When Steve Earle and Robert Plant need a talented, versatile player for a touring roots band, they call him. When Brad Paisley and the Dixie Chicks need a new song with some lyrical meat on its bones, they dip into his songbook. But it’s hard to appreciate the full measure of Darrell Scott’s gifts without hearing his original music for yourself.
In his discography, you’ll find the versions of “It’s a Great Day to Be Alive” and “Family Tree” that made Travis Tritt and Darryl Worley take notice. You’ll also find the introspective 2010 double-disc A Crooked Road, on which he took the unusual step of writing every song and playing every instrument. His latest entry is Long Ride Home, a 16-song opus driven by a family legacy of classic country music and a kicking honky-tonk band that includes legends Hargus ‘Pig’ Robbins and Lloyd Green. Don’t be surprised to see it show up on some end-of-year lists.
If you’re in California, you’re in luck. Scott makes a rare solo swing through the state this week, including a Thursday night show at Harlow’s in Sacramento. Tickets are available here.
Mr. Scott was nice enough to field a few questions from us on the eve of his California trip.
In many of the interviews you’ve given for past albums, I’ve sensed a kind of relief at not having to identify as any one thing, genre-wise. With Long Ride Home, though, you’ve been very upfront about calling this your old-style country album. Why was the time right for this kind of project?
Some of these songs have been around for well over 30 years. I wanted to make a country record because I love good country music and I wanted to remind folks of what country music sounds like and that real country music is not a lesser musical expression to anything.
Some of the songs on the new album were literally co-written by you as a teenager – yet I doubt anyone listening without the credits in hand would be able to pick those songs out from the rest. Can you tell the difference, writing-wise? What’s your sense of your development as a songwriter over time?
I guess I may have been a better writer when I was younger than I thought at the time. I had always wanted to write the best I could, so I pushed for that.
It was great to dust off these songs and see that they have life in them [now], and did then.
While you’ve had bigger country chart hits, one song of yours that already seems on its way to becoming a kind of modern classic is “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.” Can you tell us how that song came about?
I was researching a missing piece of family history – my great grandfather on my dad’s side – and went to Harlan County, Kentucky to research. What I got a week later was a song and still no answers about him.
William Burton Scott… he played banjo.
As a friend, you sing with Guy Clark on the new duet recording of “Out in the Parking Lot,” a great song you two wrote together. As a fan, what are some of your other favorite Guy Clark songs?
All of Old No. 1 and his last record, and everything in between.
Besides touring and producing and everything else, you’ve also led intensive songwriting workshops and retreats. Based on those experiences, what are some of the most common obstacles or mental blocks faced by aspiring songwriters?
That they cannot easily tell their truth – as if songwriting were an exercise in fabrication, chart-following or trend-following. Instead, I hope to guide the students towards their true, unfixed, unedited, essential selves to begin. The better songs live there. We can edit after the truth has left the building.
Thanks to The Fretboard Journal for the recent performance video.