Archive for September, 2007

Soul Survivors – How Classic Rhythm and Blues Has Become Vital Once Again

Posted in Artists, R&B with tags , , , on September 26, 2007 by takecountryback
By Jason Schneider

It’s hard to imagine any music fan remembering the Christmas of 2006 as a completely enjoyable one after word slowly spread that day of the death of James Brown. Two years prior to that it was Ray Charles, and it seemed that the passing of these two monumental figures might ultimately close the book on the soul music they jointly helped create. Yet, 2007 in many ways has been the year of soul, with the mainstream breakthroughs of artists like Amy Winehouse and Corinne Bailey Rae, but also because many past legends of the genre, such as Solomon Burke, Bettye LaVette, Mavis Staples, Al Green, Irma Thomas, and Sharon Jones, have all recently made some of the best music of their careers, and in the process, turned on a whole new generation. Of course, soul has never completely gone away, as die-hard fans around the world have tirelessly searched out and reissued treasure troves of long-forgotten 45s, or periodically revived the careers of semi-retired artists on a small scale with European tours. But the current deluge of incredible new material has in large part been the result of a handful of key players in the music business wanting nothing more than to hear these still-powerful voices presented in the most natural environment possible. Ironically, with hardly any emphasis placed on making a “hit record,” this approach has also led to many of these artists making money from their music for the first time in their lives.The person at the heart of much of this story is Andy Kaulkin, president of Anti Records, the offshoot of punk label Epitaph that first gained attention by releasing Tom Waits’ latter-day masterpiece, Mule Variations, in 1999. From there Kaulkin appeared to have creative carte blanche, making such unexpected signings as Merle Haggard, and forming a short-lived partnership with Fat Possum Records, home to the late R.L. Burnside and other contemporary Mississippi bluesmen. In 2001, Kaulkin set his sights on signing Solomon Burke who, like Haggard, had been steadily marginalized into an undervalued cult figure since his heyday on the charts in the 1960s with songs like “Cry To Me,” and “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love.” Sensing another opportunity to rectify this situation, Kaulkin personally made Burke an offer at a show in Portland, Oregon. “He said, ‘Let’s make a deal,’ and I thought I was on a TV show,” says Burke, the jovial father of 21 kids and grandfather to 87 more. “I made a bunch of crazy demands, like having a two-page contract and ten days to make the record, and he said, ‘You got it.’ The next day we met for lunch and he gave me the contract and a cheque. The label did exactly what it said it would do, and I ended up with my first and only Grammy, and my first real royalty cheque after being in the business for five decades. Isn’t that amazing?” Yet despite the rejuvenation that came after the release of Don’t Give Up On Me, Burke was unsure about the creative direction the label initially wanted to take. Many L.A.-based producers were considered, among them Joe Henry, a name more commonly familiar to alt-country fans for his own landmark albums such as Short Man’s Room. However, beginning with 1996’s Trampoline, Henry began taking advantage of what the studio could offer his work, through the encouragement of his friend, famed producer T-Bone Burnett. Still, Henry was completely taken aback when asked if he could record Burke. “It was like someone asking, ‘Would you sleep with Marilyn Monroe if you were certain your wife would never find out?’ I said, ‘Of course, but what’s the gag?’” Henry says. “To be honest, I wasn’t even sure [Burke] was still alive, but I was a fan. But as the conversation progressed, I realised I was in no way the front-runner for the gig, so I kind of mouthed off about the kind of record I thought it should be. That led to more conversations, and somehow [Andy] decided that he had a better shot at making a unique record with Solomon if he didn’t follow a more typical path. So I found myself in that chair. I won’t say it was an easy experience, but it was a fantastic experience.”

Henry explains that the only real bones of contention with Burke stemmed from how stripped-down the studio set-up was. The producer says his main goal was to get away from any cliches by putting nearly all the focus on the singer, as well as utilizing current material. “Being that acoustic-oriented didn’t hit any of the touchstones for him that great soul music was historically,” Henry says. “I didn’t want all the accoutrements, like when he’d walk into Atlantic’s studios and there’d be eight horn players; those can be very powerful ingredients, but that’s not what makes it soulful. My point to him was that it’s about his voice, so anything we do is going to be soul music. His thing was so heavy that no matter what I did, he would overpower it with just his voice and charisma, so he eventually got it that the more stripped we made it, the bolder it would be. When we cut the title song, it was the second one we did on the first day, and when it started off with just the acoustic guitar and his voice, that’s all I really needed.”

Burke, whose 2006 album Nashville successfully continued in the same vein as Don’t Give Up On Me, has nothing but fond memories of the sessions. “I thought, ‘This is incredible.’ If these are the songs you want to do, let’s do it. I loved ‘Don’t Give Up On Me’ and ‘None Of Us Are Free’ because of the message quality. [Tom Waits’] ‘Diamond In Your Mind’ was so special to me, even though I had to change one of the lines. Everyone said, ‘Oh no he won’t do it,’ but he did, and I loved him for that. Then we had a song that was so incredible, that was Elvis Costello’s ‘The Judgement.’ The thrill of [Costello] showing up for the session and saying, ‘I just wanted to hear you sing the song,’ man, I was blown away. He sang it to me right there, and I recorded it right on the spot while he was standing there looking at us. It was an amazing album. Joe Henry will always be not only an outstanding producer, but a number one person in my life.”

In 2004, Kaulkin started hearing the name Bettye LaVette being brought up frequently in soul circles. With a long string of bad deals and missed opportunities already behind her, the Detroit native’s catalogue, stretching back to 1962, was only then being properly released through European specialty labels and earning her long-overdue acclaim. Kaulkin made her an offer similar to Burke’s, and in 2005 LaVette and Henry cut I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise, a revelatory album consisting entirely of material written by a wide range of female artists, including Sinead O’Connor, Fiona Apple and Dolly Parton. Although Henry was now confident with his production method, he says that working with LaVette was entirely different. “Solomon hadn’t listened to a single song before the first session, even though I’d asked him to, that’s just how he operates. Bettye had done nothing else but get inside the songs, so when she showed up it was a bigger problem to hold her back a little bit until the band got in range of a take. But I still didn’t want Bettye’s record to sound like Solomon’s. I thought it should be more electrified and funky, just like she is.” Indeed, LaVette is painfully honest in assessing her career. “I’ve seen more sugar turn to shit, so nothing really has happened in terms of being ‘revived.’ I’m still in a different place than most of my contemporaries. They went on to be big stars, but I’m only at the beginning of people discovering me on a broad basis. I mean, one album I did for Motown had somebody else’s picture on it!”

LaVette likewise pulls no punches on her latest album, The Scene Of The Crime, which, in a brilliant conceit, brought her back to Muscle Shoals, Alabama for the first time since 1972, when the album she recorded then was shelved by Atlantic Records, one of the most crushing disappointments of her life. In an even more novel twist, this time production was handled by Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, whose father David is a member of the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, renowned for their contributions to dozens of classic tracks by the likes of Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. The new album has a much different vibe than its predecessor as a result, although LaVette’s keen ear for the right song remains at its heart. Both Hood and LaVette’s husband, Kevin Kiley, assembled a lengthy list of songs, but the only criteria that mattered was whether or not LaVette could sing them with any conviction. Eventually, Hood began hounding her to write, something she had never done much of before, but which eventually produced one of the album’s standout tracks, “Before The Money Came (The Battle Of Bettye LaVette).” “Patterson kept telling me, ‘Nobody can talk as much as you and not be able to write,’” LaVette says, laughing. “I said, ‘I can’t write, but I can dictate,’ so he said, ‘Okay, I’m just going to start writing down what you say.’ He took all this stuff and turned it into a song, and when he showed it to me, I didn’t like it! So I changed it to how I wanted it to be. There’s a line about David Ruffin [of the Temptations] that came from something I said, and I actually quoted my mother a lot, who was the funniest woman who ever lived without even trying to be.”

LaVette’s memories also led to her poignant interpretation of “Talking Old Soldiers,” an early Elton John track. “It was one of the songs my husband kept pitching over the last four years, and when Andy saw it on the list, he wanted me to do it too,” LaVette says. “I didn’t want to do it. Then when I really looked at the song, I thought of this bar in Detroit called the Locker Room where a lot of the older musicians from the scene would hang out. I spent a lot of time there too, and once in a while someone would come in and say, ‘My aunt used to know you, didn’t you used to sing?’ That would just break my heart. So I started thinking of how many nights I spent at the Locker Room, either really drunk, or crying, or once in a while celebrating, and it turned the whole song into something else for me. The phrasing just started to pour out of me; I didn’t even practice or think about it. That song was exactly what had happened to me.”

While LaVette seems to have purged many demons with The Scene Of The Crime, she stops short of calling the album sweet revenge. “I think it’s more accurate to say that it was satisfying to play with those Muscle Shoals guys again,” she says. “I don’t think that anything you do is as emotional as being involved in [music]. I do it on a very natural basis, so the things that have hurt me in my career have hurt in a very natural way, like having someone you know get murdered. I’ve given music my youth, my entire life. There are a lot of things that people think I should be excited about at this point, but when I say I’m not excited, it does not mean that I’m not pleased at all. It means more than I’m pleased! For a change, I’m pleased with everything that is happening.”

Someone who is able to relate to all the struggles LaVette has endured is Sharon Jones. Born in Georgia, she languished in even deeper obscurity than LaVette through soul’s darkest period in the 1980s, to the point where she was forced to take a job as a prison guard upon relocating to New York City. However, she never gave up singing gospel in her church, and when hearing of a local contingent of young soul enthusiasts in need of a vocalist, Jones jumped at the chance to get back in the game. “They were looking for three background singers for a session they were doing,” she explains. “My ex was in the horn section and he recommended me. When I talked to [bandleader and principle songwriter] Gabe Roth, I told him I could record all the parts in harmony, so why pay three girls? That’s how I met those guys, and we all eventually became like a big family.”

“Those guys” — already active in several other Brooklyn bands such as Antibalas and the Mighty Imperials — soon made the decision to put Jones front and centre and become her band, the Dap-Kings. Writing and recording original material in their own Brooklyn studio and releasing it on their own Daptone label, the group’s devotion to the old school R&B aesthetic has made them one of the most popular live acts in the world. Their third and latest album, 100 Days 100 Nights, is poised to cash in on all the hype generated over the past five years, and Jones is grateful for every moment of it. “I think back now to the ’80s when people were telling me I didn’t have the look, I was too fat,” she says. “I was even told to bleach my skin. But I always felt that God gave me a gift, and one day people were going to accept me for who I am. I took me until the age of 40, and I’m still the same short, dark-skinned, pleasantly plump woman. I’m just so thankful that my light is finally shining, and I don’t have to go on stage looking a certain way or doing a certain dance.”

Jones’s unique advantage compared to her peers is that she has Roth and other Dap-Kings writing songs tailored specifically for her. Hence the moving gospel numbers “Humble Me” and “Answer Me” on the new album, as well as the more down-to-earth messages of songs like “Be Easy.” “They bring songs to me, and the first thing I do is look at the words because I have to see the story,” Jones says. “Once I get the story the song’s trying to put across, then I can start figuring out the way I should sing it. Like with ‘Be Easy,’ it’s about a girl telling her young man to stop getting all up in her face. Give her a little break — she’ll come to you. Once I broke it down that way, the song made sense.”

Jones and the Dap-Kings’ reputation is such that they are now constantly in demand for other unlikely projects. Jones herself was tapped by Lou Reed to sing back-ups for his current show, built around his Berlin album, although she recently had to drop out when she won a small role in the upcoming film The Great Debaters, directed by Denzel Washington, in which she plays a Depression-era juke joint singer. “I had to turn [Lou] down, and that was such a big mess,” she says. “I met him a few weeks ago and he ignored me. I had to run him down and tell him again I was sorry. Then he hugged me and it was okay. There are no hard feelings, I hope.” However, what’s really raised the Dap-Kings’ profile has been their work on Amy Winehouse’s Back To Black, and specifically the ubiquitous single “Rehab.” Since then, the band, as a whole or in part, have received offers to work with Al Green, Boyz II Men, and even Bob Dylan. Jones speaks with total approval of the band’s outside work, noting that some media outlets have tried to incite a feud with Winehouse. Instead, she speaks of the young Brit in almost motherly tones, expressing concern over allegations of a serious drug problem that has affected Winehouse’s performing ability. “If it hadn’t been for Amy, no one would be watching me — no MTV News, because they came to ask me questions about her,” Jones says. “I won’t say anything bad about her, but honestly, what she’s been doing lately has been worrying me. I regret now when I was in my 20s and I did cocaine for a while. When you get off stage and you want to get into something, that’s up to you. But when you’re on that stage, that’s business, and you don’t mix business with pleasure. I will never go on stage high or drunk or slurring my words. That don’t make sense to me. I get high off the band and the audience.”

The deceptively simple approach of Jones and the Dap-Kings has certainly redefined the term “keeping it real” for many industry observers, but from his vantage point, Henry merely sees a shift back to recapturing the indefinable qualities that made soul music great in the first place. His own new album, Civilians, may not sound much like any of the artists he has produced, but he says it contains the main lesson he’s learned from those experiences, namely maintaining the purity and integrity of the song. “I’m forever referring to Ann Peebles’ [1974] record I Can’t Stand The Rain,” Henry says. “It’s a masterpiece of soul, but first and foremost it’s a great singer-songwriter record. It’s free of so many of the cliche trappings, and in fact it helped create a lot of what became cliched because people referenced it so heavily. The fact that it is so small, yet powerful, is a great challenge for any of us. It’s fantastic that people are going back and looking at the mechanics of how that music worked. But to me, right now soul is closer to jazz in that it should be allowed to interpret anything: pop, gospel, standards. Nobody bothered to tell Miles Davis that he shouldn’t be covering Cyndi Lauper because that’s not what jazz is. Whatever he did was Miles Davis music, and I think the great soul artists are the same way.”

Soul Searching
It’s probably not a bad idea to work with producer Joe Henry. Since the release of I Believe To My Soul, Mavis Staples has been reborn with the Ry Cooder-produced We’ll Never Turn Back, Irma Thomas won a Grammy for Best Blues Album for After The Rain, and Allen Toussaint reached a new audience after teaming with Elvis Costello for The River In Reverse.
Immediately after finishing Bettye LaVette’s I’ve Got My Own Hell To Raise in the summer of 2005, Henry started work on I Believe To My Soul, a planned series of collaborations with legendary soul artists. For the first session, he assembled Ann Peebles, Mavis Staples, Irma Thomas, Allen Toussaint, and the late Billy Preston, the results being predictably spectacular.
However, if Henry had his way, that session would have included a few different names, and he is still working hard to fulfil his dreams of recording several personal favourites. “The first artist I approached for I Believe To My Soul, and who I pursued up until the day we started, was Bill Withers,” Henry says. Withers, familiar to most for his string of ‘70s hits, including “Lean On Me,” “Ain’t No Sunshine,” “Use Me,” and “Grandma’s Hands,” voluntarily exited the music business after a long struggle to regain the rights to his publishing. “He doesn’t have any interest in the music business any longer, and who could blame him?” Henry continues. “I think he makes a very fine living from his publishing, and people who know him well have told me that at the right moment he’d think about doing something.“But when I talked to his wife, who manages his affairs, she encouraged me to keep gently nudging. I said he wouldn’t have to do one interview or one TV show — just come to the studio for one day and he’d be out of it. I just wanted to have the moment, and I knew the music would matter. I think she thought it was a cool idea to get him involved in that project, but at a certain point he just said no. I still bring his name up in every meeting I have about this, though, as the perfect example of what I’m trying to do. His records are really just great singer-songwriter records, and that’s why I’d love to work with him.”

Withers is just one artist on Henry’s wish list. “I talked a lot with Bobby Womack too, who had some legal issues that didn’t allow him to come aboard, even though he wanted to.” Womack remains best known for writing “It’s All Over Now,” first covered successfully by the Rolling Stones, and for playing on Sly & the Family Stone’s There’s A Riot Goin’ On, along with his own gospel-infused funk, exemplified by the blaxploitation classic, “Across 110th Street.” “I know he’d be a handful,” Henry says, “but I’d love to make a great Bobby Womack record. I’d like to make a record with Angie Stone, or Chocolate Genius, or Sonny Rollins. I think Lauryn Hill could make another great record. There’s all kinds of work to be done.”

Song of the Day – Sep 26/07

Posted in Artists, Video, YouTube with tags on September 26, 2007 by takecountryback

This Old Road – Kris Kristofferson

Look at that old photograph
Is it really you
Smiling like a baby full of dreams

Smiling ain’t so easy now
Some are coming true
Nothing’s simple as it seems

But I guess you count your blessings with the problems
That you’re dealing with today
Like the changing of the seasons

Ain’t you come a long way
Ain’t you come a long way
Ain’t you come a long way down
This old road

Looking at a looking glass
Running out of time
On a face you used to know

Traces of a future lost
In between the lines
One more rainbow for the road

[This Old Road lyrics on

Thinking of the faces in the window
That you passed along the way
Or the last thing you believed in

Ain’t you come a long way
Ain’t you come a long way
Ain’t you come a long way down
This old road

Say you tried to chase the sundown
And you let it slip away
And the holy night is falling

Ain’t you come a long way
Ain’t you come a long way
Ain’t you come a long way down
This old road

Look at that old photograph
Is it really you ?

Billy Joe Shaver: The Full Interview

Posted in Artists, Interview with tags , on September 26, 2007 by takecountryback

Billy Joe Shaver: The Full Interview


We spoke with Billy Joe Shaver a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve written this overview of our talk.  Here is the complete and unedited interview:

First off, how’s your health? How are you feeling?

Feelin’ great. I got Jesus in my heart and he ain’t gonna let me down. 

Why a Christian album at this point in your life?   

 Well, the album leans in that direction, but it’s not all religious. And all my stuff’s been spiritual since I started. My first album had two Jesus songs on it. The first song I got recorded was ‘Jesus Christ, What a Man’ by the Oak Ridge Boys (when they were a gospel group) and it got nominated for a Grammy. Waylon used to call me a a Bible-thumper, even when we were raising hell. I guess he was right. I’ve always been a big sinner. Still am. I still get pretty rough sometimes, but not like I used to be. I got born again when I wrote “Chunk of Coal.” That was a big hit. But I’ve … wavered, gone back and forth a few times, I guess. How would you say it? How would you put it if you get saved more than once? “Born again, again”? That’s it. That’s me. Born again, again. I’m not a full-blown crazy fanatic Christian – not really. I know I’m talking like one, but that’s just because I want to share it with everybody.

Tell you the truth – it’s like when I was back dopin’, when I run across some real good stuff I’d call all my friends and say you got to get into this, it’s amazing, come on over. It’s the same with Jesus. I know you’ve had some losses in your life and my condolences to you – Thank you. But I know they’re in a better spot. I know where they are. I could feel bad about that, but I’d just be feeling bad for myself. That happens sometimes, but it’s just self-pity. – so was it that or something else that made you decide to do this kind of music right now? It’s just where my heart is, where I guess it’s always been. 

Let’s talking about the album. “Rollin’ Stone” – is that a new one? 

It’s brand new. 

That’s a real Texas song to me. 

Yeah. I grew up there, mostly raised by my grandmother. I liked to get going, travel around. Still do. She would light into me when I took off. She knew I’d start rolling as soon as I hit the ground. She died when I was twelve.

That diminished chord in there, that gave it a Western swing kind of feel. 

Yeah, there’s a couple of those diminished chords in there. People don’t use them much anymore in country. But I used to love all the old stuff. 

There’s a little Eldon Shamblin guitar feel there, a little Texas Playboys groove. 

Yeah, that and Django Reinhardt. We were really blessed because the band was really swinging. We did five songs in a day. 

“Get Thee Behind Me Satan” – that’s some old fashioned preaching, fear-of-Jesus  style. That’s the scary preaching, not the love and peace megachurch kind.  Well, that’s another side of reality, isn’t it?  You and John Anderson get to testifying there. You sound like preachers yourselves. The kind that talk about damnation. And the story’s like a nightmare. It’s, what do they call it,   

 Fire and brimstone. 

Right. And John Anderson’s right there with you. He’s a great singer, and a great writer too. 

Yes, and he’s a very nice man. Very nice. A good Christian fellow. 

“Seminole Wind.” That’s his song about the Native Americans being driven out of the Florida swamps. 

That’s a great one.

Aren’t you part Indian? 

I’m Blackfoot on my father’s side. Half Blackfoot, half French. Some Cherokee on my mother’s side. But we’re all the same inside, and we all get into the same kind of trouble. You know, I’ve written my way out of a lot of messes. I’ve always said writing is the cheapest psychiatrist there is. I say I was either trying to save myself or trying to get back in the house. I wasn’t trying to be noble, just trying to get out of trouble. 

“Winning Again” – it sounds just right for Buck Owens to cover, if he had ever sung Christian music. Your harmony with Marty Stuart sounded like Buck Owens and Don Rich.  It sounds like one of that classic Harlan Howard songs Buck used to do. 

Harlan Howard. That’s a great compliment. I’ll take it, and thank you.  

Alright now – “If You Don’t Love Jesus Go To Hell.” I mean, weren’t you Kinky Friedman’s “spiritual advisor” when he ran for Governor? Who were you thinking when you wrote this? 

Well, they didn’t want me to put it on the album. Some people objected because they don’t think “Jesus” and “hell” should be in the same sentence. And some other people figured some of those radio stations up there wouldn’t play it. You know, the “Americana” ones. Those stations are kinda snooty, you know, so they figured the song wouldn’t get played. But it’s the only song they want to play. They play it a lot. And some people didn’t want me to put it on the album.

But isn’t “go to hell” a little harsh? I mean what did Kinky think? 

If it’s harsh, then God’s harsh. And Kinky, you can’t tell him nothin’ anyway.  It’s just a way to put things: “Take your rotten rags of righteousness and stuff ‘em.” The Bible says “your rags of righteousness are as nothing to me.” 

That’s Old Testament. Isaiah, isn’t it? That should make Kinky happy. And then you sing “if think that you can kick my ass/you better move that foot pretty fast.”

Well, God and fighting … Evander Holyfield, he’s a good Christian, he said “if a fellow hits me on the cheek I turn the other cheek – then I knock the hell out of him.”  

But you always said “May the God of your choice bless you.” Kinky used that slogan when he ran for Governor.  How does that fit with “go to hell if you don’t love Jesus”? 

If everybody prayed for everybody else, if everybody loved everybody else, then no matter what religion they were there would be peace. Look, what I do is ask Jesus to let everybody into Heaven regardless of religion. I believe He will, not that I’m any expert. I hope so, though. He’s everybody’s brother.  

Is that how you really see Him?

Sure.  If everybody prayed for each other like that, think about how much better the world would be. I love everybody. I want them all to be happy, Christian or not. Why shouldn’t everybody go to heaven?  You like to say “God loves you when you dance.” Either you worship a very forgiving God, or you haven’t seen me dance.  (laughs) Aw, I like to say those kinds of things. “It’s bad luck to be superstitious.” “Reality is artificial imagination.” I’m always saying that kind of thing. 

Sounds like you’ve got another book in you – a book of sayings.

I probably got a couple books in me.

“To Be Loved By a Woman” – when was that written?

A while back. Keith Whitley sang it so I figured I’d leave it alone. He’s such a great singer. It was such a loss when he passed. But I wanted to sing the song because it makes sense. I like a song that makes sense. 

That’s not so common nowadays. Is that what’s wrong with country music these days?

I guess so, but that’s just the way it is. I don’t knock the ways things are. Everybody’s just trying to get by. They’re doing whatever they have to do to make a living. I don’t fault nobody for that – but I’m doing art.  I’m doing it for the sake of the art. Getting a hit record made? It’s not even in my mind. I just do what I do, and that’s it.  These young kids, they bring ‘em, they’re unseasoned. They believe ever’ word they tell ‘em. But I don’t blame ‘em. Everybody’s got a dream. 

People want to be somebody.

Everybody needs to remember, you’re not a loser not matter what. You’re the sperm that made it. And the odds against that were astronomical. 

“The Greatest Man Alive” – when was that written?

It was written about my wife after we split up. I was that way at the time. Some people said why would you say that? Why would you wish the person just divorced good luck? That’s me, though. I love everybody. It’s just what they do I don’t like. 

How’d you get Tanya (Tucker) to do the duet? What was that like?  

Oh, we’re old, old friends. Nothin’ romantic, just pals. She’s a great artist and a great friend. I knew her Dad and liked him. He was her manager. He was tough as nails. He was an old fighter pilot. Oh, they say Tanya’s a little rough around the edges but she’s still got that great talent. I love her. 

“You Can’t Beat Jesus Christ.” You and Johnny Cash tear it up there. When’s that from?

It’s an old demo we cut with the band. John came by and we just did it. My son Eddy (who died in 2000 of a drug overdose) plays some great guitar on it, doesn’t he? He was only fifteen at the time. The band sounds great. I’ve been lucky so far as musicians are concerned. I’ve always had a great band. 

Maybe it’s not just luck.

Well, sometimes they could get more money playing with other people, but they stick with me. Maybe they like the songs. 

“Everybody’s Brother” – what a great phrase. It was in the song you cut with Johnny Cash, “You Can’t Beat Jesus Christ.” Then you made it a separate song and got (traditional Native American musician) Bill Miller to record it with you.

John Carter (Cash, Johnny’s son and the album’s producer) suggested that. You know, the night before I wrote that I coulda sworn that Johnny Cash came to me in my room. I felt him there, so I got up and started writing. What I wound up with was nothing liked what I’d started with. He helped me … it’s like he wrote it with me. 

What was it like working with John (Carter Cash) s a producer?

He’s the best. He’s a wonderful producer. He’ll let you do your thing, and then he steps in and helps you when you need it. He’s more like a spiritual guide than a producer in some ways. He’s there for you. And he knows his music. 

You’re one of the best songwriters around, but you don’t tend to get mentioned as often as some of the others. Any bitterness about that?

Nah. I’m into for the art. I love it, and it’s a hobby for me. A hobby, and a living. I never worried about awards or getting a hit record. Waylon Jennings said he’d shoot me right between the eyes if he ever caught me writin’ for an award. My award’s when somebody records one of my songs. Waylon did an album of my songs. Willie did an album. Kris Kristofferson. Bob Dylan cut one of my songs. Elvis Presley.  Those are my awards. 

Other songs – what about “Freedom’s Child”? That’s a song about the futility of war. I didn’t think it got the kind of attention it deserved.  

It says a lot more than you think. I wrote it back in the sixties but didn’t record it until recently.

I read that you thought it ought to get heard after 9/11 happened. Why?

Because it’s about the sacrifices that people make. They lay their lives down for you. Human beings are such wonderful people.

It says that there is an endless cycle of war.

I knew after 9/11 it was happening again. All the soldiers that I run into – rangers and paratroopers – that’s their favorite song. They know what I’m talking about. I love these heroes and I honor them every chance we get. 

A lot of us do. You could call this an antiwar song. And yet you say that soldiers respond to it?

Yes, they do. It’s kind of an antiwar song, but it’s also based on the acceptance that this is going to go on as long as we’re human. Soldiers understand this. They accept the nature of the sacrifice they’re making, and they do it anyway. That’s real heroism. Hopefully someday it’ll be out of the question to do that, to engage in war. But we’re not there yet. I believe as long as there is Man there will be war.

I believe songwriters have a moral obligation to expose as much as they can. Bob Dylan inspired me in that regard. If you get a chance and you can help – help. 

Dylan opened the door for a lot of people to write about different things besides love, didn’t he?

Yeah, he did. Every song doesn’t have to say something new or different, but if you’ve got it to say, say it. They’re my songs, after all. I’ll do what I want with ‘em. It’s my barn, I’ll paint it if I want to.  That’s one thing we got in common, we’re all different. 

So music is personal, like faith?

I believe in the notion of Jesus as a “personal Lord and savior.” Personal. That means he’s gonna be different for you than he is for anybody else. He meets your needs, and you’re unique. Each of us is unique, and thank God for that. So He’s different for you than for me.

This world is getting where it’s so crowded – I tell ya, the Indians believe that if one person moves one grain of sand it changes the course of time for everybody everywhere. That’s why bein’ nice to each other – that’s the best policy. If you can’t be friends, at least be friendly. 

“Black Rose,” “Old Five and Dimers,” “Honky Tonk Heroes” – I’ve heard you only have an eighth grade education, but you’re a really a short story writer. You ever write non-musical stuff?

I’ve written a few short stories. I might publish them someday. Then there’s the book (Honky Tonk Heroes, Univ. of Texas Press). But mostly it’s about the songs. I’m a songwriter and a singer. Too late to change my stripes now. I’m getting on in years. On the other hand, I like to try new things. In another way you could say I’m still a young man. I can open new doors.

Well, that gives me some hope then. I’m getting up there myself and I’d like to try some new things.

Then you’re like me in that respect. If you haven’t grown up by now you probably never will. 

What about acting? You gonna do any more of that?

Oh, I might if they ask me. Robert Duvall, he’s a friend of mine, he’s asked me a couple of times. 

It says on your website you’re an Official  Texas State Musician of the Year. What’s that?  

I don’t know myself. But they give that title to somebody different every year. 

Just one a year? With all those musicians in Texas ? That’s impressive. If they wind up having you, Flaco, Doug Sahm, and T-Bone Walker I’ll be happy.

That’d be a good list, all right. I love them all. And Flaco’s terrific. I cut a song with him. 

I’m not gonna ask you about that little incident. (Shaver was arrested after allegedly shooting a man in a Texas barroom. He says he it was self-defense; the man says otherwise.)

Oh, I don’t mind. God’s taking care it. I’ll take whatever God says I’m supposed to take. I’ll accept it. God’s in charge. It’s taken care of. I’m covered. 

Are you still playing biker bars?

Oh, yeah, I still play where they love me. I love playing those biker bars – skull orchards, as I call ‘em. You have to kick a little harder there. I love getting out and playing for my fans.  I have some wonderful fans. I love them. 

How are these new songs going over?

They love ‘em. And I have one new song that says “If you must drink, then drink.” It puts them at ease when they’re in the bars, and doing what they came to do. It’s as we were taught: It’s not what goes into the mouth that defiles you. It’s what comes out of the mouth that defiles you.

So I tell them, don’t worry about what you drink. Worry about what you say.

I guess I’ll ask the question everybody asks you: What is it about Texas that produces so many great songwriters? I liked it when you told one interviewer “well, it’s a pretty big state.”

Yeah, everybody asks that question, all right.

You’ve got quite a few great songwriters from Texas. The latest great one is who, Steve Earle?

I love Steve. He’s fantastic. Then there’s Kristofferson, Willie (Nelson), Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt – that’s stuff so good it’ll make you slap your knee. And I do have a theory …

Why aren’t I surprised?

Right. You know, from an early age we learn in school about the Alamo, about brave people. Real true stories about big heroes. People down here don’t seem to be afraid to say anything. Everyone down here is brutally honest. The sky’s big. You’re kinda raised with that attitude. We’re raised to speak our minds.

People in Texasdon’t steal anything anybody else says because they think they’re the greatest. So why steal? Who would they steal from? No need to steal when nobody’s as good as you.

This is a pretty spiritual album, even the non-Christian parts. What would you like to say about it?

(pause) “If you don’t love Jesus, go to hell.”

Anything else you’d like my article to say? When I’m interviewing someone I think of my role as bringing out their message.

(laughs) Oh, you’re getting all humble on me now, are you? You’re just the vehicle, is that it? 

Well, some of us deserve to be humble. 

(laughs) That’s a good one. Think I’ll steal it.

Song of the Day – Sep 25/07

Posted in Artists with tags , , on September 26, 2007 by takecountryback

MP3 Steve Earle “Satellite Radio”

September 25, 2007 — ROOTS rocker Steve Earle, ex alcoholic and drug addict, lost five years as a homeless junkie, spent four months in jail and is a socialist.

The Texas-raised singer, now 52, was once condemned for his empathetic tune “John Walker Blues” about John Walker Lindh – the so-called American Taliban.

So what’s Earle talking about at a quiet lunch at a French restaurant near his Greenwich Village home?

Cauliflower versus potato gratin, of course.

It’s all part of his transformation from Nashville bad boy to sober New York troubadour.

Even his newest album, “Washington Square Serenade,” is less polemic.

“It’s not intentionally apolitical, it’s intentionally intimate,” says the artist/activist, digging into an escargot appetizer. “The last two records were overtly political. They needed to be. I needed to do this one for me.”

The album is also an ode to his new neighborhood – and new wife.

After living in Nashville for 30 years, Earle, a lifelong Yankees fan, moved to Manhattan in 2005 with his sixth wife, country singer Allison Moorer.

“This is the neighborhood where my job was invented,” Earle says, referring to the area’s rich folk history.

He’s not kidding. Earle, who plays a recovering addict in “The Wire,” lives on Jones Street, where the famous album cover for “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” was shot.

Earle recorded the album at home, using Pro-Tools, and completed it at Jimi Hendrix’s old Electric Lady Studio. Dust Brother John King produced.

“I needed to work by myself to keep the songs to myself, to maintain the intimacy of a pretty personal record,” he says. He became comfortable with using synthetic drums and creating loops, evident on the song “Satellite Radio” (see MPFrees), a reference to “Hardcore Troubadour,” the program he hosts for Sirius Satellite Radio.

While he’s paid tribute to Dylan, he also devoted a show to the songs of Burt Bacharach. For the surprise alone, you got to love a guy who spins “Close to You” just a little more.

That’s in line with his varied career.

“The audience that stays with me would be insulted if I didn’t throw them a curveball,” he says.

New Dwight Video — Close Up the Honky Tonks

Posted in Video with tags , , , on September 25, 2007 by takecountryback

Goodbye Guitar Town: An Interview with Steve Earle

Posted in Artists, Interview with tags , on September 25, 2007 by takecountryback 

[24 September 2007]

Steve Earle might be quieting down, but he still has plenty to say. PopMatters talks with Earle about his new album, New York and much more.

PopMatters Associate Music Editor

If you know of Steve Earle at all, you know that his life has been marked by trouble and controversy—much of it self-inflicted. Drug addiction, failed marriage after failed marriage, run-ins with the law, imprisonment, homelessness… Many artists have written about outsiders and outlaws, rebels and those just plain determined to destroy themselves, but few have actually lived the chaos they’ve documented in song. Steve Earle, on the other hand, has lived through it all, and the fact that he is actually still alive is just as surprising to him as those who have witnessed his storied past. “There was a point when I didn’t think that I’d live to be forty,” he concedes, his voice a mixture of relief and astonishment.

Other musicians’ flirtations with drugs and disaster are often portrayed as glamorous and fun, but Earle’s struggles were pure hell. At one point in the middle of his addiction, he was actually living on the streets of Nashville, his days little more than a series of drug scores. “I saw a lot of horrible stuff,” he reminisces. “I saw a lot of really tragic stuff happen. And I tried to keep it from happening to me, but I succumbed. It took me longer than it did some of my friends. It didn’t really get me until I really started making the money,” he says laughing. Then, turning serious, adds, “It wasn’t like I didn’t use drugs and I didn’t have a problem [before then], because I did. But by [that] time, I just preferred better drugs and more of them.” Indeed, were he never sentenced to a year in prison in 1994, Steve Earle might never have overcome his addictions, and he almost certainly wouldn’t have experienced the rebirth of his career.

The other thing you probably know about Steve Earle is that he really irritates the hell out of the right-wing, which is something of a badge of honor to him. It’s not that Earle has anything against people of a Republican bent per se. After all, as he readily clarifies, “I’m not a Democrat.” Turns out, in fact, he’s not very fond of those touted as saviors by the left-wing. But if hearing “lefty troubadour” Steve Earle proudly proclaim that he’s not a Democrat is shocking, he’s quick to clarify: “I’m a socialist in a country that doesn’t allow a socialist party.” Little surprise, then, that he’s very disturbed by the George W. Bush brand of conservatism, the kind that promises compassion while robbing the pocketbook of the working class.

On his last two albums, Jerusalem and The Revolution Starts… Now, Earle has made no secret of his disdain for Bush’s agenda, particularly the “War on Terrorism”, which, to Earle’s thinking, is not only perpetuating tensions between the US and the Middle East, but also the rest of the world. “We are the most reviled we’ve ever been,” he states, “and that’s saying something. And the things that’s heartbreaking about that is that people want to like us. They really want to pull for us and root for us. There’s only one place in the world that we went into this hated, and that was the Mideast. And that didn’t happen in a vacuum.”

Earle first caught the ire of the right-wing—in its most concentrated and vitriolic form—after the tragedy of September 11, 2001. Barely a year later, he released Jerusalem, which contained the song “John Walker’s Blues”—John Walker being John Walker Lindh, the American kid who was found training with the Taliban after the US invaded Afghanistan. Earle made no attempt to defend Lindh in the song; rather, he tried to get into Lindh’s psyche and find what would prompt an American kid of privilege not only to leave his country, but to eventually conspire against it. The country was not ready to empathize with people like Lindh, however, and Earle was labeled a traitor.

Rather than backtracking or lying low, though, Earle took the Bush administration head on with 2004’s The Revolution Starts… Now. Songs like “Home to Houston” and “Rich Man’s War” chronicled the plight of soldiers forced to fight in Iraq for financial reasons, only to find that they can’t, as the saying goes, go back home. Other songs directly challenged Bush and his subordinates, such as “F the FCC”—which is self-explanatory—and “Condi, Condi”, a song that, quite sarcastically, praises the feminine charms of Ms. Condoleezza Rice. No, Steve Earle doesn’t approve of the current administration—or people of a like mind—and he’s not afraid to say so. “[The right-wing doesn’t] want an even playing field,” he states. “They don’t want everyone’s kids to go to college … They want their kids to go to college.”

That’s the story about Steve Earle that gets told time and again, the one about him having a troubled past and stirring controversy. It’s a story worth telling—one mythic in scope, tragedy, triumph, and improbability. That he survived his own self-destructive tendencies at all is miraculous, but that he also went on to release a string of critically-acclaimed albums that extends to the present? Forget it. Second chances rarely happen, and the second time around isn’t supposed to be as successful—or, in Earle’s case, more successful—as the first time around.

But this story, this version of the story, while grounded in fact, only presents Steve Earle as an archetype, not the complex and nuanced man he comes across as in conversation. Not long after Earle admits that he didn’t expect to live to see his fifth decade, he adds “Now I’m having to deal with, ‘Oh, I might actually be around for a while.’” That he is now, to his surprise, in his middle age—and also in the best health he’s been in for a long time—has caused him to reevaluate his life. Two other developments have also caused Earle to rethink his ways: his marriage to fellow singer/songwriter Allison Moorer and their move to, of all places, New York City. Both events have caused him to mellow out, and both have had a direct impact on his music, evidenced by his latest album, Washington Square Serenade.

Unlike its two predecessors, Washington Square Serenade is not what you would call a political album. This may come as a letdown to those who have come to regard Earle as a left-wing revolutionary, one of the few artists who actually speaks his mind before a cause becomes popular, but Earle is more focused on his marriage now than carrying any political torch. For him, there’s no artistic difference between singing about the debacle in Iraq or being in love. “I made The Revolution Starts… Now because I needed to make a statement that was more overtly political, and I really needed to do that as an artist, and this is the same thing. But my life has changed a lot. I got married.”

Indeed, instead of the political songs that Earle has become known for during the last decade, Washington Square Serenade features more than the standard amount of love songs. “Sparkle and Shine”, “Come Home to Me”, “Days Aren’t Long Enough”—it’s obvious that Earle has finally found a healthy, stable relationship. True, he has always been able to write a killer ballad, but now it’s obvious that his muse is no longer a mythical, far-off entity. Unlike a ballad like, say, Revolution‘s “I Think You Should Know”—in which the narrator tells his romantic interest to pick her clothes up off the ground and go home—these tracks are noticeably more tender, sincere, and thoughtful.

And if a Steve Earle album that is decidedly more restrained is odd in light of his recent material, it’s not the only difference that will evoke confusion. Washington Square Serenade was recorded without the backing of the Dukes, Earle’s band that he describes as “a really great, ridiculously loud, adult rock band”. “Really great” is an understatement, and those who have seen Earle and the Dukes live know that “ridiculously loud” is not an overstatement. But Earle didn’t forsake the Dukes for another band. Instead, he opted for something altogether different, something that many would never imagine him doing. “I tested positive for Pro Tools finally,” he jokes, no doubt aware that this decision will baffle many and alienate some. Most of the songs on Washington Square Serenade were written by Earle, then recorded onto a computer, where they gradually took shape and gained layers.

The surprises, however, don’t stop with a less political album recorded on Pro Tools. Earle also decided to enlist the help of producer John King, one of the Dust Brothers, who has worked with both Beck and the Beastie Boys—legends in their own right, but not artists you would associate with the Hardcore Troubadour. “Those are the records that made me sure that what I wanted to do could be done,” Earle explains. “It’s not that new a thing. It’s just a really organic element.” Typical of Earle, while he realized that albums recorded with the assistance of computers can sometimes sound somewhat artificial or spacey, he wasn’t detoured by doubt. “It can [go wrong], like here’s my ‘waka, waka, waka’ record, and I didn’t want it to be that. But I wasn’t scared of it. In some ways, I’m really proud of it because [I didn’t overdo it while] at first I thought, ‘Oh, I didn’t go far enough…’”

This statement should be reassuring to those who are, quite understandably, skeptical about the dramatic change in Earle’s modus operandi. While he describes Washington Square Serenade as “a folk album arrived at by hip-hop rules”, the truth is that it sounds like vintage Earle, just more intimate. There are drum loops and overdubs, but the only discernible difference is that some of the songs sound more rhythmic and propulsive. This is largely because Earle took the sampled elements and tweaked them to his liking, imposing his musicianship on top of the synthesized components. Describing the drum loop in “Tennessee Blues”, for example, he notes that he “retuned, slowed down, and really fucked [it] up” before using it in the song.

Earle doesn’t view his new approach so much as a break with his past, though, as he does a way of challenging himself as an artist. “I was always interested in what the technology can do. But what I knew how to do as a producer was get a bunch of guys that can play and stick some really good microphones in front of them and turn the tape recorder on. That was the safety zone for me, and I did that for a long time. I’m a good enough songwriter that I was able to make that interesting. But it was getting to the point where I needed to do something drastically different just to keep it interesting for me.”

But while Washington Square Serenade is very different from Jerusalem and The Revolution Starts… Now, it still tackles controversial issues, just in a less overt fashion. “City of Immigrants”, for example, subtly addresses the immigration debate by celebrating the diversity found in Earle’s new home of New York City. Earle recorded the track with the backing of Forro in the Dark, a neo-folk Brazilian band he saw playing outside of his hotel while staying in Austin for South By Southwest. “Living in a city of immigrants,” the song begins, “I don’t need to go traveling. / Open my door and the world walks in”. At one point not so long ago, Earle was so disillusioned by the current state of American politics and discourse that he considered leaving the country; his faith, however, was restored by the different cultures found in New York City.

This variety of cultures, he feels, is discouraged and exploited for gain, particularly by people like CNN personality Lou Dobbs, who has made immigration his signature issue and personal crusade—not to mention his cash cow. “He’s so fucking ugly, and he’s so fucking racist,” Earle exclaims. “This immigration thing is really ugly, it’s really dangerous, and guys like Lou Dobbs … he’s scary. He’s like Paul Harvey [in his ability to connect with common people]. People thought Paul Harvey was fucking Norman Rockwell or something. It seems innocuous and it snuck up on us and [Dobbs] is pushing all the right buttons—‘You’re losing your jobs because these people are coming over illegally.’ That’s a lie in and of itself. He makes the pretense of standing up for regular people who are being fucked over by their government who are turning their backs on the flow of ‘illegals’ entering the country.”

If Earle, however, sounds overly critical of the conservative-minded, he’s equally exacting when it comes to liberals, finding little solace in the current crop of Democratic candidates. “Clinton and Obama,” he says, “I’m not impressed with. I think Clinton’s dangerous because I don’t think Bill Clinton was such a great thing the first time around. Whatever she does or whatever she aspires to herself, the reality is that people are going to vote for her just to get a third [Bill] Clinton term. And I read Obama’s book, and he sounds a lot like Bill Clinton to me, too.” When pressed to identify a candidate he likes, Earle replies “John Edwards looks the most real to me … I can be pretty pragmatic.”

These days, however, Earle is more focused on his home, not the overall state of affairs in the United States. Having struggled with addiction and self-destructive tendencies in general for so long, he’s no doubt aware that changing his life is an everyday commitment, the temptations never too far away. “This is the first time I’ve ever been married sober, and it’s a completely different experience. People made a lot about how many times I’ve been married, but I haven’t been married in a long time. I’m trying to make it work. I’ve changed the whole way that I live. Allison and I have spent the last two years trying to sync up our schedules so that we can tour together. That’s not a marketing decision—that’s trying to stay married. We spend more time together than probably any married couple that I know of. We tour together, we kind of do everything together, and we’re trying to keep it that way.”

Steve Earle, then, has consciously and purposefully added a new chapter to his own story, the one that is so far-fetched that it sounds, a little ironically, like a country song. Having lived through hell firsthand, he has now, at the rather mature age of 52, finally figured out that a long and quiet life is preferable to a short and chaotic one. Perhaps he knew it all along, but now he’s finally living a peaceful existence, able to leave the self-inflicted drama behind.

In “Tennessee Blues”, the first track on Washington Square Serenade, Earle finally reconciles with his past, symbolized by the narrator leaving Nashville for New York City after finding love. “Fare thee well / I’m bound to roam,” he says, “This ain’t ever been my home”. It’s something straight out of the final scene of John Ford’s The Searchers, the door finally closing on the ugly past, the troubled and angry hero of yesterday no longer so heroic. And while some may lament the Hardcore Troubadour trading trouble and controversy for stability and happiness, Steve Earle, as always, couldn’t care less. “Redhead by my side, boys,” he continues in “Tennessee Blues”, “Sweetest thing I’ve found / Goodbye guitar town…” Earle, indeed, is saying goodbye to many things these days, and he seems a much lighter man for doing so.

“I made a personal record,” he says, quietly. “It’s someone else’s turn.”

Online and on the Edge

Posted in Industry, Radio with tags , , , , on September 25, 2007 by takecountryback

Online and on the Edge

Published: September 23, 2007


Skip to next paragraph

Sandra L. Dyas for The New York Times

John Draper at his home in Iowa, which is also his Internet radio studio. Proposed changes in the royalty system could make it hard for him to stay on the air.

LATE last year John Draper, a 41-year-old computer programmer, awoke in his house here with a stomach-churning problem. A Paris outfit he had hired to help run his Internet radio station, Atlantic Sound Factory, was in trouble. The server it used to connect him to roughly 1,500 listeners daily was perilously overloaded. If it became unstable — reducing the quality of his stream or, worse, shutting down entirely — he’d be in trouble.

This was not just a matter of simple pride. Mr. Draper’s gift for mixing Cat Stevens with Collective Soul, not to mention Keane with Kansas, had won his two-year-old station a spot in Apple’s iTunes radio library. To keep that coveted piece of Internet real estate, he had to keep running at all times. So he lurched out of bed, threw on his slippers and rushed to his basement computer to check on the strength of his Paris signal.

It was holding. But just barely.

About 55 million Americans listen to Internet radio every week (compared with the 279 million who listen to terrestrial radio), a jump of 26 percent in the past year, according to Bridge Ratings, a survey firm in Glendale, Calif. Many of them tune in at work, where they don’t get regular radio reception. Yahoo and AOL are the titans of this world, with portals that feature videos, music news and millions of song choices. There is also a layer of NPR and college radio, as well as commercial stations and satellite radio. But beyond that lies a quirkier landscape, populated by a diverse subculture of aspiring moguls, music geeks and people like Mr. Draper, who considers himself a hobbyist.

Together they are spurring a new golden age in radio. For those who remember the heyday of the D.J. as a cultural curator, it’s a return to a past where the airwaves were filled with personalities who mattered as much as the tunes they were spinning.

But there is a shadow looming over this renaissance. Although Internet radio is a relatively new form — listeners have started tuning in to it in significant numbers only within the last five years — the looming inevitability of a time when almost all radio will emanate from the Internet has created a sense of both panic and opportunity in the music business. On one hand, virtually anyone can start broadcasting songs online; on the other, if regulations are set up early enough, these new broadcasters present a much-needed revenue stream.

Under a deal that has been in effect since 2003 Webcasters with annual revenues of less than $1.25 million pay 10 percent of their revenues or 7 percent of expenses to satisfy copyright laws. Larger radio portals like the ones operated by Yahoo and AOL have to pay per song.

But in March the Copyright Royalty Board, a federal panel, issued a ruling allowing SoundExchange, the industry arm that collects royalties for 90 percent of all songwriters, to charge all Webcasters on a per-song basis and raise the cost of playing a song from $.0008 to $.0019 by 2010. For Mr. Draper this meant that his royalty payments would go from $120 a month to $6,500.

Thanks to a huge fan-driven protest, and the intervention of a handful of influential lawmakers in the House and Senate, SoundExchange backed down. On Aug. 21 it offered to extend much of the current rate structure until 2010, and on Tuesday it announced that about two dozen small Webcasters had agreed to this deal. Others, like Mr. Draper, are holding out, hoping for a long-term solution that will ensure that their hobby will always be affordable.

“There is more drama in this hobby than I ever imagined,” Mr. Draper said.

The whole idea for Atlantic Sound Factory came to Mr. Draper in February 2005. As he recalled, he was sitting in bed with the woman he lives with and announced, “I wonder what it would be like to own a radio station.” After a few days of research it became obvious that buying a terrestrial outlet was ridiculously expensive. But the Web was different. He imported his 200 CDs into his iTunes folder, loaded some inexpensive software to help keep it running for hours and connected it to his home DSL line. Then he went live.

Apart from a strikingly lanky 6-foot-4, 165-pound frame, the only thing that causes Mr. Draper to stand out in his Cedar Rapids neighborhood is an English accent left over from a boyhood bouncing between High Wycombe, Norfolk and Newcastle. After moving to Ames with his family as a teenager, he enrolled in the University of Iowa, where he says he “got sidetracked partying.” In the late ’90s he taught himself enough about writing computer code to enable him to start designing software. In his current work-at-home job he designs inventory programs for cafeterias in about 75 school districts.

In the beginning expenses for ASF were $20 a month paid to Loud City, a company in Somerville, Mass., that collects royalties for Sound Exchange on behalf of Webcasters. “I was lucky if I had one listener at a time for the first month,” he said.

In May 2005 Mr. Draper discovered that he had reached the seven-listener limit of his home connection, so he found a company in Houston to rent him space on its server. (Server space is sold by slots, with one slot equaling one listener. Depending on connection speed and reliability, the rental price of a single slot ranges from 50 cents to $3.75 a month.)

With 25 slots his operating cost rose to $95 a month, including royalty fees, a still manageable addition to his household budget. By fall, when his lunchtime audience peaked at 30 listeners, he bought 50 more. New cost: $170 a month.

Mr. Draper’s turning point came in early January 2006, when he applied for a listing on iTunes and was accepted. (Most listeners discover an Internet station through one of a variety of portals, like iTunes or Yahoo Music, each of which list hundreds of stations.) Excitedly, he bought 50 more slots in Texas, bringing his capacity to 100 listeners. Then he settled into his basement to monitor its debut.

In 20 minutes, he said, he was at 70 percent of capacity; by 10:30 p.m. his limit was reached. “That was when I knew I was in big trouble,” he said.

Unable to sleep, he desperately tried finding available server space. “I was spending like a drunken sailor to buy capacity from anyone who was open,” he recalled. After adding another 150 slots from a host in Germany, he passed out. When he awoke, those slots were already maxed out too.

Mr. Draper worked message boards dedicated to Webcasting, pleading for help, and was befriended by the host of a British server who agreed to give him 400 more slots temporarily at no cost. But by late January, with an average listener base that was now up to 650 people, even that wasn’t enough. “At some point I needed to see how high this could go,” he said.

So he rolled the dice and committed to 1,400 slots with a broker in Paris. This raised his operating costs to roughly $1,000 a month.

“It also made for a lot of dirty looks across the dinner table,” recalled Mr. Draper, who lives with his companion, her 13-year-old daughter and his 13-year-old son. “I had no idea how to pay for it.”

So he did something that “my parents raised me never to do”: he asked his audience for money. “I’m a family man,” he began. “I work full time. I don’t need to make a profit. But if I’m going to stay on iTunes, I need your help.”

Five minutes after shutting off his microphone, he had a half-dozen donations of between $10 and $20. Then came the e-mail messages. There was the singer from the defunct band he was playing, Naked Eyes. The janitor who mopped floors while listening to him every Friday night. The man from the veterans hospital. Mr. Draper, it seems, had built a village.

Last December, when his French host server went down without warning and the station was de-listed from iTunes, he was forced to beg again. In a few hours those listeners who were still tuned in provided $900, enough to buy emergency slots in California. Two days after pulling his station, Apple returned it to the classic rock section of iTunes.

But dodging that bullet meant that Mr. Draper lived to face the Sound Exchange firing squad. And again he has managed to stay on the air. After the favorable ruling for Sound Exchange in March, he bought the Internet domain name and offered it to colleagues as a rallying point to fight back.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever been part of a grass-roots movement,” he said.

The music industry doesn’t see anything small-time about the amount of money at stake. According to John Simson, the executive director of Sound Exchange, only 50 companies applied for small Webcasting licenses last year. But those included groups like Loud City. Even though Loud City earns less than $1.25 million in revenues, its single license covers about 500 programmers.

For Mr. Simson that math means millions of songs a day are being given away at a discount.

“Our research shows that there is scant evidence they are getting people to buy music,” he said. “If our artists aren’t making money from CD sales, we think they should make money from those listens. There’s not enough people hitting that ‘buy’ button to make me want to give them a sweetheart deal.”

Mr. Simson suggested that “we have some momentum” now that roughly half of the small Webcasters with licenses have agreed to his offer. But Loud City — and thus Mr. Draper — is not among them.

The reason, said Brandon Casci, Loud City’s co-founder, is that Sound Exchange has added a new cap for small Webcasters: A station cannot exceed five million listener hours a month. “That may sound like a lot,” he said, “but it equals about 7,000 people tuning in simultaneously 24/7. How are we supposed to sell advertising with numbers like that? The ceiling is just too low.” Mr. Casci said he was holding out for a middle ground that will let companies like his grow.

On a recent Friday night Mr. Draper’s computer revealed a charcoal-gray map of the United States, with orange dots representing each of the 200 people listening at that moment. As he dragged a mouse over each dot, the map zoomed, à la Google Earth, to the location of their computers’ modem signal. A listener in Greenwich, Conn., seemed to have been tuned in for 32 hours. Mr. Draper frowned. The odds are that someone left a computer on at work.

Under the current system that only matters insofar as it might prevent a new ASF listener (and potential donor) from connecting to his rented server during peak hours. But under a pay-per-play system he will have to pay royalties on every song that echoes across the empty office where that computer is turned on.

“It’s enough to drive you crazy,” he said.

Not long ago I was in Shanghai and tuned in ASF from my hotel room. As tugboats steamed up and down the Huangpu River, lugging futuristic video screens that played high-definition commercials, Mr. Draper’s voice came through my laptop, clear as a bell. A Mark Knopfler song had just faded, and he was cuing up a version of David Bowie’s “Young Americans.”

There was something comforting in hearing a familiar voice halfway around the world, but also something thoroughly astounding about the connection Mr. Draper had made. An Englishman was sitting in Cedar Rapids, having his hobby heard by a New Yorker sitting alone in a hotel in China.

That connection, powered by the reach of the Web, is giving hobbyist D.J.’s like Mr. Draper the satisfaction of knowing their song choices can be heard around the world.

“The recording industry said that it is trying to protect the rights of artists,” Mr. Draper said. “And I want to see that artists get paid, I really do. But as much as my station matters to my listeners, it matters to me. I feel like I’m an artist, too.”