Brothers Make “Tangled Roots”
Here’s a Radio Friendly first: two brothers who share a radio show, “Tangled Roots” on WHUS, and we get answers from both of them.
Bill Frater: Where and when did you start in radio and what other stations have you worked at and what were the stations like?
“Uncle” Todd Boudreau: I worked in commercial radio for about 10 years from the mid-’80s to mid-’90s, as mostly a weekend and fill-in DJ. My first job was at a small dawn-to-dusk AM oldies station in my hometown of Vernon, Connecticut, doing the evening newscasts and later moving to afternoon DJ. From there, I pulled weekend duties at an adult contemporary station WILI in Willimantic, Connecticut. That was followed by more oldies at WARE in Ware, Massachussetts. My first FM gig was like a dream come true for me, working at the AOR station I grew up listening to, WCCC in Hartford, Connecticut, doing weekend overnights, Sunday afternoons, and the occasional vacation fill-ins. I left there for a chance to do evenings at soft AC WYSR Magic 104, which a month later flipped to alternative rock WMRQ Radio 104. There, I was a board op and then weekend DJ and hung on for a few more years. But after feeling like the radio career wasn’t going anywhere, I called it quits. Several years later in 2009, I learned there were opportunities for community members to join WHUS. I took the required training class and started “Tangled Roots” in May that year.
Paul “Captain” Boudreau: WHUS is my first rodeo. When Todd started “Tangled Roots,” he invited me to come into the studio and hang out during the show. From the very first week, I started doing in-show research and began delving into Americana music. Before long, he opened up my mic and we were off. I went through the training class the next semester and officially joined the staff. But truth be told, we were “co-hosts” long before this. As kids, we used to take our collection of 45s, mix them up in a pile, and randomly select our own ‘Top 40’ countdown show, taping it on a cassette recorder. Casey Kasem had nothing on Todd.
Where do you work now and what hours are you on?
We are at 91.7, WHUS in Storrs, Connecticut, broadcasting “from high atop the campus of the University of Connecticut” – the opening line we use for each show. But “high atop” is actually the fourth floor of the student union building. “Tangled Roots” is the name of the show and it airs Sundays from 1–4 p.m. Our tagline is “playing the best in Americana, alt-country and roots music,” and the show can be streamed at whus.org. WHUS is a 24/7 station and includes some very diverse programming. We really enjoy being a part of the Sunday roots music lineup, where we are followed by “The Bluegrass Café” and the long-standing, popular “Sunday Night Folk Festival.”
How do you describe your show or how do you define what you play?
Our show is pretty much exclusive to Americana, alt-country, and roots music, with a lean towards the rock side of the genre. We usually steer away from playing folk just because there are a few other programs at WHUS that already do it so well. We like to occasionally mix in some Southern rock flavors – newer bands like Blackberry Smoke and Statesboro Review and more classic artists such as the Marshall Tucker Band and The Outlaws. But we try to keep it entertaining and informative.
How do you define what Americana music is?
Todd: Americana music is like a giant musical stew; a delicious mix of rock, country, blues, folk and soul. Throw it all in the pot and just let all those flavors blend together. Some real stick-to-your-ribs stuff that satisfies every time.
Paul: I know ‘Americana’ has become an overused term for a lot of people in describing roots music. The phrase “I can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I hear it” is right on. There is a certain sound and feel – a mood even – that distinguishes it for me. But Todd said it best with his stew reference. And it case you couldn’t tell from his comment, we love to play songs about food … and all things moonshine.
How do you prepare for your shows and do you have theme shows or sets or spotlight certain artists?
Todd: I think we both spend some time on the internet during the week looking for new music or news that we can bring to the program. We never plan out a full show song by song. We may both come with some ideas for themed sets. We do a CD of the week – usually a new release from an artist or band on the AMA chart – where we’ll bring the listeners some interesting background about the making of the CD and the artist themselves. Lately, we have been making a concerted effort to include a good chunk of music from New England artists. We have done a couple artist spotlights too.
Paul: With the CD of the week, we program a track every half-hour and sometimes this featured artist will set the overall tone of the show. We will usually have 3 or 4 mic breaks every hour and try to take note of timely news and facts that allow us to segue into the next set. But we are definitely a show that works off of a stream of consciousness and we prefer it that way. Plus, we have the brother thing going on. We don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times we have the same thoughts on songs or artists in the midst of the show. Some sibling vocalists make the most amazing harmonies; we are much the same way in programming our radio show.
How much new releases and old stuff do you play?
We play a pretty even mix of new releases and older material. Artists and bands like Uncle Tupelo, Old 97’s, the Bottle Rockets, Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Drive-by Truckers, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, The Jayhawks, The Band of Heathens and John Hiatt are just some of the staples on our show. Regional artists are a big part of our show as well. New England is rich in Americana/alt-country artists – Sarah Borges, Girls, Guns & Glory, Parsonsfield, Waylon Speed, The Mallett Brothers and many more. So it’s very common for us to program a few regional/local music sets each show.
What was the first artist or album that turned you on to roots music?
Todd: This is going to be hard to believe but the album that started it all for me was from K-tel called The Best of Alt-Country, Exposed Roots. It’s a 2-disc set released in 1999 that has tunes from Lucinda Williams, The Jayhawks. Gillian Welch, Steve Earle, BR5-49 and whole lot more. I bought it from a bargain bin of CDS in a book store and I distinctly remember first looking at it and saying, “What the hell is alt-country?” There was no looking back after that.
Paul: I didn’t realize it then, but when I watched The Band’s “The Last Waltz” at age 15, their music and personality as a band really drew me in. I was also a huge Eagles fan for several years. But in 2009, I discovered Son Volt, Uncle Tupelo, and Wilco and rediscovered the Jayhawks and I have been hooked ever since. While The Band may more aptly be described as roots rock instead of Americana, I think that original experience was the precursor to the music I came to love 25 years later.
Who are your favorite artists from any genre and what artists define Americana music for you?
Todd: I still love Black Sabbath. Tony Iommi is a killer guitar player. Really enjoy early REM too. Hard to pick just one artist that defines Americana. There are two that really stick out for me: Lucinda Williams and John Hiatt. They are two of the finest songwriters, and their songs can run the gamut from country to blues to folk to rock. They have been staples of Tangled Roots.
Paul: See, another example of that brother thing – I too, still love the earlier R.E.M albums, especially Murmur and Reckoning. They really opened up my spectrum of music as a teenager and got me to enjoy more than just the classic rock I grew up on prior to that. I’m also a big Steely Dan fan. But as far as those who define Americana music, Lucinda and Steve Earle are at the forefront of my mind. Both are poignant songwriters who seem to have a huge talent for coupling great lyrics with perfectly complementary musical arrangements. But I admit, the rowdy, rocking Steve Earle is my favorite Steve Earle. Last year’s Terraplane is a terrific album and Lucinda’s Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone is her best work to date.
Where do you see Americana radio going in the future?
Todd: Maybe I’m being too optimistic, but I could see more stations giving Americana a shot as a fulltime format. Artists like Chris Stapleton, Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson, and Margo Price are bringing the whole roots scene to the forefront and more people are embracing the music. I think we’re definitely going to see some specialty programming popping up, especially on commercial country and triple-A radio.
Paul: It seems to have gained a lot of momentum over the last few years and that’s pretty exciting. Todd referenced Isbell, Simpson, and Stapleton and I think these artists are kind of bubbling just under the surface of mainstream radio – Chris maybe not so much since he busted out onto the country scene. I think more artists are going to gain exposure to a point where commercial radio embraces them. Americana music is so rich and authentic but still seems to only gather attention on community/college radio. I know how much we enjoy sharing it with our listeners.
What recent music releases are you excited about?
Todd: We really like Sarah Borges’ latest EP, Good & Dirty. The Waco Brothers’ Going Down in History rocks! We’re still pretty high on South Broadway Athletic Club from the Bottle Rockets and Jason Isbell’s Something More Than Free. Really looking forward to the new albums from Yarn, Elizabeth Cook, and The Jayhawks.
Paul: I love Margo Price’s debut, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter – it has that distinct, old-school country sound. Parker Millsap’s The Very Last Day is superb and I just heard Peter Wolf’s A Cure for Loneliness last week and it’s now on my ‘must buy’ list.
Do you have any other interesting hobbies or interests or anything else you wish to share?
Todd: My wife and I really enjoy camping in the summer. We have an RV at a local campground we spend as much time as possible there. We are also new grandparents and are enjoying spending time with our grandchildren.
Paul: I recently started writing for a new regional arts and music publication based here in Connecticut. I was a journalism major in college but didn’t pursue it as a career, so it’s great to be able to get back to it after all these years. Other than that, I just love spending time with my amazing wife and kids.