It was 45 years ago this autumn that a group of skinny, hairy, hippie musicians convened at a funky little nightclub in Springfield, Missouri called the New Bijou Theatre. It was a songwriters collective at the time rather than a band on a mission. But on the strength of the songs, a heady blend of country, Americana, rock and pop, the Ozark Mountain Daredevils found themselves recording in London just 18 months later with uber-producer Glyn Johns (The Who, Rolling Stones, Beatles) and enjoying a fruitful association with A&M Records that lasted the rest of the 70s.
Two of the original Daredevils -- Randle Chowning and Larry Lee -- along with Ozark bluegrass veteran David Wilson perform at the Focal Point on Friday, November 11. The set is a mix of choice cuts from their Daredevil days and more recent material that Chowning and Lee have composed and recorded together under the name Beyond Reach. The trio is nearing the conclusion of a three-month run of acoustic shows in the Midwest. Multi-instrumentalist Wilson, who has recorded and toured nationally with the Undergrass Boys and Radio Flyer, provides many of the solo dynamics as Chowning and Lee sing their timeless songs.
In an interview with me last year, Randle Chowning reflected on "If You Wanna Get to Heaven," the Dares' first hit. The song was composed by Steve Cash and John Dillon but true to the communal spirit of the band, lead vocals were handed over to Chowning. In the spring of 1974, the country-rocker about getting to heaven by raising hell was all over FM radio.
"There's always a chance, any given chance at any time that with the right song you can knife right through what is going on. That is an exciting thing. Because you see it come out of nowhere," said Chowning.
"It's like watching a little bird being hatched and it flies off and it's pretty incredible -- 'Jackie Blue' and 'If You Wanna Get to Heaven' and some other songs we got radio airplay on -- to see them go from nowhere, to first learn them and figure them out and contribute a part to them, to see that go through the recording process and then actually go out and be heard by people all over the country. It's an incredible process to watch something go from zero."
"Jackie Blue," from the Dares' sophomore album, rocketed up the charts in early 1975. Larry Lee's sumptuous and soulful croon about a melancholy woman ("everyday in your indigo eyes I see the sun set but I don't see it rise") was matched with Chowning's memorable slide guitar and an entrancing rhythm.
After a decade in the Ozark Mountain Daredevils, Lee moved to Nashville, Tennessee and enjoyed success as a songwriter and producer. In the mid-1980s, he toured with Jimmy Buffett's Coral Reefer Band playing acoustic guitar and singing background vocals, and during this time he began collaborating with fellow Coral Reefer Josh Leo. The two went on to work on numerous projects together in in Nashville in the 1980s and 90s. Lee produced albums for Alabama, Juice Newton, Restless Heart, Earl Thomas Conley, Jon Goin, the Remingtons and others. He returned to the Ozarks in the mid-2000s, working with Chowning in Beyond Reach and self-producing the albums Twigs and Buds on Branches under his full name Larry Michael Lee.
Lee sings about half of the numbers in the trio's live set including "Within Without," "Spaceship Orion" and "You Know Like I Know" as well as the riveting, meditative "You Don't Need It" from Beyond Reach.
Commercially, though, nothing in Lee's career has compared to the impact of "Jackie Blue." The song is in the rarefied Million-Air club with BMI certifying over one million airplays by 1985.
"Here's the thing," said Lee by telephone, "I didn't put any more forethought as far as being commercial into 'Jackie Blue' as I have anything I've ever done. It had a hook and normally, accessible singles have that hook about it. And we were at the right place at the right time, or that song was going out to the right place at the right time."
Lee isn't often seen in concert. But for the first two decades of his career, he was on the road regularly. This year marks 50 years since a memorable tour with Lewie & the 7 Days for whom Lee played drums. The band had cut a couple of Northern soul singles for the Springfield-based Skipper label and were a hot ticket.
Lee recalled, "Between what would have been my freshman year and my sophomore year, Si Siman, a local music publisher, promoter and our mentor, asked us if we wanted to go on a USO tour. We thought, hell yeah, anything to get us out of town. Si then contacted the State Department and the USO, probably sending them a press kit along with one of the records we'd done for Si's Skipper Records label. The State Department ended up picked us to go, of all places, to Vietnam.
"So off we went in the summer of 1966 for a three week tour of military outposts in South Vietnam. We were flown around in C-130's and helicopters to the un-godliest hellholes I'd ever seen, where we'd set up our gear and play songs like the Impressions' 'Woman's Got Soul' and James Brown's 'Papa's Got A Brand New Bag.' We played to all these guys who were mostly around my age and who constantly told me all they wanted to do was just to make it back home. The last place they took us was to perform at a field hospital. It was horrible. I saw guys my age with no arms, no legs, heads wrapped up in bandages to the point you couldn't even see their eyes. Almost every one of them said, 'Man, do whatever you have to do not come back here.'
"I hadn't yet enrolled in my sophomore year, and as soon as I got back from that USO tour, I had an induction notice to go get my physical. It was the time of the draft and after just getting back from Vietnam and talking to everybody over there, I told myself I wasn't going to take a chance with what the draft and the Army might give me, and instead I would rather join some other military service for four years and stay the hell away from there. So I ended up joining the Navy in the fall 1966 for a four years stint away from my family, my girlfriend and my band."
Randle Chowning's career has been a winding, looping affair as well. He left the Daredevils in 1976, cut a solo record and, though he was busy songwriting and publishing, he dropped off the discographical map for many years. Since the mid-2000s Chowning has collaborated with Larry Lee in Beyond Reach, yielding two CDs and an EP; additionally, he's released self-produced work under his own name, as RC & the Keys and, most recently, as Ozark Joe.
Chowning calls Ozark Joe his "mountain folk" persona and has released Bottle Tree (2015) and Dancing on Cobwebs (2016). He memorably struck that musical vein in the Daredevils with songs like "Leatherwood," which appeared on The Car Over the Lake Album (1975).
Leatherwood is a place name, explained Chowning, a few miles from his childhood home of Mountain View, Missouri, and it's also a botanical name.
"Leatherwood is a shrub or wild plant. It's not a tree. It's a low-growing shrub that grows in the valleys of the Ozarks. It was used by the Indians to weave baskets and stuff, so it's a real supple type of bark. I'm not sure that if I went out in the forest that I could say, oh that's one right there. I have an idea of what it looks like; it's not terribly common, but Indians made baskets out of leatherwood. You can strip the bark and use it to weave.
"The Leatherwood that I'm talking about is a creek that runs into the Jack's Fork and the Jack's Fork runs into the Current down on the National Scenic Riverways and around Mountain View and Eminence, which is where I'm originally from. We used to deer hunt down there. My father and my uncles took me down there every fall, and there was a Leatherwood Creek in that area. If you look on the maps, you'll find the name. It's a name that you will find that will pop up in the mountainous areas. You'll find it in Arkansas; there's a Leatherwood Lake right outside of Eureka Springs.
"That was the inspiration for the song. It's a very different kind of country song; it's I guess you could say an avant-garde country song in a way. I was working on that before I put the Daredevils together."
In addition to "Leatherwood," Chowning wrote and sang other cherished songs in the Daredevils canon such as "Country Girl" and "Road to Glory," all of which the trio can be expected to perform at the Focal Point.
Daredevils fans will especially appreciate the wistful "My Old Band" from Beyond Reach's self-titled 2005 album in which Chowning sings,
Though we went our separate ways
A part of me forever stays
And I still miss 'em to a man
My old band
We're still there if you're radio's on
On the air with the same old songs
We had the keys in our hands
My old band
St. Louis-based, Missouri-born Jack Grelle will hold his record release show for Got Dressed Up to Get Let Down at Off Broadway, November 5th at 8 p.m. with openers the River Kittens, Kristo, and Strange Places. Got Dressed Up to Get Let Down is Grelle's second album on Big Muddy Records. It's an emotionally dynamic work with contributions from the South City Three (Pokey LaFarge), John Horton (The Bottle Rockets) and Chris Baricevic. Grelle's arrangements, including pedal steel, piano, fiddle and harmonica, have a 70s honky-tonk feel -- think Willie Nelson -- but what's truly remarkable about Grelle's songs is the lingering strength of the lyrics: "I learned to accept that I make my own fate. / It might not be easy no, it might not feel right, / but at the end of the day, it's the struggle that I fight." Long after you've turned off the record, the ghosts on the album still follow you around, escorted by a haunting steel guitar. "Birthday Cards" conveys his love for his departed grandmother, while the title cut revolves around the date who never arrives. Then there's lost love ("New Mexico"), an absent older brother ("Takin' After Me"), and Mike Brown ("Changes Never Made"). In Grelle's own words, the album "documents learning how to be a good partner in a relationship; how to be accountable and acknowledge your own flaws; how to reconcile traveling as a privileged American in foreign countries with tumultuous histories of colonialism; how to be a white male ally in a segregated city and in the struggle for freedom for oppressed communities; and how to cope with loosing a grandmother who was the matriarch, the glue that held the family together."
In the densely-populated world of female singer/songwriter/musicians, very few have built their success on a foundation of accolades and accomplishments even close to the lengthy list of them achieved by Loreena McKennitt. Over the approximate 30 year span of her critically-acclaimed career, the 59 year-old Ontario resident has released nine studio and six live albums, which have collectively sold close to 15 million units worldwide. She has been honored with two Juno Awards (the Canadian equivalent of the Grammy) in 1992 and 1994, a Billboard International Achievement Award in 1997, a Western Canadian Lifetime Achievement Award in 2009, and received two Grammy nominations in 2007 and 2012. She even had the rare privilege of performing for Queen Elizabeth.
In addition to the writing, recording and performing aspects of her livelihood, McKennitt founded her own independent label, Quinlan Road, shortly after her career's 1985 inception. Being the label's sole artist has allowed her to assume full responsibility of overseeing every aspect of the highly successful company's operation. Unlike a typical label, McKennitt sees her company's mission as "facilitating enriched life experiences" rather than simply promoting profit and fame. To that end, she contributes a substantial portion of Quinlan Road's revenue to various charitable causes.
Anyone who has ever heard McKennitt sing would most likely agree that her pristine and captivating soprano voice is about as close to that of an angel that most mortals will ever be fortunate enough to experience in this particular realm of existence. What hasn't been so unanimously agreed upon by critics and music industry personnel, however, is how to classify or categorize her style of music. It has been given many genre titles and subtitles, including Celtic, folk, classical, world music, and new age; the latter being McKennitt's personally least favorite. The genre that she feels the most genuine connection with is Celtic; primarily due to the extensive research on, and passionate interest in, Celtic culture that McKennitt has spent many years developing and cultivating.
That interest began at a folk club that she regularly frequented in Winnipeg in the late 1970s, and it was through some of the musicians she played with there that much of her early knowledge of traditional Celtic repertoire was gained. Slightly over a decade later, in 1991, McKennitt discovered a great deal more about Celtic culture through an artifacts exhibition she attended while traveling in Venice, Italy. "Until I went to that exhibition, I had thought the Celts were people that came from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Britain," stated McKennitt in an Alternative Music Press interview. "Seeing the unimagined riches and variety in the centuries of Celtic art from as far away as Hungary, Ukraine, Spain, and Asia" made McKennitt feel "exhilarated," and was a pivotal, transformational point in her career, inspiring her to utilize this knowledge of cultural history as her creative muse. "At the essence of all of my music, there is a Celtic or Irish resonance," she explains, "but it is embroidered with Eastern or Middle Eastern influences."
McKennitt has also applied her extensive global traveling for subject matter research to many of her albums' conceptual themes. Ireland was the inspiration for both 1985's Elemental and 1989's Parallel Dreams, and 1994's excellent The Mask and Mirror emerged from a trip to Spain, where she spent time studying Galicia, a Celtic section of that country. Her research of the various cultures in Asia was the creative foundation for 2006's An Ancient Muse.
Spirituality has also been a strong and prevalent theme in much of McKennitt's work, both lyrically and sonically. "I am deeply interested in the connections between physiology and our spiritual and psychological beings, and the many events and experiences that inspire us," she stated in an interview on her website. She particularly relates to the Sufi's spiritual perspective on life, which emphasizes that it is better to participate with the world than to be detached from it.
The United States is currently experiencing McKennitt's best-known form of world participation, a 22-date tour that brings her back to this country for the first time in nine years. She will be performing as a trio along with her longtime collaborators, cellist Caroline Lavelle and guitarist Brian Hughes; shows will feature music and stories inspired by McKennitt's journey-filled life. Her show at the Pageant on Friday, October 21 will mark the first time McKennitt has ever performed in St. Louis.
The shim sham. The balboa. The jitterbug. The boogaloo. They are all derivatives or descendants of an energetic, stylistic dance form known collectively as swing. When John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John perform the intricate hand jive in Grease, that too can be traced back to the swing era which began in the 1920s when big bands were all the rage. Starting in Harlem, the swing sound and the dances associated with it spread across the country. St. Louis was no exception. Nearly a century later, swing dancing is alive and well here in part through the efforts of the Nevermore Ball and Swing Dance Festival organizers (and swing dance instructors) Christian Frommelt and Jenny Shirar. The Cherokee Street Jazz Crawl, taking place Saturday, November 5, features more than a dozen bands at a variety of venues up and down Cherokee Street as part of the multi-day festival of classes, dances, and performances running from Thursday through Sunday. I had a chance to talk to Christian and Jenny about what to expect in the 2016 edition of the event, including Saturday's several introductory-level classes offered in a variety of styles by a range of instructors.
Bill Motchan: This year marks the fifth Cherokee Street Jazz Crawl. How did it originate?
Christian Frommelt: The Nevermore Jazz Ball and St. Louis Swing Dance Festival was an event we started in 2007. We wanted to have our own dance festival here in town. We'd been traveling regionally, and we really wanted a dance event that was as fun but also showcased the city of St. Louis. The first year it was dances and classes, there was no Jazz Crawl, but we were at Casa Loma Ballroom and we said, it's really a shame that we're not getting people into more of these cool places up and down Cherokee, and our solution was the Jazz Crawl, which showcased bands that we didn't have space for on the dance schedule and it got people in to some of these really unique places that we wanted people to go into and patronize. So that was the genesis of the Jazz Crawl, which allowed us to showcase more of our local music as well as showcase our local businesses in that neighborhood.
Bill: What sets the Cherokee Street Jazz Crawl apart from other swing dance festivals?
Jenny Shirar: Lots of cities host swing dance festivals, they'll have dance workshops and dances at night. Most of them will bring in bands from out of town and they'll have the same ten swing bands from around the world that get hired. St. Louis is unique because we have such a wealth of amazing music acts here. There are lots of festivals that happen, but this is unique. There is nothing like the Jazz Crawl. The other thing great thing about it is we wanted to not just connect people with St. Louis music and St. Louis businesses but create a way for the festival to be open to people who might not have that much experience with swing dancing, or they might not be able to buy a ticket to the ball, and we wanted to create a festival that anyone could come to. It's free to audiences and communities and we can bring in more people.
Bill: How did swing dancing become popular here?
Christian: It's a little unique here. What's happening in St. Louis is a global trend. There are lots of young adults and very young folks learning to swing dance, and that's just the nature of the dance. It's very energetic. In the 1930s, it was really a young person's dance. We have people of all ages, but until the end of time, it will be led by the younger people who have the stamina to do it. But I think if you expose it to people of any age who have that energy, they'll want to try it.
Bill: What age groups in St. Louis tend to be attracted to swing dancing?
Jenny: The history of swing dancing in St. Louis is unique. There was a nationwide craze for swing dancing and big band music in the 30s and 40s and as the music changed and as air conditioning was invented, swing dancing might have died out, but in St. Louis there's been a continuous development of swing dance in the 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond, and they're continuing to do it, and in addition to this young, worldwide subculture of college age kids and twenty- and thirty-somethings are grabbing onto it. There's also a generation of swing dancers in St. Louis who started in the 60s and 70s, so we have this unique interaction and cross-generation.
Bill: How did you get interested in swing dancing?
Christian: I went to the University of Iowa as a freshman and that's where I went to my first swing dance class. Champaign-Urbana was a swing dancing hub for a while. Sometimes it's not a big city. The following year, in 2008, I transferred to Washington University -- the same time Jenny did -- and I told her, "You should really check out this swing dancing," and she did. From there we went together which included the St. Louis form of jitterbug and the St. Louis shag and the more general dance styles, the Lindy hoppers and the Harlem, and we all practiced and excelled at it that way.
Bill: What should newcomers to swing dancing expect during the Jazz Crawl?
Jenny: With the Jazz Crawl, you should definitely come with an open mind. A young, energetic style is very characteristic of the Lindy hop, but swing dancing is very adaptable. On November 5, for visitors, it's more about watching and taking in the spectacle. At the different types of venues you'll visit, you'll see St. Louis in all of its glory.
Bill: Will there be opportunities to learn more about swing dancing during the Jazz Crawl?
Jenny: We have a Community Dance Day during the Jazz Crawl, a day of free and open-to-the-public dance classes at 2720 Cherokee to make the festival more open and attractive to everyone. You can drop in and there will be classes in swing dance and the St. Louis shag and other styles like hip-hop, breakdance and the St. Louis bop, which is a great dance. It will start at 11 a.m. and continue until about 5 p.m. Christian and I have a group called the St. Louis Jitterbugs and we offer beginning dance classes through that group.
Bill: Do you have to be in good physical condition to try out swing dancing?
Christian: I think that swing dance gives you the opportunity to tell a different story. Jazz is very vast in terms of what it can make you feel. Swing dance is a very joyous, uninhibited, expressive activity and so that's why it's so infectious.
Jenny: It's a jazz dance so it's improvisational in nature. When people learn it, there are some basic steps and patterns, but from there it's open and free form, so you can riff on it. And in our lives, there are not a lot of opportunities to do stuff like that, so for that reason swing dance is a great outlet.
Bill: Is swing dancing difficult to master?
Christian: The cool thing about it is you can be a beginner and go to a dance and dance with everybody. It's a very welcoming community. Everyone remembers when they were beginners. We don't have a dance that isn't all levels. There aren't dances that are just for beginners or for experts. And there are always new people coming in. The types of moves that are customary to learn in swing dance are the swingout, which is kind of a trademark eight-count move, the Lindy hop from Harlem, where you use the momentum that you and your partner have and the leader redirects the follower and you swing around each other and it really feels like flying. You can put your own spin on some of these traditional moves. And it keeps us pretty fit.
Jenny: The barrier to entry is low and you can have a great time on the dance floor and like any hobby, the more you want to put into it, the more you can get out of it. So it's up to the individual dancer. There are some very complex moves where you flip each other over, but only in competition, not on the social dance floor. We practice, we learn, we put a lot of time into learning techniques and complex dance moves, so for us, we've gotten more serious about it.
Bill: Have you noticed the popularity of swing dancing grown in St. Louis over the five years since you originated Nevermore Ball and the Jazz Crawl?
Jenny: Yes, definitely. There are some people who we knew from dance events outside of St. Louis and they've actually moved here because they want to be in the heart of the action.
Christian: And some people we've met who just stumbled on the Jazz Crawl because they were out and about and they said, "We want to learn how to dance!"
Bill: What kind of impact has the Jazz Crawl had on the businesses along Cherokee Street?
Jenny: Some businesses tell us they have their best day of the year during Jazz Crawl. It brings a lot of life to the street, a lot of foot traffic. We've gotten some good reports on the economic impact of it.
Bill: The Nevermore Ball and Jazz Crawl "code" reads in part: "Nevermore is for fun! It's ok to take risks and try new things, be loud and silly at the right time and place, joke around, have some drinks (or not), relax and let loose. Nevermore is for fun! It's ok to take risks and try new things, be loud and silly at the right time and place, joke around, have some drinks (or not), relax and let loose." I can't help but realize that the event falls near the end of a particularly tense election season.
Jenny: I think the thing that's really important to remember during a tense time in the country and in the world is that dance brings people together. It forces you to see someone as a human equal, and that's one of the most important and beautiful things about dance.
Christian: That's one of the things dance has always done. It gives you a chance to relax. When you get on the dance floor, the things you've been worrying about just go away.
Jazz Crawl notes and notables: In the first set, from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 pm, Saxquest will feature a full orchestra; the Loot Rock Gang will be making their first appearance on the Jazz Crawl at Retro 101, and The Bottoms Up Blues Gang will make their first at Hop Shop. The Moonshine Rhythm Club, a Nashville-based band, will perform at Van Ella Studios. In addition to these, the first set will also include performances by Roth/Ryback Duo (South City Art Supply), Miss Jubilee (Foam Coffee and Beer), Wack-A-Doo (Fortune Teller), Sweetie & Chase Garrett (Bespoke), and The Gaslight Squares (Yaqui's house band). At 4 p.m. the second set will start off with a jazz jam led by veteran jazz trumpeter Bill Mason of St. Louis Ragtimers fame. Marty Eggers on bass/piano and Virginia Tichenor (daughter of St. Louis Ragtimers founder and composer Trebor Tichenor) on piano/percussion will help lead this jam at Yaqui's. Also in the second set will be Annie and the Fur Trappers at Propoganda.
Nine years ago, singer-songwriter-producer Nick Lowe told the New York Daily News that he didn't want to turn into a "tragic" aging rock star caricature, doing the same act he did as a young man. At age 67, Lowe's commitment to age gracefully is as revolutionary as the clever, melodic songs he wrote and artists he produced almost 40 years ago. A few hours before kicking off his current tour in Minneapolis, Lowe spoke about his current preference for songwriting over recording, his love of American music in the hands of British musicians, and how his work continues to evolve. He'll perform a solo acoustic set at The Pageant on Tuesday, October 18 with opener Josh Rouse.
Robin Wheeler: Aside from the Christmas albums it's been five years since The Old Magic came out. I'd like to catch up with what you've been doing creatively since then.
Nick Lowe: Rather disappointingly, not much. [laughs] I haven't exactly been idle. I suppose I'm not so driven to make records of my own at the moment. I'm still writing songs. I've started going to Nashville, for instance, and writing for other people. I've made a lot of records, and they all make a profit eventually. It's incredibly expensive to make the kind of records I make, with real musicians in a recording studio. That's why no one is doing that anymore. They're doing it all with computers -- and there are some great records made like that -- but I just don't know how to do that and I'm getting a bit too long in the tooth to learn how to do that. I'm much more interested in writing for other people and getting other, younger artists to record my songs. I might change my mind. I've got quite a good store of songs. I'm much fussier now than I used to be. I'm not as prolific now as I used to be. Or maybe I am but I'm much quicker to say, "Ah that's not good." I do have a few pretty good ones, so there might come a time when I change my mind.
RW: Who have you been working with?
NL: I arrived in Minneapolis the day before yesterday [October 9], and I met with a fantastic act of two brothers called The Cactus Blossoms who opened for me when I was touring with the Christmas album, backed up by Los Straitjackets. I came to town a bit early to see if we could write something before they left for Australia today.
RW: I've always been interested in how you came up as part of this group of British artists who, in the late '70s and early '80s, were making American music better than Americans were making it. What motivated you from the beginning to work with these strongly American influences, like early country and rockabilly, and what continues to motivate you?
NL: You mean that mysterious connection that Brits seem to have with American music [laughs]? It's something that comes from my mother. She was very musical. She taught me how to play the guitar, just two or three chords. She had a few really good records that most middle-class families had in the 1950s -- Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Peggy Lee, show tunes. I played these records over and over again. In amongst them, I don't know why she had these records, but she had two records by Tennessee Ernie Ford. I'd never heard anything like that. Something happened when I heard that. I thought he was so fantastic, and still do. I never got over it.
When I got a little bit older we had this fellow in the UK called Lonnie Donegan who started skiffle. We didn't know it at the time but he was playing a lot of Leadbelly, so we were getting this lesson as well in how this stuff went. It was very easy music to play and you could get a groove going very, very easily without much talent. It was the best thing, really, that we had on the radio unless other American music was playing. The pop from England, aside from Lonnie Donegan, was really hopeless.
In my case my father with in the RAF [Royal Air Force] and I spent my youth abroad, wherever he was stationed. There was usually an Armed Forces Radio Network nearby, and you could pick it up. That's when I heard people with names like Howlin' Wolf and Ferlin Husky. I mean, what the hell is a Ferlin Husky? Howlin' Wolf? What does he look like? I just thought it was the most fantastic thing. I never got over it.
Nowadays, I know a bit more about it and how it works. As much as I still love American music, I love what happens to it when it goes across the Atlantic and we sort of mess with it. That's the way it should be. It's ridiculous for someone like me, someone who comes from the south of England, to try to sound like he's from Alabama and went to Nashville. Some people can do that, like The Shires. Good for them, but it's silly for me to do that.
RW: The last few times I've seen you, I've appreciated that you're not being a traveling greatest hits act. I know the changes you've made to "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding" have been discussed, how you've taken the cynicism out of it and turned it into something very poignant. How did that come about?
NL: I did make up my mind at one point that, if I was going to have any longevity in this business, I was going to have to learn how to write songs -- this was quite a long time ago -- and I'm going to have to find a way to use the fact that I'm getting older as an actual advantage, instead of trying to disguise it. We all do that, no matter what walk of life we're in, but in music especially. I didn't want to just play to the same people, the people who, God bless them, discovered me when they were kids -- and when I was a kid -- and have stuck with it, and I'm still trying to behave like I'm a kid so they can relive their youth. There's plenty of people who do that, and I feel very sorry for them, but I really, really don't want to do that.
RW: When I see artists doing that, all I can think is that it must be exhausting.
NL: It's exhausting. That's quite right. And humiliating as well. I thought if I get this right, and sometimes I do and sometimes I don't, but if I can mostly get it right, I won't just play to my old fans. I'll be able to bring new people in, younger people who'll dig it and get a kick out of it. You won't see much stodgy old folk stuff. It'll be funny and entertaining. Really, that's how it's turned out to be. I get quite a few younger people, people in their late 20s, and they have a great time. They really enjoy it, alongside the older people. I've lost quite a lot of my old audience, because they're not rocking anymore, but I can cope with it.
RW: What can we expect to see from you in St. Louis?
NL: When I say I have to do some songs, I don't feel like there are nooses around my neck. I love some of these songs that are really well-known. Strangely, though, this touches on something you said earlier; sometimes I'll hear my old records, the original versions played on the radio, and I can't believe how much they've changed. It's not because I set out to change them. I suppose if you set out to play acoustic versions of them, you can't really copy what the full amp sounded like. But if the song's good, I think it can take that and people can still enjoy it.
At any rate, I play quite a few of the songs I'm known for, but also a lot of others, some that I haven't recorded but people seem to really enjoy them. They fit in with the other songs so it's a real mixture of old stuff, like "Peace, Love and Understanding," which is the oldest song I do, to brand new stuff. I don't do too much unfamiliar stuff because people get sick of it, but I do ones that are fun.