Curtis Armstrong: Actor, Harry Nilsson Expert

CURTIS ARMSTRONG is known for his many roles in motion pictures.  In additon to being an actor, Armstrong has a strong affinity for the musical stylings of the late great Harry Nilsson.  In this interview, Curtis Armstrong talks in great detail about why he likes Harry Nilsson’s music so much as well as his fondness for books.  The listener will gain a great appreciation for Armstrong’s candor and passion.

It’s our great pleasure to welcome our special guest. His name is Curtis Armstrong and he’s an actor who has appeared in many movies. He’s also the foremost expert on the late, great Harry Nilsson. It’s with great pleasure that we introduce Curtis Armstrong. Thanks so much for joining us.
Oh, well thank you. My pleasure.

My first question. Who is Curtis Armstrong?

Oh, boy. Um, well, that’s um, that’s, uh, not very hard. Um, he’s, uh, an actor of some 36 years standing and, um, a father and a husband and, um, boy – that’s about it.

Well tell us a little bit about where you were born. What was life like growing up?

I was born in Detroit, Michigan in the, uh, in 1953 and, um, at the time it was, um – I mean, you know, you look back on these things with, you know, I do anyway I suppose, with a bit of, uh, of affection and nostalgia. It was, I had a very good, very good childhood growing up and was, uh – my family was based in Detroit but then my father, who worked for Chrysler Corporation, was transferred to Europe in ’63, uh, and, and so we all went. And I wound up living, until 1967, I lived in Geneva Switzerland. And, uh, then came back in ’67 to Detroit and was there until, really until, uh, I left the academy where I studied acting in the early ‘70s. And, uh, and I had co-founded a theater company there, in Ann Arbor actually, um, towards the end of that time and then moved in ’76 to New York.

And one of your earliest loves was, uh, your, you had a very strong interest in books – Washington Irving and, uh …

Yes.
Uh, the Sherlock Holmes books.
Right.

Tell us a little bit about how you, uh, discovered the books and how you took it to the level of wanting to collect them.

Well, it was a – there were always books in the house, um, in my parents’ house and in, uh, my father’s parents’, my paternal grandparents’ house. There were always books and I think when you’re drawn to them, um – you are drawn to them when you’re surrounded by them all the time. And when we went to Switzerland – I mean, I always loved books and, um, my parents always bought me books. In fact, uh, I was reminded about the fact that when I was about five, uh, still living in suburban Detroit, I, uh – something happened and I decided I was running away from home. And, um, I packed a suitcase and there was nothing in the suitcase but books. No clothes. Nothing. Just books. And uh, because it was – you know, running away from home was fine but I couldn’t imagine myself without my books. And, you know, hauled this enormous suitcase filled with books, you know, all the way down the street, trying to run away from home. So that was sort of rooted in me at a very early age, a love of books. I didn’t, ultimately, run away from home obviously, but (laughs) – somebody driving by recognized me and picked me up and brought me home again. Um, but then being in Switzerland in the ‘60s, in the early ‘60s, there was very little, uh, as far as culture to do – pop culture certainly. Um, there was a lot of music and I got a very early dose of, uh, loving – particularly English – uh,rock and roll from that period because it was everywhere. Um, but again, you know, you couldn’t go to see movies. We were too young to see most movies except for Disney movies and things. They were very strict about that there. And so books became, along with music, became a refuge. And, um, as far as the collecting of them, I guess that was something that just is, was a part of my DNA. I, I don’t know where it came from exactly. Um, maybe it, maybe it had to do with moving around a lot, uh, which seems like counterintuitive because if you’re moving around you don’t acquire things. But I guess it was maybe a, uh, a desire – I see it in my own daughter, actually. She has a similar thing of when you become involved and interested in something, you tend to dive into it deeply. The, uh, collecting then, you know, once I became able to actually buy books and collect them, that became, uh, an interest.

You said a second ago about you had a DNA kind of to dive into something and you’re known as a, uh, somewhat of an expert on Harry Nilsson.

Yeah.
And I wanted to ask you, how did you first come to listen to, uh, Harry
Oh, gosh, uh, I knew, I knew his music from the early – I mean late ‘60s, actually – but, like a lot of people, had no idea he was the same person doing all of these different types of music. Uh, he was very much a chameleon. Uh, with Nilsson, you know, he was coming out with songs then, hit records then and I, I liked all of them but they all – it didn’t sound like it was the same person. It was amazing to me. And then, you know, gradually I figured out by about 1972 or so, um, who he was and it just started – you know, it’s just one of those connections that you have that are, that are really kind of impossible to explain logically. It’s just a connection. You feel like – not that you know the person but that you have sort of an intuitive grasp of who that is. And, uh, I became really interested in him and listened to all of his music. And he played on a lot of other albums. And a lot of other people like the Beatles, for example, who adored him, um, were fans of his and, you know, that was interesting to me. And you know, I just, uh, I became interested in him. And so, by the ‘70s I was sort of casually collecting a lot of material about his life and – you know, articles when I could find them, and that kind of thing – and, uh, and then by the time he died in the, uh, early ‘90s, uh, he was, uh, you know, I had this massive archive of information on Harry Nilsson. And then when – I was trying to get a documentary together and I was in touch with RCA in New York – and when they found out who I was, they asked me to co-produce the re-releases of Harry’s albums, which I did eventually, um, doing liner notes and picking out bonus tracks and that kind of thing. I never met him. Uh, apart from a letter that I – I wrote him a fan letter in ‘76 which he, which he, uh, answered – very generously. Uh, aside from that, there was no actual personal connection between me and Harry Nilsson. It was just a, it was just, uh, a real affinity for his music.

So tell us, how did Harry Nilsson begin in music?

Well, he started, uh, he started as a songwriter, you know, sort of a hack songwriter, in Hollywood. He was, he was doing demos for people. He worked with Phil Spector for a while. Um, he worked, you know, basically doing any sort of job but he was writing – he was actually working in a bank at the time – and, uh, he was writing songs which were getting put out there, and doing some recording, um, and, but totally under the radar. No one was really aware of him at the time. And then, um, he went to, uh, he was ultimately brought into RCA and given a recording deal. This is the very short version of it. Um, his album, Pandemonium Shadow Show, which was released in 1967, uh, post-Pepper, and, uh, and it – the Beatles were, um, instantly attracted to it and talked about it a lot in interviews. And then by 1968 the Beatles did their big, uh, press conference in New York about the formation of Apple, and they were asked about who their favorite American artist was and they said Nilsson. And then, what their favorite American group was and they said Nilsson because he was sort of famous for doing multiple – he had a fantastic multi-octave voice – and doing a lot of, um, of, uh, overdubbing so he sounded like a group. To a lot of people, he sounded like the Beatles. And, um, that was the beginning of it and he had, he had an active recording career up until 1978. And after that, he did some movie and TV work. And, and then, um, you know, was in retirement – a kind of retirement, until his death.

Do you have a favorite record of Harry’s or an album that you think is more important than the others?

I don’t think I have one that’s more important than the others. I’ve got, I’ve got several that I like a lot that are favorites of mine. Uh, Aerial Ballet for the early albums is marvelous. Um, I have a real affinity for Son of Schmilsson which was his second sort of rock and roll album. Uh, and uh, I also like Sandman which is one of the later ones. And I like, uh, Knnillssonn – it’s actually pronounced ‘Nilsson’ – but, uh, it was the last American album that he did in 1977. I love all of those.

And do you have a favorite song, or could you pick a favorite one out of all of the ones he’s recorded?

Oh, I, I can’t do a favorite song. I mean, there, there are so many that I really like. I, I couldn’t even – I can’t even pick a favorite album, you know. I had to pick four albums.

(Laughs) I tell you, the cover that he did of Over the Rainbow – that, I think that …
Oh, yeah.
… and that song’s been covered so many times but I believe that his was the finest.
Well, it’s a great one. It really is. And that whole session was a kind of amazing one-off, which he did periodically. You know, he did an album only of Randy Newman songs, which is also brilliant. And, of course, The Point! which a lot of people know, uh, was a one-off. And then Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night, which is the one you’re thinking of, uh, which he did with, um, with, uh, Gordon Jenkins, the great arranger-conductor. And yeah, I love, I love those recordings. I really do. But I mean I’m, I’m, I’m an unabashed, um, un-apologetic, uh, fan of his music and, and always have been.

According to a past interview you did, you said that you’ve approached your love of Harry Nilsson from a faux scholarly perspective. What did you mean by that?

I think it’s because I, I – my interests are primarily literary so I tend to look at things from that kind of perspective and Harry’s lyrics sort of – not lyrics so much, exclusively, but Harry’s body of work plus his life really lends themselves to that kind of a study. Um, it’s almost as if – well, when I wrote in that letter in ’76 it was because I wanted to propose writing a biography of him. Um, the idea at that point of a documentary had never crossed my mind but I was interested in writing a biography because that’s how I tended to see things that interested me. You know, I might love the Sherlock Holmes stories or the Woodhouse books or, uh, Irving but, in addition to loving those books, I’m interested in what – how people analyze those people and their work. And that was sort of the way that I wanted to approach Harry because that was the way I felt and it’s the way I have always approached subjects that interest me. Um, so that was, that was why I was probably saying that. I don’t remember saying that but that’s probably what I meant – was, uh, a subject that interests me I wind up delving into very deeply. And that’s why I said earlier that I see the same thing in my daughter now because – and of course she has the internet which I did not have (laughs). Um, so now, there’s a ton of stuff about Nilsson on the internet which was, you know, wasn’t there ten years ago. Um, and so my daughter, when she gets interested in a band, you know she’s got hours worth of, you know, stuff that she can find and that’s what she ends up doing. She’s exactly the same as me in that regard. You know, she goes from one band to another because of connections. And I guess that’s the thing with Nilsson for me is I always found interesting connections between Nilsson, other types of music, other musicians, session players – that whole thing – and that interested me.

Yeah, that’s, that’s very similar to the way I approach subjects and it is very fascinating to see all the connections in music.

Oh, yeah. It goes on and on.

Absolutely. So, so tell me, how many concerts of Harry Nilsson did you attend?

None, because there were none.
No?
He never performed live.
Really? I did not know that.
Yup.
Interesting.
That was, you know, another thing about him that was sort of interesting for some people was the idea that he was somebody who produced all theses albums. But that’s why I say post- Pepper, when it comes to the first album, the idea that the Beatles had which was, you know, we don’t have to necessarily perform live anymore. We’ll use the studio as a instrument and explore the studio indefinitely, that kind of thing which is – it’s ideal and not really practical at all in the long run. That was sort of the way Harry was. His was more out of a, of a, I think, a pretty deep, unexpressed stage fright, um, that kept him from performing live, except for one time. The only time that I’m aware of that he performed live in front of an audience was in Las Vegas. In 1992 he made a guest appearance with Ringo Starr and the All-Starr Band at Caesar’s Palace. They were on tour – the All-Starrs were – and he came on unannounced and, uh, sang, uh, Without You, the big Badfinger hit that he had, his biggest selling, I guess, hit. They had worked it up as a surprise. And, to my knowledge, except for, you know, just, you know, parties and things like that. Those – that is the only time he performed live in front of an audience. He did a lot of TV performances but only in situations where he could control what was going on, which meant that it had to be taped ahead of time.

Very interesting. So tell us, is there anything on the horizons with, uh, with you, Curtis?

Well, yeah, I mean I’m, I’m working on various things all the time, yeah. I just finished a movie in, uh, Louisiana, uh, called Fly Paper, uh, with Patrick Dempsey and Tim Blake Nelson, Ashley Judd and Jeffrey Tambor. That’s, um, only just finished. Um, there are a couple of movies, uh, that are coming out. One is, uh, called High School which comes out next month, I think, and, um, that’s, uh, Michael Chiklis and Adrien Brody are in that. And, um, I’m, of course, I’m doing a regular gig on American Dad as a voice, as well as two other animated series which are not on yet. They won’t be on until next year but we’ve been recording them all summer. Uh, so you know, there are odds and ends, different things. Um, just, uh, the usual stuff.

This may be hard question to answer but of all the movies and all of the television shows that you’ve appeared in, is there one that is more meaningful to you?
No (pause), I can say, honestly, no. I mean, I – there is, I, uh, you know, ‘meaningful’? It’s a job, you know? I mean, I, there are jobs, there are movies that I like more than others. There are terrible movies that I don’t even want to think about (laughs). Um, you know, but it’s – as someone who has been doing it for decades it’s impossible to say there is one thing stands out more than any other. Uh, I did a movie that came out this year, actually. It went straight to DVD. Everyone missed it, um, but it was a movie that I really loved, called Route 30.

Route 30.

Yeah. And it’s written and directed by John Putch, and it’s got Dana Delany in it and Robert Romanus and, uh, David DeLuise and, uh, Kevin Rahm. It’s a wonderful, wonderful movie. I absolutely love the movie. And, um, uh, it’s a very small sort of rural, uh, comedy in three parts. And we’re actually starting in December, um – I mean the movie itself is done in three parts but, in addition to that, John Putch is doing three movies over a period, over the period of, of the next few years. So, this was actually made two years ago, came out in January, I think, of this year. Now, in December we go back to Pennsylvania – that’s where it takes place, in south-central Pennsylvania – we’ll go back in December and shoot the second movie. And then after that movie comes out, then we’ll do the third. And they’re probably all going to wind up just going to, to uh, straight to DVD. But, um, but Route 30 for me was the most pure enjoyment I’ve had in a long time. And it’s, it isn’t even that I’m that crazy about my performance in it but I love the movie deeply.


Wow. Well, I look forward to seeing that.

Yeah.
So, you know a second ago you were, when you were talking about Harry Nilsson, you were mentioning that you had written that letter to him about a biography. Would you ever still consider that?
No, no. I, I mean, I had a –I don’t even know what I was thinking, really. I mean, I had no business even suggesting such a thing. I, I mean I write but I’m not a, I’m not a, a biographer. And, you know, a biographer is – I mean, for, for someone to do it properly, um, it’s, you know, it’s something that really needs to be approached by people who know what they’re doing. I had this, this, um, this definite desire – really a passion – over the years, to expose as much of Harry’s music as possible, uh, to people. And, at the time, I guess it seemed like that would be a way of doing it. And even by that time, in ’76, he was beginning to – his star, such as it was, was beginning to fade. And so I thought that, you know, this would be a way of, you know, giving back and at the same time, uh, you know, exposing his music and, and who he is to people. So that was the way I approached it but, in retrospect, I think about it and I, you know, I’ve got this, I still have this massive – and I did all of these interviews with session people that he worked with for, you know, for years. You know, I’ve got all of these taped interviews that I did with Klaus Voormann and Van Dyke Parks and, uh, Gary Wright and Chris Spedding and Jane Goetz and all these people that – producers that did his albums and all this stuff. I’ve got this massive archive here and I don’t really have anything to do with it, you know, so I’m – I, I don’t know. Eventually I’m going to unload onto somebody but I don’t know who.

Well, that, that actually sounds amazing. Uh, yeah, that sounds, that sounds incredible. I don’t know what to say about that but I – yeah, that’s probably quite a gold mine there with Klaus – wow.

Well, you know it’s there for somebody who wants to use it but at this – and in fact I heard, somebody told me the other day that there’s somebody in, in England who’s been blogging about the fact that he’s writing a book about Harry Nilsson but I don’t know any of the details about that and I’ve never, I’ve never – no one that I know around here has ever heard from him. So I don’t know what his thing is, uh, there, but (sighs), you know, eventually I’ll have to get rid of this stuff.

Well, it’s been a great pleasure speaking with you but I have one final question before we go. Mr. Armstrong, what would you like to say to all the people listening in?

Well, uh, thank you for listening. Um, uh, I hope it wasn’t boring as hell (laughs). Uh, um, I, uh, you know it’s been a pleasure, as always, talking about things that interest me that, that, you know, don’t have that much to do with ‘me’. I, I love talking about books. I love talking about music and, uh, and so it was nice to be able to talk about something that interests me.

TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA

John Sebastian: Singer-Songwriter

“The Paul Leslie Hour” proudly presents an exclusive interview with the legendary John B. Sebastian of Lovin’ Spoonful fame. His songs are loved all over the world – (“Do You Believe In Magic?” “You Didn’t Have To Be So Nice” “Daydream.”)

This exclusive interview recorded backstage at the Roswell Cultural Arts Center in Roswell, Georgia.

Marshall Chapman: Songwriter

MARSHALL CHAPMAN is one of the absolute greatest songwriters.  I had pursued an interview with her for years, and finally an interview took place in Decatur, Georgia.  Her album Big Lonesome was one of the greatest albums released in 2011.  The album was a memorial to the great songwriter Tim Krekel

PART ONE

PART TWO

Ladies and gentlemen, it is our pleasure to welcome singer, song-writer, recording artist, spoken-word artist and author, Marshall Chapman.

And now ‘actor’.

And now ‘actress’ – right (laughs). And she’s just released her newest album, Big Lonesome, as well as her second book entitled They Came to Nashville.

Right.

It’s a great pleasure.

Thank you. Thanks for having me, Paul.

Who is Marshall Chapman?

What a question. Marshall Chapman is a six-foot tall, skinny white girl from South Carolina who went to Nashville, who loves music, who at age 62 is still out there having, like, the year of her life. Um, I’m having a lot of fun right now. If I had known you could have this much fun at my age I would have relaxed a lot more when I was in my 20s and 30s. But who is Marshall Chapman? You know, I’m probably the last person to ask that. Tim Krekel said it best. Uh, the song we wrote, Sick of Myself, it started as an email from me to Krekel. I just was thinking I really was sick of myself that day. I was thinking if I could be somebody else for a day, maybe two, who would it be? Tim Krekel. I’d like to know what it’s like to be laid back and cool / To play that guitar the way that you do / Like your soul is connected to every string / And the whole room starts swaying when you’re playing that thing. And then two hours later, he emails me back. Well I’m sick of myself. I’d like to be you. Would you trade places with me for a day, maybe two? And you asked the question ‘who is Marshall Chapman?’ and I think Tim Krekel answered it in that song. He said I’d like to know how it feels to be regal and tall / To charm a whole room with that Carolina drawl / To rock with a purpose like ole Jerry Lee / While wearing your soul on your rock and roll sleeves. And if there’s ever a tombstone to mark my passing, those are the words I want to have on it.

Sometimes music says things so well. So from the Marshall Chapman album, Big Lonesome, Sick of Myself, here on the Paul Leslie Hour – the beautiful thing about this album is that the songs, to me, they seem to be very cohesive.

Thank you.

I can relate to all of them. I didn’t know Tim Krekel as well as you do but as someone who knew him, they all seem to go together. So what do you think about the album, Big Lonesome?

Well, I just think it’s, by far, the best album I’ve ever made. And I tell people, you know – first of all, I wasn’t going to make another album. I was really burnt out. I was writing a book. Um, I’m a contributing editor to Garden & Gun magazine – weird name, I know. Um, I have a column with National Arts magazine. So I’ve been writing a lot of prose and that seemed to be a very quiet, contemplative kind of life and I was enjoying it. I was even joking, telling friends of mine that I’ve tried not to write songs because if I write them and they’re good, I’m going to record them. If I record it and it’s good, then my ass is back out on the road. I know how to nip that off in the bud. That was my thinking. And then Tim Krekel was diagnosed with cancer – died within three months of his diagnosis. He was my best friend in music – probably best friend period – and we were very close. And it rocked my world, Paul. And the only thing that seemed to comfort me, going through that experience of Tim’s death, was picking up my guitar. And every time I did, a song poured out. And when I wrote Tim Revisited I just thought I’m doing to do an album and I’m going to make the best album I can possibly make to honor my friend, and that’s what I did.

So let’s play it – Tim Revisited, from Big Lonesome. [song plays] We’re talking to Marshall Chapman. The album starts off with the title song and in the liner notes it says that it was recorded in a Pullman car parked in Union Station?

(Laughs) Correct. I mean, I had a friend named Tommy Spurlock. He’s now down in Austin, Texas but he actually was living in one Pullman car, then right behind it was another Pullman car and they were parked right on a track behind Union Station in Nashville. And he had converted one into living space and the other one into a recording studio. But even though he had the walls padded, when the trains would move in the train yard, you’d have to stop recording because you – it, the noise would bleed through the walls. So it was a real challenge to record there but I think Dave Olney recorded in there with him and also the guy that wrote, um, Wild Thing and Angel in the Morning – Chip, Chip Taylor – I think recorded an album there with Spurlock. He had it briefly and then he kind of just took off for Austin and disappeared. And so, when I decided to do this record, I didn’t have a copy of the, you know, multi-track of that song and I knew I wanted to include it. I had gotten in contact with him and he couldn’t find it. He looked, he couldn’t find it. So I – finally I sent him a check just for his troubles and sometimes money talks (laughs) but, uh, within a week he had sent the ADAT tape of that. We converted it to Pro-tools and the amazing thing was when we were listening to it in the studio, I was – I co-produced this album with Michael Utley, who I love working with. And the reason I chose Michael was because Michael and I co-produced Love Slave, which is probably my favorite studio album until Big Lonesome and now Big Lonesome is my favorite. But anyway, we went in the studio and when we were listening to, uh, converting it to Pro-tools, I didn’t realize Tim’s voice – you know, we were just in the train just goofing off. We had written a song, we were demo-ing a lot of songs, but I liked the way Big Lonesome sounded. And it’s one of my three favorite songs. We’ve written a ton of songs together but there are three that are my favorite that I’ve written with Tim. One is Big Lonesome, one is I Love Everybody, I Love Everything and the other one is Sick of Myself which actually I finished after he died. I mean, he – it was just an email, sort of a love email from me to him and him back to me, and I kind of thought it should be in the shuffle. And then when I decided to make the record, you know, I sat down and put it to music.

Just a moment ago you mentioned Michael Utley who co-produced the album. What’s it like working with him?

Oh, he’s just – well for me it’s just heaven. We work really well together. Mike’s a very positive person and um, and he digs what I do, you know? I mean, I’ve always said happiness is hanging around people who dig you. I don’t purport to be everyone’s cup of tea so, uh, happiness is hanging around people that like you and I like Mike. We were neighbors at the time. He’s since moved to California much, much to my chagrin but he lived right around the block. So I said, you know, I want to do this album to honor Tim. And, of course, we had all been in Buffett’s band together. That’s really when I got to know Tim Krekel. I may be answering one of your subsequent questions but, um, we were in Buffett’s band in 1987 and that’s when I really got close to Tim. He was my favorite person to hang out with, ‘cause with Jimmy, by then, there was a lot of days off.

Yeah.

So you’re hubbing out of some city like Chicago or New Orleans, you know. Jimmy had it down by then. You’d be in, you’d be in some great hotel in New Orleans and you’d hub out and go play Biloxi and you’d go play Houston and you’d play New Orleans and you’d come back to the hotel, with lots of days off in between gigs. So you got time to go to museums and go see movies so we starting hanging. He was just an easy-going guy.

My favorite song on the album is Falling through the Trees.

Ahh, you have good taste.

Yeah, I do (laughs). I pride myself on that.

You do. No, you have depth, man. Thank you. Falling through the Trees – actually, I wrote that when my last album came out, Mellowicious!, which was sort of an experiment and, um, I was working with a guy that was sort of the synthesizer king of Nashville and I learned a lot doing that record. And after doing that record, I was just convinced that this record would be completely organic. Falling through the Trees, when I realized that last record wasn’t going to make it, um, I was just heart-broken because I had invested so much into it. and, uh, I just woke up one night in the middle of the night and wrote that song. And it’s, you know, it’s about the death of a dream. And the same thing, really, is the Cindy Walker song – Going Away Party – so I just thought they were great bookends. They just seemed to flow so well, one into the other. But Falling through the Trees, if there’s one line – you know, I’m sitting there talking about the heartbreak of when dreams die but the line that saves it is I wouldn’t have it any other way. That keeps it from sliding into victimhood …

Right.

and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But it’s cool that you mentioned that because William Gay, the novelist, who’s my favorite writer in America, he listened to the album early on and that was his favorite – Falling through the Trees – and he’s the deepest cat I know.

Oh, yeah?

Yeah.

Well, I think nobody said it better than Todd Snider when he said, uh, ‘The album is sad but not hopeless.’

Yeah, ‘like blood on the tracks.’

Oh, I thought that was a perfect description of this album.

Yeah. Todd is like my brother. I love him.

One of the other songs on the album is a cover of Hank Williams’ I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.

Right. Well, you know I was down in Mexico. Um, Tim and I were supposed to go to Mexico and play a bunch – we had a bunch of gigs booked for that summer and he died June, you know, it was June 24th or June 26th of 2009 – and we were supposed to go to Mexico and play some gigs. I have a benefactor in Mexico that flies me and my husband down there and puts us up in a house with, like, a cook, maid service, pool – all that. And it’s on a mountain overlooking of San Miguel, which – San Miguel is on a high mountain plain at 10,000 feet. And people think ‘You’re going to Mexico in July?’ You wear a sweater at night. It is so fabulous. It’s so magical and it’s always been a magnet, that town, for poets and dreamers. It’s where – Jack Kerouac used to hang out down there. In fact, Neal Cassady, that’s where he died, in San Miguel. He got hit by a train down there. It still is a real magnet but – help me keep on track, OK?

(Laughs) Oh, yeah.

But anyway, so I got down there. Tim, the promoter, my benefactor/promoter – when Tim died, we had a plane ticket for him and Debbie to fly down there with us – he said ‘I can understand if you wouldn’t want to come down tonight.’ I said ‘I need to come to Mexico. I’m coming.’ So I wrote that song, Down to Mexico, on the plane flying down there. And when I got down there I played a benefit and then I played a private party at this guy’s house and a benefit called ‘Feed the Hungry’ or ‘Feed the Children’ – yeah – and Tim was supposed to play it with me and I played it by myself. But, um, after the second gig, this expatriate from Mississippi – and there’s a song in there called Mississippi Man in Mexico that was also written, I wrote that on the plane flying home – but we went out to this rancho outside of San Miguel, Rancho Jaguar. And we get there and it’s in this field but this guy grows, he cultivates cacti, cactuses, that he, you know, ships all over the world. And he, uh, he’s from Mississippi. He’s also a great cook and he had dug all these pits that he had mesquite logs burning in them, and when we got there they were hot coals. And he had all these doves he had shot that he had wrapped with bacon and he was roasting them over those mesquite logs, and he just prepared this feast for us. And it was just one of those nights – you know, there’s no night pollution down there. We’re out in the country. You can see all the stars and the moon was full. And I leaned back after that meal and this one little single cloud in the sky moved across the moon and it turned purple. And I thought about Hank Williams. And in that moment I wanted a guitar to materialize in my hands because I wanted to sing that verse in I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry, ‘the moon just went behind the cloud to hide its face and cry’. And I was thinking about that song because I used to sing it. I used to sing all these songs. I used to know about 350 songs by heart before I started writing my own songs. You know, I would play in lounges and sing these songs and I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry was one of them. But ever since I started writing songs, I quit singing them. And so, that night I’m at my benefactor’s house with his teenage son, Mark, and I started – there was a guitar there and I just started singing all these songs I used to sing, just to see if I could still remember them, before I started writing songs. Songs like Stay All Night, Stay a Little Longer, Bob Wills. Songs like Bye Bye Love, the Everly Brothers. Songs like, uh, Don’t Be Cruel, Elvis Presley. Songs like Every Day by Buddy Holly. From Four Until Late by Robert Johnson. To Be Alone with You by Bob Dylan. Uh, all these songs that I just love. And I couldn’t remember the words to I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry so his son downloaded them off the internet. And for the next few nights – we were staying in this house that had this big courtyard and it had great echo in it, you know, like natural echo? Like Sun Records – and I’d get up, because I had my guitar with me, and I’d sing I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry in there and it just sounded so great and it was exactly how I felt because my friend had just died. So I just knew, you know, when I wrote Mississippi Man in Mexico, I knew that song was going to come right after it and it just seemed so – they just, they sounded so good together.

You nailed it.

Yeah. You know, I’ve had a lot of people tell me, you know, and I put that augmented chord in there and I don’t think anybody – I know Hank didn’t have it in there but there’s been probably 300 people record that song but I don’t think – and I think BJ Thomas’s version was pretty good but I’ve had a lot of people tell me that this version is their favorite. Somebody said it’s their favorite along with BJ Thomas’s. But, uh, I think, uh, when we recorded this, man, it felt so good. I felt that Hank was probably smiling.

Wow.

Yeah. I felt like we did it justice. And I do feel like that song has the most beautiful quatrain ever written in a song which is The silence of a fallen star / Lights up a purple sky / And as I wonder where you are / I’m so lonesome I could cry. I mean, it doesn’t get any better than that. I probably answered three or four of your questions.

No – great answer. Great story.

Alright. What’cha got?

There is a book that you have and it’s called They Came to Nashville.

Right.

It’s a collection of interviews. One of the chapters I thought was very entertaining. It’s the Willie Nelson chapter (Marshall laughs) and you’ve got a track on the album called –

Don’t give it away! Well, it’s interesting you bring that up. The new CD and the new book were released on the same day but, unlike my first book when we released a companion CD, this new CD was about Tim Krekel. But there is one connection to the book and it’s what you mentioned. It’s riding with Willie. I spent three days on Willie Nelson’s bus trying to interview him for the book and we won’t give away what happens but, you know, I write an intro for each chapter. Each chapter is a songwriter I’ve known. Each chapter I write an intro. Some of the intros are a paragraph long, a half page long. Well, the Willie Nelson chapter, my intro is 46 pages long. And you know, some of the critics have described it as up there with Hunter Thompson as far as rock and roll journalism because, man, I was out there. I did not sleep one minute while I was on the bus. I was literally hallucinating when we pulled up to the Beaumont Holiday Inn. And when we did, as often happens when I’m in a state like that, these words starting coming and they were pretty cosmic, more cosmic than I usually write. You know, When everything is swirling around out of control / And everybody’s down to their very soul / Dancing to the rhythm of the universal whole – I don’t think I would normally write a lyric like that unless I’d been on Willie Nelson’s bus for three days, because let me tell you something. You don’t have to partake, you just breathe, OK? It’s there. So I was probably out there in my mind a little bit when I wrote that. But I just wrote it as two verses and kind of a chorus. I thought it was a poem. I wasn’t even sure it was a song. And then exactly a year later almost to the date, when I decided I was going to make a record to honor Tim Krekel, I was sitting at my desk and ‘I thought I need to look at those lyrics.’ And I finished the song, writing two more verses about what happened on Willie’s bus after the Beaumont show, which is – I don’t know about you but if I was 75 years old and been touring for three weeks playing one-nighters, and just played a 2½ hour show, and signed autographs and done everything, I would go crash in the back of my bus. I would not do what Willie did which was he went back, took a shower, changed into a size XXX Snoop Dog black T-shirt and came out in black socks with his guitar and walked to the front of the bus and sat down with him and his sister Bobbie, who plays piano in his band. And he said ‘Somebody get a Casio.’ And they got a little Casio and put it across my lap and hers. And by then, we were going along a bumpy stretch of Interstate 10 near Houston and I’m trying to hold it still. And she and Willie proceeded to play for about 2 ½ hours, like from 2:00 to 4:30 in the morning.

Wow.

They were playing instrumental songs that they used to play, trying to see if they still knew them. Um, a lot of Django Reinhardt, he played Nuage, uh – it was just magical. And so, when I came to finish riding with Willie, sitting at my desk a year later, that scene of him – of him and Bobbie playing those songs – played a big part in that last verse.

The album closes out with I Love Everybody. This is a live cut and it was recorded at a music club and bowling alley.

Yeah. Music club/bowling alley. The Vernon, the great Vernon in Louisville, KY. Yeah, Tim had first told me about that place. He said ‘God, you gotta come here and play. It’s this great new club. It’s in the basement of a bowling alley.’ Of course, when I was playing it that night, that recording was – they hadn’t quite finished renovating the club so the ball returns for the bowling alley which was upstairs were going right over your head. And you could not only see the bowling balls you could hear them, so it was pretty rock and roll. You know, when it finished the record, the last song I had was – I thought it was a studio album, all new stuff recorded in the studio. And then I remembered Waylon Jennings had that album, Dream of My Dreams, which was a great studio album – which I think probably was his finest record – and he put that live cut, Bob Wills Is Still the King, that he had written on the bus and played in Austin that night. And I thought ‘You know, that’s kind of cool, having a live cut at the end of a record.’ And for some reason, you know, it’s kind of cosmic, too, with Tim – the fact that this was to honor him and that he had died – to end it with a live cut. It’s almost like the whole album is sort of cathartic and just goes through the whole process of coming to terms with his death and then ending it with something live. That just seems so appropriate. I don’t think I was even thinking about it as logically as I’m expressing it to you now. So that’s what I decided to do. But when we first finished it – we had played the Belgian Rhythm and Blues Festival. Tim came and it was like – I had a band called the Love Slaves. It had two lead guitar players. One of them couldn’t go so I took Tim Belgium and we played the Belgian Rhythm and Blues Festival. And there’s a great track that the Belgian radio has recorded but it wasn’t 24-track. They were kind of mixing it in their mobile unit as we went along. And so I had that on the album. And then I called Debbie because I wanted her to hear the album. And Tim was playing harmonic on that track. And she and her sister were driving from Florida back to Louisville and they were just 10 miles out of Nashville when I called her and I said ‘Hey, let’s meet for lunch.’ And we did she said ‘You know, there’s a live track of the last time you and Tim really did play together. You know, when the band came up and joined you, like write about in Tim Revisited. I said ‘You are kidding.’ And she said ‘No. they got a 24-track.’ So that night they overnighted and I called Utley and we went back in the studio. That was an expensive piece of information, I might add ‘cause I opened up the whole – I thought I was through with the album. We went back in and there was one little train-wreck place that we cleaned up and, uh, because it was 24-track, but that’s pretty much – I thought it was so cool to have the actual last time I played with Tim Krekel close out this album.

Amazing. Real quick last question.

OK.

I’m going to ask you the same thing I asked Tim before we ended our interview. This interview will be heard by people from all over the place …

OK.

and now read. What do you want to say to all the people?

Well, if you don’t know about Tim Krekel, he’s a great singer-songwriter, band leader, that worked out of Louisville, KY. A little bit more R&B than country but he could play it all. And if you don’t know his music, I recommend you start with the two last CDs. It’s almost like part of him knew he wasn’t going to be with us much longer because, you know, at an age when most people are phoning it in, Tim was upping the ante. I couldn’t believe the albums he was making, like Angel Share. I mean, come on. So go out right now. Go to Amazon and order World Keep Turning and Soul Season. It’s a very ‘stacks- kind of 60s-they buried Wilson Picket in my backyard’. You’ll be glad you did. That’s what I got to say.

Thank you so much Marshall Chapman.

Oh, thank you, Paul.

TRANSCRIBED BY GAYLE BRAZDA