There are no easy labels for Darrell Scott. In his career he’s been a first-call session musician in Nashville, a songwriter, performer, collaborator and producer — and he recently toured with Robert Plant as part of his Band of Joy.
In Scott’s world, it’s not that he’s all over the map, but rather it’s just a very big map. In the end, as he discussed with me on the phone from his home in Nashville, whatever it is that he’s doing or wherever he is, it’s all music.
Glen Herbert: What’s the new project, and when is it coming out?
Darrell Scott: I’ve got a new record coming out in January called “Long Ride Home.”
How does it differ from the other things you’ve done?
This one in terms of style is very country. Still singer-songwriter oriented, I’ve written all the songs, but if someone were to hear it they’d probably know within the first 10 seconds that this is old-style country.
This is country music from my childhood basically. In my band for that [album] was a guy named Pig Robbins on piano. His first hit that he played on was 1961, George Jones, a song called “White Lightning.” And Pig has just been a central piano player for the next 30 years after that, I would say. And so when I wanted to make this record, sort of an old country sounding record, I simply hired some of the people who played on old country back when it was old country. Pig was one of those. And a guy named Lloyd Green on pedal steel. I used upright bass, which is the old sound of country music, as opposed to an electric bass.
I tend to make records that have a sonic kind of theme, for example on this one old country music would be the theme, or other records that have a subject matter of a theme, like “A Crooked Road,” a double CD that to me was based on the idea of how did I get here. So that becomes a subject, a theme that will try to hold the record together.
So that’s the musical theme on that one. On “A Crooked Road” it was looking at 30 years of relationships, just somehow taking off on this road of chasing love and marriage and romance and all this stuff. Thirty years of it and being a 50-year-old man. And that’s the other thing — I turned 50 while I made the record — and somehow that seems significant as it related to the subject, looking at this crooked road of me chasing love and relationships. So it just seemed like, OK, this is a record for me to play everything on it. Because it’s such a personal note and a personal view. I’ve always wanted to make a record where I played everything, anyway. And so I just went ahead and did that. And it seemed the appropriate record to go ahead and do that.
On the title track from your last album, “A Crooked Road,” you sing that you are a happy man, though it comes off like you are convincing yourself a bit. So I’ll ask you in the words of the song: Do you “have the makings to be a happy man”?
Absolutely! Part of it is not even what they are. It’s that you doubted that you even had the makings for, like, decades. If you didn’t think you ever could be happy, which is where I come from, the idea that you had the makings, not that you even had them. It’s so humble, it’s so beaten, and all that you can muster, of recognition of yourself, is just that you have the makings of it, not that you even have it. But I mean it that I have the makings, and that I’m even working at it. Because [happy] was never even a word that could ever describe me, say, years ago or beyond. That it could be or would be is a very, very recent piece of information.
You mentioned playing with others on the new project, though on “A Crooked Road” you played all the instruments yourself. Was that a more difficult process than working with a band in the studio?
It’s just another way to do it. I love playing with musicians. I love playing a solo show and it’s just me. I love being in the studio with great bluegrass players, and making another record that had more country in it, or more rock. I love it all. I didn’t sense anything that was difficult. It’s just another way to do it. And, I probably won’t do that again, probably because I don’t need to. Plus I love playing with other musicians. But it seemed appropriate to the personal subject matter.
In an interview you once noted that you like to bring something unique to the songwriting community. What do you bring to the songwriting community, or what do you hope to bring to it?
I’d like to think that I bring authenticity. I’d like to think that. [laughs] I hope that’s what I bring.
What is the skill of a songwriter?
Well, it’s a number of things, on some level. I don’t mean this as crassly as it will sound. It’s not just songwriters, but any artist, to be able to manipulate — and that sounds like a terrible word, but I don’t mean it as such — to manipulate emotional things, and kind of direct it somewhere. To direct emotions and focus them into a 3 to 4, or maybe 5 minute kind of thing so that there’s something revealed or expressed in that 3 to 5 minutes. And then it was worth taking the ride on if you were a listener. It’s like, “That was worth spending 5 minutes on.” You know? For now that’s what comes out answering that question [laughs]. Tomorrow it could be different.
Often when people introduce or interview you they begin with a list of all the many things you’ve done in your career as a musician, from the writing and performing to the collaborations, to the awards you’ve won. But if you were to introduce yourself, what is the thing that you are most proud of, perhaps that you would put out front? What is the aspect of your career that you are most proud of?
I think it’s the ability or the luxury to slip in and out of all sorts of different camps, from very personal singer-songwriter records to being in a band with Robert Plant, to having been in the studio world where I’ve helped to produce a Guy Clark record. Slipping in and having a song that goes number one out on the country charts — I like it all, I really do. And I really feel that I bring it all back to my own personal records, but I don’t know if anyone else would see it that way or agree.
But I like that freedom, because to me that is what creative freedom is — the ability and freedom to jump over here in this world a little bit, come back into my own records, jump over into that world, and come back to my own records. I like that, I’m proud of that. I’m kind of glad that you can’t easily nail down exactly what I do, because I could do something that, to me, doesn’t look like some crazy, giant leap or move.
It’s all music, is really what it amounts to. Whether it’s a number one country song that I’ve written, and being in Robert Plant’s Band of Joy, having my own records, and playing festivals that most of the music world doesn’t even know about. I like just jumping in and out of all that stuff. To me it’s fun. And I like to be a part of something that works in all of those capacities, and that I’ve not made some musical mistake or decision. I just see it all as music.