The Drive-By Truckers’ Family Part II – Scott Baxendale
BR: So, it’s unlikely that there’s going to be a “Western Auto” version of a Baxendale guitar … you just don’t have it in you.
SB: (laughs) Well, when I bought Mossman Guitars and moved from Kansas to Texas, I took that approach. For five years, I built Mossman guitars that didn’t even have my name on the headstock – I bought the name and I kept the name. In a sense, I created a line of guitars and my goal was to reproduce that line of guitars.
It’s not to say that method won’t produce a great guitar – some of those guitars were amazing – it’s just that my approach isn’t compelled by money. If it was, I’d find something else to do. It’s a lot of work for basically just enough money to get by, you know? If I really was just doing it for the money, I would take a completely different approach. I’m doing it entirely for the art aspect.
If I could be anybody in the world and have anything I wanted, I would play music for my income and on my off time, I’d just build guitars and give them to the people that I thought deserved them. That would be my ultimate dream position to be in. It hasn’t actually worked out that way. (laughs)
Every day starts with me coming in here and figuring out what to do next; keeping things moving forward, you know? And every evening ends up with me rehearsing or recording or playing a gig – it’s pretty much all self-contained that way. I don’t have to go to work in a music store and then go play in a band a hundred miles away on Fridays and try to juggle all these different things. I’ve consolidated it all into one little central location. That’s what’s wonderful about Athens: after moving here on a hope and a prayer and opening up the shop, it’s working out. If I’d known how it was going to go, I would have made the move a lot sooner.
BR: Yeah but you can never look back. Things happen the way they’re supposed to.
SB: That’s very true. (laughter)
BR: Let’s move on to the Truckers and your relationship with them. Did you cross paths with the people or their music first?
SB: I crossed paths with the people first. Actually, my daughter had told me about the Truckers before I even knew who they were. I was in Denver, working at the Colfax Guitar Shop. Right across the street was the Bluebird Theater – a 500-seater that all the bands on the way up and all the bands on the way down play. Touring national acts will play there four or five nights a week and then local acts maybe one or two nights a week.
The Truckers happened to be playing at the Bluebird. It was very common for bands that were playing there to park their tour bus right across the street from the shop, so they invariably will walk in. I developed a reputation for being somebody who would drop everything and take care of people on tour who stopped. Not only was the Bluebird there, but within about 10 blocks there was the Fillmore and the Ogden Theater, which were both even bigger venues. Often times I’d get a call that somebody needed an emergency guitar repair. I’d go down, pick it up, and go back to the shop to do the work.
The day that the Truckers were playing the Bluebird, their tour manager Matt DeFilippis came over with three or four of their guitars. We just dropped everything and fixed them. We didn’t charge them an arm and a leg – just normal, regular repair prices.
It all worked out and they gave me a CD of Decoration Day – that was the tour they were on. I had a gig or something else going on that night, so I didn’t get the chance to go see them, but as soon as I heard the album one time I flipped out on how good it was.
Back when I owned Mossman Guitars, I’d built a guitar for Carl Perkins and got to hang out with him – that was a feather in my cap early on. That was one of the greatest performances ever that night – Carl just laid it all out there; didn’t hold back one second. I was so amazed.
So the song “Carl Perkins’ Cadillac” on Decoration Day just hit me totally between the eyes. I loved that album. The next time they came through – and by that time, they were developing quite a following in Denver – was on The Dirty South tour. I thought The Dirty South was the best album I had heard since the Stones’ Sticky Fingers, you know? Their music hit a chord with me that really no modern current band had. The Dirty South was an album that I could play over and over and over again and never get tired of it – like Revolver or Sticky Fingers …that’s the way I see their albums. It has to do with the strength of the songs and what the songs say and how they connect to the listener.
They’re all great writers. Jason Isbell’s stuff that he did when he was with them and his solo stuff since is all great; same with Patterson. And Cooley just blows my mind on a continuing basis.
BR: Cooley tells such good stories – but he’s the master of the ready-for-a-tee-shirt slogan or bumper sticker one-liner.
SB: Oh, yeah, he can say in one sentence what people write books about – and make it clear as a bell. He’s a genius; the redneck Hemingway or something. And Patterson is the most prolific, just continuous writer of songs that I’ve ever met. He just cranks out song after song after song and he keeps topping himself over and over again. Patterson approaches songwriting like I dress frets on a guitar neck, you know? He has such a workmanlike approach to writing songs that it blows my mind.
And then you have John Neff, who is probably the greatest guitar player I’ve ever met in my life. Most understated – so subtly brilliant. John can play two notes and make the hair stand up on the back of your neck. He just never ceases to amaze me.
BR: If he never played the 6-string again, just his pedal steel work alone is something else.
SB: Oh, I know – and he hardly plays the pedal steel these days. John is one of the most talented musicians I’ve ever worked for or worked with … and at the same time, he’s just so humble. Same for Shonna, Jay, and Brad.
You know, Pamela and I are in a band with Brad and his wife Kimberly. It’s mostly Kimberly’s music; she’s a really amazing singer and great songwriter. We do a few of my songs, too.
BR: The band name?
SB: Morgandale – for Morgan and Baxendale. Two husbands and wives. It’s the first band my wife’s been in. We’ve played two shows now and hopefully we’ll get it together and make an album.
BR: Oh, man – when you do, I’d love to hear what you’re doing.
SB: Awesome; I’ll let you know what’s happening with it. But, yeah – anybody who has anything to do with that band or crew is definitely the best.