Grady Martin headed for Country Music Hall of Fame

By Ken Paulson

As a little boy, I heard more Marty Robbins LPs than Disney records.

My Uncle Don couldn’t get enough of Robbins’ Gunfighter Ballads and Trail Songs album and played it over and over on the family stereo.  I still know the words to “Big Iron.”

Grady Martin's son Joshua at the Country Music Hall of Fame

Grady Martin’s son Joshua at the Country Music Hall of Fame

But the most riveting track was, of course, “El Paso,” propelled by the amazing guitar work of Grady Martin.

A couple of years later, Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” exploded onto AM radios, driven by Martin’s electric guitar.

And on it goes: Martin’s guitar work is on “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” “Honky Tonk Man,” “Saginaw, Michigan,” “Satin Sheets” and many more hit records. It turns out we’ve all been listening to Martin our entire lives.

Martin is being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame this month, along with the Oak Ridge Boys, Jim Ed Brown and the Browns.

”He didn’t use one recognizable sound,” Bob Moore, Martin’s celebrated sessions colleague, told the Tennessean’s Peter Cooper after Martin’s death in 2001”What he did was so varied, but the things he came up with were always outstanding, no matter the style. I think he’s the single greatest guitar player we’ve had here in Nashville.”
Grady Martin’s son Joshua was at the Country Music Hall of Fame this week at an informal event honoring Martin and fellow inductees the Browns. He shared his thoughts on what made his father’s work so special:




2015 Americana Music Festival notebook

By Ken Paulson

ama_logo_button_redRandom thoughts and observations about the Americana Music Festival week that was: The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band‘s 50th anniversary show at the Ryman was the perfect kick-off and an extraordinary event. Take the four current members of the Dirt Band – Jeff Hanna, John McEuen, Jimmie Fadden and Bob Carpenter – and add Byron House, Sam Bush and Jerry Douglas, and you have the ultimate Americana band. Then you add appearances by Jackson Browne, Vince Gill, John Prine, Alison Krauss, Rodney Crowell and returning Dirt Band member Jimmy Ibbotson and you have a singular evening. Recorded for PBS, the show’s few flubs just meant we had a chance to hear the classics twice – most notably Jerry Jeff Walker and the band doing his “Mr. Bojangles. …Based on their most recent album, we had high hopes for Dustbowl Revival and they absolutely delivered, even inspiring some City Winery patrons to dance, a scene we hadn’t witnessed before…

Dustbowl Revival at the City Winery

Dustbowl Revival at the City Winery

Our single favorite song of the week was Steve Earle doing “Mississippi, It’s Time,” a stirring song about the Confederate flag that reminded us how powerful truly topical songs can be….On the same stage, we saw Loretta Lynn, whose stage show probably hasn’t changed much in the past 40 years – and that’s just fine…We used the new app for our schedule all week and just have one request: build bios into the app for artists and panel members rather than passing us through to websites….We were honored to present the Spirit of Americana Free Speech in Music award to Buffy Sainte Marie on Wednesday night and then sat in when she visited with Middle Tennessee State University students the next day. They loved her energy and sage advice: “Don’t believe any of that junk about genres.”…We saw some tremendous unbilled shows at various receptions around town, including the new trio Applewood Road…. The Americana Music Festival remains the best single week for music in Music City –and that’s saying something.

New and in harmony: Applewood Road

By Ken Paulson

Every Americana Music Festival reveals an invigorating
musical surprise or two, and ours came Thursday night at the Tin Roof in Nashville. In addition to the many festival showcases around, you’ll find artists performing at the many informal receptions around the city.

Applewood Road in Nashville

Applewood Road in Nashville

That’s where we found Applewood Road, a new trio made up of Amy Speace, Emily Barker and Amber Rubart, performing together for just the third time. A raucous bar hushed as they harmonized beautifully. We’ve known and admired Amy’s work for years; the three are a potent combination.

The group’s origins came in a songwriting session in 2014 in East Nashville, where they wrote the song with the title that became the band name.

Their debut album, due later this year, was recorded live  at Welcome to 1979, an analog-only studio in Nashville.




Lucinda Williams, Sturgill Simpson honored

Americana Music News  — Lucinda Williams won top honors for album of the year  Wednesday night at the American Music Association’s annual honors and awards show at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. “Down Where The Spirit Meets the Bone” continued her long run of AMA honors.

Sturgill Simpson was honored twice, with wins as artist of the year and for writing and recording “Turtles All the Way Down,” the song of the year.

The full list of honorees:


Album of the Year: Down Where The Spirit Meets The Bone, Lucinda Williams, Produced by Lucinda Williams, Tom Overby and Greg Leisz
Artist of the Year: Sturgill Simpson
Duo Group of the Year: The Mavericks
Song of the Year: “Turtles All The Way Down” Written by Sturgill Simpson
Emerging Artist of the Year: Shakey Graves
Instrumentalist of the Year: John Leventhal
Spirit of Americana/Free Speech in Music Award co-presented by the Americana Music Association and the First Amendment Center: Buffy Sainte-Marie
Lifetime Achievement Award, Trailblazer: Don Henley
The Lifetime Achievement Award, Songwriting: Gillian Welch & David Rawlings
Lifetime Achievement Award, Instrumentalist: Ricky Skaggs
Lifetime Achievement Award, Performance: Los Lobos
President’s Award: BB King



Review: Steppenwolf’s ABC/Dunhill Singles Collection

By Ken Paulson

steppenwolfsinglesThis Wednesday I’ll have the privilege of presenting the Free Speech in Music award to Buffy St. Marie at the Americana Music Association’s Awards and Honors event at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville.

I’m particularly honored to be presenting the award with John Kay, founder and lead singer of Steppenwolf. Though many associate the band with the biker culture (“heavy metal thunder”) the truth is that Steppenwolf was one of the most socially conscious and politically engaged groups of the ’60s.

A new collection from Real Gone Music reminds us of the depth and impact of the band. The ABC/Dunhill Singles Collection includes largely mono recordings of the band’s output for the label, plus all of Kay’s solo singles.

By definition, all of the hits are here: “Born to Be Wild,” “Magic Carpet Ride,” “Rock Me,” “Move Over” and “Hey Lawdy Mama.” But the singles also included a stirring cover of Hoyt Axton’s “Snowblind Friend,” the driving “Who Needs Ya” and “Monster,” a powerful political anthem included here in its full version because Kay objected to the truncated version released as the single.

Kay’s solo albums were outstanding and largely overlooked, and it’s good to have a sampling included here, particularly his versions of “You Win Again” and “I’m Movin’ On.”

Kay participated in the Real Gone Music collection and his comments inform the comprehensive and fascinating booklet included here.

It’s an impressive collection and it was good to reconnect with the band’s many worthy B-sides. I seem to recall Steppenwolf performing “Berry Rides Again” from their first album on American Bandstand, but there’s video proof of their performance of the song in 1968 on “Playboy After Dark:”


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Class of ’82: Marshall Crenshaw and Tommy Keene

By Ken Paulson

crenshawIn 1982, two promising young talents released debut albums. Marshall Crenshaw’s self-titled record drew considerable attention, fueled by airplay of “Someday Someway.” Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Tommy Keene released Strange Alliance, largely unnoticed until his breakthrough EP Places That Are Gone two years later.

Remarkably, both men remain vibrant recording artists 33 years later, and have just released new albums.

Crenshaw’s #392 The EP Collection is exactly that – six new songs and six covers culled from a series of six vinyl EPs he’s recorded since 2013, plus two bonus tracks. By happenstance, it resembles Todd Rundgren’s Faithful from 1976, half covers and half originals.

The new songs are strong, leaning toward the melancholy, although “I Don’t See You Laughing Now” is straight-up vindictive. “Driving and Dreaming” is the highlight, a song of reflection and weariness.

The covers are wonderful, with great versions of the Bobby Fuller Four’s “Never to be Forgotten” and the Carpenters’ hit “Close to You.” “Didn’t Want to Have to Do It,” the flip side to the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?” sounds like Marshall Crenshaw wrote it, a clue to the artist’s influences.

keeneKeene’s new album Laugh in the Dark also reflects his influences, particularly the Beatles-flavored album closer “All Gone Away.” Keene’s last album was a covers project and he says it freed him up for the new release.

“Hence you have a direct concoction of the Beatles meet the Who by way of Big Star with a little Stones for good measure,” he says in press materials.

That’s a pretty good concoction. “Out of My Mind,” “Dear Heloise” and “Last of the Twilight Girls” open the album with an exhilarating rush, and the album builds from there.

I’ve admired Keene’s work over the years, but this album has a special resonance, with guitars unleashed and rock ‘n’ roll attitude from start to finish.


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At long last: ZZ Top live in La Grange

 by Paul T. Mueller

Legendary Texas blues -rock trio ZZ Top made a little history over Labor Day weekend. On Saturday, September 5, after more than four decades of touring and performing, the band played its first-ever show in La Grange, the south-central Texas town that lent its name to one of the band’s biggest hits.

Anyone who came to the Fayette County Fairgrounds expecting nuance from the Top probably left disappointed. But let’s face it, it’s unlikely that many in the huge audience – one unofficial estimate put the crowd’s size at 30,000 – were expecting any such thing. The trio – guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard – is known mostly for pounding out unpretentious, blues-based boogie dealing

ZZ Top in a Grange

ZZ Top in La Grange

with a variety of non-cerebral topics. That’s what the fans came for, and they got it. The band delivered a well-paced, 80-minute show featuring most of its best-known songs, plus a couple of covers. All of it was done with style and a refreshing absence of synthesizers and theatrics – if you don’t count a live buzzard perched atop a cow skull behind the drum riser.

Of course the set list included “La Grange,” a hit from the band’s 1973 breakout album Tres Hombres. The riff-heavy rocker is an ode to the Chicken Ranch, a brothel that operated for decades on the outskirts of town until it was shut down after an investigation by a flamboyant Houston TV news personality. The story was immortalized, if that’s the right word, in the musical (and later movie) “The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.”

The opening act’s set featured several power failures, but ZZ Top’s performance was unmarred by such glitches. The sound, at least at a distance of 100 yards or so from the stage, was loud but not painfully so, and very clean. The band led off with “Got Me Under Pressure,” from 1983’s Eliminator. A parade of hits followed, from the earlier stuff – “Waitin’ for the Bus/Jesus Just Left Chicago,” “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” Cheap Sunglasses” – to the MTV hits of the ‘80s, including “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs.” Newer selections included “I Gotsta Get Paid,” “Chartreuse” and “Flyin’ High” from the band’s most recent collection, 2012’s La Futura.

One unexpected bonus was a creditable rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady,” accompanied by images of Hendrix on two large onstage video screens. That was followed by the classic “Catfish Blues,” also recorded by Hendrix. Both gave Gibbons ample room to demonstrate his still-excellent blues chops, backed by the seldom flashy but always solid rhythm play of Hill and Beard (still the only band member who does not sport a beard).

The main set ended with a vigorous workout on “Tush,” an anthem about simple pleasures from 1975’s Fandango!. After a short break, the band returned for a one-song encore tailor-made for Labor Day weekend – a Top-ified blues-rock take on the classic “16 Tons.”


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Review: Gretchen Peters and Barry Walsh in Houston

Gretchen Peters and Barry Walsh

Gretchen Peters and Barry Walsh

By Paul T. Mueller

At her Aug. 30 show in Houston, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Gretchen Peters seemed a bit surprised but very pleased to be playing to a near-capacity audience on a Sunday evening. She and Barry Walsh, her husband and musical partner, rewarded the crowd at McGonigel’s Mucky Duck with an excellent performance that drew heavily from her most recent album, Blackbirds, but also included older material, a few covers and even a solo turn by Walsh.

Acknowledging that much of Blackbirds deals with heavy subjects, notably death, Peters promised to get the dark material out of the way early. And so she did, leading off with “When All You Got Is a Hammer,” a tale of domestic discord; the murder-ballad title track; the angst-ridden “Pretty Things,” and “Black Ribbons,” an elegy for the oil-fouled Gulf Coast after the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

The mood lightened – a bit – with renditions of Tom Russell’s “Guadalupe” and “My Dark Angel,” a sweet if unconventional love song. Nashville veteran Walsh took the spotlight for “Belgian Afternoon” from his 2014 album Silencio, before an interlude of squeezebox jokes as Peters retuned her guitar (Walsh alternated between electric piano and what Peters described as “a $200 Craigslist accordion” throughout the show). Responding to a request, Peters reached back nearly two decades for the title track of her debut album, The Secret of Life. The rest of the show included a couple of covers – Jimmy LaFave’s “Revival” and David Mead’s “Nashville” – as well as several songs from Peters’ 2012 album Hello Cruel World and a couple more from Blackbirds.

Peters and Walsh have been at this for a while; they’re seasoned performers, at ease with the audience and well versed in the mechanics and dynamics of live performance. Despite Peters’ claim of being “loopy from the road,” her singing, and the intricate interplay between her acoustic guitar and Walsh’s powerful piano, showed no trace of sloppiness. They wound down the set with the quiet drama of “Five Minutes” before rocking out on the exuberant “Woman on the Wheel.”

Abandoning the overdone cliché of leaving the stage after the 90-minute set (at the Duck, this requires an awkward walk through the audience and back), Peters and Walsh finished with the lost-love ballad “On a Bus to St. Cloud” and a rousing duet on John Prine’s “In Spite of Ourselves.”

Country Music Hall of Fame celebrates Sam Phillips

By Ken Paulson

A remarkable new exhibit opens today at the Country Music Hall of Fame honoring a singular figure in American music. The title says it all: “Flyin’ Saucers Rock & Roll: The Cosmic Genius of Sam Phillips.”

In fact, it was that audacious exhibit title that convinced the Phillips family that the Hall of Fame curators could be trusted with telling Sam’s story, his son Jerry said Thursday.

sam phillips posterPhillips, the founder of Sun Records played a pivotal role in the history of rock and roll, signing Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Howlin’ Wolf, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison, Carl Perkins, Rufus Thomas, Charlie Rich and many more groundbreaking and envelope-pushing talents.

His production and release of Elvis’ first single – “That’s All Right,” backed with a revved up “Blue Moon of Kentucky” – is the Big Bang of rock, and arguably of Americana music as well.

I had the opportunity to interview Phillips in 1999 at an event at the Peabody Hotel. I asked him my first question, and 11 minutes later he wrapped up his response. He was a colorful and confident character.

But he also had character. Sam was committed to finding and  recording fresh voices, breaking down barriers in the process.

Sam Phillips' console

Sam Phillips’ console

The exhibit features an impressive array of artifacts, most notably Elvis’ first recording – “My Happiness” – at the Memphis Recording Service. The disc, recorded for his mother, is on loan to the Hall of Fame by Jack White. Other items in the exhibit include:

– Phillips’ mixing console and tape recorder

  • – A union contract signed by Presley and Phillips
  • – An electric guitar used by Howlin’ Wolf
  • – A vintage Johnny Cash stage costume

The exhibit is scheduled to run through June 2016.

Americana Music Festival 2015: The line-up

We’re just about three weeks away from the Americana Music Festival and Conference Association Conference in Nashville,  and organizers have released a new list of performers, including these additions:  Glen Hansard, Jewel, Hot Rize featuring Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, Jay Farrar, Buddy Miller and Marc Ribot, JD McPherson, Parker Millsap, Joel Rafael, Nellie Clay, Madisen Ward and The Mama Bear and the Watkins Family Hour. 
The updated line-up:
Adam Faucett
American Aquarium

Anderson East

Andrew Combs

Andrew Leahey & The Homestead

Angaleena Presley 

Anthony D’Amato

Band of Heathens


Barna Howard

Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn

Birds of Chicago

Brian Wright
The Bros. Landreth

Buddy Miller & Marc Ribot

Buick 6 


Caitlin Canty

Cale Tyson

Caleb Caudle

Caleb Klauder

CALICO the band 

Carly Ritter

The Carmonas

Caroline Spence 

Carsie Blanton


Christopher Paul Stelling

The Contenders

Corb Lund


Daniel Martin Moore 

Daniel Romano


Darrell Scott

David Wax Museum

Dead Winter Carpenters

Della Mae 

Dirty River Boys

Dom Flemons

Donnie Fritts and John Paul White

Doug Seegers

Dreaming Spires

Dustbowl Revival

Eddie Berman

Eilen Jewell

Emma Swift

Erin Rae & The Meanwhiles

The Fairfield Four

Fats Kaplin

Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen

The Freightshakers

Gill Landry

Glen Hansard

The Good Lovelies

The Grahams

Grant-Lee Phillips

Great Peacock

Gretchen Peters

Guthrie Brown & The Family Tree

Hackensaw Boys


The Hello Strangers

Henry Wagons

The Hillbenders

The Honeycutters


Horse Feathers

Hot Rize featuring Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers 

Horseshoes & Hand Grenades

Hugh Bob and the Hustle

Humming House

Jackie Greene

James McMurtry

Jay Farrar performs songs of Son Volt’s “Trace” 

JD & The Straight Shot

JD McPherson 
JD Souther

Jeffrey Foucault


Jim Lauderdale

Joe Pug

Joel Rafael 

John Moreland

John Paul Keith

Jonathan Tyler

Joseph LeMay

Josh Ritter 

Josh Rouse

JP Harris

Kacy & Clayton

Kai Welch 

Keenan O’Meara & M. Lui

Kelsey Waldon

Kingsley Flood

Kristin Andreassen

Kristin Diable

Laney Jones and the Spirits

Lee Ann Womack

Legendary Shack Shakers

Lera Lynn

Lewis and Leigh

Leyla McCalla

Lilly Hiatt

Lindi Ortega

Liz Longley

Los Colognes

Los Lobos

Low Cut Connie


Luther Dickinson

Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear 

Margo Price

Martin Harley

Mary Bragg

Mary Gauthier
The Mavericks

The McCrary Sisters

Michaela Anne & The Wild Hearts

Miss Tess & The Talkbacks

Nathaniel Rateliff  and The Night Sweats

Nellie Clay 

Nora Jane Struthers  and the Party Line


Oh Pep!

Olin & The Moon 

Packway Handle Band

Paper Bird

Parker Millsap 

Patty Griffin

Pine Hill Project (featuring Richard Shindell  and Lucy Kaplansky)

Pokey LaFarge

Pony Boy


Possessed By Paul James

Raised By Eagles

Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen

Ray Wylie Hubbard

Richie Furay

River Whyless

Ron Pope & The Nighthawks

Ry Cooder/Sharon White/Ricky Skaggs

Ryan Culwell
Sam Outlaw

Sarah Borges

Sean McConnell

Session Americana

Shannon McNally 

Shemekia Copeland

The Show Ponies

Spirit Family Reunion

The Steel Wheels


Stephen Kellogg
The Stray Birds

The Suffers
T Sisters

T. Hardy Morris


Tall Heights

Those Pretty Wrongs

Town Mountain

Uncle Lucius

The Vespers

Water Liars

Watkins Family Hour 

Webb Wilder 

The Whistles and The Bells


Whitey Morgan

Whitney Rose

The Wild Reeds

William Elliott Whitmore

Willie Watson

The Wood Brothers

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