue to write but I have a pretty solid group of songs to start recording a record, getting into a studio that’s big enough so that we can do it safely, all socially-distanced and with temperature-checks. It’ll definitely be a different recording process than what it’s been in the past, but I want to get started and also keep everybody safe. So that’s on the horizon, for sure. Then just enjoying the holidays. My mom and sister are in Nashville, so I’ve been able to see them. I want to lean into the fact that there’s a new year looming and we can all exhale after this past weekend [of the US Presidential election], and just take comfort in next year being a different year!” 

RISE AND SHINE, the brand new EP from CASSADEE POPE, is out now on all platforms. 

ENDS

A Christmas Catch-Up…

A Christmas Catch-Up…

First Published December 2020

As much as we’d love to, there isn’t always the time or the space to cover everything we’d like to in this column sometimes. But every now and then, along comes a week like this one, where a little gap in the normal schedule of things appears and presents us with the perfect chance to have a little catch-up…! 

Given the time of the year it is, we couldn’t but cast an eye in the direction of some festive favourites to begin with. And in doing so, we need look no further than one of Irish country’s greatest servants of song, the gentleman that is singer/songwriter JOHN HOGAN. John has just released his version of the old Christmas carol, the Little Drummer Boya  superb reworking of the Bing Crosby and David Bowieclassic. This festive number has been a big favourite of John’s since he was a young lad. And whatever age you might be yourself, dear reader, hearing John perform this classic – in the way that only John can – will leave your heart all a-swirl in the spirit of the season. What a gift, indeed. 

Following his recent appearance on the Today Show with Daithi and Maura on RTE 1,John is now looking forward to joining a host of artists on the HOT COUNTRY TV Christmas Special – An Irish Country Christmas – which will be aired worldwide on December 24th. John has also been busy writing new material and laying down tracks for this forthcoming new album, with part of that process including the shooting a video for his recent self-penned recent hit, The Old Dance Hall.

Speaking recently about that very release, John said, “I wrote this song some time ago, and looking at a non-existent entertainment scene over the last number of months, I felt the time was now right to release it. The song is all about the good old days when people flocked in huge numbers to the dances from far and wide. Being a lively number, I hope it lifts people’s spirit during these uncertain times and brings back great memories.”

Like many entertainers over the last number of months, John has missed the live entertainment scene. But to keep in touch with his many fans and followers, the Offalyman regularly uploads (to his Facebook page John Hogan Singer/Songwriter) acoustic videos of himself singing songs from his large catalogue of recordings, with the count of such performances standing at wellover 70 to date. And  needless to say, they’re going down a treat with his many fans all over the world, from places such as St. Lucia, UK, Canada, Australia, and Sri Lanka.

Staying with the Christmas theme, here’s another lady who we’ll be bringing to the OTRT pages for a proper introduction sometime in 2021, the brilliant GRACE FOLEY from Kerry. As well as writing one of the best – and I think by far and away the funniest – letters of introduction that I’ve ever had the pleasure of receiving, Grace is also a classical crossover singer with what is perhaps the rarest female voice type; a contralto. According to the lady herself, “This basically means I have a classical style of singing… but a dark edge!” Grace said she’s made her way through this challenging year with music as her guiding light, and I have a feeling that her presence in the lives of those who know her has been every bit as much of a guiding light, too. 

With luck on her side, Grace confessed to being, “Blessed to get my music videos for the year recorded the day they announced the school closures back in March. I quickly turned to online platforms like Facebook and Instagram for performances, and this really was so important as it allowed me to continue to reach my audience to keep singing.” She wrote the song Together Apart about the lockdown back in the spring, recording it in her wardrobe, which, not surprisingly, she described as being,“… a new experience!” One of Grace’s favourite experiences of the year was when she performed Songs of Hope and Healing in an empty St. Mary’s Cathedral Killarney, a performance which was broadcast via Parish-Cam and which was, according to Grace, “…the most beautiful experience.” Like John, Grace also performed on RTE’s Today Show with Daithi and Maura, live from her living room with her little dog for company! 

Grace was also granted Arts Council funding to write and record her own music earlier this year, heading for Balbriggan to record two songs in back in September, just before Dublin went into lockdown. One of those songs – Goodbye To Dublin – was a Christmas one, so Grace decided she would release a Christmas EP. That collection, A Time For Christmas, Volume 1 – which features her own song and four festive favourites – met the world for the first time on November 27th, with the video, which was funded by the Arts Council, recorded literally on the day the Dublin lockdown was announced. As Grace remarked,“Basically, I’ve been creating a lot and narrowly avoiding lockdowns all year!”

We can’t wait to catch up with her in 2021, but in the meantime, add some Kerry flavoured cheer to your Christmas by adding Grace’s EP, A Time For Christmas, Volume 1, to your collection. 

Next up is HUBERT MURRAY is a Galway-born, Tullamore based folk and roots musician, best known as front man of two genre bending old time bluegrass bands: the Hot Rock Pilgrims – who have mostly seen action in the UK – and Lands End, who will be a name well-known on the ‘live’ circuit here in Ireland. He has toured the length and breath of Ireland, the UK and Europe, playing some of the most prestigious venues and festivals out there along the way, such as the Cambridge Folk Festival, Isle of Wight Festival, The Royal Southbank Centre in London, and the Wilderness Festival, to name a few. His discography to date includes three EPs and one album. Hubert’s newest musical adventure saw him departing the familiar territory of old-time and bluegrass sounds, choosing instead to further develop his voice as a singer-songwriter. 

That adventure, entitled Heaven Cried and released back in mid-November,is a song for those who sway on the balance of life, lost, as Hubert points out, “…in a never ending search for meaning.” Heaven Cried is a metaphorical idea about a person trying to help those who are having a hard time, who perhaps feel lost, or whose heads are not in the right place. It’s a caring soul reaching out to someone in need, to someone being held captive by the infamous ‘black dog’. The song asks the listener to slow down their thoughts and remember a time when they felt peaceful, and to grasp that positive memory. “Peace of mind”, declares Hubert, “will happen, there is someone out there who will help, unconditionally. You must not lose hope.”

Interestingly, Heaven Cried was recorded on digital-tape at Hellfire Studios in the Dublin mountains, and featured some of Ireland’s crème-de- la-crème when it comes to musicians, including; Pat Daly on Violin (has also worked with Ham Sandwich, Fionn Regan), Robbie Walsh on bodhran (Daoiri Farrell Eleanor Shanley), folk musicians Paddy Kiernan on banjo and Niall Hughes on double bass (both of Navá). The song was produced by Tony Byrne (Julie Fowlis, Danú) and mastered by Josh Clark (Kate Rusby), with artwork created by Tullamore native Claire Guinan.

Meanwhile, HALLE KEARNS is an emerging artist quickly making a name for herself in country music over stateside. As a songwriter, Halle differentiates herself through her controversial storytelling, melodic sensibilities, and authenticity. As a performer, she has over three-hundred shows under her belt resulting in an undeniable ability to captivate her audiences, instantly connecting them to her passion for music. Despite only being in Nashville for a year so far, Halle has already had the opportunity to open up for legendary country acts such as Trace Adkins, David Nail, Eli Young Band, William Michael Morgan, Tracy Lawrence, and The Oak Ridge Boys, to name but a few.

By all accounts, Nashville has been a-buzz with this young ladies name since her debut release, Pick Me Up, back in July. That track was featured as Song of the Week on a number of stations, including Radio Disney Country and Country Hits Radio UK. Follow-up singles I Drink Whiskey and Shoes To Fill have certainly kept that buzz going, leading to a huge – and justified – sense of anticipation around her debut EP, Finally, the five-track collection which dropped on December 11th. We’re looking forward to catching up with Halle and introducing the lady herself to OTRT readers in the new year.

Also back in November UK pop-country duo, EMMA & JOLIE, announced the release of their sophomore single, Cry For You, on, of all days, Friday 13th! November 2020. But given the huge few months for the new duo had just had – with a performance at the C2C Festival’s Country Music Week under their belts, along with the release of their debut single – I Don’t Need A Man – that shot to the number one spot on the iTunes country chart, and number thirty-two all genre charts, plus a feature on Apple Music’s Today’s Country and Country Wide playlists – a little matter like superstition was hardly likely to slow their groove. This second single again saw the duo partner with long-time collaborator and producer Johnny Douglas, and was a Nashville co-write with Lena Stone, during the duo’s first trip to Music City, one that has proved to be a formative part of Emma and Jolie’s journey. 

The tune was one of the girls’ quickest writing sessions, taking only about an hour to get out this raw, emotional ballad that speaks universally to the healing process post-breakup. Of the track, Emma said “Everything we write about has always stemmed from personal situations we’ve both been in. This song comes from a place of pain we have both experienced. The two of us, and a lot of people we know have felt this way after breaking up with somebody, and so we just want to say that if this is you we see you and you’re not alone, you can’t always shut it off because it’s so difficult.” Jolie continued, “There’s also an element of frustration in the song, when you see your ex seemingly moving on no problem but you’re still finding it difficult to keep going. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that things can take a bit longer when you have a big heart and you love deeply. It’s okay to still cry for them.”

Cry For You very much shifts gears in production when compared to the anthemic, fun summer track that was their I Don’t Need A Man debut hit. This go -round producer Douglas has created an emotional, yearning sound complete with a strings section that puts the duo’s stunning harmonies at the forefront of the song. The duo – whose full-names are Emma Walker and Jolie Harvey – met back in 2015 at music college and have been singing together ever since. Influenced by the likes of Kacey Musgraves and Taylor Swift, the pair bring together a mix of storytelling and modern country with sensational harmonies. A universally heart-breaking track, Cry For You will quickly become a song you return to again and again. Expect even more and bigger things from Emma and Jolie in 2021! 

After recently receiving international acclaim with a number one on the Ignition Country Charts for previous single, Thinking About Last Night back in April, UK country star HAYLEY McKAY returned with another uptempo country-pop banger, Breathe, in November.

Written in lockdown in May, and co-written and produced with Newcastle based Hattie Murdoch over Zoom, the song features pulsating rhythmic guitar, flowing drums and big melody with slick production, and deep backing-vocals. Inspired as it was by the lockdown, Breathe is about being able to enjoy the smaller things in life and taking that all-important breather that we all need sometimes, and something that was very much needed in 2020.

Hayley is an accomplished and insightful songwriter with an incredible vocal range. Blessed with a distinctive all-round style, she can effortlessly leap from earthy and soulful raw emotion, to soaring and ethereal angelic tones, which, not surprisingly, have seen her likened to Eva Cassidy, Joni Mitchel, LeAnn Rimes and Kate Bush. Over the last few years Hayley has been co-writing songs with award winning songwriters such as Nashville’s twice Grammy-nominated Jan Buckingham who has written for Whitney Houston amongst others, and Bill DiLuigi and Claire Hamill, who have written for Eva Cassidy and Wishbone Ash.

Hayley decided to release Breathe after the great international response to her previous single, the aforementioned Thinking About Last Night, which garnered radio support in Ireland and the UK, and was voted in the Top 10 Valley FM Indie charts in Australia. That track also earned support via BBC Introducing, and saw Hayley named artist of the week on various international radio stations in the US and the UK, earning features with Country Line TV, BMCA and the ISSA (International Songwriters Association). 

With the big day itself now only hours away, there’s another few Offaly artists with releases that should be on everyone’s holiday playlists. For the traditionalists out there – for all of us really, given the kind of year that it’s been – the news that Clara woman NOREEN RABBETTE had recorded a very special version of one of the most famous Christmas songs of all time, O Holy Night, brought not only excitement and expectation, but immeasurable levels of comfort as well. The Glór Tire finalist from 2019 – who hopefully has an album on its way to us next year – has what is unquestionably one of the most beautiful voices Ireland has ever produced. Whether her name eventually graces billboards around the world, or whether Noreen remains one of our best kept secrets just doesn’t matter. None of that changes the fact that her voice is golden, and will forever be so. And be assured if you haven’t already heard it for yourself, it makes her version of O Holy Night an epic moment. You could leave aside presents, trees, movies, turkey, nights-out…anything else that you might normally associate with the Yuletide season, and as long as you could hear Noreen – who, I should point out, is joined in a beautiful video for the song (filmed in Clara Church) by her brother Joe and her sister Claire – sing O Holy Night…you would still have Christmas in your heart, and all the Christmas feels. 

Another Offaly family who you need to check out at some stage over this festive season are the fabulous ROSNEYS! Headed up by my good friend Stephen Rosney – who also fronts the Irish/Americana outfit The Back Axles – the Rosneys have released an original from Stephen himself, entitled Come On Santa. And whereas Noreen’s wonderful rendition of O Holy Night slows the world to a standstill and is deeply reflective, Come On Santa really lets the reins off Santa’s reindeers and cranks the Christmas cheer right the way up to eleven in the most joyously playful expression of the kind of fun that Christmas should always be. Stephen is majestically assisted on this track – as indeed he is on his current single, Something We Can Work On – by his wonderful wife Helen, and the couple’s three children, Mark, Luke, and Jade. Rosneys…take a bow, one and all, and may there be many encores like this in the years to come! 

And last, by no means least, a long-player that should be on every music fan’s Christmas wish-list, This Kinda Love, from the brilliant SIMON CASEY. It’s not a Christmas album, but it’s clearly been a labour of love for Simon, and it’s definitely a collection that is – as the title suggests – full of heart. Featuring a title-track written by Simon himself, and which was recently play-listed by RTE Radio 1 and has been receiving extensive air-time all around the country, This Kinda Love sees Simon turn in what might well be his most accomplished vocal performances ever. At this stage in his career, Simon, with nothing to prove to anyone when it comes to his talent, and fast approaching the horizon beyond which lies the title of ‘national treasure’, is simply a joy to listen to, no matter what he’s singing. But as it happens, this collection is filled with songs you’ll simply adore him singing. From the magic of the Extreme chart-topper More Than Words, where Simon is joined by his Take It To The Limit bandmate, Johnny Brady, to the Lady A crossover-classic, Need You Now, where a delicately stripped back version of the song sees Simon and Irish country star Cliona Hagan ramp things up to an emotional high that even the American super-group couldn’t match, to the achingly beautiful Elliott Park and Walt Aldridge penned, I Loved Her First…every song is a gift in itself. Perfect for right about now really! 

ENDS

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

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