OA: Rock Cesario Column March 27, 2009

Friday, April 3, is your chance to see, in my opinion, one of America’s greatest singer/songwriters when Tom Russell brings his immense talents to the Roper Ballroom in downtown Grand Junction.

David Letterman says Russell is America’s best songwriter. Russell is an author, painter and superb craftsman of songs that tell the American tale.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Russell this week and here are the questions and answers from the interview.

Me: Who are the biggest influences on your songwriting?

Russell: Ian Tyson, Leonard Cohen. I am inspired by Bob Dylan, but I don’t think I write in his style as much as I do Ian Tyson’s. Also, hill country folk music, Mexican music, Nigerian music, Marty Robbins and the music of the places I have lived, California, Norway and now the Texas border country. I try and blend all that into a unique sound that is my own.

Me: In a 2005 interview, you said that not a lot of the new music moved you. Is there anything that moves you now?

Russell: I have gone through a transition since then. I still will always listen to Dylan, Van Morrison, Ian Tyson, Leonard Cohen and Nigerian and Mexican, but I made myself move forward with my sound so I am listening to new bands like Calexico. I just bought the new Neko Case, but I only like two songs on the disc and one was written by Harry Nilsson and the other is an old song. I try and pick up bits and pieces from other new music. There just isn’t a lot I like, and I think that there is a creative crisis going on America with most of our young songwriters. They need to do their homework and know the music’s history and they don’t. They should study up on the older great music that moves them. Learn 10 Hank Williams or Beatles or Willie Dixon songs if you can before you go out and play.

Me: You and Dave Alvin kicked off the Americana movement with your tribute to Merle Haggard, “Tulare Dust.” What do you think of that?

Russell: That record created the Americana chart and stayed at No. 1 for one year. It was amazing, we gathered a group of mostly unknown singers who we both liked, and, in my opinion, created the finest tribute disc ever made. Robert Earl Keen, Lucinda Williams, Joe Ely and most of the others were not well known. Dwight Yoakam ran into Dave in a music store and asked to be on the record. He was the most well known of the bunch.

Me: Speaking of Americana, how would you define it and what do you think of the genre?

Russell: Americana was way overdone and now it’s dead. It was a way of defining music that didn’t fit into mainstream country or pop/rock. It is basically good singer/songwriter music that was called country-rock in the 1970s. Bob Dylan and Hank Williams have never been tagged with the Americana label because their music defied categorization, and I hope mine does the same. I am in a good place now. My music sales and audiences are growing slowly but surely, and that is a good thing.

Me: Take this rare opportunity to see a great singer/songwriter April 3 at the Roper Ballroom.


Rock Cesario owns Triple Play Records, 530 Main St., and hosts “Acoustic Sunday” from 9 a.m. to noon Sunday on Drive 105.3 FM. E-mail him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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