Saturday, November 15, 2008

Darrell Scott: Paying homage

Scott’s concert at Jefferson Center is a nod to the musicians who influenced his career.

Darrell Scott

Courtesy photo

Darrell Scott

With Corey Hunley

Darrell Scott is, pardon the cliche, a songwriter’s songwriter.

His country music hits include The Dixie Chicks’ “Long Time Gone” and Patty Loveless’ “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” which Brad Paisley and Kathy Mattea also have recorded. “Long Time Gone” received a 2003 Grammy nomination for best country song. Two years before that, his instrumental “The Second Mouse,” co-written with Tim O’Brien , received a Grammy nomination.

A curious music fan will wonder: What songwriters and songs inspired Scott?

He answers those questions with his latest record, “American Hymn.” Scott, who comes to Jefferson Center on Wednesday for a solo performance, has packed the disc with songs by artists who influenced him — Joni Mitchell, Kris Kristofferson, Leonard Cohen, Guy Clark, Paul Simon and Mickey Newbury are among them.

“I was trying to showcase a lot of my influences — a lot of the people and the music that just basically set me free,” Scott, 49, said last week. “That’s what I was up to on this record. This was choosing some of the most important songs, and certainly some of the most important artists in my life, and writers.

“And so it was paying homage to that in a way. But also, I think in some cases, unless you’re a crazy, crazy strong fan of some of these writers, some people may not even know of Mickey Newbury. And maybe if they knew of Micky Newbury, they may not know about that song, 'Frisco Depot .’ ”

These were the tunes that captivated Scott when he was growing up in the 1970s. It was the singer-songwriter era, and Scott was fascinated.

“It was a great era for songs, because the songs were, to me, they were like literature,” he said. “As I came to find out later, going to college and getting an English degree, I realized those songs that I had grown up on were as valid — as poetry and literature — as any of the short stories and poems and theater and stuff that I was studying in school.”

To revisit and recast the cliche, Scott is also a musician’s musician. He turned down a gig as bandleader for the recent Robert Plant/Alison Krauss tour, in favor of working on his own music. His albums are a Who’s Who of the best players and singers in Nashville and beyond. Krauss, Del McCoury, Sam Bush, John Cowan, Danny Thompson, Stuart Duncan, Moira Smiley and Mary Gauthier are some of the players who helped him record “American Hymn.”

But none of them shine as brightly as Scott himself, particularly with his banjo work on the Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays instrumental, “James.”

Ask him and he will admit he’s a natural musician, who can and does play dozens of instruments.

“And I’m not trying to sound like some kind of clown or anything, or some show-off,” he said. “But … I am a natural musician. I have a natural ear. And I play all sorts of different instruments, because I see each instrument has its own voice … so in recording, sometimes I’ll choose a particular instrument, because it’s the right voice for this song or this vibe that we’re going for or this key that we’re in … and I kind of fly with it, like whatever it seems to want to be.”

In a recent show at 202 Market, he played both guitar and piano. Scott never plans his sets ahead of time, instead gauging the crowd to decide which songs he’ll play, which instruments he will use to perform them — even in which keys he’ll play them.

“I’m trying to be — more than anything else, I’m trying to be in the moment about the music,” he said. “I’m not trying to have this pre-described thing that I’m supposed to show up to do, and then I go from city to city repeating myself.

“I think there are some things I tend to repeat, but even repeating the same song from a Wednesday to a Thursday night, I’ll bet you I’ll be doing the Thursday night different … it might be a groove thing. I might be playing in a different key. I may be doing a different tempo thing.

“I reserve the right to play it the way I feel at any given time … I guess I have enough experience and I have enough faith in the moment that it always tends to work out.”

Go to roanoke.com to hear the full interview for this story, including a discussion of his father, Wayne Scott.

Scott and his brothers grew up playing with Wayne Scott in a stone country band. Scott said his father wrote many great songs, but never performed them live, because he didn’t think that’s what people came out to hear. In 2005, Scott produced an album of his father performing those songs — classic, original, stone country — with support from such players as Verlon Thompson, Kenny Malone, Dirk Powell, Dennis Crouch, Casey Driesen, and of course, Darrell Scott on many different instruments.

The record, “This Weary Way,” was a hidden gem of that year’s roots music scene.

Scott said his father loved the experience, and the players fell in love with Wayne Scott.

“I couldn’t even pay the guys at the end of the session,” he said. “They would say, 'No, no, no. This one’s on me. This is free. I’m just glad to be a part of it.’

“They certainly got that he’s an authentic country songwriter and singer.”