This week on Music City Roots, we’re back to a normal schedule and pick up where we last left off! This week’s show includes sets from the likes of Blackie & The Rodeo Kings, Josh Daniel & Friends, Hayes Carll, and Parker Millsap. Jim Lauderdale hosts.
About the artists:
One of Canada’s leading roots rock acts, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings is a collaboration between three well-respected blues, folk, and rock musicians, Stephen Fearing, Colin Linden, and Tom Wilson. Fearing is a Vancouver-born, Irish-raised singer/songwriter who returned to the city of his birth in 1981; since 1986, he’s released a number of critically acclaimed albums, and is a multiple Juno-award winner. Colin Linden hails from Toronto, and has collaborated with artists as varied as Leon Redbone, Bruce Cockburn, Robert Plant, and the Band, as well as producing albums for a number of artists and releasing several fine solo albums. And Tom Wilson, from Hamilton, Ontario, was the leader of the celebrated blues-rock band Junkhouse before going on to a successful career as a solo artist and songwriter. Fearing, Linden, and Wilson were friends and colleagues who had frequently appeared on each other’s albums, and in 1996, they joined forces to pay homage to Willie P. Bennett, a singer and songwriter from Southern Ontario who won a cult following (and later a Juno award) for his powerful, evocative story songs. The trio recorded an album of Bennett’s songs called High or Hurtin’: The Songs of Willie P. Bennett, and released it under the group name Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, a reference to the title of an album Bennett released in 1978. The album was well received both commercially and critically, and in 1999, the three reconvened for a second album, Kings of Love, in which they covered songs from a variety of different tunesmiths, as well as presenting a few original numbers. In 2004, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings released Bark, their first album dominated by original material, which solidified the group’s solid, scrappy fusion of blues, country, and rock influences. In the fall of 2006, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings issued Let’s Frolic, which also featured what had become the group’s regular rhythm section, bassist John Dymond and drummer Gary Craig, as well as guest vocals from Pam Tillis. The band cut enough material during the Let’s Frolic sessions that a second album of outtakes, Let’s Frolic Again, appeared in the spring of 2008. The Rodeo Kings returned to their collaborative roots on 2011’s Kings and Queens, in which each of the 14 tracks featured duet vocals from a different female artist, including Emmylou Harris, Pam Tillis, Lucinda Williams, Rosanne Cash, Cassandra Wilson, and Patti Scialfa.
Josh Daniel is a North Carolina singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who’s passion and enthusiasm are evident every time he takes the stage. Daniel describes his sound as “Rock n Roll” but it’s much broader than that… Josh is able to mold his influences in to a unique sound that is entirely his own. Blending rock n roll with bluegrass, funk and soul music with a reggae backbeat, you never know which way he will lead the crowd. By the tender age of 19 Daniel had a full length CD of original music under his belt and performed hundreds of live shows. Since then he has released a catalog of music with his critically acclaimed band The New Familiars that includes several EPs, a full length CD, a live effort and a 45 single with a wonderful cover of the classic soul song “My Girl”. Raised on the vinyl of the 1970’s where Soul and Rock n Roll played equal parts, Josh’s repertoire is stunning, and estimates he knows “a couple hundred” songs along with countless original compositions which range from complex bluegrass instrumentals to full blown pop classics. Josh has performed at many national events (MerleFest, FloydFest, Bristol Rhythm & Roots) and along the way has had the privilege of sharing the stage with some legendary musicians like his friend John Cowan (Doobie Brothers) as well as some monsters of bluegrass (Sam Bush, Ronnie Mccoury, Danny Barnes, Mike Marshall). Daniel’s live shows consist of his dynamic vocal range and acoustic skills along with Mark Schimick(Larry Keel/Natural Bridge) on Mandolin allows his improvisational mind to create a unique live experience that is like no other. Ever expanding and moving forward Josh’s music continues to push boundaries and has no intention of stopping anytime soon!
Hayes Carll is an odd mix. Wildly literate, utterly slackerly, impossibly romantic, absolutely a slave to the music, the 35-year old Texan is completely committed to the truth and unafraid to skewer pomposity, hypocrisy and small-minded thinking.
In a world of shallow and shallower, where it’s all groove and gloss, that might seem a hopeless proposition. Last year, “Another Like You,” Carll’s stereotype’s attract duet of polar opposites, was American Songwriter’s #1 Song of 2011 – and KMAG YOYO was the Americana Music Association’s #1 Album, as well as making Best of Lists for Rolling Stone, SPIN and a New York Times Critics Choice.
But more importantly than the critical acclaim is the way Carll connects with music lovers across genres lines. Playing rock clubs and honkytonks, Bonnaroo, Stones Fest, SXSW and NXNE, he and his band the Gulf Coast Orchestra merge a truculent singer/songwriter take that combines Ray Wylie Hubband’s lean freewheeling squalor with Todd Snider’s brazen Gen Y reality and a healthy dose of love amongst unhealthy people.
“I guess you could say I write degenerate love songs,” Carll says. “That, and songs about people who’re wedged between not much and even less; people who see how hopeless it is and somehow make it work anyway. “And the best kind of irony, sometimes, is applying no irony and letting reality do the work.”
Letting reality do the work has sure worked for the lanky Texan who walks slow and talks slower. Born in Houston, he went to college at Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas – getting a degree in History, then heading back to Crystal Beach to play for a wild assortment of people either hiding out, hanging on or getting lost in the bars along Texas’ Gulf coast.
After releasing Flowers & Liquor in 2002, Carll was voted the Best New Artist of 2002 by The Houston Post. He would go on to release Little Rock, on his own Highway 87 label, which became the first self-owned project to the top the Americana charts.
It wasn’t long until Lost Highway, home of Lucinda Williams, Ryan Adams, Van Morrison and the Drive-By Truckers came calling. Trouble in Mind yielded the tongue firmly in cheek “She Left Me For Jesus,” a know-nothing redneck send-up/beer joint anthem somewhere between “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” and “Up Against the Wall.” “Jesus” was the 2008 Americana Music Awards Song of the Year.
All the accolades, all the facts and all the stats are awesome, but they don’t tell the story. Fiercely individual, Carll’s banged-up take on classic country is honed by the road – sometimes as a man and guitar, sometimes with his scrappy band, but always taking in the vistas and humanity before him.
“It comes down to the songs and the people,” he says. “You write about what you see, the things that cross your mind… and then you wanna get out there and play it back to ‘em. You kinda know how you’re doing when you see how the people respond.”
Hayes Carll is the transmutable jester whose incisive songs and funky beats play as well in dive bars as they do hippie festivals, somewhere as organic as American Public Radio’s “Mountain Stage” concert series and middle America as “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.”
Maybe it’s the influences – Kerouac, Dylan, Guy Clark, John Prine, Hubbard… Maybe it’s the fact that somebody has to say something… Maybe it’s just the fact that some people are born to play…
But for whatever reason, ten years into a recording career, Hayes Carll shows no signs of having arrived at his creative apex. Each album expands on his already extreme vintage country, extreme thumping bad road boogie, extreme heartbroken ache – and finds new ways to take on the fate of the nation. Whether it’s the GI protagonist in the propulsive title track of KMAG YOYO, the train wreck objet d’amour of “Drunken Poet’s Dream,” also recorded by Hubbard, the road warrior of both “I Got A Gig” and “Little Rock” or the stoner liberal and the uptight Republican vixen of “Another Like You,” Carll paints vivid pictures of humanity as it really is.
Thick-headed. Avaricious. Squalid. Hungry. Angry. Getting by.
Like so many Texans before him, there’s no agony in the ecstasy – just the wonder of capturing the perfect character in the song. When you’re 6 beers down on a 12 pack night, you know Hayes Carll understands. At a time like that – whether in your own backyard or some jam-packed bar – that’s the best kind of friend to have.
An Oklahoma native brought up in the Pentecostal church, which he’s since departed, 20-year-old Parker Millsap will make you a true believer with his self-titled Okrahoma Records/ Thirty Tigers debut album. Accompanied by his collaborators, high school buddy Michael Rose on bass and fiddle-player Daniel Foulks, the young tunesmith delivers his religious-laced parables, character-driven narratives and relationship tales with the fire-and-brimstone fervor of a preacher, restoring our faith in the power of song.
Influenced by the dust-bowl neutrality of John Steinbeck, Millsap’s memorable creations include the wife-murdering bible-thumper of “Old Time Religion,” the self-made church-on-wheels minister in “Truck Stop Gospel,” the questioning believer of “When I Leave,” the meth cooks in “Quite Contrary” and the gambler who spends all his money buying lottery tickets in “Yosemite.” Filled equally with ghosts and guilt, as well as an objectivity that invites listeners to paint themselves in each picture, Millsap’s songs teeter on the fine line between gospel and the blues, sin and redemption, God and the devil, heaven and hell… from the pulpit to the back pew.
In songs like the blues-driven “Quite Contrary” (with a Millsap harp solo right out of the Yardbirds) and “At the Bar (Emerald City Blues),” Parker ponders what might become of well-known nursery rhyme figures and Wizard of Oz characters, imagining Mary, Mary as a street hooker with Little Jack Horner as her pimp or the Tin Man, “looking to find a piece of yourself/That’s been left behind.”
“That comes from studying the violent origin of fables and bible stories, and wondering what happened to the characters afterward, when they grew older,” explains Parker about “Quite Contrary,” describing it as his tribute to bluesman like Howlin’ Wolf or even Tom Waits. Millsap grew up listening to church hymns, while his dad, an electrician and music fan, turned him on to story-telling folk and blues artists like Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, Lyle Lovett and John Hiatt.
Both “Forgive Me,” which could also be read as a confessional, and the Dylanesque “The Villain,” are songs that ride the roller coaster of relationships, the latter about refusing to be the bad guy in your partner’s nightmares (“I don’t want to be the one that lets you down anymore”). “Disappear” touches on the fantasy of uprooting, trying to “leave behind the things/that never stood a chance” and start a brand-new life, while “When I Leave” tells the story of someone who has abandoned the church but still harbors doubts about it, Parker’s own message to his family, which still worries about his salvation.
“I’m not trying to criticize the church,” explains Millsap about his still-strong attraction towards the music he first heard there. “I already have a guilty conscience, which only gets magnified when you are brought up in that sort of environment, and it can do weird things to you. My songs show what happens to people when things go wrong within that belief system, and they are unable to handle it.”
Like the God-fearing killer in “Old Time Religion,” who’s “got an old-time conviction/keeps the bodies in the shed,” and strangles his wife with a banjo string. Or the traveling evangelist in “Truck Stop Gospel,” who insists, “Just want to modify your behavior/I just want you to love my savior,” then proceeds to cast a demon out of a parking lot prostitute by having her join his “angel choir.”
“It’s up to the listener to figure out where they sit,” says Millsap of his song’s characters. “Whether they’re questioning faith, or very devout, will certainly color their judgment. Some people think I’m being cynical about religion, while others praise me for showing the love of God. Then there are those who appreciate my objectivity in leaving the decision to them. Most of my favorite pieces of art don’t try to attach any moral.”
Musically, the album ranges from the New Orleans street wake feel of the muted, distorted trumpets which close “Old Time Religion” to the electrified Chicago blues of “Quite Contrary,” from the gospel contrition of “Forgive Me” to the slide-guitar country-rock of “Land of the Red Man,” Millsap’s tribute to his home of Oklahoma, where he grew up in tiny Purcell, “as normal a childhood as you could think of, a Norman Rockwell painting.” That is, if you don’t count the “speaking in tongues” at church.
“To me, that wasn’t unusual,” Parker declares. “Every Sunday, you witnessed God speaking through people. It sounds pretty intense, but you got used to it.”
Parker first picked up a guitar at nine, then plugged in and went electric after getting into Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan, eventually starting a cover band, Fever in Blue, with classmate Michael Rose, which would play Jimi Hendrix songs at the local Loose Caboose Festival in downtown Purcell on Labor Day weekend. After graduating high school, he went to Northern California, where he interned at Prairie Sun Recording, the studio where Tom Waits cut Bone Machine and Mule Variations. Returning to Oklahoma, he “put down the electric guitar and got into song craft,” releasing an indie album, Palisade, which he sold “from the back of my van.” A trip to Nashville found him playing at the Tin Pan South songwriter’s festival, where an “in the round” performance impressed Old Crow Medicine Show’s manager so much that he invited Millsap to open a string of dates for the band, later leading to a slot on their prestigious New Year’s Eve gig at the Ryman Auditorium.
Millsap also opened dates for fellow Oklahoma blues-rocker John Fullbright earlier this year.
“Hope I’m not burning my luck up early,” laughs the humble Millsap about the good things starting to happen for him.
Like the state where he was born and still lives, Parker Millsap is a tough soul, at home with extremes of temperature… and temperament.
“I do have a great deal of pride in where I come from, and that’s not like me,” he admits, explaining Oklahoma is Choctaw for “Red Man.” “The people are some of the nicest, most hospitable you’ll ever meet. I think that’s because, when they originally settled here, it was wilderness, and the only thing they had to hang on to was one another.”
Parker Millsap is ready to share those Oklahoma roots with the rest of the country, and, hopefully, the world.
“I like to set goals for myself that are impossible to reach,” he explains. “That way, I always have something to aim for, a better song, different characters, new stories.. I just want to pay the bills and feed my dog, and maybe buy a new guitar every now and then. That’s all I need. I don’t want to be Elvis Presley, but I wouldn’t complain if a million girls screamed for me, either. Just don’t tell my girlfriend that.”