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Paul Burch with Lambchop

A Conversation with Paul Burch (continued)

PM: Well, that's very rich and sonorous answer to the question. I mean, a lot of people are the product of similar influences, although it's rare enough to find a person interested in country music who actually knows who the hell Charley Patton is, in my small experience. [laughs]

PB: Well, I guess so. I mean, country music is really--you're talking about the South.

PM: Right.

PB: And it makes people understandably uncomfortable because there's so much about the history of the South where people have extremely ambivalent feelings. And there are a lot of not very nice things when you're talking about some of the attitudes of country music and what some of the blues artists went through.


But you don't shoot the messenger. The music has been--the thing is that there's been a sort of cult about the rural blues artists from the very beginning. Samuel Charters wrote a book in the early '50s wondering who Charley Patton really was, and how about this guy named Robert Johnson who had a gig at Carnegie Hall and was poisoned before he could show up. Country music just got to that point a little bit later, partly because it was a seemingly successful kind of music.

At the same time, country music always suffered from upward mobility. It always wanted to belong somewhere where it wasn't welcome. Roy Acuff was on the cover of Time magazine in the early '50s, and they were going to do a series of shows at the top of the Hyatt Hotel? Or one hotel--you probably heard about this--over the summer. And Roy Acuff played it, and it went down as a bomb because they were sort of playing to New York high society.

PM: And nobody got it.

PB: And nobody got it. The thing about country music that's a little bit ironic is that it's always tried to destroy the past while it's living, and then put it back--and then make it a kind of trademark. In the same way that Johnny Cash couldn't--I'm sure that he could get arrested--he could always get arrested.


PB: But he was a nobody when I moved to town. He was just kind of a rumor. He wasn't making records, didn't have a record deal. If it hadn't been for the American series of records, he would have had a very different fate than he has now. But that came from rock 'n' roll. So I mean, rock 'n' roll is not the devil, really. It has saved R&B and blues and country so young people like me can at least find the records.

PM: Yeah, right. It saved it from getting rolled right into the sewer, absolutely. It scraped it right off the street.

PB: Yeah. It didn't save it from Greil Marcus and Dave Marsh, necessarily, but it saved it for us.

PM: [laughs]

PB: Those guys are all right, but it's not--

PM: You're very funny...

PB: I mean, I grew up with those guys, too, reading Lester Bangs and--

PM: Sure.

PB: And they heightened the cult of mysteriousness about anything pre-Elvis. And I think if anything can generally be said about people who love roots music it's because it's a little bit intangible; you have to fill in the blanks yourself. And although it's interesting to know what kind of guitar someone played, all those things become really unnecessary when you hear really great music. With all the things that we have available to us today, it's very rare to hear a record that's as powerful as a record made in the '40s and '50s when records were made on the fly pretty much, and they were professionally done and professionally recorded. But they did four songs or five songs in three or four hours, and then split.

PM: Right.

PB: And it's just confounding to listen to something by the Louvin Brothers or Carl Smith or Charlie Parker and think this song was done in two or three takes, and it sounded exactly as it does now as it did to them when they heard the playback. And there's just nobody who works like that. And even when I strive to work like that, it's nearly impossible because there are so many other steps in the process that don't match that, that can't equal the kind of intensity of that first step. In other words, it's virtually impossible, no matter how much you try, technically and emotionally, to make a record like people used to make. Some people try to. I'm sure Tom Waits does, and there are lots of other people who do, and I certainly have. But it's pretty tough, because the world just isn't like that anymore.

PM: Your music brings great things out of all the stellar players involved. They're so well-chosen. Several of them are kind of long-standing cohorts of the WPA Ballclub. Are some of the current Ballclub new-ish members?

PB: Well, this is actually the first time I've recorded with them, but we've been playing together for many years now. The rhythm section actually moved here from Washington, D.C. And I think I might be partly responsible for them moving here. Because I was playing up there, and a friend of mine said, "Oh, I've got these two musicians who you should meet, and they're really good." And I had sort of made these little promises that one makes when you have a job, or some kind of profession, and you get backed into a corner, and you go, okay, put that on my list of things not to do. And one of the things on the list of things not to do was to play with musicians in other towns, because I never expect that they are really going to listen.

But these guys were completely prepared, and they were just really nice, and they just said, "Okay, what's next?" And it sounded really, really good. And in the middle of the show I said, "You guys are great! You're exactly what I've been looking for all my life! You should move to Nashville!" And within a few months they did. So we've been playing together quite a lot. But this was the first opportunity we had to actually record. I think in between meeting them and moving here, two or three years passed, which is kind of the typical time in between records. So it was nice that it was the first time they appeared, but we had actually already had a lot of mileage together before then.

PM: And they are Jim Gray and Marty Lynds.

PB: Yeah.

PM: Does Marty have a different gig as well?

PB: Well, they also play periodically with Last Train Home, because they were based in Washington, D.C. And they had wanted to move down to Music City, so I think I was part of the excuse for them to move. And they also just did a record with Mike Aldridge, the great dobro player.

PM: Really?

PB: Yeah, which I can't wait to hear.

PM: Oh, I'm crazy about his playing.

PB: So yeah, they're a great rhythm section who have sort of carefully chosen a couple of things to devote themselves to. But as many people end up doing, somehow they end up playing differently with me than they do with other people. And I think that probably has to do with the fact that, since I was originally a drummer, I sort of bring that kind of beat to my rhythm guitar playing, and that's a pretty strong component of the '40s and '50s music that I really dig. There's always some chompin' rhythm guitar player--

PM: Absolutely.

PB: --chomp chomping in the background.

PM: I mean, there's even a song about it on the record. ["Daddy Rhythm Guitar"]

PB: Exactly. Some musicians could find that inhibiting. Thankfully for me, they found it liberating--because once you have that, it's no different than a hip-hop beat, really, once you loop it you can go wherever you want from it. It just becomes a sort of walking beat in the background. So that's my attitude, anyway, about that beat, and we communicate really well about it.

PM: That's fantastic.    continue

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