Special Guest: Charlie McCoy (Part 2 of 2) might be one of the most honored and revered guests in my roster. His impact on music (both Country and Rock) is immeasurable. To bringing up the fact that he played on Bob Dylan’s Highway 61, Blonde on Blonde, Nashville Skyline, and John Wesley Harding, Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” or Roy Orbison’s “Candy Man” would overlook some of the other amazing achievements of this great musician. It should be noted that he also played with Elvis Presley throughout his career, including his early RCA sessions, and put out 35 great solo albums of his own. He is a Country music legend and has played with Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, George Jones, Flatt and Scruggs, Chet Atkins, Patsy Cline, and Johnny Paycheck. He was in the Nashville’s super group, Area Code 615, as well as being part of the Nashville A-team, he was the musical director for the ground breaking television show Hee Haw for 14 years and was inducted into the Country Hall Of Fame in 2009 with Roy Clark and Barbra Mandrell (and if you had to ask he recorded with them too).
In this podcast McCoy talks about working with Gordon Lightfoot and Kris Kristofferson, working on Hee Haw and explains his thoughts on the music and recording technique in Nashville today.
Charlie McCoy - Workingman's Musician.
It's rather remarkable how Charlie McCoy gets as little attention as he does; he's been in many of the landmark moments in many of the great musicians connected to Nashville. Perhaps, most notably for his work with Bob Dylan. Being the guitarist on Dylan's song, Desolation Row, should alone gain him attention. Getting thrown into the mix changed the sound immensely, but once Dylan had it, it stuck. Not to mention the input McCoy had on Dylan's monumental album, John Wesley Harding. Regardless of being one of the most sought after session musicians in Nashville, you hear relatively little about him. At least, not as much as you'd expect to, considering the places he's been and the people he's worked with. But he doesn't seem to mind being out of the spotlight. He seems to be one who just puts his head down and get to work, be that whatever is needed, but most often he's there with a harmonica in his hands. Kind of like a John Henry except with the harmonica as his tool of choice. He just gets it and goes to work, like a workingman musician.
For Desolation Row, McCoy just happened to be in New York at the time when Dylan was recording and was asked by producer Bob Johnson to add an improvised guitar part to the song. McCoy played a Mexican style fill to Dylan's lyrics which has been said by some critics to add a crucial element to the song. Rolling Stone ranked the song as number 187 in their 500 Greatest Songs of All Time. Simply chance and knowing the right people landed him into music history. Yet countless scores of people may know the song, may even be able to sing along, but have no clue to who played the guitar that delicately enhanced and outlined Dylan's verses of the song. It seems sort of odd that he didn't get more recognition since careers have been launched on much simpler guitar riffs on much less important songs.
Now add this to the input McCoy had on John Wesley Harding; throughout the entire album, the songs consisted of Dylan, McCoy, Kenneth A. Buttrey on drums, and occasionally Pete Drake on pedal steel. For those being the only members of the band on the recording, McCoy makes for a rather large piece of the pie, yet no one has chased him down to write a book on his input on those sessions. At least, I have yet to find it. Even the Nashville Public Library has only small amount of material on him. McCoy has been inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, but you may find no one amongst the inductees more understated.
Maybe this persistence of being hidden in the shadow of the spotlight owes itself to McCoy devoting so much time to being a session musician, had he landed a longer stint in a band, he would have surely proved his usefulness many times over, being the multi-instrumentalist that he is. He has risen to the occasion before, and in a more stable setting, where one might expect, and look forward to his repeated showings, he might have gained a reputation by fans as being someone's right-hand man. After all, all Joe Perry and Jimmy Page did was play guitar, right?
Charlie McCoy Interview (Part 1 of 2) [Listen 26:00] Discovering Unique Talent With Charlie McCoy S04 Ep08
Special Guest: Charlie McCoy (Part 1 of 2) might be one of the most honored and revered guests in my roster. His impact on music (both Country and Rock) is immeasurable. To bringing up the fact that he played on Bob Dylan’s Highway 61, Blonde on Blonde, Nashville Skyline, and John Wesley Harding, Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer,” or Roy Orbison’s “Candy Man” would overlook some of the other amazing achievements of this great musician. It should be noted that he also played with Elvis Presley throughout his career, including his early RCA sessions, and put out 35 great solo albums of his own. He is a Country music legend and has played with Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, George Jones, Flatt and Scruggs, Chet Atkins, Patsy Cline, and Johnny Paycheck. He was in the Nashville’s super group, Area Code 615, as well as being part of the Nashville A-team, he was the musical director for the ground breaking television show Hee Haw for 14 years and was inducted into the Country Hall Of Fame in 2009 with Roy Clark and Barbra Mandrell (and if you had to ask he recorded with them too).
In this podcast Charlie and I talk about his Southern beginnings, getting to Nashville and his barn dance radio days, McCoy's big Grammy winning album, The Real McCoy, his involvement in the songs “He Stopped Loving Her Today” with George Jones, and “Today I Started Loving Her Again” with Merle Haggard and Roy Orbison, we talk about Fred Foster, Sam Philips, Archie Bier, Charlie McCoy's work with Elvis, Ray Price, we get into Hank Williams and much, much more.
The Nashville sound, sometimes called by the ugly portmanteau, Countrypolitan, is the name for the sub-genre of country music that sprang up arguably around 1957. The Nashville sound is believed to be the reaction of country to combat the booming popularity of rock n' roll, ironically, it is argued that the Nashville sound was largely influenced by the one who was bolstering the popularity of rock 'n roll, Elvis Presley, but the Nashville sound was primarily orchestrated by Chet Atkins, Owen Bradley, Bob Ferguson, and Steve Shoals.
Why exactly Nashville became a music centre of the U.S. is still a matter of debate. Besides the people involved, on which there is even greater debate about who held the greatest impact, the location is considered to be a large reason behind the emergence of Nashville as a music centre. Both close enough to New York and the music that came from that way, but also far enough away from New York to not be so greatly influenced by it. And south enough to be rooted to the sounds emerging from the south and the rural areas. Also, a great deal of traffic traveling East and West went through Nashville, making it a harbour for the musical influences the travelers brought with them.
Of, course, this musical crossroads birthed one of the most reputable and revered stages by bringing these influences into the culmination of the Grand Ole Opry. The Grand Ole Opry grew out of the National Barn Dance radio program that showcased old-timey and down-home music. Noted as "the home of American music," The Grand Ole Opry is still a massive draw and is the highlight in many careers of notable country musicians that span several generations now.
Steve Albini Interview Part 1 [Listen 43:28] – Doing stuff to amuse Steve Albini and myself S03 Ep05
Special Guest: Steve Albini is famous for his distinctive style, the music he has been a part of, and his anti-producer producing philosophy. His work speaks for itself, recording bands like Nirvana, the Pixies, Superchunk, Godspeed You Black Emperor, Helmet, PJ Harvey, Cheap Trick, Bonny “Prince” Billy, Jarvis Cocker, Sparklehorse and believe me when I say the list could go on. He has been a member of the bands Big Black, Rapeman, and Shellac. I first came across Steve Albini's name from reading Nirvana interviews around the time Nirvana was releasing their masterpiece “In Utero.” In those interviews, Kurt Cobain talked about how he wanted to follow up their mega-hit album “Nevermind” with the producer who recorded his favourite albums like “Surfa Rosa” by the Pixies and “Pod” by the Breeders. Albini’s style of engineering and producing has been described as “hands off,” or minimalist in its approach. He also is a person who prefers not to receive credit on the albums he has worked on, stating that he doesn't think it's right to be paid in perpetuity for something he took part in for only one day. Albini is also known for his integrity to the music, and has gained fame not only in music he put out but for his reasonable recording rates (charging affordable flat rates regardless of the bands' fame). He's clearly music fan and I am thrilled to have Steve Albini on the show.
In this interview, Steve Albini and I talk about his unique and controversial recording philosophies, Cheap Trick and recording “Special One” , “Rockford”, and rerecording “In Color”, The Pixies and some interesting lessons he learned recording Surfer Rosa, he reflects on PJ Harvey and her career and we finish off talking about working with Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse just before his tragic and untimely death.
Bonus Guest: Brett Anderson (of The Stripminers and The Donnas) - has teamed up with Paul Stinson (The Radishes), DJ Bonebrake (X, The Knitters), Scrote (Daniel Johnston, Puscifer), Holland Greco (Anais Mitchell, The Peak Show) and Brett Simons (Brian Wilson, Melissa Etheridge) to form her latest side-project “The Stripminers.” Frail Hope Ranch is the second album of The Stripminers and finds the band in an Americana/Folk Revival mood for this release. Although this is a huge departure from The Donnas for Anderson, the album itself will no doubt be loved by many of her fans and gain new ones of those who are into the genre. In this interview I ask Brett Anderson about how the band came together, and address the ongoing question if Paul Stinson and her are an item. We break down some of the tracks and talk about her love of the Majestic Theatre in Detroit.
Listen to get A Free Copy of ” Frail Hope Ranch” by The Stripminers*
Listen to the end of this podcast to hear how you can get a copy of the limited edition“Frail Hope Ranch” on White Vinyl.
Albini: Abrasive Humanist or Punk
To say that Steve Albini is not your usual producer falls way short of the mark. He actually refuses to be called "producer" but rather prefers to say that he "engineers" music. To be certain, he's an iconoclast. His iconoclastic way of being was developed early on at one particular time when he said that he had an enlightening moment when he realized that he could and simply wouldn't care about what people thought of him. Obviously, it's something he's laid the foundation of his life on and continues through to this day. It's served him to some degree; his name is well known, and carries with it his distinctive sound, not to mention notoriety of his personality, but of course his boldness also has brought him infamy and could have as easily destroyed everything he's tried to build for himself.
He alienated himself in the production world early on for posting an article declaring and describing his hatred for the music industry (the link is posted below.) He has stated since that the industry just isn't the same anymore; he described that the industry just doesn't have the stranglehold on artists that it used to have and cannot exploit to the measure it once did.
His outspokenness and behaviour has earned him quite some ill repute throughout the years and began early on during his early 20's playing in bands. Attention was brought largely on the topics that his band sang about; wife beating, animal slaughter, child abuse, not to mention titling one of his bands, "Rapeman." He was labelled a misogynist and masochist in an era that was used to upheaval and shock: the Punk era. He stirred a fervour to such a a degree that groups would protest outside his shows, and at times he received death threats. Many people I'm sure would simply not believe that today he's married, loves to cook, and says that he likes to watch cute kitten videos. Yet, speak to the man and he'll speak with absolute candour.
That's another area that separates Albini from the crowd: how he deals with the people in general and conducts his business, apparently he answers his own phone and he refuses to record no one. He does not charge exorbitant fees, but an affordable rate, nor does he treat a band the way a producer usually does in the studio, nor expects the same rewards afterward. He refuses to accept royalty fees. And this is something he's held to, not just as some wishful thinking young idealist, but he continues to operate in the same fashion to this day when he could easily charge much more.
Albini says that it's from being part of a band that gives him his understanding and appreciation of bands but in my research of his background, I uncovered something I can't say for certain helped shape Albini's approach, but it's certainly telling of the man to have made an impression. He said that something about John Peel had an impact on him; about how Mr. Peel views people's work when they sent him a record. Mr. Peel said that he understood that for someone to send him their record, they must have felt passionately about it, and if the music didn't strike him, then the fault was with him, that he simply didn't get it, not that the fault was in the music, and for someone with as much knowledge and influence as Mr. Peel to have such humility had an impact on Albini, he stated. This may have influenced the way Albini views a band. He sees the band, as he states, more in the light as a social entity or family with tight relationships, and in that relationship, for him to offer his opinion as a producer, or audio engineer would only be an ignorant one. And understands with this insight, for him to act as a producer who places himself above a band would be foolish. Weather or not John Peel was the influence that led to his approach, Albini says he sees himself in more of a peer relationship and allows the band to make the decisions and to shape the recording of their album the way they (the band) see fit.
One thing that Albini doesn't negotiate is that he records in all analogue. Ask him about drum machines and autotune, and you'll get an interesting opinion, and one full of passion, although, through the test of time, proves to be the accurate one. Really with a little forethought, it's should be quite clear: what's taken for convenience's sake, or for an easy hook is the quickest and easiest way to date and cheapen the music. Although, he knows that a lot of music that sells is just that: cheap and popular. And he hates it. He has said the same about the intention for which music is made. If it's done for some other motive, that destroys the quality. When Albini was asked the reason why Nirvana sounds as good today as they did when they were making their music, he replies that it's because they were genuine.
So say what you want about the man, he's offended many, and will continue to do so. His position is that your opinion of him doesn't matter. But he may be one of the best things that happened to music.
- Guthrie Alan Corwin
Links, disclaimers, and everything else:
The Problem With Music by Steve Albini
*Details of how to enter draw for The Stripminers album at the end of the podcast (answer skill testing question). Shipping not included.