Street Corners, Subways and Songs: A Conversation with Charley Crockett

By Blake Ells

Charley Crockett just turned 34-years-old, but the country and blues singer has lived as many tales as his fellow Texan, 78-year-old Billy Joe Shaver. His new album Lonesome As A Shadow will be released on Friday, April 20, and there’s a good chance that it’s the one that takes Crockett, a descendent of Davey, all the way from his days of train-hopping to headlining his own tours.

He added a last minute, midnight show at The Nick for Thursday, April 12 as he passes through town to open for Turnpike Troubadours at Druid City Music Hall in Tuscaloosa on Friday. Before the stop, he talked about hitchhiking, train-hopping, recording in Memphis, how he’s related to Davey Crockett, how much he loves his home state and the difference between Country and the Blues.

Birmingham Stages: I thought it was happenstance, but as it turns out, you actually are related to Davey Crockett. How are you related?

Charley Crockett: It’s on my grandfather’s side, who’s still alive; he’s 94. He’s also named Charles Crockett. There are various ways we’re related up through Arkansas—up where the family was from—and they came down through Texas to the Granbury area. Elizabeth Patton was the wife that he had the most kids with; his first wife died young. Elizabeth is buried out in Granbury, Texas, which is not too far from where I was brought up.

Birmingham Stages: What part of Texas did you grow up in?

CC: Well, I moved around. I was from South Texas, originally; the same town as Freddy Fender; down around the Rio Grande Valley. My mom and I moved up to Dallas, and from there, I actually started living part of the time in Louisiana. That’s how I got into street playing. I did that for a bunch of years; lived all over the country just hoboing around, playing on street corners for a long time.

I got back to Texas and I put a band together on the Deep Ellum-Fort Worth Blues circuit, which is kind of crazy—we started playing out in Granbury a bunch at this beer joint called Revolver and I’d drive by Elizabeth Patton’s grave site every time we’d go out there and play. It’s like 50 miles away from Dallas or something like that—it used to trip me out.

Birmingham Stages: Why did you set out hoboing around when you were young?

CC: I think a lot of times people end up as musicians because it’s a profession of last resort sometimes. I was getting in a lot of trouble when I was younger. I felt like I didn’t have any direction to go; I didn’t feel driven to choose that angular paths that were being thrown in front of me and music was my answer to all of that. Once I started playing, I kind of dropped everything else and really started focusing on it.

To be honest with you, the way I started out playing in the street was I started playing in parks. I was just trying to find a place that I could get by myself—without people around—just looking for a place to play where I wouldn’t be bothering anybody and there wouldn’t be anybody bothering me. So I started playing in parks just because there was a place to go. People started coming up and throwing me a dollar or giving me change. That’s when I started taking it more serious and moving to better spots.

That’s all I’ve been doing ever since I started playing is moving to better spots.

Birmingham Stages: So when you began playing parks—that was around New Orleans?

CC: Yeah, it was around New Orleans. It was kind of wherever I was traveling around. I did it around New Orleans, Dallas, Austin; then I started getting into hitchhiking on the highways and that’s a really big thing among street musicians—especially around New Orleans. I learned how to get myself around by playing with other musicians in New Orleans who were already traveling. Trying to go to New York, we’d get dropped off—a combination of hitchhiking and train-hopping and you’d get to Asheville—play in Asheville, North Carolina on the street for a while and get a little more money—head up to New York from there. It’d be this kind of highway going back and forth.
If you play above ground in the parks in New York City—if you play on the street corner in the East Village—the cops run you off real quick. It’s illegal to do that because of the noise stuff with residents. So I naturally went down to the subway, because even though it was also illegal down there without a permit, you could get away with it as long as you weren’t amplified. So I would do that, and then I started playing on the train because these poets that were rapping on the train would see me on the subway platform and try to get me to come on the train with them. I didn’t know what they were talking about and I got nervous playing with them.

One day I got cornered and I wound up playing in the subway trains all day. And I made, like, five times more money than I made standing on a subway platform. So I kept doing that.

Birmingham Stages: Do you have any horror stories from your time hitchhiking?

CC: I mean, maybe not horror stories. It can be really scary; it’s lawless, you know? You think that wild west code is gone in modern times, but I can tell you, when you’re train-hopping and you’re hitchhiking, it’s not because everything you’re doing is illegal. It’s mostly down-and-out type folks. So if somebody wants to rob you or if somebody is not psychologically well that’s out there hitchhiking or hopping on trains, it can be really dangerous. I’ve dealt with stuff like that, but not as bad as it would seem. It’s more about getting hurt jumping on or off a train or getting in a car with some crazy person.

I’ve seen some crazy stuff; I’ve seen people get stabbed on the subway cars of New York, stuff like that. People used to use us inadvertently as a diversion; when we’d be singing on the trains, everybody would be looking at us, so sometimes we’d catch someone getting in a lady’s purse when she wasn’t looking because we were in there singing. I’ve seen that kind of stuff a lot.

Birmingham Stages: How did you graduate from playing subway cars to bars?

CC: Well, like I said, I was always just moving to better spots. I put a little more money in my pocket, had a good crew; we were promoting ourselves a little better, driving people to a page online.

I ended up signing a record contract; got discovered by some people in Manhattan on the R-Train. That was kind of my first time getting off the street level at all; playing on stages in New York City for a while. That kind of fell apart and when it fell apart, I didn’t want to go in the direction that they wanted to take us. It was going from the streets to doing this Pop thing that I wasn’t ready for or didn’t want to do.

I didn’t want to go back to the streets. I had been squatting in warehouses for years and I didn’t want to keep doing that. I got out of the city; I was living out in the country on a buddy’s farm that I knew, recording my own stuff and going to blues jams. That was really my transition into learning to play on a stage—going to blues jams in New York City, in New Orleans, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Francisco—I’d be traveling around. That’s when I learned how to lead a band. You get thrown off stage one night because you [expletive] up the band’s money, you learn real quick if you want to ever go back in there.

Birmingham Stages: Where is home now?

CC: Austin. I live in Austin, Texas.

Birmingham Stages: Do you think Texas is your path or do you think you’ll ever give that up to move to Nashville and do the Nashville thing?

CC: [laughs] That’s funny. Well…where do you live?

Birmingham Stages: I live in Birmingham. I was in Austin last year; love that place a lot.

CC: Oh, man, I love Birmingham. I love that town.

I’ll answer your question, it’s just funny to me. I do my business in Nashville. That’s the funny thing. I can’t avoid Nashville because everybody’s there—the label, the agent, the publicist. And I remember being on the street in New York and I saw this mass exodus from New York City down to Nashville—this must have been in, like 2010. I knew it was going to blow up.

But I’ll stick with Willie Nelson. He always said the Grand Ole Opry’s call letters, WSM, stood for “Wrong Side of the Misssissippi.” [laughs]

I joke. I love that town, too. But I came up in New Orleans, man. The only towns I know that have that soul of New Orleans—which is the thing that I need—besides New Orleans, is Memphis and Austin. Texas has been my bread and butter. Down here in Austin, I can go hear Cajun and Creole music all the time—get that New Orleans sound. I can hear Texas Swing. I can hear Tejano. Soul. Funk. Blues like a [expletive]. That’s why I live here. I’d rather live in the country than anything, but if I’m going to be in a big city, I’d rather be in Austin right now. I’ve got a lot of love for Dallas/Fort Worth, because I played the [expletive] out of those bars for a couple of years, and when it was hard to get gigs anywhere else. If it’s hadn’t been for playing in Deep Ellum and DFW as heavy as I did, I don’t think I would have ever gotten on with the people I’m on with now.

It’s a Texas/Louisiana story. It’s playing in Dallas and Austin and New Orleans. I’m proud of that regional heritage.

Birmingham Stages: When I was there, I was able to hang out at the Continental Club quite a bit. And I know that’s probably just a small taste, but it’s a cool town. I wish I could get out there more often.

CC: Hell yeah, man. You know everybody’s complaining about how blown out Austin is, and Nashville’s the same thing. It’s like Justin Townes Earle—I remember he said a few years back—somebody asked him what kind of advice he’d give a young musician moving to Nashville trying to make it. And his advice was, “Don’t move to Nashville. Move to some smaller town.”

And I agree with that. I love living in Austin, but I don’t know if they would have paid attention to me in Nashville. In Dallas/Fort Worth—even though that’s a big area, it’s a small music scene. Like Tulsa—Tulsa has this really small, tight knit music scene. You can get known in the music community like that a lot faster. Birmingham is that kind of city—there’s a really small, supportive music community—that I’ve seen at least, when I pass through. I think you’d be better off to play around Birmingham and get people to recognize you than you would playing around Nashville.

Birmingham Stages: Definitely. I think you may have actually played some shows with our own St. Paul and the Broken Bones. Did y’all play around a little bit?

CC: Yeah, man. I’ve done a couple of shows with them. I think they sold out—they sold like 2,300 tickets at a venue in Dallas we played. It was wild.

Birmingham Stages: You mentioned Memphis, and I know you recorded this new record there at Sam Phillips’s studio. What led you there?

CC: Well…I guess because I didn’t want to record in Nashville. [laughs]

I really liked Margo Price’s first record, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, and I really liked the way it was recorded, the way it sounded. I saw that Matt Ross-Spang had worked on it, and I knew that he was working out of Memphis and he had been at Sun a long time. So we hit him up—I never expected to hear back from him or nothing. He hit me back and was like, “Yeah, come see me over at Sam Phillips Recording Service.”

He was like, “Do you know where that is?”

And I’m like, “Yeah, yeah.”

And he’s like, “Are you sure?”

And I’m like, “Yeah, I know where that is.”

So I go over to Sun Records and call him up and tell him I’m here, and he’s like, “Nah. You’re not here. You’ve got to come down the street to Sam Phillips. I knew Sun Records, but I never knew Sam Phillips. So I went down there, realizing I didn’t even know it existed. I hit it off with Matt; I like the old school feel of the studio over there. I like the family; Sam Phillips’s son, Jerry Phillips and them—they run it—a family type joint.

I just liked Matt. He had a really cool, laid back vibe. I played him a bunch of songs that were in my head and he was like, “Well, I can record any one of those.” So we did that. I got some help paying for it and came back in there a couple of months later, and we cut the record in four days. And I’m real proud of it, man, because I’ve got this real thick, Texas and Louisiana sound, where I mixed together a lot of the influences that I had playing on the street—various blues places and whatever. It brought a lot of Memphis soul—this Memphis, gritty soul—to my Texas and Louisiana style, which I’m real proud of; I’m real proud of that bluesy, soulful stuff.

Birmingham Stages: You’re often identified as a Blues artist, but you’ve also recorded a collection of Country covers that range from Hank Williams to Roy Acuff. What’s the difference between Country and the Blues?

CC: I don’t know, man. Lightnin’ Hopkins said, “Country wasn’t nothing but white man’s Blues.” You talk about Lightnin’ Hopkins or Lazy Lester—those were some country boys. To me, it’s the same thing—people just call it different things. I knew I could do that old-time Country stuff real good because I loved that music, I learned it in the street and I wanted to record something and I hoped that young people could identify with it, since I’m a younger man living in my time. Maybe I could help bridge the gap; get young people to look back at this music. Whether that’s classic Country or classic Country Blues—all that type of stuff—I don’t think we can outdo that music and I want young people to hear that music.

Birmingham Stages: That old-time sound—where did you pick up on it? Did it come from your mom?

CC: In a lot of ways, yeah. She was listening to Billie Holiday when I was a kid. It wasn’t like I was singing along and learning Billie Holiday songs when I was five or anything like that, but she instilled a confidence in me; we sang together when I was young. I never questioned whether or not I could sing, because we’d do it together when I was a kid.

To be honest with you, I learned Hank Williams songs from other musicians in New Orleans. There was this dude that I would see traveling the country from time to time, and one night, we both ended up on Royal Street on New Orleans at the same time. He was playing this song, and I learned it off of him. A couple of days later, I was like, “Hey, what’s the name of this song?” And he says, “Oh, it’s called ‘My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It.’ Hank Williams did it.”

And I was like, oh [expletive], this is Hank Williams. That’s the way I heard Lightnin’ Hopkins. Someone was playing it at a Blues jam. It was like, “I Once Was a Gambler.” Swinging it real slow and heavy Blues. I was like, “Man, did you write that song? I love that song you’re playing tonight, man.”

And he was like, “Man, I didn’t write that song. It’s Lightnin’ Hopkins.” So I started looking into him. That’s how I got into it.

Birmingham Stages: The last time you were here, I think you were opening a solo set for BJ Barham.

CC: Yeah, at Saturn. With Charlie Mills, a trumpet player. That’s a cool venue.

Man, I used to hang out at The Nick when I’d be passing through town, down there under the highway bridge or whatever it is right there. I love that place, man. I didn’t even know I was playing there until a few days ago because it got added. I used to be hoboing around, and I’d come in there and watch people play a late night show and I’d think, “How do I get on this stage?”

Birmingham Stages: It’s great. I know you’re heading to Tuscaloosa the next night, so I guess they added this one on.

CC: Yeah, we’ve been doing a lot of that. A lot of times, those types of gigs—the gigs we hit on the way to places—they’re the most fun for us. We did that in Tupelo—we added one on last midnight because it was en route and we were playing in the middle of the day. They’re blasting Gary Clark, Jr., who used to play in there—it was an amazing show. The Nick’s got that same kind of vibe. I went in there, not thinking anything of it from the outside, and man, there were just some popping bands in this joint. It was ridiculous.

I care more about playing in a good room with a good vibe than the amount of people there. Sometimes, it throws you off playing in too big of a room, you know?

Charley Crockett plays a special late-night show at The Nick on Thursday, April 12 at midnight. Admission is $6. For more information, visit

The Writer’s Share returns to WorkPlay

By Brent Thompson

It’s like bringing The Bluebird Cafe to Birmingham! On Thursday, April 12, The Writer’s Share series returns to WorkPlay. Jenn Bostic, Sarah Darling and Michael Logen will present a night of songs and stories in an intimate, listening-room setting. Advance tickets to the 8 p.m. show are $15 and can be purchased at

It’s All Timeless: A Conversation with Luther Dickinson

By Brent Thompson

L-R: Luther and Cody Dickinson (Photo by Tom Bejgrowicz)

Luther and Cody Dickinson didn’t just grow up in a musical household, they grew up in the musical household. The sons of famed producer/singer/pianist Jim Dickinson (1941-2009), the Dickinson brothers have created their own legacy since forming North Mississippi Allstars more than 20 years ago. Using the gritty Blues sound of its namesake state as its basis, the band has continually expanded its musical horizons while staying true to its foundations. In 2017, the group released Prayer for Peace [SMG Records], a 12-track collection featuring guest appearances by Oteil Burbridge, Graeme Lesh and Dominic Davis among others. On Friday, April 13, North Mississippi Allstars will perform at Avondale Brewing Co. Recently, Luther Dickinson spoke with us by phone as he traveled from Nashville to Memphis.

Birmingham Stages: Luther, thanks for your time. We are enjoying Prayer for Peace. If you will, talk about the evolution of the album’s material.

Luther Dickinson: I wrote “Prayer for Peace” three years ago, so it’s an older song. I woke up one morning thinking about Buddy Guy and he’s the last man standing – he’s the living king of the Blues. You think about his generation and everything he’s seen and that leads me to Mavis Staples, the queen, and the whole American experience; the Gospel, Country Blues, civil rights – the whole thing. I wrote that song thinking about their perspective. “Need To Be Free” – I wrote that in reaction to a lot of Southern legislation that was going down that I didn’t really agree with and there was a lot of police violence. That’s what I was thinking about back then. It’s all timeless – the never-ending struggle and treating others in a way that you would want them to treat you.

Birmingham Stages: When you write a song, how do you know if it’s a better fit for a solo record or an Allstars record?

LD: That’s a good question, man. The Allstars is a collaborative effort – what we do best is what we do together. If either of Cody’s or my agendas get too overbearing, the band gets skewed. We do our best work when we do our thing and it’s coming together. It’s funny – my first solo record of original songs was Rock ‘n Roll Blues, a real personal song cycle about growing up as a young musician. I recorded the songs with Cody as an Allstars record, but both Cody and our management said, “Nah, that’s a solo record – it’s not an Allstars record.” At first it made me mad, but they were right and it was so liberating. If you put everything in its proper place, then nothing gets watered-down.

Birmingham Stages: With your various musical projects – the Allstars, The Word and Southern Soul Assembly among them – you don’t have much open space on your calendar.

LD: Yeah, and when I am free I’m with my family so it’s either family or music and there’s not much in between. But we can’t afford not to. We’re a working-class family  – we work to support our lifestyle and we appreciate the fans who make it possible. On the other hand, if you’re granted a life of music, you owe it to music to keep it alive and spread it. They asked Bob Dylan why he tours constantly and he said, “I made my deal and I’ve got to hold up my end of it.”

Birmingham Stages: You worked with Tommy Stinson’s band Bash & Pop on their latest album, Anything Could Happen. I know you’re dad worked with Tommy when he was in The Replacements. What was it like to work with him?

LD: My relationship is one of the many relationships of my father’s that we have maintained, be it Tommy Stinson, Chuck Prophet, Mojo Nixon or Ry Cooder – the list goes on and on. So many of dad’s friends have taken us under their wings and it’s a wonderful extension of all of our love for what he was. But playing with Tommy – that’s hard man! I’m used to rising to the occasion. We make records with Jim Lauderdale and I listen to those records and think, “Man, that’s some fancy guitar playing,” but it was natural and easy for me. But in playing with Tommy, I haven’t played Power Pop/Punk since I was a teenager or in my early 20s. It’s not easy for me – it was a real challenge. There’s something about that melancholy Minneapolis melodic territory, be it Prince, [Paul] Westerberg or The Hold Steady. There’s a tension that comes from that place and Tommy really embodies it, he really keeps it alive. I love his songwriting and he’s the real deal. He never even had a choice because [Stinson’s brother and Replacements bandmate] Bob made him play. It’s amazing – he’s such a badass.

Birmingham Stages: Few people grow up around a parent as musically open-minded as your dad. Is there a way to sum up the experience of being a young music lover in that household?

LD: I remember one day he pointed to his record collection and said, “This is a wealth of knowledge” and I still go back to that well. I loved my dad and his music and his friends, but when I found [California Punk band] Black Flag, I asked my dad to help me learn how to play “Six Pack” and he got so mad. He said, “This makes no g–d— sense” because it was anything goes. He said, “I cannot believe you found something I can’t relate to.” It was great.

Emporium Presents: North Mississippi Allstars at Avondale Brewing Co. on Friday, April 13, Tickets to the 6 p.m. show are $20 and can be purchased at

The Bond of the Blues: A Conversation with Scott Sharrard

By Blake Ells

At 30-years-old, Scott Sharrard was playing guitar for Gregg Allman, whom he had idolized growing up. It’s quite a leap when your heroes become your peers, but Sharrard and Allman formed a deep bond over their love of blues music. As their relationship grew late in Gregg’s life, the two wrote together and became close friends. Scott is on his own now, and he recorded much of his new record, Saving Grace, in the same Northwest Alabama room that Gregg spent time much of his career in. Before visiting Birmingham, Scott talked about his FAME sessions, his love of Southern barbecue, co-writing with Gregg and his love of the Magic City.

Birmingham Stages: What first inspired you to pick up a guitar?

Scott Sharrard: That’s an easy answer. My dad was a guitar player and singer, and he had a bunch of acoustic guitars lying around the house. He used to have jam sessions in the living room, and one day when I was about 10, I decided to join in. The first thing I ever learned was the Jimmy Reed shuffle rhythm on “Baby What You Want Me to Do.” I still think that’s the best thing I ever learned to play on the guitar. From there, I went into Chuck Berry and Bob Dylan and the classic Otis Redding stuff my dad was playing around the house. I just got hooked. I guess it was kind of preordained that I was going to pick up the guitar, but I ended up becoming obsessed with it.

Birmingham Stages: Did he ever formally teach you or did you just kind of pick it up yourself?

SS: No, my dad’s an ear player. He’s a blues/rock guy in terms of training, although he plays a lot of folk and bluegrass, too. And he plays all acoustic. He never played any electric around the house. He knew the names of the chords, but he didn’t show me scales or anything like that. I learned all of that on my own.

Birmingham Stages: And this was when you were living in Michigan? Wisconsin?

SS: Well, I’ve got quite a bit of traveling under my belt. I was born in Ann Arbor, Michigan and I was raised in Dearborn, near Detroit, and then I had what I call my “lost period.” There were three or four years where we were in different parts of Pennsylvania; we were in Colorado for a second. So I was 10—we had just moved to Pennsylvania when I had started playing. And in that brief three-year period when we were in PA, that’s when I first saw the Allman Brothers. I put my first band together and I really got serious.
Then we ended up in Milwaukee. I moved to Milwaukee when I was about 15. And I went to high school in Milwaukee.

Birmingham Stages: What was it like playing with the band that kind of made you want to this for a living?

SS: The Allman Brothers were the “Big Bang” moment for me. That’s what started it all. And when I put my first band together, they were the template when I was 13-years-old. And that remains.

Birmingham Stages: You picked up and left the Midwest immediately after high school for New York. Did you feel like you had to do that to be able to make it?

SS: I had really gotten to the top of what was the local blues scene in Milwaukee. I had my own apartment. I had my own car. At the age of 18, I was living like an adult: paying bills, playing gigs four or five nights a week in blues bars all over; playing with guys that were 20 years older than me. It was really an incubator. I definitely had a lot of success there. My friend Sean Dixon and I had a band—he was a high school classmate, a couple of years older than me—and we decided, the two of us, to make a go for New York. We found a rent-controlled apartment and that basically sealed the deal. We said, “Okay, we’re going to move to the East Village, rent-controlled apartment…” I think this was ’97 or ’98. And we just went for it.
To be honest with you, I wanted to move to New Orleans. I had another friend who was going to Loyola and I visited a couple of times as a teenager. I was obsessed with moving there. But just like most things—I always say that most things in New York begin with finding cheap real estate. Once you’ve cracked that code, you just have to follow it at that point. It’s non-negotiable.

Birmingham Stages: Is New York still home today?

SS: It is, and I’m still living that ridiculous gambit of cracking the code. My wife and I bought a place in Harlem about six years ago; we got a ridiculous deal on it. New York City is an intense hustle, man.

Birmingham Stages: It’s certainly fun to visit when you’re from the South, but I don’t know if I can crack that code.

SS: That should be its motto. It’s certainly fun to visit; but I wouldn’t say much else about it.

Birmingham Stages: How did you first meet Gregg [Allman] and how were you invited into the band?

SS: I had been playing guitar with my friend Jay Collins in his band and we were having a heck of a time. It was a lot of fun playing in his group. The whole time I was playing with him, he was saying, “You should be the guitar player in Gregg’s band. The guy we have isn’t working out.” It ended up taking me a couple of years of playing and hanging with Jay to finally get a chance to audition, and that was at an Allman Brothers show in Camden, New Jersey.
Basically Jay—who played saxophone for the Gregg Allman Band—called me up and said, “Come meet me. We’re going to go to Jersey. I’m going to have you sit in with The Allman Brothers.” This was August of 2008. I was about 30-years-old. I’ve played with a lot of legends; when I was a kid, I got to play with Hubert Sumlin and Buddy Miles. In my time in New York, I got to work with Levon Helm through Jay, also. I’d been around a lot of bad, legendary cats, but I was not prepared to meet all of The Allman Brothers guys at once and then go sit in with Gregg and have it all be about me getting the job. It was a lot of pressure.
I went straight to Gregg’s dressing room, I met him and we bonded right away on the blues, basically. The second question out of his mouth was if I knew who Wayne Bennett was—the guitar player from Bobby Bland—and luckily, being raised on the Midwest blues scene, Wayne Bennett was one of the guys. You had to learn all his licks from Bobby Bland records if you wanted to play with the singers I used to play with. So I immediately knew what he was talking about and when I went and sat in, we played a blues tune together—I think it was “You Don’t Love Me”—and I immediately started quoting Wayne Bennett on stage and stuff, and he just got a kick out of that.
We just really hit it off, man. I think he could tell that I was really serious about the craft of making rock and roll that’s based in the blues and soul music and jazz and all of the tributaries of American music that we loved. And that was a bond that deepened and deepened. It was always based on the music—our bond—and it was pretty deep. He recorded a lot in Muscle Shoals, including some of the final record.

Birmingham Stages: Did you spend some time in Muscle Shoals with him?

SS: In 2016, I made two records there. I made Gregg Allman’s Southern Blood first, and I then I came back in December of that year and made half of my new solo album, Saving Grace. We did about six tracks there, and when I was there doing my record, we used Spooner Oldham and David Hood from the Swampers—the legendary rhythm section that played on everything: Staple Singers – “I’ll Take You There,” Wilson Pickett – “Midnight Hour.” And they’re still playing great, man. Unbelievable.
And then we got Chad Gamble to come play drums from Jason Isbell’s band, who’s a wonderful musician and I’d always wanted to work with him. We also got Duane Allman’s ’57 [Les Paul] Goldtop that he used on the first two Allman Brothers records and on the “Layla” record and on a lot of session work—we had that brought from the Big House Museum in Macon to Muscle Shoals, and I actually used that guitar on, like, five tracks on the record as well. I was told that my record was the first time that guitar had been used on recording sessions in Muscle Shoals.

Birmingham Stages: What’s still bringing people back to Muscle Shoals in 2018? Is it the people? Is it the seclusion?

The white sauce barbecue [laughs]. The Hall family. It’s a tradition. I’ve spent a lot of time down South throughout my life—particularly the decade I spent with Gregg—and obviously, going around the South with Gregg is like going around Italy with the Pope. It’s a whole other level of seeing the South.
It was an incredible honor to get to play with this man and know him, but it was also an incredible honor to get to know all of the musicians, all of the people, the friends and fans of his, that are in the Southern region and understand on a deeper level.
All of the music that comes from America—every last scrap of it—comes from the South. Gregg hated the term “Southern Rock.” He’d say, “There is no such thing as ‘Southern Rock’ – All rock is Southern.” And when you’re talking about some place like Muscle Shoals, you’ve got the Hall family—you’ve got Rodney Hall driving the ship now, but when I made Gregg’s record there and my record there, Rick was still around—his father. It’s a family business and it’s a tradition; the music, the music making, the recording style. You will not get that anywhere else in the world. That’s the beauty of going down South. My two favorite things to do are to eat and to play music. And there’s nowhere better in America that you’re going to find for those two things.
I’m in heaven every time I’m down there working in general. You add that beautiful room they have at FAME where so many of these legendary records that changed all of our lives were created—the vibe is very heavy in that room. And the white sauce barbecue. It’s killer.

Birmingham Stages: What was your favorite? Did you try Whitt’s? Big Bob Gibson’s? What did you hit up?

SS: All of them. There were three or four places. Plus, there was a meat-and-three next door [Garden Gate Café] that we used to go to every day for lunch.

Birmingham Stages: You co-wrote the lead single on Gregg’s final record, “My Only True Friend,” and you took an interesting approach to it. Can you tell me about that songwriting process?

SS: It was a three year process, almost, finishing writing the song and recording the song took about three years.
I was at Gregg’s house writing and I had a dream where Duane was speaking to Gregg. And that’s basically the first line of the song, “You and I both know the road’s my only true friend.” I ran out of bed at the crack of dawn, grabbed a guitar, wrote down the words and chords; it was a complete blind inspiration out of nowhere. And when Gregg woke up, I showed it to him—I was staying at his house while we were doing this writing session—and he loved it right away.
We had already finished writing one other song together, but then this one became the priority. Fast forward a year later, I went to his hotel room and they were doing the last run of shows—or maybe it was the second to last run of shows—at the Beacon. I went to Gregg’s hotel and he disclosed his terminal illness to me, which was a really intense moment for us, because I think it was the first time that I crossed into his inner circle. It was me and a handful of people that knew he was terminally ill and that he wanted to go out performing and recording. It was entrusted to me to not share that.
We were writing that day and that’s when he scratched out the pre-chorus, “I hope you’re haunted by the music of my soul when I’m gone.” That was the second crucible.
The third and final crucible was—we were in Muscle Shoals at FAME Studios cutting Southern Blood in, I guess, the early spring of 2016. We had been rehearsing the song and rehearsing the song, but Gregg kept saying, “It’s not done. It’s not done. But I need to get this on the record.” So we’re early in the week of recording and I’m realizing that I don’t see the song on the docket of songs to record. Finally, I went to Gregg and I said, “Dude, we’re in Muscle Shoals at FAME. We have a few days left with Don Was. We need to record this song.” And he was like, “Man, it’s missing something.”
Mark Quinones—a 25-year ABB member and good friend of mine and a good friend of Gregg’s—always had a lot of brilliant ideas for the band. He came to me and he was like, “Man you should write a third verse for this song.”
So I went back to my hotel that night and I wrote that third verse. I brought it in the next day, Gregg read it and he said, “Okay, let’s cut it.” That’s the vocal that’s on the record—right after I handed him the third verse. We got it just in. Then we went on the road a bunch, then he lost the ability to sing and then he passed away. It was right down to the wire, getting that done.

Birmingham Stages: What’s the wildest night that you had with or without Gregg in Birmingham, Alabama?

SS: [laughs] You know, there are better band members to ask that question to than me [laughs]. Food and music, man. I’m happily married.
But look, Birmingham is an incredible town, man. It gets better and better every year that I’ve gone back. People love music in that town that come to the shows. That crowd—we played—Gregg and I used to talk about it, we’d look at the tour book, “Aw, man! I can’t wait to get to Birmingham and play for those people because they’re maniacs!” It’s a great feeling to play there and to feel the love and the attention to the music—people really care about the music on a deeper level in that town.
What do I do there? White sauce barbecue. Homewood, Alabama! Saw’s barbecue is the business. That’s my spot! I got all the merch, got the hat and the shirt. We had Art Edmaiston playing sax in [Gregg Allman Band], and he could tell you about his nights out in Birmingham, I think [laughs]. Art is in Memphis, and Art introduced me to Chad [Fisher], the bone player for St. Paul & the Broken Bones, and Chad took us to Saw’s the last time I went a few years back. My God, man, I’ve already got that on my tour schedule. It’s already booked. When I had the tour booked, I told them we were going to Saw’s.

Birmingham Stages: What does the current touring band look like that you’ll bring to Birmingham?

SS: It’s lean and mean. We’ve got Brett Bass on the bass from Lubbock, Texas. He’s also a New York City transplant like me. Brett was actually playing bass in the Gregg Allman Band at the end. He came in on our last couple of tours; I actually had gotten him in the band. Gregg really loved him; he was the missing link to the Gregg Allman Band that we never had.
Our drummer is Eric Kalb, that you may remember from Deep Banana Blackout. They were a really popular jam band in the ‘90s and early 2000s that he was a founding member of; he also played drums for Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings. And he also played drums for Eric Krasno’s solo band. And it’s just the three of us. It’s a power trio this time.

Scott Sharrard comes to The Nick on Saturday, April 7. Birmingham’s own Heath Green and the Makeshifters open. Doors open at 9 p.m., and the show begins at 10 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door – advance tickets can be purchased at

Sense of Belonging: A conversation with Styx’s Lawrence Gowan

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: Rick Diamond

“Right down the barrel! The double barrel – the double-decade barrel,” Lawrence Gowan says with a laugh when I mention that he is approaching his 20th anniversary as a member of the legendary band Styx. Already a bonafide solo artist in his own right when he joined the group, the keyboardist/vocalist replaced Dennis DeYoung in 1999. Known for radio staple hits including “Babe,” “Come Sail Away,” “Lady,” “Renegade” and “Too Much Time On My Hands,” Styx continues to fill the Classic Rock airwaves. In 2017, the band released The Mission, a concept album a futuristic mission to Mars and the group’s 16th studio recording. On Sunday, April 8, Styx will perform at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater with REO Speedwagon and special guest Don Felder. Recently, I spoke with Gowan by phone from a Styx tour stop in South Dakota.

Birmingham Stages: Lawrence, thanks for your time. How’s the tour going so far?

Lawrence Gowan: Amazing. The first two nights have been arenas jammed to the ceilings. We roll out all of the big stuff on this run – all the Styx stuff, the REO stuff and the cherry on top is the opener, Don Felder. It’s rare that you have an opener that gets a standing ovation every night, but that’s well-deserved because he’s in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and he was involved in the writing of “Hotel California,” a song quite a few people are familiar with.

Birmingham Stages: Is there a way to sum up your 20-year tenure in Styx?

LG: I cannot escape that fact that there’s a lot of gratitude on my side and I think for the band as well. We were the right fit for the right eras of our careers. The weird thing is I feel like I’ve been in the band all along. I know that I came in very late in the game so to speak for a band that’s approaching five decades of existence, but we were instantly simpatico about our musical drives and that’s really remained true until this day. I think putting together The Mission, the new album, and releasing it last year  – that really solidified my sense of belonging in the band. That’s something that you have to earn over time for a band that’s been around as long as Styx has. There’s only been 10 members of this band and that’s an incredibly low number for a band that’s existed this many decades.

Birmingham Stages: I think, like the Stones’ Ron Wood, it’s funny you are still thought of as the “new guy” after all these years.

LG: I think I’ll always be the “new guy” and I don’t mind anything that refers to “new” at this point in my life [laughs].

Birmingham Stages: Were the songs on The Mission created during a quick, inspired period or did it take time for the material to evolve?

LG: I would say, relatively speaking to the time I’ve been in the band, the material came together quite quickly. It began with the last song on the album, “Mission To Mars.” Tommy wrote it two and a half years ago. It started to kind of outline the basis of the story about a NASA mission. I came in and began to become part of the writing team of the record and we were invited to to NASA to see the arrival of the spacecraft New Horizons. They told us they’d named this new moon they’d discovered “Styx.” The story does revolve around man’s endeavor to make it to Mars, but I think it would be remiss to let the Styx story slip by – it really focused the end of the album. So, there was about a year of writing and about nine months of recording in order to pull it all together.

Birmingham Stages: Are you still pursuing your solo career or is your focus exclusively Styx these days?

LG: It’s a Styx focus but I play about 10 shows a year. I’m still in the process of completing a solo record that I go at in bits and pieces whenever I have a slight break from the road. I have a studio in Toronto and a good team of people that I work with there and I go down to Woodstock [N.Y.] and work with [bassist] Tony Levin and [drummer] Jerry Marotta. Each one of us has a solo endeavor and when we come back to the band it really enhances the overall chemistry of the band. But 85 to 90 percent of our focus is what we are as a band and we end the year with big smiles on our faces and that’s a good way to live.

Birmingham Stages: Given the enormous catalog of songs at your band’s disposal, how does Styx determine its set lists for tours?

LG: That is a process that I used to get deeply involved in because I thought there were Styx songs that had not been given enough attention. In the last 15 years, the process of trying to choose the set list can be so endlessly debated that I have decided to leave the debate up to the guys that want to get involved.

Styx will perform with REO Speedwagon and Don Felder at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater on Sunday, April 8. Tickets to the 7 p.m. show are $20 – $139 and can be purchased at

Rewarding Work: A Conversation with Béla Fleck

By Blake Ells

Béla Fleck has earned 14 Grammy Awards over his career, but his 2016 GRAMMY for Best Folk Album may have been the most special as it was won in a collaborative effort with his wife, Abigail Washburn. Fleck spent years with his own band, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, after spending some time with New Grass Revival. He’s offered his banjo talents to everyone from Dave Matthews Band to Asleep at the Wheel. On Friday, March 30, Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn will perform at The Lyric Theatre. Before the tour stop in Birmingham, Fleck spoke about nurturing his collaboration with Washburn, the popularization of instrumental music and Bonnaroo’s support of bluegrass.

Birmingham Stages: I think you and Abigail were together for nearly a decade before you really collaborated, certainly in the studio. Was that deliberate? Or was it always inevitable that you would record together?

Béla Fleck: We were waiting for the right time. She wanted to get her profile up a bit before collaborating with me so she would have her own established identity, rather than being Béla’s girlfriend. I always said that as soon as they heard her play and sing, they would understand why I was playing with her. But when we had our son, Juno, it was the perfect time to join forces.

Birmingham Stages: You both have very unique styles of how your perform the same instrument. How have you blended those styles to create your sound as a duo, and how do you feel that has matured since your debut together?

BF: Part of it is very natural, in that we sounded pretty tight right away without a lot of thought. But the other part is that we work hard to find combinations of “Us” that are unusual, and we don’t shy away from something that is hard at first.

Birmingham Stages: In recent years, you’ve combined your work with some symphonies, notably you performed a concerto with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra. Is blending those two very different sounds as challenging as it sounds?

BF: It is a ton of work, but very rewarding work. The challenge and the unusual setting for the banjo make it worth the effort.

Birmingham Stages: You had a heavy hand in popularizing instrumental music with a younger audience. Do you know why or how you were able to make that connection in the ’90s?

BF: My group, Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, were so darn unusual that we were able to attract a lot of attention. Even mainstream places like Johnny Carson or Arsenio Hall gave us spots. And then we hooked into the early ‘jam band’ phenomenon, and that got us to a lot of new young folk.

Birmingham Stages: How much did festivals like Bonnaroo play a hand in introducing bluegrass music to that younger audience?

BF: I like that Bonnaroo has always made an effort to respect bluegrass. Part of it is that the audience is intrigued by it, so they are very responsive. A lot of folks that never would hear bluegrass check it out at Bonnaroo and become serious grass fans.

Birmingham Stages: Has raising a child slowed you down a bit? Do you find yourself committing to fewer projects nowadays?

BF: I am cautious, because I don’t want to be gone much. So I don’t encourage projects that require a serious touring commitment. But I pick things that I can do at home, like writing orchestra music, which I don’t have to leave my family to write. Things will become more involved when we have two children, as we are expecting number two in a couple of months. I will have to be away a bit more, because Abby shouldn’t have to be out touring with two kids, she will need a break. So I’m finding a few more things to do that take me our for short runs.

Birmingham Stages: Will we ever see any form of a New Grass Revival reunion again?

BF: I wish! It’s not looking good currently, but maybe someday!

Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn will perform at The Lyric Theatre on Friday, March 30. Tickets to the 8 p.m. show are $29.50 – $49.50 and can be purchased at

The Time Is Right: A Conversation with Victor Wooten

By Brent Thompson

Photos by Steve Parke

Victor Wooten is just your everyday bassist, composer, producer, educator, author and record label owner. Oh, and he’s also won five GRAMMYS and been named “One of the Top 10 Bassists of All Time” by Rolling Stone in a recording career spanning nearly 30 years. The youngest of five musician brothers, 53-year-old Victor first gained notoriety as bassist for the genre-bending ensemble Bela Fleck & The Flecktones. in 2017, Wooten released his 10th solo record, TRYPNOTYX [Vix Records], with the Victor Wooten Trio (the trio includes drummer Dennis Chambers and saxophonist Bob Franceschini). On Thursday, March 29, the Victor Wooten Trio will perform in the Alys Stephens Center’s Jemison Concert Hall. Recently, Wooten spoke with us by phone as he prepared to embark on the current leg of the TRYPNOTYX tour.

Birmingham Stages: Victor, thanks for your time. TRYPNOTYX is your first solo release in five years. How did you decide it was the right time to make this record?

Victor Wooten: Good question – the real reason is I don’t know. I put records out on my own time and when I feel the time is right. Life is complex for me with family and kids, so making records is not the most important thing. I’m also not an artist that puts them out every year like some other people do because I’m not bound by a record label that’s forcing me to put them out. I just put them out when I feel the time is right. I had no idea that it had been five years. I constantly tour so time just flies by.

Birmingham Stages: How did the album’s material take shape? Are the songs mostly newer compositions or had they been around for a while?

VW: Kind of all of the above. The song called “Liz & Opie” is an old song that I revamped and sped up and made it right for this band. The other ones are all new – it’s a collaboration; I didn’t write everything. Bob had some songs and Dennis had ideas and we were able to put all of them together to come up with new music that fits the band. I didn’t really treat it as a solo Victor Wooten record – I treated it as a band record and that helped. These two guys are two of my musical heroes.

Birmingham Stages: Do songs still evolve even after you take them into the studio for the final recording?

VW: Yes, and that’s what I want. I want the band to influence the songs so it’s rare that I finish them completely before I start bringing them in on it. With Bob being a great sax player, he’s going to write better sax parts and melodies than me. With Dennis, I don’t want to tell him what to play.

Birmingham Stages: Are you still on the faculty of The Berklee College of Music?

VW: Yes, I’m there one week every month. I teach a Monday through Friday.

Birmingham Stages: Do you enjoy the variety of working with students in addition to recording and touring?

VW: For 19 years I’ve been running music camps so I’m in touch with students all year, but the college experience on a regular basis is new to me. I never went to college, so being at a college every month is a lot of fun. Because I’m not there all month, it would take a long time for it to get old to me.

Birmingham Stages: Your book, The Music Lesson: A Spiritual Search for Growth Through Music [Berkley Books, 2008], was well-received both commercially and critically. In addition to songwriting, do you have any book plans in the future?

VW: I am writing as we speak. I’m literally one page away from having the sequel to The Music Lesson completed. This year is the 10-year anniversary of The Music Lesson, so I’m trying to make sure the sequel gets out this year.

Birmingham Stages: Given all of your projects and commitments, are you still involved in The Wooten Brothers project with your three brothers?

VW: [Oldest brother and guitarist] Regi still does it but he does it now at a new Jazz club called Rudy’s. We had a fifth brother who passed away a few years ago who played saxophone named Rudy and some of his friends opened up a Jazz club named after him. So Regi’s weekly Wednesday night jam is now at Rudy’s. [My involvement] depends on if I’m in town or not. It’s definitely Regi’s gig, but if I’m in town on a Wednesday I do my best to try to get by there.

The Victor Wooten Trio will perform in the Alys Stephens Center’s Jemison Concert Hall on Thursday, March 29. Tickets to the 7 p.m. show are $40 (limited $10 student tickets are available) and can be purchased at For information on Victor Wooten’s educational camps, please visit

Keep The Guitar Alive: A conversation with Space Of A Day

By Brent Thompson

Photo Credit: John Scott Young

If you’ve been anywhere near the Birmingham music scene since the 1980s, then you are familiar with Ben Trexel. A prolific guitarist, composer, engineer and producer, Trexel has performed with – and produced – a multitude of bands and artists while becoming a local legendary figure. His current project, Space Of A Day, finds Trexel fronting a guitar-driven Pop ensemble with vocalist Autumn Yatabe. Drummer Daniel Coyle, guitarist Keith Shannon and bassist Scott Young round out the quintet’s lineup. On Friday, March 16, Space Of A Day will perform at Daniel Day Gallery. Recently, we spoke with Trexel and Yatabe as the band prepared to release its latest single, “Small Doses.”

Birmingham Stages: Ben and Autumn, thanks for your time. When did Space Of A Day begin?

Ben Trexel: I would say about a year ago – we just started singing and playing around the house for the fun of it. I’d play a song and she’d start singing and I’d say, “You have a nice voice.”

Autumn Yatabe: My mother and two of my aunts were singers and my sisters are singers. My grandfather told me my voice was shrill.

BT: She was told by the family that she wasn’t the singer [laughs]. But she has such a pure voice and a good vocabulary and she loves to read. I asked her if she wanted to write some lyrics.

AY: We just started singing together and it just sort of worked out.

Birmingham Stages: When it comes to songwriting, are there defined duties for each of you?

AY: I write the lyrics and sometimes the melody.

BT: I usually take care of the music, but we’re exploring different approaches to writing. Being a composer, I write at least 50 to 75 pieces of music a year. We want to make modern Pop, but I’m trying to keep the guitar alive in music. I’m not turning away from the electronic side of music, but I want the listener to say that there’s a lot of interesting guitar stuff happening.

AY: He will send me two to three pieces of music a week sometimes that he thinks I might be able to work with. When I have some down time at work, I’ll take 15 minutes and listen to it. [Singles] “Small Doses” we wrote in a week and “Vivid” was fast too. “Shiny Things” took about a month – there was something about it I didn’t like and I finally worked out the kinks. It just depends.

BT: I can’t not work on music.

AY: I cull it. He’ll send it to me and if I think it fits our sound, I’ll write something to it. 

BT: We just want to release singles for a while. We’re not going to think about making an album – it’s just so overwhelming. Let’s just make good songs – if it takes two or three months to make good songs, so be it. Maybe at the end of the year we’ll have enough songs for a proper record, but there’s no logistical reason to release a whole bunch of music at one time. In fact, it’s counterproductive in that it overwhelms listeners. Now, they’d rather be fed a little at a time. We want to do it in a process. We do social media on each song release and now we have followers as far away as Portugal.

Birmingham Stages: You mentioned social media and the way modern listeners consume music. How do you feel about the current climate of the industry?

BT: In the music business you traded off one bad situation for another bad situation. In the ’70s, the bad situation was only a select few could even make a record because of the technology and the costs involved. They had a huge market and not a lot of product. Now there’s 100 times as much product divided among the same amount of listeners. The playing field is level but you still have to work as hard – or harder – on your promotion as you do your music.

Birmingham Stages: With your engineering and producing skills, you have the ability to take a song from inception to release. That’s an advantage that many artists don’t have.

BT: It would cost $2,000 – $3,000 per song to do what we do for ourselves.

AY: We can do two to three songs per month and do a video ourselves. On our next video, we’re working with a filmmaker. We don’t want to just stay in the same thing.

Space Of A Day will perform at Daniel Day Gallery on Friday, March 16. Tickets to the 8:30 p.m. show are $10. Daniel Day Gallery is located at 3025 6th Avenue South. For more information, visit or contact the gallery at (205) 731-9420.


Relaxed About The Process: The Wood Brothers Return to Birmingham

By Brent Thompson

Photos by Alysse Gafkjen

What started as a side project for two sibling musicians has turned into a thriving, primary musical focus for Chris and Oliver Wood. Already established artists prior to forming The Wood Brothers – Chris as bassist for Medseki, Martin & Wood and Oliver as frontman for the Atlanta-based band King Johnson – the duo (now joined by multi-instrumentalist Jano Rix) has been recording and touring for more than a decade. In February, the band released its sixth full-length album, One Drop Of Truth. On Thursday, March 15, The Wood Brothers will perform at Iron City with Pierce Edens opening the 8 p.m. show. Recently, we spoke with Chris about the band’s approach to writing and recording.

Birmingham Stages: Chris, thanks for your time. You’re now based in Nashville – do all three of you live there?

Chris Wood: Yeah, that’s why we moved there actually. The Wood Brothers was taking over our careers and we lived very far apart. Oliver was in Atlanta and I was in New York, so we met in Nashville about five years ago to pursue The Wood Brothers. I’m not there a whole lot and, when I am, I’m recovering from tours and trying to record some music.

Birmingham Stages: If you will, talk about the recording process for One Drop Of Truth.

CW: For this record, we approached it a little bit different. On most records, most artists feel like they have to write a big batch of songs, get them all finished and book a big chunk of studio time for one to three weeks – depending on your budget – and record it all in one shot. The problem with that process is it gets overwhelming and you can get lost in it, especially if you’re trying to self-produce. So this time we started writing new material and every time we finished a song or two, we’d go into the studio and record it immediately. Nashville has so many great studios that are relatively inexpensive and we could go in and think maybe we were making a demo or maybe it was the real thing. It allowed us to be a little more relaxed about the process, to work on a song and set it aside for a couple of months while we finished writing other material. That allowed us to get away from things and have a fresh perspective on it. That’s the hardest thing about producing – you get too close to your work and it’s hard to make good decisions about it.

Birmingham Stages: Generally speaking, did you leave the initial recordings as they were or did you go back and tweak them?

CW: It completely depended on the tune. There were some songs where we just gave it a shot and later liked what we did. Other songs – after some time went by – we said, “This could be much better.” It was a great way to learn and have perspective on the material. You get better results that way.

Birmingham Stages: How would you describe your writing process?

CW: You have to be home – the road’s a little too nuts for that. You need some solitude. On the road, all kinds of spontaneous things happen that spark new material. We may improvise a little groove backstage or at sound check that we’ve never done before that sounds cool and we record them on our phones. We have this whole catalog of voice memos and you sort of forget about them and you go back and listen to them later. It may inspire a new song  – anything goes.

Birmingham Stages: What’s the status of Medeski, Martin & Wood these days?

CW: We really don’t tour anymore – we do festivals and one-offs. We are working on a documentary that was shot at a recording session where we were recording a new record.

Birmingham Stages: Do you envision MMW becoming an active project again in the future?

CW: There was a desire to not tour – not everybody wanted to stay on the road. As far as our musical connection, it’s strong and the same as it ever was. But not everybody wants to be hitting the road that hard. That’s the reason The Wood Brothers became such a priority for me but I still love playing with MMW. It’s just a matter of filling it in the cracks, schedule-wise.

Birmingham Stages: To be able to go on this journey with your brother is a unique situation. There aren’t a lot of artists that get to have that experience.

CW: It’s amazing. The MMW guys felt like brothers to me, but to actually have a band with my real brother is amazing on a lot of levels. You hear about the “brother band” horror stories – it’s youth and ego. We started when we were middle-aged so we had the chance to get over a lot of that stuff and start the band when we knew who we were.

The Wood Brothers will perform at Iron City on Thursday, March 15. Pierce Edens will open the 8 p.m. all-ages show. Tickets are $30 (seated general admission) and $20 (standing general admission) and can be purchased at

The Process of Making Music: A Conversation with Michael Nau

By Brent Thompson

His masterful instinct for arrangement, along with his reedy voice, earns Nau a place in the rock’n’roll underdogs’ Hall of Fame,” says respected online magazine Pitchfork of Michael Nau. In 2017, the singer/songwriter released Some Twist [Suicide Squeeze Records], the follow-up to his critically-acclaimed 2016 release Mowing. On Saturday, March 10, Nau and backing band The Mighty Thread will perform at The Firehouse. Recently, Nau spoke with us by phone from Vermont as he and his band rehearsed for their current tour.

Birmingham Stages: Michael, thanks for your time. We are enjoying Some Twist – if you will, talk about the creation of the album. Were these mostly newer songs, ones that had been around for a while or both?

Michael Nau: It’s definitely a bit of both. Some were as new as six months prior to the record coming out and some were as old as five years. With both of the solo releases, it ‘s worked that way both times. I think a lot of times, when I’m trying to make a record, I’ll get four or five songs that I really like and I feel like I’m on my way. I’ll go on tour and come back and start fresh. Songs end up getting set aside for long periods of time. I think once they get old enough they feel new to me.

Birmingham Stages: Do songs continue to evolve even as you’re recording them in the studio?

MN: Yeah, because we don’t really take the approach of being rehearsed to go into the studio. Every time we’ve done stuff as a band, we’ve had four or five days to spend. I’ll play a song and the guys will hear it once or twice. We’ve never toured on a group of songs and then recorded them – I imagine that would be a different approach. What I do like about it is we’ll be able to catch some things in a recording that probably wouldn’t have happened had we thought about it more.

Birmingham Stages: Some artists favor the current musical climate given anyone can release content and music is instantly accessible via iTunes and Youtube. Some artists say, for those same reasons, the current model makes it difficult to separate yourself from the crowd. How do you reconcile this give-and-take?

MN: I haven’t really figured it out. We’ve kind of tried to do it in a certain way that feels right to me. A lot of times people are coming to the show because they came across a video or something like that. My records all sell the same amount regardless of what’s going on. I really enjoy the process of making music and I’d be doing it regardless and I’m trying to navigate my way through it. It’s all I can do – I just try to make records I’m happy with.

Birmingham Stages: How would you describe your writing process?

MN: It varies – I try to write all the time. I don’t write very much on the road – I’ve never been able to do that unless I’m by myself. A lot of times I write by recording the music first.

Michael Nau & The Mighty Thread will perform at The Firehouse on Saturday, March 10. Tickets to the all-ages show are $8 and can be purchased at The Firehouse is located at 412 41st Street South.