Tell us about your tour vehicle. Any notable breakdown stories?
My travel switches back and forth from private planes with the Coral Reefer Band to my own gigs in a Chevrolet Suburban with 108,000 miles and more than a little bird excrement as exterior trim. It’s a smooth transition I must say. I’m equally comfortable in both and count my blessings constantly.
I don’t technically have a breakdown story but in the nineties I drove an Astro van to my solo gigs that had captain’s chairs, which were supposed to quick release for cargo. Mine refused to do so on a tight schedule and I physically ripped them out of the floor of the truck. That was my last feat of strength and I think the last time I lost my temper. A quarter century ago.
How do you eat cheaply and/or healthy while on tour?
Well… historically I have not eaten cheaply or healthily, as food is one of my greatest joys/vices. But on the back side of a couple of cardiac events, I’ve modified my culinary search engine a bit. I’d be the worst guy to ask about eating cheaply. I’ll take tips from anybody reading this though. I need to get better at it for sure.
How many strings do you break in a typical year? How much does it cost to replace them?
I’ve been playing in bands for 49 years and I’ve broken a total of 5 or 6 strings on stage. I’m not too aggressive a player apparently. I do however kill strings quickly as I have highly acidic hands. I also have a bunch of instruments from all the years of studio work so I buy and keep an absurd amount of strings. It’s becoming clear as I answer these questions that I’m not a very good role model.
Where do you rehearse?
I’ve had some version of a recording studio since I was 23. I’m not a clothes or car guy so all my money has gone to gear and food. I do however enjoy practicing in any place that has a sound. Shower stalls and stairwells and the edge of all bodies of water. One of the perks of being primarily an acoustic player is the portability. You can write and practice literally anywhere you can fit yourself into.
I did, however, once daisy chain three amplifiers together after midnight in our front yard in Mississippi and tried to play the Jimi Hendrix version of the National Anthem. Police were involved. It was bad enough that I deserved to be arrested.
What was the title and a sample lyric from the first song that you wrote?
The first song I wrote is actually on my first album. Titled “People Call Me Jesus”. Written in my church on the piano there after hours. The first line is “People call me Jesus…. and people call collect.” Ha
I don’t know if I’m any good, but I use most everything that floats through my head.
Similar principle as making sausage I’m told.
Describe your first gig.
Well, I didn’t know it was a gig. I was cleaning lint out of commercial dryers at the Belmont Laundry Mat my family owned (as was my job at the time). I was also practicing my guitar while the last few dryers ran out the cycle. This senior citizen from my hometown named Carl Brown walked in and started buck dancing to my guitar playing. I assumed he was on medication but other people wandered in and Carl threw his hat down on the ground and people started putting money in it. We ended up playing three songs before it broke up. (dancing was not legal in Belmont, MS and we didn’t want to get written up). Carl’s hat had 35 bucks in it and we split it and I have worked for less recently but I’ve never been more surprised to get paid. I was 12.
What was your last day job? What was your favorite day job?
My last non-music job was on a highway crew in North Mississippi the summer I was 17-18. My tennis shoes melted off my feet on my first day and I am fair skinned and burned to a crisp but learned quite a bit and wrote my song “It’s My Job” out of that experience. I’ve only had a couple of “day” jobs as I started Church and Honky Tonk gigs at 13 and have been really lucky to chase music almost constantly since. I’ve honestly liked all my jobs and the vast majority of the people I’ve run into along the way.
How has your music-related income changed over the past 5-10 years? What do you expect it to look like 5-10 years from now?
I’ve been overpaid and underpaid and not paid in various fits and squalls since the aforementioned money in the hat. I realize how hard it is to make a living from your passion and how easy it is to take it for granted when you do. The revenue streams change and dry up and pop up somewhere else but to me the constant is more important than the changes. What has not changed is that we toil in a field that is one of the only things in this world that can turn bad into good. Music does that. I love that. So all the uncertainty and volatility that comes with it … bring it on. If you’re only making music to make a lot of money you’ve missed the point. At least in my humble middle class opinion. But I wish you good luck anyhow.
What one thing do you know now that you had wished you knew when you started your career in music?
When I started I suspected (and was told so a few times) that I didn’t know jack shit about much of anything. Over the years I’ve discovered I was right.
Had I known that early on I might have been a little more confident in my Quixotic pursuits.
Beyond the kidding, I was and am still a bashful guy who is rarely satisfied with my work. Over the years I have gotten more at peace with my God Given Limitations and although I still work at getting better I enjoy the process more now than ever and can sleep pretty well knowing that whatever I did I gave my best shot.
Music is supposed to be fun. Don’t forget that just because it’s also our Job.