Box Full of Letters from Issue #33
More to the story
Thank you for the fine piece on Billy Joe Shaver [ND #32, March-April ’01]. He is a wonderful man and is most deserving of the cover of your magazine. Working with Billy Joe the last few years has been an incredible experience for me and I feel honored to have had the opportunity to work with him on his last three records. Eddy’s death was an incredible tragedy. He was another very talented person whose death can be attributed to drugs and all the pain that surrounds them.
I’m writing to thank you but also because parts of the article are misleading, incomplete and inaccurate. I know the interview was done at a very difficult time for Billy Joe but I wish that someone from the magazine had called the New West office to check some facts. There are a few points that I feel compelled to fill you in on to make things clearer.
First and foremost, in terms of trying to help, New West did much more than just offer to pay Billy Joe’s rent somewhere else, away from Eddy. It is true that I made that offer, but it was in response to one particularly troubling phone call from Billy Joe, and after many other efforts had been made to help Eddy. Many people gave so much of themselves and their resources trying to help, I wish I could mention them all here. I, as President and founder of the label, have been open with our staff and the artists about having had my own share of addiction struggles in the past. It is our company policy that any New West artist or staff member who asks for help with drug or alcohol addiction receives treatment as soon as possible, at no cost to them, no questions asked. Billy Joe and Eddy were clear on this. I had many one-on-one conversations with Eddy himself. I encouraged other musicians that knew Eddy, who’d gone through drug problems of their own, to talk to him. At one point, New West (with the help of Peyton Wimmer of the SIMS Foundation and the Musicians Assistance Program in Los Angeles) got Eddy into a treatment program in California. Everything, including the plane ticket, was paid for at no cost to the Shavers. We all care deeply for both Eddy and Billy Joe and wanted to help in any way we could. Unfortunately, as anyone who has had any experience with addiction knows, it’s a slippery slope that’s not easy to navigate your way out of. Sometimes all you can do just isn’t enough.
Secondly, there are a couple of references to the making of the album that are inaccurate. Billy Joe is quoted as saying, “We didn’t have as much control on it as we did the other ones…it got outta my hands…my band was supposed to do it…we recorded the record first and they promised that it was coming out.” On more than one occasion Grant [Alden] adds that Billy Joe was frustrated with how the album was made. I found this troubling and shocking. As executive producer, I wanted to help them make the best record possible, to focus on Billy Joe’s songs. I had suggested Ray [Kennedy] to produce the previous album, Electric Shaver, and introduced them back then. Billy Joe and Eddy wanted to use Ray again. Billy Joe, Ray and I chose the players and Billy Joe approved them all. Each of us had choices for all the instruments, we discussed them and, ultimately, the decision was unanimous. The album was only recorded once. During mixing Eddy wasn’t well. Ray had to do some of it on his own as Billy Joe was forced to return home to care for Eddy. When Billy Joe decided later he wasn’t happy with a mix, he and Ray remixed to his satisfaction. When Billy Joe wanted to re-record a song I approved spending additional money for Billy Joe to go back in and re-cut the track. The only thing that Billy Joe didn’t have absolute say on was the song sequence — I convinced him the first track should be “Love Is So Sweet”. I think it should be clear that New West isn’t the kind of record company to take control away from any artist.
And lastly, the song “Blood Is Thicker Than Water” was written before Eddy met his future wife. If it became about her it was not recorded with her in mind. That’s the magic of many of Billy Joe’s songs, they are as simple as they are complex and become more revealing as time goes on.
— Cameron Strang
President, New West Records
Los Angeles, California
The article you wrote on Billy Joe Shaver was wonderful. It is the best coverage of him and his career that I have seen in a very long time. As far as I am concerned, he does not get the attention in country music that he deserves to get.
The one thing that did bother me in the article, however, was that on the first page it simply says that Billy Joe had an older sister, Patricia. Then toward the end of the article it talks about him not having any folks and being the only one left in his family. While it is true that his wife and son are gone, Patricia isn’t. I know that she is alive, well and still pretty high kicking, ’cause I just had dinner with her and Billy Joe on Friday night. They are quite close and he didn’t miss a chance to reach over during dinner and give her a hug now and then. We were celebrating her birthday, and I had gotten my copy of No Depression earlier in the day on Friday. I hadn’t had a chance to read the article yet and neither had Patricia. I got a call from her on Saturday though and she kind of felt like the article left her for dead. I kind of read it that way too.
Anyway, I just wish people out there knew that Trish is still alive and well and very much a part of Billy Joe’s life. She is a fine person and loves and cares for her brother very much.
Again though, thanks for doing the article. He deserved that. The pictures and content were excellent and all of his fans appreciate it very much. You can’t believe how fast word spread among us and most reports I have gotten is that this No Depression issue is selling out fast everywhere.
— Linda Solcich
Hill County, Texas
Irish eyes are smiling
I am a subscriber to No Depression from the early days. I read a number of music magazines every month along the country/americana/folk lines and have done so for many years.
I have just finished reading your Billy Joe Shaver article [ND #32, March-April ’01]. At the end of it, I put the magazine down for five minutes and did nothing, absolutely nothing except just say to myself, ‘Wow, what a moving story!’
I am very familiar with Billy Joe and traveled last year to Gruene Hall, Texas, to see him and Eddy play. It was a magnificent show and I could only think of a father and a son plying their trade so well while just getting by, moneywise — there wasn’t exactly a large crowd at Gruene Hall!
Billy Joe is such a humble man. I was there on my own from Ireland and somehow he guessed I had come a long way. As he walked around at the interval among the 100 or so people, he stopped by me, put his hand on my shoulder and said, ‘Hi, thanks for stopping by.’ It sounds corny, but having interviewed him and having a full appreciation of the man, you’ll know what I mean.
In 30 years of reading a zillion music magazines, I have never been as moved by an article as yours on Billy Joe. A good reviewer gets under the skin of what it’s all about. You have surpassed that basic principle in your article. It is the most amazing insight into one man and his music that I have ever read. Thank you so much for being able to express so beautifully in words and phrases what the rest of us could only dream of doing.
— Patrick Hurley
Worth a thousand words
I got your latest (ND #32) here in the middle of a hectic week so it sat on my dining room table still in the envelope for a while. But now it’s a rainy weekend so I have time to put a few favorite records on the turntable, grab a fresh cup of coffee and sit down to renew my soul.
I have to compliment you for the wonderful photography in this issue. Every image was excellent, some even suitable for framing as the ads say, and the final bit on promo photos really capped it all off. Sometimes it takes a pretty big jolt to encourage me to shake off the week that was, pick up my camera and/or paintbrush, and go out and create. Lately your magazine does that quite nicely.
— Ben Truesdale
Don’t forget the Gentlemen
Lest the readers of your January-February 2001 issue be left to think that the Sugar Hill CD John Duffey — Always In Style contains only cuts of the Seldom Scene, your reviewer should have mentioned the inclusion of two cuts taken from the Sugar Hill CD Classic Country Gents Reunion.
The Country Gentlemen, that important seminal and groundbreaking band consisting of Duffey, Charlie Waller, Eddie Adcock, and Tom Gray, is where John first made his musical mark.
Perhaps the Always In Style liner notes, written by Jon Weisberger, are at fault for your reviewer’s omission, for although they are filled with references to and interview segments from former “Classic” Country Gentlemen, an uncharacteristic slip is made when Weisberger states at one point that this CD’s cuts are “drawn from recordings made by the Seldom Scene for Sugar Hill” and then reiterates the erratum at another point.
I sincerely hope that your readers and those fans new to bluegrass will edify and enrich themselves by listening to recordings by the “Classic” Country Gentlemen. I believe they will find in this unique, unforgettable, unmistakable music an epiphany.
— Martha Hearon Adcock
What season art thou?
In a world where cinema is celebrated in box-office receipts and the product is only fit for artistically retarded teens and materialistic twentysomethings, we are blessed to have a few filmmakers whose motivations are guided by film as art. Of these few, there are only a minority of these that can sustain a career of major releases made up of quirky, arty, and very entertaining films like the Coens.
I have had to suffer through endless ads this summer for the Save The Last Dances and Wedding Planners with their million-dollar ad campaigns. My God, look at the list of films nominated for Best Picture this year. The Coens’ O Brother was this summer’s elixir for an outbreak of cinematic syphilis. [Ed. note: O Brother, Where Art Thou? was released in winter, not summer.]
Scott Manzler has “contempt” for the Coens. The Coens have generated a body of work that has celebrated a love for irony, twisted conventions, wit, cinema as art, and visual virtuosity. If this is what Manzler has contempt for, then what is he doing writing about film?
Film critics often reveal more about themselves than they do about the films or the filmmakers they write about. Manzler also referred to the Coens’ early films as “sloppy” and “anal.” Maybe Manzler should analize his own rear quarters and what housekeeping needs attention.
— Jim Knotts
St. Paris, Ohio
You can’t Peasall of the doubting Thomases
I was thrilled when I saw O Brother, Where Art Thou? in bold on page 90 [record reviews, ND #31, Jan.-Feb. ’01], and I anxiously started reading. I bought the album long before the film came out as I’d heard Alison Krauss was on it, and since I saw the movie I have listened to it almost obsessively. It was in mute horror, then, that I arrived at the end of the review not having read a single word about the track by the Peasall Sisters (“In The Hihgways”) or, worst of all, Chris Thomas King’s “Hard Time…” His is the track I fast-forward to every time I listen to the album; it is haunting and startling and beautiful in that way that makes you want to give the kids some Nyquil then drown yourself in the bathtub.
Of course Emmylou Harris and Alison Krauss and Gillian Welch and Dan Tyminski and the Stanley Brothers and Norman Blake gave beautiful performances. That is what they do. They are staples, borderline “mainstream.” I can’t believe you ignored Chris Thomas King.
Otherwise, I love No Depression and anxiously await its arrival at the record store. It is intelligently, kindly written and has introduced me to a lot of music I have come to love.
— Megan Huddleston
A Swiss salute
As a longtime regular reader of your fine magazine it is a must to me to say thank you for the very profound and competent article about Rodney Crowell [ND #31, Jan.-Feb.’01].
To me he is one of the most underrated singer-songwriters from the U.S. and he deserves much more recognition than he got until now. Again, kind thanks and please continue this way!
— Ruedi Seiz
A place to be:
Don’t go there!
The January issue’s Box Full of Letters [ND #31] included one by a guy who was so inspired by a past feature about the Carter Family in “A Place To Be” that he went to check it out himself. I did something similar.
Writer Rob Miller’s “A Place To Be” in ’99’s Jan.-Feb. issue [ND #19] was on the Country Ham Festival in Cadiz, Kentucky. Intrigued, I read the article many times, particularly the passages about how the ham tasted. Never having eaten it, I took two weeks off from work in Oct. ’99 to make a road trip in order to buy some at the festival and lug it home.
Along the way I discovered the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi. “The Crossroads” of Robert Johnson fame is also located there at the intersection of highways 61 & 49. I went to Elvis’ birthplace in Tupelo and saw the Audubon museum in Henderson, Kentucky. Just outside of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, was a monument to my illustrious relative, Jefferson B. Davis. The Ham Festival itself was nothing to write home about, but I bought a ham there from the 2nd-place winner, Charlie Bell Wadlington. It was indeed incredible and like nothing else I’d ever tasted.
By August of 2000 my ham stash was gone and since I’d gotten so many great photos on the trip, I resolved to make the pilgrimage again. Like last time I stuck to two-lane roads whenever possible, but this trip proved to be the road trip from hell. Car trouble in New Mexico and cold rainy weather all through Texas. In Mississippi I got sick briefly, but I traveled the Natchez Trace and found the ghost town of Rodney. In Memphis I saw Beale Street, the Center for Southern Folklore and Sun Studios.
After heading back south to have lunch again at Abe’s Barbecue at “The Crossroads” in Clarksdale, I lamely abandoned an attempt to visit Robert Johnson’s gravesite in order to make a campground before dark. Looking at a map while trying to drive, I lost control of my car west of Oxford, rolling it and totaling it. I escaped from the passenger side with a bruise, an abrasion and two scratches. Several good-hearted locals stopped to check on me, and a state trooper gave me a ride to a motel in Oxford with all of my gear intact.
Two days later found me in a rental car going north to Kentucky. Various friends were depending on me to arrive home with a few hams to split up, and I’d gone too far to return home empty-handed.
At the Ham Festival I bought two hams from Douglas Freeman. The next day I visited the residence of Charlie Bell Wadlington where I toured and photographed his curing sheds and bought yet another ham. I arrived home much poorer and without a car, but richer for the experience.
I can’t say I’d do it all over, but still I got some great photographs, excellent hams and a truckload of memories. Thank you No Depression, for “A Place To Be”, and another reason to be.
— Steve Vetter