AG: I don't know how to say this, exactly. I'm not your typical musician. I was fortunate as a kid to be a member of the Boston Boys Choir, and to get close to music in a symphony orchestra, and I got to sing a lot. I was a soprano there, and I was one of the soloists for the last two years, and went through high school and into the service. My first daughter was born when I was 23, and I didn't have to shelve music, but I had to put it off to the side and live my dream that one day it would lead me somewhere.
And that's exactly what happened. I transferred to Maine in 1993. I was a Postmaster there. In 1997 I wrote what I knew was my first good song, "It's All Part of the Story." And I kept writing other good songs. I transferred, and I knew I was seeded with it. And I knew I could write about things that I was able to get close to, and that I wasn't scared of. I didn't have the answers to them, but I just wrote about my experiences.
When I transferred to Santa Cruz, California, in '99, I didn't even know what Americana music was. I don't think I'd even heard the term. But there was a radio station called KPIG, and they had a Sunday morning show, Please Stand By. John Sandidge ran it, and Dave Nielsen was an engineer there. There was a DJ that had the morning show before him from 6:00 to 10:00, a lady named Arden Eaton. I'd had friends out there, so a couple years prior I had gone out there just for a week. And that's the station I listened to, so I knew they had this Sunday morning show. When I transferred out there at the end of '99, after seven years in Maine, I brought this CD I'd made at home called No Guarantees. After I'd been there a couple of weeks, I brought it over to the guy at the station.
As it turned out, they had a cancellation, and I went on. I played three songs. And it just went over well. When I walked out of there that day, Dave, the engineer, asked me to stop by his studio. Six months later I had East Side of Town, a record about growing up in Boston. They turned me on to folks like Dale Ackerman from the Doobies and Norton Buffalo. The engineer got me in touch with those folks. We made this record, and it's a good record. I don't know anything about the music business, but I know about business, because I had a budget and employees and so forth.
Arden Eaton, who had stayed on to take calls after her morning show, becomes a great friend and supporter. She happened to be the northern California rep for the Americana Music Association, took me down that year to the convention in Nashville. That was the one year that it was held at the Hilton, I believe that was 2001. And in one fell swoop she introduces me to everybody, my record in hand.
I'd paid a fee, above the regular convention fees, to put a record and a little blurb about oneself in everybody's bag. There was 800 registrants that year--and you know me, I pop one in every bag, and I did whatever I could, without knowing what I was doing. But through a combination of all of that, everybody got one. Arden walked me around, and introduced me to everybody.
We had a nice little run with East Side of Town. I was fortunate. I entered a couple of songs in the Billboard Songwriting Contest. That's what drew me first to Nashville. I came in second in that contest for the song "Danielle." Then I put, I think, "Danielle" and "Simple Man" in the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, and won the folk category that year. What an unbelievable gift. It was a grace thing.
In 2003, I went on to win the Lennon Contest again, this time in the overall category: "Amen" won the Maxell Song of the Year. I got to travel with them for five years to the NAMM shows and play at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and play at the Gaylord Center in Nashville with you, and play in my hometown of Boston. They billed it as "Working Class Hero Day." It's 2004 or 2005, I'm in Boston, I hadn't seen any of my high school friends for 25 years. A ton of them come out, and I'm with the Lennon bus. It might sound like I'm saying that to look cool, but it was way more than that, man. On the inside, you know.
PM: But so many things happened as a result of that, and so many things since that time, that we'll never be able to cover them all in the scope of this interview. You do so much stuff once you get going, that I got to try and keep you on Broken Wings.
AG: Right. So I'm trying to say that since I wasn't your regular guy who was really coming out for the money or any of that, I'm trying to say that I was given these opportunities. But it made me realize that I had a gift that my peers were recognizing that I wanted to share, Frank, corny as that sounds.
PM: I don't think that's necessarily corny.
AG: And these opportunities--you know, meeting Sean and friends of his that were very involved with the human rights and capital punishment--and then getting involved myself--what an unbelievable opportunity.
What I'm trying to say, Frank--and I'm rolling toward it--is that meeting Tim Shriver through Sean, and getting to really understand what the Special Olympics are all about, and to be able to write a song for his mother's reception, and to go to Shanghai, all those things were a result of those opportunities. [Tim's mother Eunice Kennedy Shriver is the Special Olympics founder.] I believe those opportunities were a gift from the universe because I'd trusted myself in 1993 to see if my message was as clear to other people as it was to me. So these experiences were validating.
AG: Never once have I considered writing other than the way I do. For the most part it seems to be about sharing the experiences of myself and of others--not from a dark place, but from a real place that has to do with subjects some people don't want to talk about.
PM: And on this record, for the first time, you've run into a significant co-writer whose words seem to resonate with where you were coming from at the time.
AG: I met Gary Gallant about two years ago. He's a phenomenal poet. His sister-in-law, you know her, Teri Moran, was in charge of Marketing at the Nashville Songwriters International in town. And she just called me one day and told me about her brother-in-law that wrote beautiful poetry and asked me if I'd put a melody to a poem he'd written for her sister's upcoming birthday. I did, and over time became great friends with Gary. He's just an incredibly vivid and to-the-point poet. He co-wrote six songs with me, and was very instrumental in a few of them lyrically. Notably in "March of the Infant Soldiers," a song that addresses the youth in war.
PM: How many did he co-write?
AG: Six. "The Infant Soldiers" was literally two poems that we added together. We really hit it off. I was coming from a more matter-of-fact, intellectual place in a lot of these, so I really needed his help. But having someone to lean on was fantastic.
PM: And while we're on the subject of friends that one could lean on, we should talk about your producer, Thomm Jutz.
AG: Thomm was one of the folks, a friend of yours, who was gracious enough to come to New York when you and I were playing in 2004. We've always been great friends. And Thomm had approached me a little over a year ago, was saying, "Where is your next record?" I had put one out every two years, and I had contemplated it. And he told me he would produce it and arrange it, and as long as I stayed out of the way. I have a great respect for Thomm.
PM: Yeah, I think we all do, who know him well.
AG: You know what it is just to write the songs, and you're doing the graphics yourself, and you have all these friends that are basically donating their time to get this done. And Thomm saw it all through and arranged and produced this record. It's just stellar.
PM: Yeah, there's a lot of things you can say artistically about the guy, but most importantly, he gets it done.
AG: Yeah, yeah. And he keeps you on track.
PM: Let's mention some of the musical cohorts that play a key role in the record.
AG: Thomm Jutz plays all the guitars on the record. I do acoustic guitar and vocals. Jelly Roll Johnson is playing harmonica. Pat McInerney is on drums and percussion. Mark Fain is on upright bass. Ericson Holt is on keyboards. We have Robby Turner on lap steel. Richard Bailey is on banjo, and Shadd Cobb on fiddle.
PM: Thomm's A-team.
AG: Thomm brought it all together, and created an atmosphere where everybody got to play, even though the songs rule. "Richard's Song" is a true story about a homeless man that I met in Santa Cruz. The motto for the Special Olympics is "Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt." Gary was extremely instrumental in the lyrics of our song "Brave."
PM: While we're on the song "Brave," let's say something about recently getting invited by Tim Shriver to attend the Special Olympics, and what some of that was about. Let's zero in on that a little bit.