Talkin’ About Seeds And Stems And Pickin’ (And Chicken) With Bill Kirchen
Tunes such as “Semi-Truck” and “Seeds And Stems” have always had a way of bringing the reddest of rednecks and the furriest of freaks together.
Yeah, you’re right – that’s very well put. I think that’s why I wanted to honor those songs.
That’s what was special about the Cody band: we were deep into the deep end of country music, but we didn’t approach it with smirking or like we’d just found a hat, you know? We didn’t try to make it too precious – we tried to get right into it. I mean, we were aware of the irony and everything: we were a long-haired hippie band with some behavior that … well … who knows? (laughter) But we would win over deep country fans with that stuff.
It wasn’t like what The Byrds were doing, for instance – they had their own sound, which was great. We just had a different take on it.
I think one of the things that made it work was the fact that you were all great players. Even though the songs contained humor, you always took the music seriously.
You know, I just read an interview in Vintage Guitar with Bobby Black – he was Cody’s original pedal steel player. Bobby was 15 years older than us and was the best player in the band. I think everyone wanted to rise to that level if possible … none of us really did though. (laughter) He’s still great, man.
What sort of an audience mix do you get these days at your shows?
A big mix. Nowadays I tend to play for people who come to see me – you know what I mean? – compared to the days when I’d be playing places where people were going to wander in, as such. We get an awful lot of fans from the Cody days, but we also get a lot of people who’ve been exposed to this stuff for the first time through everything from satellite radio to the internet – which has made niche forms of music so much more accessible. You can find anything now on the internet.
Back to some more of the tunes on the album: “Womb To The Tomb” was a great song before, but your rearrangement here is one gritty piece of work. That solo is one of my favorites on the album.
Oh – oh … I better go back and learn it! (laughter) I’ll be playing and thinking, “Oh, Jesus – what did I do?” (laughter)
I guess I just got it in my mind that that was one of those tunes that I’d never really done justice. This is something I’d never really thought about, but “Womb To The Tomb” used to be an awful lot like “Truck Stop At The End Of The World” – or even “Semi-Truck”. It kind of hung in there; just one or two steps removed from “Six Days On The Road”, you know? I felt that the words on “Womb To The Tomb” could use a little more gravity or something – more than just ripping ‘em off in that fast, truck driving thing.
Living down here in Texas, I’ve had the luxury of playing over in Cajun country in Louisiana. Plus, I’ve been teaching at a camp at the Augusta Heritage Center in Elkins, WV and it just so happens that the Early Country Music Week I’m involved in coincides with the Cajun Week. I’m up there with all these wild-ass Cajun players, up all night howling at the moon – it’s fantastic! (laughs) I was sort of thinking in that direction: a Cajun waltz kind of vibe.
Cool! And then “Swing Fever” and “Flip Flop” are good examples of your inner hipster working its way out.
My inner hipster! (laughs) I like that! That’ll be our little secret.
I love that acoustic guitar weaving with the piano on “Swing Fever”.
Yeah – that was inspired by that big Gibson; I actually bought it off a guy at that camp up in West Virginia I was talking about. I think different guitars inspire you to play in different ways, you know?
Oh, for sure. I loved that line in “Swing Fever”: “Sittin’ here buzzin’ like a cheap TV.” To be honest with you, I’ll probably steal that for something someday.
Ha! You’re welcome to it. (laughs) I’ll tell you where that song came from: my wife’s sister was making western shirts for Ray Benson and Asleep At The Wheel and she had a dream, okay? She told me, “I just dreamt of this song called ‘Swing Fever’ and I’m going to give it to Ray.”
And I said, “No, you’re not! Give me that song!” (laughter) I snatched it off of her.
She had the title; and as far as that line “buzzin’ like a cheap TV” goes, well … I don’t know if cheap TVs buzz any more, do they?
Jeez, I haven’t owned a TV since 1995 …
Wow! That’s awesome. Good for you, man! We have one, but we never watch broadcast TV anymore – just Netflix.
Now here’s a serious question.
Okay. (clears throat) I’m ready.
Do you yourself want a “Rockabilly Funeral”?
(pause) Nah … (laughter) For one thing, the funeral wouldn’t be for me – it would be for whoever was around … so I have no ‘druthers, really. If I thought I’d be looking down on it, I’d be amused by the whole concept … but my confidence in what I know about the afterlife is very low at this point. (laughter) So … no, I wouldn’t want anyone to go to all that trouble. Thanks for asking, though.
If – if- anyone wants to grease their hair back at my funeral, though, that would be all right. (laughter) That would be like a nod to the rockabilly thing.
Well, I hope it doesn’t happen for a long time.
Me neither. (laughs) I’m glad we cleared it up, though. If anybody asks, you’ve got the answer.
“It Takes A Lot To Laugh” is sweet – damn sweet. You usually try to work some Dylan into your setlists, don’t you?
Yeah, I always play some Bob Dylan. I’m just the right age, man. I saw him at Newport in ’64. I’d already seen him at my high school in 1963 or early ’64 playing solo. I got Freewheelin’ when it came out. And then I got the first album the following Christmas (laughs): my dad gives me this Wagner record – a big purple thing. And I’m going “Oh, hey, Dad – that’s great … love it. Can’t wait to play this …” And, of course, I put it aside, right?
Then, at the dinner table, my dad’s like, “Aren’t you going to play your new record?”
I said, “Oh yeah … I, uh, forgot.” So I pull it out and he’d bought the first Dylan album for me and stuffed it in this Wagner cover! (laughter)
I don’t think people really understand why Dylan’s an icon unless they have the first 10 albums. I don’t even know Blood On The Tracks, actually – I’m sure it’s a great album, but those first ones …
Oh, I agree. I did a review of Dylan’s mono box set when it came out a couple of years ago and it was like rediscovering those early albums.
I’d love to hear that, man …
It was great. There’s a depth to mono that is actually lost in stereo.
Yeah, that’s right – that’s right. I should get my hands on that.