A CONVERSATION WITH DARRELL SCOTT (continued)
DS: Well, let's see. First of all, I lived in Nashville twice as a kid. My family moved around a lot, we were just picking up and leaving every six months for a while. One of the spots was Nashville. We lived in a trailer park on Dickerson Road [chuckles as my jaw drops slightly], that was fourth grade. My dad grew up in the hills of Kentucky, and he was a musician. He was into the Opry, all that stuff. So our first vacations were in Nashville. We never took a vacation except in Nashville for years. Going to the Ryman Auditorium, staying at the Drake Motel, [laughs] the whole deal. You know, and we'd do Tours of the Stars homes, and in the clam shell in Centennial Park there'd be Sunday concerts of the Del Reeves Band or Opry stars.
PM: And that wasn't simply doing what dad was into, right? The kids were all into it, too?
DS: Oh yeah, we were all into it. We were seeing stars. Another time, we lived here for a summer, in seventh grade, over on Fessler's Lane. And then my dad bought a house here in Nashville, twenty years ago, in the country out toward Mt. Juliet. He built a house from scratch, at the time he was doing construction in southern CA. He'd save enough money to blast out a few more thousand on the place, then go back when he ran out of money. This went on for years, like seven years. He finally hit the wall with it when I was up in Boston.
PM: When you were attending Tufts University?
DS: Well, I went to community college for two years, then transferred into Tufts. I studied a lot of poetry and read a lot of literature and opened up the whole world of the Humanities that had been no part of my world as a honky tonk youngster.
PM: A lot of culture came to you late.
DS: Yes, aside from the culture to which I was exposed. Country music, church music, southern family culture. But as far as art or drama went, poetry and literature, yeah, that came later. So I immersed myself totally in the Humanities, and was reading and writing poetry. I was in a non-musical phase. I was in musical denial, it was me not playing music. In time, the two things came together, but I didn't plan that. I got turned on to a lot of music up there, but I wasn't playing much.
PM: As deep a musician as you already were, you found it in yourself not to play, somehow. In Boston, with so much music going down.
DS: It was easy not to play, very easy. I was having the time of my life. Acting in school plays...
PM: Worlds were opening up.
DS: Absolutely. Being a honky tonk musician was not a priority, I'd already done that. [Years before, for instance, he'd already gone to Canada and played steel guitar with the Mercy Brothers, who won Juno awards with songs of his, the Canadian Grammy.] Toward the end of my college, though, it was still an easy way to make money. So I started creeping into the honky tonk scene in Boston, to play all night and make my $75. I played some great music up there, and played some really disgusting music, too.
PM: And where other musicians might pick up a Top 40 gig, you'd go play honky tonks.
DS: Oh yeah, I'd play the honky tonks. You didn't have to rehearse, you'd just show up and do Merle Haggard tunes or whatever, and collect your money and go home. But it wasn't like "I'm into music," it was strictly "I'm into seventy five bucks." But the guitar was in my hands, you know, I was playing. But I wasn't confused about it at all, I was in school. And I was late in going to school, I started college at 23 or 24. I was making money in bars at 15, that's how I bought my first Telecaster, which I still have. It's funny, but since coming to Nashville, I hardly play electric at all, I've become known as an acoustic guy. That's cool, whatever. But how I got to Nashville was, my dad was finally at the end of his rope with this house, he was gonna let it go. It was an incomplete house. At the time I graduated college, I had the choice of staying in academia, which I liked and was good at. I'd tried college at 17 and wasn't ready, but I liked it later. So I was either going to go to grad school in some Creative Writing program, and I'd looked into a lot of those possibilities, or I was going to get back into music, and integrate what I'd learned along the way. And that's what I wound up doing.
PM: You were already married, right?
DS: Oh yeah, I met Sherry in my first semester. I answered an ad where a guy was looking for two roommates. He chose Sherry and myself.
PM: Wow, this stranger shows up to align you and your wife's lives, that's too much.
DS: And it really pissed him off when we became an item, because he wanted two roommates. So he kicked us out, and we got our own place. So we were together for the whole four and half years of college.
PM: So, together you decided that you were going to try and marry these two lives of honky tonks and poetry, and move to Nashville.
DS: Not Nashville yet, there were a few years in between. After four and a half years going to school, I spent another four and a half years playing music up there. I was playing honky tonks, but I'd begun writing the first songs that I was proud of. I'd been writing songs since I was twelve. I was finally recognizing myself in the work, the writer's voice, as it's called. The first time I remember it coming together was a song called "Uncle Lloyd." It hasn't come out, hasn't been released.
PM: It was on that first SBK album, never released.
DS: Right. It was the first time I thought "This is me. This is my story. No one else could write this, no one else would write this. That's how I talk or think, that's how I see things." And that's when I started gathering some songs that were something like the poetry that I'd been writing. It wasn't about three minute songs or hook lines, or any of that. You're writing, it doesn't have to rhyme, it's just open ended. So around that time, writing songs became something I wanted to turn up the heat on.
So, $75 honky tonk gigs were paying the bills, barely, and I'd write songs at home that I'd never play in the bars. Boston was a great place for singer songwriters then, as it's always been and still is. And I was getting turned on to that stuff. There were lots of places like Club Passim where that scene was thriving. And I was starting to hear great writers, and I was in the audience. I was the guy that had played for years, but I was checking it out. Around then, I saw Guy Clark for the first time, and Greg Brown.
Okay, so we're still going to Nashville. I start to collect songs I'm proud of, get into the singer songwriter scene from the audience, and play some coffee houses. But I never make the leap into that world. On some level, I'm still not sure I've made that leap. I went to college with a guy who came from one of the SBK families, the Koppelmans. He sent some songs of mine to his dad, Charles Koppelman. After a couple of years of progressive development deals, we finally got to signing a full on recording contract, to make a big budget record. And the record was to be these songs I'd been writing all this time. After a whole selection process, I decide to use Norbert Putnam. The record company puts you in a mutual interview situation with a bunch of guys for you to sniff each other out, it's a real strange dance. [laughs]
I chose Norbert for several reasons, and don't regret it. I know we made the very best record we could at the time. Part of the record deal was also a publishing deal with EMI. The record and publishing companies suggested I go down to Nashville and write with some guys they recommended, and see what happens. So I came down and wrote with Guy Clark, Verlon Thompson, and Bill Miller.
PM: Alright, there are three interesting guys.
DS: Yeah. And I made really great connections with all three guys. This would be '89 or '90. And I made connections with the Nashville office. My catalog was considered to be somewhere between the pop that the NYC office would handle, and the country market here. It ended up staying in New York. It never got to Nashville, so to speak, in terms of real representation.
PM: Were you okay with that arrangement?
DS: It was okay. I gotta say, I've been in Country denial for a long time. I grew up on Country, I'm an authority. I know this music. I know it as a player and a singer, intros and outros. I also didn't like what had been happening to Country music. It didn't sound like my music.
PM: It didn't sound like Haggard or Jones anymore.
DS: Yeah, or the great singer songwriters of Country, like Mickey Newbury or Townes, or Guy Clark. Or Billy Joe Shaver. That's the stuff. You know what I'm saying? So I was very glad not to be thought of as Nashville material. So I was fine with the anti-Nashville, anti-Country stance at the time. Then we made and mastered the record, and it goes like many typical stories here in town. They get to some point in that process, and just unplug. They don't see it working anymore. And that was my story, too.
After I made the record, I knew that I wanted to leave Boston. Some friends in Boston had had their brush with fame. Basically, the record company comes in and strips you of your dignity on some level, like you've failed. Even though we know you haven't failed, there's some great failure to getting up on the high horse of a record deal, and then getting shot off the horse. Then you're supposed to collect your ass, and what? Go back to playing your honky tonk gig? Your seventy five bucks? I knew I didn't wanna do that. Even with my so-called failed record, I had made some connections in Nashville. With Guy, with Verlon, with the EMI office. And my dad's house was coming up, he wanted out from under. We'd been paying Boston rents, which are like the Bay Area. My wife was a teacher, I was a musician by night, we were just barely paying the bills. So we thought, let's go to Nashville, my dad will give us a great deal on the house. If we can't afford to pay him right away, he's cool.
PM: He didn't owe the bank, he owned it outright.
DS: Oh yeah, that's the way my dad operates. He bought some raw land, and bulldozed it, started building a shack. continue