by Frank Goodman
Late this past May, my girl Annie and I were sitting sidestage at the Kerrville Folk Festival, watching the main stage Saturday night show. Tom Prasada-Rao was going to close the show, but first David Wilcox was up. I was excited, hadn't seen him in many years.
When I first moved to Nashville in '89, he was playing around town. I heard he was managed by Amy Kurland, the owner of The Bluebird Cafe. I saw him a lot in this period. He even did the demos for his first or second record at my friend Jack Irwin's studio (Silvertone Recording Service), so I checked out all that, too. Closely.
Even way back then, his playing and performance were head and shoulders above most any of the singer songwriters one could see. He used a lot of tunings, and his axe was always in tune. He used cut and multiple capos, and was said to file his capos for use on different frets to keep his guitar in tune. (For instance, on the second fret, my high E is sharp, my B is flat, my low E is a little sharp. If I file a little rubber away on my Shubb at the right spots, all three of those problems can be cleared up.)
His repertoire at the time was more love song oriented, these were still his single days. The songs were deeply written and sung, the playing was inspired and very clean, orchestrally lush. He had very complex chords going on in altered tunings, and seemed to be using all twelve notes in the scale between the singing and playing. The songs tended to be on the soft side, but every now and then he'd stick it to you. Jack Irwin once told me something surprising about Wilcox. Jack's a very adept and opinionated rock and roll piano and organ player from Pittsburgh, has a fantastic Chuck Berry band in Nashville. Around the time he was recording David's early demos, he made a typically snide comment about rock and roll after a session. He said Wilcox spun around and stuck a blistering version of "Maybelline" so far up his nose that he never forgot it. Just when you think you got the cat sussed out, he'll take you somewhere else.
All that was the backdrop to the anticipation of a current Wilcox show, now ten years later, and just minutes away. He had become a big folk star, which didn't surprise me. He'd already had contracts with A&M, Koch, Vanguard, and put a couple more out without a major label, ten CDs including the new live one (on What Are Records). I enjoyed watching him get his stage plot together. Special mic stand with a couple of mics on it, a shelf for the tuner, stereo Pendulum preamps, a snake for the cables, some unknown unit with tape over it that must be responsible for those sub frequencies that give the guitar and overall presentation that symphonic hi-fi quality he'd later refer to during our interview.
Oh, I remember, I had seen him play once, at a pickin party at Mike and Kathy Williams' house in Nashville. It was there I first heard the evolution of his intros and outros to songs, that was the huge difference. Somewhere along the road that included hundreds, perhaps thousands, of gigs, he had elevated the drivel most acts call "between song patter" to the art of the cosmic comedian, the inspirational speaker, the enlightening friend. Now it wasn't just his talent that set him apart, it was his actual presence, his gift had become more than just the music.
And that night at Kerrville he completely won the crowd over, and gave them something really unique. I know, because I got it. I was more convinced than ever that Wilcox is one of the finest singer songwriters this generation has produced, and that he's still getting better, a lot better. continue to interview