Image - Courtesy of

Slaid Cleaves

America's Native Son

Slaid Cleaves - Photo by Paul Johnston

As I am returning from having taken my son to high school this morning, my thoughts reflect on three individuals whose paths of life, though occupying this same wonderful universe, are at different stages: My son, has just begun his life's journey. He is busy acquiring the educational and social rudiments necessary to navigate through this world. My young neighbor, having finished serving his country with military duty, is a student at the University of Texas at Austin in radio, television, and film and aspires to a career as an American movie director. Frequently, as I am nearing home, I see this young man sitting at the bus stop waiting for his ride to his morning classes. As I drive past him, we both give a friendly wave and nod to recognize our mutual existence and relay our best wishes to each other in our daily endeavors. Now, my thoughts, flowing along the lines that we are all connected with a common thread of life, turn to Slaid Cleaves, a singer of Americana.

Following along in the footsteps of other noteworthy buskers of Americana, such as Jimmie Rodgers, Woody Guthrie, and Bruce Springsteen, Slaid Cleaves has paid his dues in full many times over. As a young lad, he early on discovered his two passions in life at that time, music and trains. The chorus of Arlo Guthrie's song, City of New Orleans, well describes Slaid's current status in the world of Americana singers:

Good-Night America, how are you?
Said don't you know me, I'm your native son

Slaid Cleaves is America's native son! It is now time for the world to recognize him as such.

In November 2000, Slaid Cleaves graciously granted me a two hour interview to take an in-depth look at his life and career. Slaid is a warm, friendly,straight forward person. The conversation with him is easy, comfortable and sincere. He is a very hard working singer/songwriter intensely pursuing his craft. The following is a transcript of Slaid's fascinating story.

Slaid Cleaves

Interview by Paul Johnston


3:30 P.M

What have you been doing in the recent past and what are you going to be doing in the near future?

"Well the record [Broke Down] came out in January [2000] and I've been on the road all year long playing shows all over the country and Europe and Canada; so, I've been real busy this year. I'll kinda continue on until New Year's and take January off."

Broke Down - Album Cover

You said your life could be interesting sometimes. Tell us what you meant by that?

"Oh well, I meant it as a joke, but my life is fraught with all sorts of challenges. You know, driving a van full of buddies across country and playing gigs and breaking down and fixing the van by the side of the road and, you know, just living in a new place everyday, strange bed everyday, meeting a whole bunch of new people everyday and then moving on to the next town and a bunch of one night stands. I suppose that would...kinda interesting, kinda what I meant. Not your regular nine to five kind of life."

In reference to your last CD, "Broke Down" and your mentioning having to repair your van, is car mechanics an interest of yours or is it one developed out of necessity?

"No, the later, definitely. I have to learn how to keep things going. Been driving a succession of castoff hand-me-down cars and junk yard cars for quite a while now. This van I bought for this tour was the first car I ever bought out of a used car dealership. Most of the other cars I've had were out of junk yards or friends or family just handed down to me for nothing. So, it's a matter of necessity to figure out what makes them tick and what makes them not tick."

What model of car do you now drive to get around to your different gigs?

"Well, around, around small gigs around town, I have a '74 Dodge Dart Sport which had been my touring car for a long time. It's the car I moved to Texas in but, I did buy a van last year in order to travel with my band, an upright bass and guitar player, and amps and stuff like that, and a bunk to sleep in; so, it's a '86 Dodge Ram van."

The Beginning

When were you born?


In reading your article on your web site about your name, I take it "Slaid" is your middle name?


And is "Richard" your first name?


So, Richard Slaid Cleaves is your full name?


I identify with you. My parents also always called me by my middle name, so I had the same battle with my name as you experienced.

"Yeah....yeah, it's always hard on bureaucracy to get their handle around that one."

In what town were you born?

"I was born in Washington, D.C."

If you could tell me a fast chronology of where you have lived from the time you were born up to now, I would appreciate it.

"Well, I lived in Virginia until about 1970, so I was five. I moved to Maine. Grew up in Maine. Lived in Maine through high school 'til '82. Went to college in Boston. And then after graduating in '87, I moved up to Dover, New Hampshire for a year and Bath, Maine and Portland, Maine in '89 and I lived there until '91 and then I moved to Austin."

The College Try

When did you start college?

" Around '83."

What college did you go to?

"I went to Tufts in Boston."

What was your major?

"Oh, it changed, but it ended up was English for a while but it ended up as philosophy."

Did you enjoy philosophy?

"Yeah, I did. It helped me think a little clearer and make sense of the world around me. It provided some way to test all the stuff that swirls around and figure out what's true and what's not."

Since college, have you adopted any type of philosophies or beliefs that you live by or seems to have life pegged?

"No, I really don't. I kinda feel the same way about philosophy as I do about religion. They're all kinda searching for the same thing and they all have their way of going about it. Each one has its validity. Some way or another I don't think of one being more right than the other. I never I said, I was mostly an English major. It was only in the last year I switched over to philosophy almost by default just because that was the only major I could do at the time. I was sick of doing English. Philosophy was a really easy major to accomplish in a certain amount of courses that I already had under my belt. That was the one thing I still could get a degree in and not have to go back for another year. I didn't study any philosophy enough to become an expert in any one philosopher or any one school, but just being exposed to different types of thought, being exposed to logic, and learning how to tell a good argument from a bad one was what I got out of it."

How did you decide to go to college?

"I didn't really want to go. I was into music in high school. I thought I'd just keep playing music. My folks were college educated and I was the first of four kids and it was kind of expected of me to go to college. They encouraged me. They didn't make me go, but they encouraged me. They offered to help me go. You know, choose where ever I wanted to go, where ever I could get in and they'd help pay, and they did. I helped as much as I could, delivering pizza and stuff like that, but they did pay a lot of money for me to go to school. Sometimes it seemed like it was more for them than me as far as the deciding to go. Once I got there, I did blossom a lot, well not blossom really, I just discovered a lot. I met some interesting people. I did some traveling. I spent a year abroad in Ireland and learned a lot about music there. The philosophy and the English studies helped me become a writer in the long run even though I didn't know I was going to apply it in that way. It definitely did enrich my life a lot. I'm thankful I had that opportunity."

Did you feel like your last year of college was a joy or did you feel like it was an ordeal to get through college?

"I worked real hard to do well. It seemed it got harder every year. That senior year was tough, you know taking more advanced level courses, working hard to write papers. I was working part time as well, twenty hours a week or so. So, I worked hard and it was a relief to get college over with. Been, you know, going to school all my life. I was ready to try to be productive. In stead of taking stuff in, I wanted to be productive and sort of give back something."

Irish Eyes

You mentioned that you had traveled to Ireland. When did that happen?

"Well, that was in my junior year, so '85 to '86 for nine months I lived in Cork, Ireland."

Was that part of your college studies?

"Yeah, it was a program that Tufts offered. Actually, Tufts didn't offer it but they allowed it. It's a fairly common thing for kids to go over and spend a semester abroad. Tufts would coordinate with the other universities so you would get credit back home; so, that's the kind of deal it was."

When you were in Ireland, what kind of courses did you take there?

"It was almost all English and philosophy, some Celtic civilization courses."

What memories come to mind that summarize your experiences in Ireland?

"Well, I really started my career there. I hadn't done any playing in front of any people as far as a song writer, but that's where I learned a bunch of songs and learn how to sing and play the guitar at the same time and went out on the street corners and played for tips and learn how to try to get a crowd and keep a crowd and built up my voice; so, I think about that and, you know, the beginning of my careers and the satisfaction that I took in having some success at it, being able to make a little bit of money, get some positive feedback from people. Also, I just, just learning about the Irish culture, meeting the Irish people and learning about that and something I really did not know much about 'til I got there. I sure learned a lot, learned some Irish music, some Christy Moore, some De Dannan, and just living in a foreign country makes you appreciate your own country too. As soon as I got to Ireland, I couldn't wait to start traveling around the U.S. 'cause I hadn't seen much of the U.S. except for the northeast, 'bout all I knew about before I went to Ireland. Soon as I got home, really got this wanderlust to see other parts of this country."

So, traveling to Ireland whetted your appetite to see the world so to speak?

"It really did,yeah."

When you were a kid, what were some of the hobbies you enjoyed?

"Well, I had a great interest in music very early on, listening to records that my folks had around the house, Beatle records, Johnny Cash and Hank Williams and Buddy Holly. I mean like three or four years old I was playing records on the record player. I had a big Lionel train set. Those were my two passions, music and trains!"

Did the train puff smoke?

"It sure did, yeah. It was not very dramatic but I tried to make it work. Did you have a Lionel train?"

I did when I was a kid.

When you were in Ireland, were conflicts between various religions and the government going on in the area where you were located and what were some of your thoughts at the time?

"Well, I was a little concerned before I went over there but I soon learned that the troubles up north don't really have much of an effect on the rest of Ireland. As someone put it to me, 'It's only in northern Ireland that the troubles are happening and it's only in a couple of town where it's happening and it's only in a couple of streets in those towns where the real violence is happening.' So, the vast majority of Ireland is as peaceful as the USA, more so actually, 'cause they are not so fixated with guns over there. So, in Cork, I was never affected by it. The only thing I saw different over there is when the armored cars would come to pick up the bank deposits or the mail. You know, you see Army trucks and guys with machine guns and camouflage, kind of darting in. That kind of shocked me 'cause you don't see very much of that on the streets in the States. Apparently, that's just routine, a routine thing. I was never affected by anything like that."

Did you ever reflect back on your philosophy courses and figure out a way Ireland could resolve these conflicts?

"I don't recall. I did do a project on it in college one time. It was actually before I went to Ireland. I made a video documentary trying to probe the issue of why, why it was such a terrible struggle there, why it kept going? Was it a religious conflict? How did religion play a role in it? I guess I didn't come up with any solutions except something I read recently, actually said something like, 'Guns don't kill people, ideals kill people.' Those were the dangerous things. Religions and political ideals are things that inspire people to massacre each other. So, I don't know. I guess I have an anti-religious bent to me because of that kind of situation."

This video was made before you went to Ireland?

"It was before I went. It was in Boston that we made the video. We interviewed people on the street. We talked to some Irish Americans and some natural Irish folks who were working in Boston which are not very hard to find. We got some very heated discussions going. I think we ended up with a guy who wouldn't talk because he just said it was just too complicated. That's how we ended it. "

Was this video part of one of your courses?

"I think it was a course on religion, actually."

Spiritual Nourishment

You said you had an anti-religious bent to you. Would you tell us more about this?

"Since my teen years, I always... I never found any comfort in religion, in any particular religion and I've been very interested in religion, interested in the philosophy of religion and interested in studying different religions. Joseph Campbell was a great influence in learning about comparative religion and Neff and stuff like that was very interesting to me about ten or twelve years ago. I guess because I am a student of religion, I'm not a believer if...that's what I think.

What was the name of Campbell's book and television series?

"That's how he came to me. The Power of Myth. I saw that and I bought the book and I bought a bunch of other books of his. I was bit of a devotee of his for a couple of years."

For curiosity sake, back to the religion thing...this is not a belief in a God or is it? You believe that...well, I'll just ask you....what do you mean kind of anti-religious?

"I just mean I don't subscribe to any one religion. I don't get any spiritual nourishment from any of their organized religions. I get spiritual nourishment from other sources like from literature and from philosophy and music."

From these sources of spiritual nourishment for yourself, can you tell us what principles guide your life?

"Well, I haven't set up any sort of structure like that and that's one of the things I dislike about most organized religions is this sort of strict rules and rules that are suppose to apply to everybody. I know that some obviously 'Thou shalt not kill', I mean that's kind of a universal thing. Yeah, that's one of the places religions fail is prescribing behavior instead of letting people figure out what is right for themselves. There are rules and they are much more general, have to do with being honest, being true to yourself and being good to people around you, being responsible for your own actions, simple stuff like that I try to live by."

The Magic Rats

What music hit your fancy as a youngster growing up?

"Well, as a teenager when I was sort of forging my own path. Bruce Spingsteen became a real guiding light musically from about the romanticism and passion and dedication that he showed was very inspiring and helped to inspire my first band, garage band, in high school when I was still a piano player. I had taken piano lessons since I was a kid, so that's what I listened to when I was sixteen, seventeen, is Bruce Springsteen and The Clash, a sort of passionate band with a statement, The Who, but also sort of American rock and roll like Tom Petty and J. Geils Band and people like that. Tom Waits became a hero early on as well."

What was the name of your band in high school and how long did you have it?

"We were called 'The Magic Rats', the cats in the Springsteen song. The Magic Rats would actually go two years 'til we got out of high school."

What kind of music did you play?

"We didn't write any of our own, but we did lot of Bruce Springsteen and Bob Seeger, Tom Petty, The Clash and what else...Rolling Stones. You know, just sort of formative American pop music. We did a couple songs by some Boston bands that were regionally popular, but not national, bands like The Stompers and The Rings. We'd go to shows, you know, sneak into night club shows and see these local, see these local rock bands play 'cause we could get close to them whereas we could not get close to Bruce Springsteen or Tom Petty. They would only come around once every four years and play at the huge stadiums. We did the best we could to sneak into the local live music scene."

In college, what were your musical influences?

"Well, I guess it was in my early years of college is when I sort of took my heroes and deconstructed them or looked back into their past and saw what their influences were in order to strengthen my understanding of their music and find my own path in my own music. That's when I started reading. It was mainly reading about Bruce Springsteen and hearing that he'd been inspired by Hank Williams and Woody Guthrie to write his record 'Nebraska' which was a real powerful record for me, simple, stark and effective. I dug those records up out of the attic that I had listened to as a kid, Elvis, Gene Vincent, Hank Williams, Everly Brothers, Johnny Cash and found lots of Woody Guthrie records in the library and Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly and the Louvin Brothers. So that's, it was in my college years that I delved into the influences of the music that was affecting me. Learned them. Those were the songs I learned when I started playing guitar and singing in Ireland."

Street Wise

Was your first venture into performing as a street performer?

"Yeah, well, I'd played keyboards in this little high school band, but I didn't sing or anything. I did sing a little bit in a band. I took a year off between high school and college. I played keyboards and sang with another, just a lounge band, just a little cover band. But, yeah, Ireland was where I'd play guitar. It was me, it was just me and guitar, singing these songs and starting to sing my own songs, so that's really where my career begin in Ireland in '85."

Do you remember the very first time you stepped out on the streets of Ireland to perform?

"Oh yeah. Well, I set a date as a goal and it was November 18 because that was the anniversary of this girl friend that had just dumped me soon as we went to Ireland. We went to Ireland together and she kind of dumped me just as we got there. So I was alone, heartbroken, needed to fill some void in my life. So, I'd learned a song a day until November 18 for about a month and that's when I went out onto the Patrick Street in Cork, Ireland and I played my first song and I chose a Buddy Holly song as my first song, a song called 'Well, All Right'."

As you were standing on the streets of Ireland performing, tell us your memories of doing that?

"Well, the buskers in Ireland in my's a little bit different than here. In the States when you play on the street, you try to gather a crowd and keep them, and I wasn't like that. I'm not that aggressive of a performer. In Ireland it's kind of like you played on the streets and people would walk by and drop coins in your case as they walked by. Once in a while a couple would stop and listen, request a song and stay for a song or two. I judged the reaction on how many people stopped and listened, how many people dropped money in. Well, I guess, also, how many people stopped and listened and just the comments people gave. I got a couple of encouraging words. I think one of the guys who saw me that first night was, he had done some busking himself, so he noticed a new kid on the street and he stopped to listen and make couple of compliments. I think I went out on Monday night 'cause I was afraid of being in front of too many people. I knew Monday night would be kind of lonely and I kind of wanted to sing by myself for a while, out there to get the hang of it 'cause I knew I wouldn't be very good at first, but I felt like I did a decent job."

As you were walking home that first evening from performing on the streets, what were your thoughts?

"Aaah, I don't remember. I can imagine, but I really don't have a recollection of that. I imagine I stopped and did some chips on the way home, some salt and vinegar and maybe had a beer and some chips. I felt like a new chapter of my life had started. I stopped devoting myself to this girlfriend and now was devoting myself to this fledging little dream of a career....and I imagine it felt good."

Was the year 1985?

"Yeah, that's right."

After that first time of performing on the streets of Ireland, how frequently did you go out and perform?

"Well, I think I went out a couple of nights a week, maybe two, sometimes three nights a week. Of course, it depended on the weather. If it was too rainy, I wouldn't be able to go out and it often depended on....there were quite a few buskers over there and only four or five little choice spots I liked to play in, so, sometimes I'd get beat out by one of the veterans. I'd defer to them if they showed up and needed their spot, 'cause some of them, that was their sole means of income. I was a college student with my parents to support me. It was not my sole means of income. So, I think it was a couple times a week."

What year did you come back to the States from Ireland?

"That was in '86."

Nine to Five

In 1987 you graduated from college. Take us from 1987 to 1991 in the process of getting to Austin, Texas.

"Well, the summer of '87, I did a lot of street singing up in Portland, Maine which was near where I had settled after college. It was actually New Hampshire but it was only an hour away and made a living out of it that summer and loved it! We had a great time and played three and sometimes four nights a week, again, based on the weather and found a real good place in a good neighborhood to play in. I really enjoyed that. Enjoyed the idea of living off being a musician which I didn't think was possible. No one seemed to discourage me from that, family, friends and all. Society in general kind of says that you can't make a living as a musician. So, that was a great summer, but then it got cold, I didn't have any of the resources to get gigs inside. I ended up getting a day job that I didn't like so much and kind of had a miserable year, kinda given up on music."

Tell us about the miserable year?

"Oh, well, it was ,just aah, you know, stuck in Maine in the winter time with a job that paid, I think it paid $4.50 an hour; so, I'd work 40 hours a week, get up every morning and work all day long, five days a week and my pay check was under $200, I believe. Is that right? Yeah, it was $160.00 or something like that."

What kind of job did you have?

"I worked in a darkroom printing pictures. I'd studied photography in college so I had that minor skill but it soon became very routine. I was doing some nice work. It was hand done and everything but it became routine. I got tired of seeing pictures of people's dogs and people's weddings."

Was your job enlarging or mass processing or what?

"I did everything. It was a small town developing center so I did lot of enlarging. I did lot of bulk film developing, you know, in the darkroom with the canister, six rolls of black and white film, that kind of thing. I did mostly the black and white stuff; so, it was pretty custom stuff but still kind of routine."

In the processing of the film, was it an automated process?

"No, it was much more hand done than that. It wasn't actually bulk film. It was just regular 35 mm cartridges people would shoot. I'd take them in the darkroom. You have to open them up in the dark. Thread it onto this spool, which was really hard to do in the dark. Put the spool in the canister and you would turn the light on and you add, you know, this chemical for seven minutes. Dump it out. Rinse it out with another chemical, you know, takes about an hour to do. You'd have to be real careful. You don't want to mess up somebody's film. I only did one time! I put one film in the wrong processor or something...put the black and white in the color or something like that or the slide film in the regular color processor, screwed it up. That was the only time I messed up."

Continue on about the various jobs you had in the process of coming to Austin, Texas?

"Well, let's see. In high school, I had jobs. I was a janitor. Me and a buddy cleaned bathrooms after work for two, three hours a day, something like that, in a factory. That was pretty rough! Loved it at first, of course, be nice to get my own pay check. That got old pretty quick and became real drudgery. It got kind of inspired, the musical dream, because it seemed like that was the alternative to a life of music was a life of drudgery and minimum wage labor, that kind of thing. Even though, yeah, I was going to college and had those opportunities but I never did really find anything that really interested me in college."

"Anyway, I was a janitor. I ran a rope tow, those little ski jobs in my town in Maine. I ran a rope tow in the winter time. Sometimes as a kid, I was a ground's keeper, mowed the lawns and such at a historical home in my little home town. In college, I was a pizza delivery guy. Eventually, became one of the workers at this little tiny family owned Greek pizza shop. I was the only employee who wasn't part of the family. That was kind of nice. I learned that I much preferred working for a family as opposed to working for a corporation. I did a little of that corporate work when I worked for Sears for about a year. I think that was my year after high school."

"I took a year off between high school and college. I worked in the warehouse at Sears. That was horrible working for a big faceless corporation like that that doesn't appreciate you. It's just awful!. It's soulless. Numbing. That darkroom job was my last day job. I quit that around the years 1989 and said, you know, 'This is going to kill me. I got to try doing my music.' So, that was all through '88, I worked there. At the end of '88, I just quit and I broke up with another girl friend and left the job, and had no place to live and lived out of my car and stayed on couches and traveled, up and down the east coast for a couple of another cheap little place with another musician and set up to start my career."

"I was determined that I was going to get work inside in the winter in Maine and so I made a little demo tape with a four track and, you know, learned a few of the cover songs of the day and took my tape around to gigs and got booked for $75, or a $100, or a $125 for a night at these restaurant bars. After a couple of months, I had a steady stream of these gigs. By May of that year, I was astonished and thrilled to find that I was making more money doing music a few nights a month than I was at working at that damn darkroom forty hours a week. So, that was sort of the beginning of my life as it is today."

That year was what?

"That was '89. Later on in '89, I met my wife, Karen, and hooked up with a band and started playing around Portland and started getting some press and was on my way to becoming sort of a fixture on the Portland, Maine music scene. I did that through '89, and '90 and '91. Towards the end of '91, I'd sort of done all I could in Portland, it being a not very big town. It's only 60,000 people. I became sort of a fixture on the scene, but in order to transcend this sort of local guy status and have a real career, I knew I needed to go to a big music town. That's where I started to try to figure out where I should go next and that was the time in '91 Austin was getting a reputation for a real Mecca for rootsy Americana type music, before they had that term 'Americana.' And that's exactly what I was doing until I figured Austin would be a good place to go. So, we packed up and moved at the very end of '91."

Lessons of Love

Tell us how you met your wife in 1989?

"Well, I met Karen, it was my first regular gig every Monday night at Angie's, which was kind of a seedy bar along the waterfront commercial district of Portland Maine. It was where all the fishermen went. It was kind of a rowdy place, kind of had a bad reputation. The fishermen go out for a week or more at a time. When they come home, they sell their catch and split up the money. They have a few days to spend it. They walked into the bars a hundred yards from where the boat lands and they've got a few thousand dollars in their pocket and so they spend it freely. It's the only bars I've ever been in where the people actually still buy the house a round once in a while. I've never seen that anywhere else except in the movies or Angie's. I was playing every night at Angie's for $40 and my wife just happen to be walking by and saw me. She was with some friends. That's how I met her. I met her in May or June of '89. We started living together that year and moved to Texas together in '91 and got married and '94."

Was this love at first sight?

"Oh, we met. I could tell there was some interest there. She came to see me at a gig a couple of weeks later. We took off after that gig and went for a nice walk and never looked back."

As you look back at past girlfriends and loves lost, what lessons have you learned?

"Well, a few most important things from each one of those failed relationships I've learned, learned about myself. I learned about women. I learned about living with women and I learned about sharing your life with somebody and how to treat somebody. So, I learned a lot about relationships from those failed attempts but also those failed attempts were also instrumental in my career. The first one got me singing and playing and learning music for the first time. The second one got me to really take it seriously as a career, really try hard to make a living at it. I thank those two gals for teaching me a lot about love and life and myself and also giving me the crisis I needed to take that scary step to try to do music as a career."

In summary, what important lessons did you learn about how to treat a woman?

"Well, I learned that when you share your life with someone you have to accept them as they are and not to expect them to conform to some preconceived notion you have of the perfect person. And the main thing is to accept people for who they are and appreciate them for who they are."


You arrive in Austin in 1991. Bring us from 1991, career wise, up to the present.

"I came to Austin. I had one cassette tape that I had done, actually two; one that I did solo and one, with my band. I had these two little cassette tapes and, you know, a couple dozen songs and some experience but not a whole lot. I had just played bars, had very few concerts. I knew that I needed to play concerts in order to progress. So, I moved to Austin at the very end the of '91. I was thrilled to see all the live music opportunities here, all the places I could play in. I sent my tape out to people, dozens of these clubs. Not a single one called back, so the euphoria wore off very quickly. I realize that it was going to be really hard going down here. They've got plenty of music down here already. They don't need any more. I knew it was going to be tricky."

"So, I started playing on the street. It was like starting all over again. I had gotten fairly successful up at Portland. I could have a hundred people come out to see me. So, I started from scratch. I played in on the street corner. I've played the open mike circuit and I paid my dues. I paid my dues playing the Sunday night ten o'clock slot, you know, just really lot of frustration, but also a lot of time. I discovered Pharmaco the first year up here and I was able to help support myself. Karen had a job. She actually help support me and I contributed somewhat with the Pharmaco money. I spent a lot of time writing songs, trying to write new songs and working on my songs."

"Those first couple of years, I think that was my concentration, working on songs and just trying to build some kind of following in town. It was real tough going! I had a few minor successes like being new folk winner at Kerrville helped out a little bit. I was befriended by some established people in Austin who really helped out and gave opening shows. Don Walser let me sing with his band once in a while and Tom Pittman from the Austin Lounge Lizards was very supportive early on. He would come to my shows when nobody else would and offer me opening gigs here and there. A couple of the local DJs were supportive, Kevin Conner from KGSR was supportive early on. Of course, Larry Monroe at KUT was very supportive playing my music."

"So, you know, I had just a little bit of success, enough to keep me going and and that lasted until about '94, '95 and that is when I really started getting desperate. I released a couple of independent cassettes. They were fairly well received locally but I sort of had two home towns, Austin and Portland. I'd drive up to Portland and play in Maine a couple months every summer. I really did not have any luck touring at all because I did not have a record deal, no radio play, no publicity. I was just a guy with two home towns."

"In '95,'96, I really was desperate to get a record deal and make that next step so that I would have some support behind me so that I wasn't doing everything myself. I sent out demo tapes in early '96 and nobody called back but I ran into Ken Irwin from Rounder Records at South By Southwest in '96 and he expressed an interest. He said he really enjoyed my demo tape."

"He had never called back but he looked me up at South By Southwest and said he really enjoyed it and might want to start working with me. That's how the deal came about. Make that deal after South By and made my first record with Rounder in April of '96 with Gurf Morlix who was a producer that I had admired and could never afford and had never met until the Rounder deal came along and that afforded me the opportunity to work with him which turned out to be a real turning point. It was a really great thing. I made a good record, and I started traveling around the country with the support of a label for the first time, getting airplay, getting press all around the country. It was real slim pickings at first, kind of playing for ten, twelve, fifteen people in a lot of rooms, not being able to afford a band most of the time, maybe one guy with me. Just kind of knowing not to expect more than that. Just real happy for the opportunity to be able to start laying the foundation for a national touring career. That's how '96, '97, '98 went."

"And then, in 99, it's time to get another record done. I had a few songs, a few more in the works...started recording with Gurf in '99. Did it at his home studio this time and had the benefit of having worked with him before and knew how to work with each other and been playing with each other for a couple of years so it was a much more relaxed album. And also, again, a measure of desperation making me put everything I had into the songs and its effort and its production of it. There was a little bit of a feeling of, you know, if this record doesn't start making me some money, I'm never gon'na pay off these debts cause I've been building up debts to my wife Karen, to my family, my parents, to friends who helped me do my first releases and I never sold enough to pay them back. Credit card debts were huge! I was determined to really start turning things around so I just put everything I had into 'Broken Down' and borrowed a lot money to give it a good start. Bought a van. Hired a publicist. Lost a lot of money in the first couple of months, using my band and paying them so they would come out with me on the road. And lose money. "

"Still, I'm not sure if the investment is going to pay off are not. Still got the huge debts but the money is starting to flow a little better now and hopefully, into next year I'll start being able to pay them off. That's where I am now,just really hoping to capitalize on the gains I've made this year. Hoping that I will be able to pay off some debts to the people I've owed a longtime and just giving 'Broke Down' every single opportunity I can. I'll go anywhere I can to play on the radio or to play a gig to spread the word about this record because I feel good about it. I feel like it's the best record I've done, sort of like the record I've been trying to make for ten years and finally achieved. Pretty close to what I envisioned on this record for the first time."

"I want to give it every... you know, I don't have any new songs in me. I've got one new song so, this is what I've got. I've got this record 'Broke Down' and I want to bring it every where I possibly can to get it exposed to as many people as I possibly can because I believe in it and I know it's gotten into a lot of people's hearts. I sold a lot and got a lot of airplay. I've increased my fan base by a huge amount, by ten times in some cities. So, it's been a good year. It's been a hard-working year with some real results. I just hope I can hold on through the rest of this year. I've got a lot of hard traveling to do from Christmas through New Year's and then I'll take a month off in January and try to start writing again and I'll do quite a bit of touring next year as well, but hopefully not as much. It will give me some time to write."

Busted Flat

Because you've had to borrow money to continue doing what you have loved to do, what were your thoughts as you were asking to borrow the money?

"Well, I haven't had to do that in a while 'cause the latest money I've borrowed was just from credit cards. Guess what I am thinking then is, you know, got to spend money to make money. Got to give this record every chance it has. Got to pay the people that it takes to spread the word to get it out there, to get it reviewed and to get it played on the radio. That was what I was thinking when I borrowed all that money. Got to buy a van. Got to sink $1000 into this van so that I can rely on it so that it won't strand me and make me miss a gig with two or three guys, with me and the van. The last time I've borrowed money from a friend it was... it's hard, it's hard to humble yourself in front of someone and luckily I've had some really, really good solid friends, friends from way, way back who can support me for a longtime. I've been slowly catching up with my debts with them and that feels good every time I send them a check. It feels real good that I'm getting better 'cause they've been with me a longtime, but they're some debts I'll never be able to repay, faith that people have had in me."

During these last nine or ten years of lean times, how has your wife taken all this?

"Amazingly well, I'm really very, very blessed that I chose Karen and she found me and I found her. There have been some really lean times. She's proud of the fact that she accepts me for who I am. She knew what she was getting into when we got together. She knew who she was getting together with. She knew that this was part of me, being a musician is part of me and that the struggle is part of who I am. So, there were no illusions. She didn't set out to change me or tame me or anything like that. I've seen that happen and,you know, how disastrous that can be for both parties. So, all that said, there were some really hard times, you know. Times that she thought that I wasn't pulling my weight and, you know, I'm sure there were times when I took advantage of the fact that she had a day job and could pay the bills while things were lean for me and that's the other really great thing about this year, is that I'm finally am contributing my own, my own, you know, contributing to the household, and able to pull my own weight this year for the first time in a longtime, steadily. I would for months at a time be able to and then for some months I wouldn't be able to. So, this year I've steadily been able to contribute. So,that's a good feeling."

It's not only a satisfying feeling monetarily to pull your own weight but also a psychological boost.

"Yeah, it really is! It's hard, it's hard not to be able to contribute. It doesn't feel good. The nice thing is I've been able to try to give Karen some, some of the nice side of the life. You know, she's been able to travel with me some in the last couple of years, go to Europe and California and up to New England to visit family several times, so, that's the nice things I get to share the good side of this life with her too."

What line of work is she in?

"She works for some lawyers who are lobbyists, kind of an office manager."

Does she have the passion for music like you do?

"She's a music lover. She sings. She doesn't play an instrument but we sing together a little bit."

Besides your career, have there been other times in your life that have been difficult for you?

"Yeah, before I got the deal with Rounder, there was some months in there where I was really at a loss as to what to do. I'd been plugging away trying to pay the dues here but not getting anywhere. About the year '95, I think, was the low point where I had been here for years. I didn't really have much to show. I've sort of become part of this camaraderie, this little, this little scene of writers who had come around the same time I did and we played the same open mikes and shared shows and came to each other shows, supported each other. That was some consolation even though we weren't successful. We at least had some support. In '95, the two clubs that we based out of went out of business, sort of fell victim to the gentrification and the the new money coming into Austin. These little hole in the wall places just cannot survive any more."

What club was that?

"One was Chicago House and one was The Austin Out House. Those two left. One guy kind of quit and one guy got a record deal and started touring all the time. All of a sudden we did not have that support group any more. I've felt like I was on my own. Whenever I played a gig, nobody would show up. I'd work hard to get the gig, everything to get people out. Only five or six people might show up or something like that. I would have to play with my band and would have to split... you know, I remember actually handing my band two dollars, two dollars a piece for each guy in the band."

I suspect you didn't take your two dollars but gave it to your band members,didn't you?

"Well, I did have a real band for a year. It was like all for one and one for all. I don't do that any more. I pay my guys $100 whether or not I make any money at all, but back then, we were splitting it all up and we made six dollars at The Keg, or eight dollars. It's demoralized to have that kind of failure. They were really dark times. The silver lining is that it made me question what I was doing, re-evaluate what I was doing and decide that I had to be better at what I was doing if I was going to get some success. So, I worked really, really hard on the next batch of songs which became the first Rounder record and that was the pay off songs. I worked hard enough on the songs and on the demos to make them sound interesting that I got a record deal and a great producer out of it. That was the pay off."

Happy Days

Let's look at the opposite extreme and look at some of the happiest times of your life and career.

"I guess the happiest times have been turning points when after months or years of stagnation something clicks and all of a sudden new opportunities open. That's been the most exciting thing, like when I, when I first made my living that summer as a street singer in '87. I was in heaven. I just loved it! The next time that happen was in '89 when I got into the bar scene and could play five or six nights a month and make enough money, made more money than when I was working full-time. I was so happy that summer! The next thing was maybe when, just little moments like that the day I got the phone call from the record company saying 'Yes, we would like to help you make this next record.' In '96 that was a very exciting time. Everything changed that day. All the energy that I had spent on trying to get somebody to make me a record, to help me make a record, you know, I don't have to spend that energy any more. So, I was into a different place now."

"Now the energy comes in making a good record, which is what I was wanting to do all long. Of course, there is more and more work to be done as these thresholds are crossed, but it is the work I want to do, not the work, not the work of selling myself, trying to get somewhere. It's more all the work of making the music, making the records, doing the touring, doing the traveling, writing songs. And this year, this year, was far the biggest turning point of all. Actually having some radio success with the song 'Broke Down' in Austin and New York, Philadelphia... where is that place in California, San Jose... in Boston, in Houston, Austin, Houston, Dallas... about a dozen cities where I got some real serious airplay and it just hugely increased by 10 or 15 fold my audience and increased my national record sales by a factor of five or six, no, let's see, four or five or more, I'm not sure yet. It's all being counted up still."

"Yeah, in January... I guess the deciding moment was when KGSR in Austin added the song 'Broke Down' to their rotation and started playing it three or four times a day, and that just made huge difference in my career in Austin. I really feel like by playing my record and giving it a chance, they really gave me, they really like, handed me a career, right there. I have a fan base now in Austin. It was just family and friends before that just, you know, a very small group of people that would come see me once in a while."

Listen to the Radio

When you started getting airplay, how did you feel the first time you heard yourself on radio?

"Oh, it was a great thrill! I don't remember the first time I heard it. What I heard before was for weeks in weeks, people were saying they heard it. I was out on the road when they started playing it, but eventually, I did hear it in the car. I think one time I got into the car with my wife Karen and just turned on the car and started back out the driveway and the song 'Broke Down' was playing and I said, 'Karen, aren't you tired of the song? Why are you playing it again? Why do you have this tape in the tape player?' But it was not the tape player, it was the radio. I was pretty proud of that! I decided the next threshold moment will be sitting at a traffic light in Austin or some other city and someone pulls up to me in a car and they have my song on their CD player or on the radio or something. That's really going to be fun!"

If they turned to you and recognized who you were, that would even be better, wouldn't it?

"I don't care about that so much. I get a kick out of hearing somebody else listened to my music, anonymously."

Likes & Dislikes

What do you like most about your career?

"Well, I don't know. I don't think of it as like or dislike. I think of it as, kind of accept it as it is. I like the success I am getting this year. I like moving forward. I like that the idea that I might actually, the tide might actually turn this year were I would be able to support myself instead of being a drain on the other people. That's what I like about this year. About my career in general, I like, I get a great satisfaction out of touching people's lives. I got some amazing emails from people and met some amazing people at gigs that testified that how my songs affected them. They had been moved by my songs. And, you know, that's a great kind of soul stirring kind of feeling. That's why I got into music 'cause my soul was affected. And to hear that I repaid that debt to my inspiration, you know, is very, very satisfying. I also... one of the things I really like is the crowd that I am cultivating is a crowd of really, really cool people! I've opened shows for other people and I've seen their crowds and I've seen the crowd that I've developed and it's just... a crowd of really nice people. I just met some interesting people in the last year, just really nice people, really well behaved and thoughtful and thankful and respectful, just a really good quality crowd. I'm really proud that. Something I didn't expect. Never thought of it, but it turned out to be kind of obvious that the crowd that is attracted to me is a really nice group of people."

What do you like the least about your career?

"Well, being away from Karen for such long periods of time is hard sometimes. It's always hard. We're dealing with it and we make the best of it, but it's definitely something that if we could afford to, she would be with me just about all the time, probably, come with me and be road manager which she does sometimes. So, that is tough. Yeah, just that rootless existence, you know, not, not being able to see your friends and your family on a regular basis. Of course, being on the road with a bunch of musicians, kind of your own family, you know, have these bonds, very close bonds with the musicians that I play with. Also, I get to travel around the country and visit all sorts of distant relatives that I haven't seen in five or 10 years. So, that is the good side to that."

"But, I guess, other things... I'm just struggling with all the ancillary things this year with management type things. I don't have a full-time manager and so I do a lot. Karen does a lot, scheduling, routing, getting musicians lined up for each tour and buying airline tickets and keeping the car's going, doing routing and finding hotel rooms, and getting the details on the gigs and directions and keeping track of ordering CDs and taxes and bills and just stuff like that has increase exponentially this year. Also, just, well, well, it's the fun of business things. I'm not successful enough to have a business manager. I'll look forward to that day I can just give a way all that stuff and just concentrate on the three things I love: writing music, making records, and playing the songs for people. Those are the Trinity of things I want to do. Those are the three things I like best and it seems like I only do only about, spend 10 percent of my time on that stuff."

Road Temptations

What kind of trust agreement do you have between you and your wife when you are out on the road? I am sure there are a lot of temptations of various things. How did you work that out with her?

"That's nothing we'd ever worked out. There's not that much temptation out there. It's not like we are rock and roll band with groupies or anything. I mean, we've always had a very stable relationship that way. We've just, we're just, you know, we know how lucky we are and we never do anything to mess it up. It's just not even a question."

Proud Parents

In these last 10 years, have your parents been supportive?

"Yeah, they've been supportive. They've, oh, as a kid, I think they, and for a long time, actually, they were afraid of my choice to become a musician. You know they, they talk me into going to college, basically, as opposed to, you know, playing in a band instead 'cause I was making decent money playing in a band. I thought, well, I could do this for a career and they convinced me that I ought to broaden my horizons of a little bit. And, when I got out of college, you know, they thought I should go to graduate school and they thought, well, you know, they thought of my music as a hobby. A nice hobby, they liked it. They'd come to my shows and be supportive that way. They loaned me money from time to time and they seemed to really enjoy my music, but I think they thought of it as a hobby until just the last couple of years, really, until I got a record deal and started touring nationally and getting national recognition. And now, I think that they have finally given up on me going to med school or some major, professor or something. Finally, they've given up and they really, really are thrilled with the success I'm having this year. They're very, very proud."

Looking Back

Looking back on everything, and knowing what you know now, would you have rather not gone to college and just started performing music?

"I'm definitely glad that college experience was there. First of all, for the experience of going to Ireland and,you know, who knows if I would have had encouraged to step out and do my own thing? You know, I may have stayed as a keyboard player in a band for years and years if I hadn't of gone to Ireland and had that heartbreak and set out to be my own singer songwriter act,you know. But also, the music that I discovered in college at the library,Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan and stuff like that. I found that in the college library. That was hugely influential, but even more so probably was the English classes and philosophy classes I took. I guess, mostly the English. There's one English class in particular as a freshman, a professor named Morris Hamilton who was a writing professor and I just learned a lot about writing then. I wrote some short stories. I owe a huge debt to him. Unfortunately, he passed away last year. He had cancer. He was not very old but he was just a... he gave me lots of encouragement. I'd never been interested in English as subject at all, but he gave me a huge amount of encouragement and had me reading the right books and really had an appreciation for the way I wrote and helped me solidify the style that I had. So, when I look at those little conversation pieces I wrote on my web site, you know, I'm never would have written those without studying a semester with Mr. Hamilton."

I really enjoyed reading the stories you included on your web page.

"I can't stress enough how...I don't feel like I could have written those things without him. I really feel like he help me hone that craft somewhat and give me some real direction and what to write about and what not to write about, what to leave out, what to concentrate on, you know, and how to get details to paint a picture instead of 'to show and not tell.' That's what he would always say."

Mind Reading

As you perform, what is going through your mind?

"Well, you ought to to read that piece about the perfect gig. I kind of explain it there. That's one of those conversation pieces. It talks about how a lot of gigs sometimes, you know, I'm might be watching the clock or watching people's reactions trying to figure out if I am connecting with people or not or, you know, trying to do a good job so I will sell CDs and that's kind of unavoidable but the ultimate goal to me is to sing and just be totally inside the song when you sing, to be thinking about each line as you sing it. It's very easy to sing a whole song and not even realize what words you are singing 'cause you just sung it hundred times and you know it by rote."

"But, when I'm at my best, I'm thinking about every line as I sing it as if I am saying it for the first time. That's the goal I try to do. You know, I always get distracted by things like the sound isn't right, the monitors aren't right or there's not enough people here or the people are not paying attention or something like that. But, I think it is extremely important to be inside the song as you sing. With that said, there's also, when I am at my best is when I am really communicating with people. When no one is paying attention, or people are distracted or if the audience just isn't there for you, then, I think it is impossible to do a good job, to do a good performance. So that's one thing I am doing that I think I need to do when I sing is to make that connection with people and make the eye contact, to make the ad libs that wake people up and make them pay attention, to let them know you're paying attention. You're not just singing out rote. You're there at the moment. Try to get people to participate and to sing along and laugh or to ask me questions after the song. It's a two-way street. It's much more enjoyable for me and the audience if it's less of me like a teacher teaching a lesson than it is, you know, a community sharing together, me sort of being a leader of the discussion instead. So, that's what I think about."

I frequently use a flash in photographing performers in order to capture the correct colors and to stop the action. I am wondering what you are thinking as I am photographing you as you perform?

"It doesn't bother me. Sometimes, it is distracting when the first couple of times it happens like when you play three or four songs and you're getting comfortable and all of a sudden the flashes start. Yeah, it's a little bit distracting. It catches your attention just naturally. You can't help that. But, I've been performing long enough so that the distractions don't have much of an effect on me,then, I am able to get refocused fairly quickly. It wasn't true early on. Early on, I was very easily distracted. I would often lose my place in the song or forget words that I had no business forgetting, you know, songs that I knew and that I had played hundred times but I was just easily distracted somehow. Somehow, I've gotten beyond that. I think with just experience and getting experience at concentrating in keeping my concentration, keeping my focus. So, it really... I guess, I pretty much ignored it and after the first distraction then I say, 'Oh, there's a guy taking pictures, no biggee, on with the show!,' you know."

This past Friday when I was taking pictures of you, did you ever think 'I wish he would stop or I wish he would go way' or something like that?

"Well, like I said, you know, the initial flashes will usually register and distract for a second or two and, you know, all I come away with ' Oh, there is somebody taking pictures!' And, you know, maybe I'll wonder what paper they're for, but that's a distraction I try to quash right away. I don't want to be thinking, I don't want to be thinking about the photographer. Once the flash happens then, you know, all I need to do recognize it and acknowledge it and move on and then from then on I won't be thinking about it, ideally.

A Real Bad Gig

What was your worst performing experience?

"Well, of course, it's no fun to play when no one is paying attention. It is no fun to play when, you know, people are not there to see you. Luckily, I don't have to deal with that much anymore. You know, I've played...I'll give you a worst. Back in my early days in Maine, I play bars and usually, I was able to get at least some of the crowd in my corner, either to come see me or more likely just to....[tape came to end of reel]...where I just never broke through to anybody. I played once in Maine one time where it was the Stanley Cup finals in a hockey game. Hockey is real big up North. Boston Bruins were playing somebody for the Stanley Cup on a big screen TV which was directly over my head behind me. I had to play my little folk songs while people were cheering the best play in the hockey game, totally oblivious that I was there singing and I had to sing. I was paid $100 to sing and I had to sing 'til 12:30 or whatever it was. I just swallow my pride and forge ahead. [Slaid chuckles!]Luckily, I don't have gigs like that anymore!"

"The one I have now... my pet peeve now is, I don't mind if I am playing for a rowdy bar crowd like Gruene Hall or something where people are there to socialize and have fun and dance and play pool, you know, lots of people will be listening, some will be sort of half listening, half gabbing, you know, I am totally fine with that. That was how it was yesterday at Gruene Hall. It was very enjoyable. But sometimes, I get a gig that is in the middle where it might be 100 or 75 people there and they are all paying attention to me. They all came to see me. They have my records. They know my songs. They come for a concert but there's one table of a couple of people or maybe two couples of people are there to see the music, too, but they're there to talk. They gab, you know, clap between songs, and they think they're there to support local music but as soon as I start in on a song, they'll talk. They are the only people in the place talking. I can hear them just as plain as day and hear what they are talking about on stage and that gets really distracting. I feel like I'm not singing well because I'm thinking about them wondering why they could possibly be talking now! Wondering why the club owner isn't asking them to be quiet? Wondering if the other patrons are being bothered by this? And I realize that my performance is being negatively effected and I feel like I should do something. I'm trying to figure some way to gracefully tell them to'Shut up!' without looking like a prima donna. And so, it is a very difficult situation I've had happened a couple times this year."

That would be one of the more difficult things that you would have had to deal with in your career?



What are your thoughts on Napster?

"I don't give it much thought. You know, I didn't know much about it until I stayed at a cousin's house recently, last week actually. Some cousin has a 14, a 16 year old kid. I had him me explain it to me and he showed it to me and he showed me all my songs that are up there and there are a whole bunch up there and he showed me he could just about download my whole album if he wanted to. My first feeling is that it doesn't bother me much 'cause I figured that my kind of music appeals to an older audience that isn't hooked up with a Napster thing. My audience is a little more adult and they're programmed into buying records and if they hear a song on the radio, they go buy the record. It's kind of a classic radio record company retail kind of situation, and so,Napster doesn't fit into that very much. Napster seems to be more of the domain of young mass marketed college kid bands. Those are the bands that are losing a lot of sales. Also, I figure, if I do get on Napster, then, it is exposing me and that I never would have been exposed to otherwise, so there's a positive aspect to it. The only thing that concerns me lately was, I don't know enough about it, but, when I read the guy who started Napster, you know, is worth a hundred million dollars, there something, I'm trying to figure out where he makes his money, because if he doesn't pay the artist or the record company's anything, you know he is getting rich off of it. I don't mind if people share the music but if somebody is getting rich off of it, then they should pay. And so, if he is making money off this thing, which I don't know if he is are not, he doesn't have ads or anything, how can the possibly make money?"

[I filled Slaid in on some background information on the Napster controversy.]

Is it similar to the way the established industry has reacted to the VCR in the past?

"Yeah, I think it is pretty much the same as the VCR and as the cassette tape. I think they eventually will shakedown to be the same as the cassette tape, you know. You use a cassette to make a mixed tape for your buddies or something like that , but, you know, the thing that should be the illegal is when you mass market things and when you pirate them and make money off them. People shouldn't make money off sharing the stuff. I guess that is the only thing I feel strongly about."


If you were to label your music, what label would you put on your music?

"Well, I'll like the Americana label. It kind of sums it up... because Americana is broad in its influences. My music is broad as well. It's because it's not pure anything. It's not any of these pure categories that have a nice slot for like bluegrass or folk or blues or rock or country or pop, you know, or jazz. It incorporates all of those. It seems like most music incorporates lots of different styles. I mean like when bluegrass came out. Bill Monroe invented bluegrass. He was taking a few different styles that already existed and given it a new combination. He took blues, black blues and he took country Hill Billy old-time music and he took virtuosity of jazz players of the time and made something new. He called it bluegrass. But now, bluegrass has its own name. So, the question is, is the combination that I do, is it its own thing? I don't think it's anything revolutionary or new but it's a combination that, it's a combination that has lots of different influences. And I think Americana is good enough. I mean Americana is a broad enough term to encompass people like me and, you know, the kind of troubadour singer-songwriter type like me but also people of a more country like retro-country kind of feel and also people of a more punk kind of country feel like The Old '97s. So, it's broad enough to encompass a fairly broad range and yet, but it's also narrow enough so that...Yeah, Americana is different from Nashville country, definitely. Nashville country is not Americana. It's its own thing and Americana is not modern rock, now. It's very different from modern rock. So, I guess Americana is good enough."

At your recent Tower Records' performance for the Broke Down tour, some of my thoughts that came to mind were somehow your accent sounded like that of Arlo Guthrie. Thoughts of Woody Guthrie blinked in my mind constantly. As you were telling some of your stories, I was thinking of some of Don Walser's early radio program recordings. The patter and rhythm of your voice and story telling reminded me of the old-time radio broadcasts like Don Walser's. It is interesting the thoughts that I had as I look back on them. You have mentioned Woody Guthrie is someone you studied in the past. Well, maybe that's the reason Woody Guthrie comes to mind when I am hearing you sing your songs because that is part of your past.

"Yeah, well I spent many hours listening to the Woody Guthrie Library of Congress recordings that extended radio interview, basically, interview and song interspersed with each other. So, yeah, I think my formative years listening to Bruce Springsteen, Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams is the way they present the music definitely became a model for the way I present mine. I can kind of sub consciously take own a persona like that."


Tell us about the way you go about writing new songs and rehearsing?

"I don't do too much band practicing anymore. I don't do too much rehearsing. My band members are really great and only have to listen to a song once or twice before they get it. As far as writing, I couldn't tell you because it has been so long since I have written a song. I don't remember how to write a song. The last song I wrote was where I had a couple dozen scraps of paper with little lines on it that I kind of cobbled together into a collage. It was just lines that people had spoke, just characters, turns a phrase, local expressions, that I kind of cobbled into a song, you know, just made them all fit together. I keep notebooks and I also, sometimes, I drive down the road in the car and have a little handheld recorder that I will put ideas into, just do the lines over and over again until I might try 30 different lines for a chorus before I settle on that one I like. So, the time I've spent writing this year has been the one-hour it took to write that one song in the back of van. I've been really concentrating on other things this year, on the travel, the career stuff."

A Real Vacation

What kind of hobbies do you do in order to relax and do something different from your career?

"I really don't have anything different at home. You know, everything relates to the career whether it's friends that I have are all in the music industry and music, I listen to music but of course, that's part of what I do. I fix my cars but that's in order to get me to the gig and... the one thing that I can do that's totally unmusical is when I travel with Karen on vacation. It seems like there's no way for us to really have a vacation unless we get out of the country. I've done that a couple of times. When I get out of the country with Karen, it's just me and her, and we're surviving, we're finding a place to stay, finding a place to eat, looking for something fun to do and that's the only time I totally get away from my career."

When you talk about getting out of the country, is that a figure of speech or are you talking about literally getting out of the country?

"Yeah, I mean it literally. If I'm in the country, then, I've got my cell phone and my manager wants to know something and there is an interview set up and there's work and I can go to this radio station and make an appearance. It has to be out of the country."

Slaid Cleaves - March 3, 1999 - Austin, Texas - Cactus Cafe

Slaid Cleaves

March 3, 1999

Cactus Cafe

University of Texas at Austin



Paul Johnston

Slaid Cleaves' Web Page

Slaid at the 1999 Old Settlers Music Festival

Slaid Cleaves' "Broke Down" Tour 2000

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