One of my earliest memories is riding in a white Monte Carlo with my dad. We were driving down Pines Road in Paducah, Kentucky - a bucolic little town situated at the confluence of the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers. The sun was bright. I was little and my dad was the biggest thing I knew. Sometimes he still is. It was the early 1980s. The car had red faux leather interior and an 8 track player, and the name on the spine said "John Prine." We were singing along with John about "Muhlenberg County". It would be many years before the words meant anything to me, but I remember them today like it was that day.
"Daddy, won't you take me down to Muhlenberg County. Down by the Green River where Paradise lays. I'm sorry my son, but you're too late in asking. Mr. Peabody's coal train done hauled it away."
That moment and the words never left me. They spoke of things lost and they reached out from the universe like the siren of the prophets. Many years later, I was driving down I-24 towards Nashville when I passed the exit that heads towards Paradise. I let my mind wander down that lonely road as I travelled far from it, and I inhabited a place I have never seen and never really known.
"Granddaddy worked the coal mines down in Paradise, black hair, black lungs, and blood shot eyes."
Who is that? Who cares?
"Never had a thing he could call his own, except my Granny and my Daddy and a coal black soul"
The words just kept coming. I was living something I didn't know, and the miles kept carrying me farther and farther away.
Several years later, I was singing those words into a fancy microphone in a fancy vocal booth in Nashville, Tennessee, recording an EP at a famous studio with a producer that had made his bones traveling the world with an American icon. Those facts only mattered for the moment. The words though - the words will outlive me and the moment. It felt good to sing them. It felt right to sing them. It still does, even though I borrowed them from people I never knew.
All along the way, through all the currents of my life, words have mattered. I grew up on the words of my father, the words of Jesus, the words of the prophets, but also the words of Dylan, Prine, Cash, Springsteen, Earle, Petty, Fogerty - not all equally important or timeless, but words that framed the world for a boy who saw that the vision we'd been sold didn't stack up with the reality at our doorstep.
I've written songs about all kinds of things over the years, but largely it's been about girls and guns and getting' away with it only to pay the piper when the time comes. The thing my dad always told me, long before I wrote any songs of my own, was that the words mattered the most. That's what makes a song timeless. Everything else will be dated, but words reach out far beyond the constraints of the moment.
But now, 20 years in to my journey as a songwriter, the thing that haunts me most is this - who cares what you have to say? Who will remember that you said anything at all?
We live in a time where we mock the prophets and laugh at the poets. We push them aside like old women who have overstayed their welcome. Wisdom is a droning old man that pushes our eyes back into our heads and makes us long for the comfort of cold digital distraction.
The free enterprise crowd will tell you we're living through a golden era of democratic thought and art - a pure Darwinian struggle where the weak ideas are drowned out by the best that a humanist, secular society can produce. But that's not what I hear on the radio. We live in times where we pander to the lowest common denominator, in the name of the almighty Dollar, and what we fail to admit is that the lowest common denominator is never a high standard.
So what's the point. Why say anything at all? Because the words still matter, and somewhere, sometime, someone will listen. That makes it worth every moment.
In the last week, I've played with two fantastic songwriters. First, and really foremost, I played a show with Roger Alan Wade. That name may not ring a bell, but let me run a couple of names by you that will - Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, George Jones, and Hank Williams, Jr. All those guys have cut multiple songs by Roger Alan Wade. Probably the best known is "Country State of Mind," which Hank Jr. took to #1. Last night, the Tucker Hollow Band and I opened up for Channing Wilson. You probably haven't heard of him either, but I'm here to tell you his worst song is better than anything you'll ever hear on country radio. He's the real deal. A personal favorite is "Broken Heart." You should check it out. He has a pub deal with EMI in Nashville. About a week ago, Miley Cyrus blew the world up with a skanked out performance on the VMAs. It has been talked about to death, there's been incredibly painful-to-watch discussions between old men on sites like Fox News about twerking, and a litany of very touching "letters to my daughter" trying to cope with the perceived monumental cultural failure symbolized by a Disney princess grinding on Robin Thicke (who has taken incredibly little flack for the episode, considering that he is older than me, married, a father, dressed up like Beetlejuice for the VMAs, and his biggest hit to date has lyrics that have been described as "rapey.") All this to say that I am stunned by the amount of white noise in our society today. There is an incredible undercurrent of mindless, escapist, lowest common denominator drivel that dominates our culture. Country radio is right there, where the "artists" just smooth over the same nonsense Miley Cyrus is shilling with pathetic double entendres and good ol' boy humor. There's probably nothing new about any of that, but here's my point - there is a fantastic generation of songwriters out there today. Guys like Channing and Roger, and Jason Isbell, and I could go on forever, who are being completely obscured by the mindless white noise that permeates every nook and cranny of our culture. We are living through consequential times, and many of us are writing about it. What does it say about us that no one wants to listen?
Just to kick things off, I want to say THANK YOU to all of you that have been so supportive of me in this! It really means a great deal, and regardless of whether my music actually goes anywhere, this album is a great personal moment for me and all of your kind words and encouragement have made it that much better.
I know that for some folks who've known me for a while, this album may be coming as a surprise. I've tried not to self-promote very much, but the truth is that I've been at this on roughly a daily basis for 15 years. I've struggled through quite a bit to get to this spot, and for the first time, I have six songs that match the vision I've had of them in my head. Let me tell you - it's a great feeling!
There are lots more songs. These six were picked as a way to show some of the different things I could do. Only God knows whether I get to do any of this again, but every time you re-post or share a song, or tell somebody about the album, you make it a little more possible.
So thanks again! Stick with me, and we'll see where this goes together!