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Bill Kirchen

A Conversation with Bill Kirchen (continued)

PM: But along with those two great songs, I think the other thing about the Hammer of the Honky-Tonk Gods that's really prominent is that, as a whole, it's very song-centric.

BK: I think so, too. I abandoned the truck driving concept. I tried to steer away from novelty for novelty's sake. And I really made an effort, you know--it's hard for me to talk about it in a way, just because it sounds weird me saying it, but I really did make an effort to certainly find the best songs I could. I was thinking, man, I got the A-Team on this record, I just can't show up with a bunch of songs that I made up myself in my spare time.

PM: And you didn't necessarily want to do the Dieselbilly thing.

BK: Right. And why try to make a very traditional American sounding record, a record that sounded like traditional Americana from circa '67? Why do that if I'm in England with some of the best musicians that I know--Audie DeLone, Robert Trehern, Nick Lowe, and Geraint Watkins.

PM: Yeah. That's an unbelievable band.

BK: I put in more time songwriting on this one than I ever have, too. I carved a bunch of time out of my life to go write, which I've never done before. It's always been in between touring and taking out the garbage and whatnot.

PM: [laughs] Which is, I mean, a crazy approach to a musical man's life. But that's what happens.

BK: Yeah, it is. Yeah, if you do step back and look at it, it's like, wow, you could have actually taken some time on this, my man.

PM: [laughs] You could have written a whole bunch more songs, yeah.

BK: Yeah. But it doesn't come easy to me. Writing is something I have to just force myself to do, but I certainly like it once I get over it.

PM: Some of my favorite writers are that way; that it just does not come easily to them. It certainly never came easy to Jerry Garcia. He considered it excruciating.

BK: Is that right?

PM: Yeah.

BK: Wow.

PM: It was a real chore. But he certainly turned out a trunk of good songs.

BK: That's right, absolutely.

PM: Along with the two great songs and writers we mentioned, we've got to pay tribute to, "If It's Really Got To Be This Way," as well, penned by the immortal Arthur Alexander, Donnie Fritz, and Gary Nicholson.

BK: Oh, yeah. What a wonderful writer that guy is. I really didn't know anything about him until I saw his sort of a comeback concert in Austin at the Broken Spoke when he'd been rediscovered.

PM: Ah.

BK: And I was just stunned by that. And then of course, once you hear him, I realized I'd known a fair number of his songs.

PM: Of course.

BK: From the Beatles, for instance.

PM: "Anna," and "You Better Move On," and "Go Home Girl," and--

BK: "Soldier of Love." Then when I was working with Nick, he did a couple of Arthur Alexander songs.

PM: So he's probably one of those blues/R&B artists that the English know better than the Americans do.

BK: Exactly. You're exactly right. I'm sure that's where his royalty checks were coming from in the period of life that he wasn't in the public eye.

PM: So how did that particular song come to your attention? At that show, or records--

BK: No. It was shown to me my Peter Bonta, who is a gentleman that co-produced or engineered a bunch of records for me in his studio called Wally Cleaver's in Fredericksburg.

PM: [laughs]

BK: That was the main place I recorded. It started out as kind of a joke, a pun on Wally Heider's [legendary SF studio and remote recording company], and it turned into a full-bore studio.

PM: [laughs]

BK: But Peter turned me onto that song, he pitched it to me.

PM: Is Nashville mega-writer Gary Nicholson a friend of yours, on that co-write there?

BK: No. I don't know who that is.

PM: Oh, you got to get up with Gary Nicholson, he's written hundreds, probably thousands of songs that you would find very appropriate.

BK: Very cool.

PM: Yeah. He's a great R&B and country writer, who's written with all the greats. And that's apparently one he penned with Arthur.

Your wife, Louise, a great singer and writer herself, shows up on this song-centric recording as one in a three-way, if you'll pardon the expression, on "Get a Little Goner."

BK: Right. Yeah, Sarah Brown had quite a bit of that already. She had half the chorus at least, and the whole idea of a relationship that's hard to end because the person keeps popping up, and the product and prospect of a life together keeps popping up.

PM: Wow.

BK: So we sat down and the three of us carved that one out, that was fun. That was a good three-way co-write. I'd written both with Sarah singly and with my wife singly, and I think Louise and Sarah had also written together. So all three pairs had written but never as a three-legged stool. And there's something nice about that, I guess you know that.

PM: Oh, yeah. It's my new favorite way to write.

BK: Yeah. Well, I can see why, just from that one experience. I thought it brought out the best in us, and it stopped any kind of sidetracks fairly quickly somehow.

PM: Well, there's a kind of around-the-horn-ness about it, in baseball terms, that really gets the chemistry moving at a better rate, makes the molecules go faster.

BK: Yeah, yeah. I think I know what you mean, yeah.

PM: So Sarah Brown, she's the one who sang with you at the last Americana Conference, and also wrote, "If The Truth Be Told," right?

BK: That's right, yeah. And she's a friend of mine from Ann Arbor. Actually, I went to high school with her big sister in Ann Arbor.

PM: Wow.

BK: Sarah went on first to Boston and then to Austin, and became quite a prominent bass player. And she was the house bass player at Antone's in Austin for a number of years. She's toured with a lot of interesting people. She's also played on the road with Paul Carrack. She toured with Albert Collins a lot.

PM: Wow!

BK: I'm blanking at the moment on other famous acts--she tended to work a lot in the blues idiom. She also wrote tunes that were covered by significant acts--I think Etta James has a good cover of a Sarah Brown tune, but the title escapes me right now.

PM: Boy, I hope to meet her sometime. What an interesting person.

BK: Yeah, she is. She's always ripe, too, she'd always be up for a co-write.

PM: Thanks.  continue

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