Hayes Carll – Hayes Carll
Sure enough, he’s a rambler and a gambler and a sweet talkin’ ladies man. Well, Hayes Carll is a musician, and from Texas, so all that goes more or less with the territory, at least by tradition. But he is also a father and a husband, and a songwriter, and as careful a reckless soul as you will find.
That last is a guess, naturally. But he has navigated through the creative labyrinth of the music industry with uncommon care, without altogether seeming (or at least appearing) to worry: Don’t gamble what you can’t lose, don’t mess up a good thing, don’t sell your talent short.
And he’s tall, which doesn’t mean anything, except that it gives him a little alpha male juice when he needs it, and that helps on the road. His blue eyes seem not to lose their clear focus even when the glass in his hand has been emptied once or twice. And he has a smoker’s laugh, a rough chuckle he finds easily and often enough.
But mostly he’s a songwriter, working in and struggling with the long Texas tradition that includes Townes Van Zandt and Guy Clark and Steve Earle and Lyle Lovett. And, maybe, sometimes, Jerry Jeff Walker.
At the moment he’s a songwriter whose third album, Trouble In Mind, was released in April by Lost Highway, nearly two years after he signed to the label. A curious landing, that, after he debuted in 2002 on the then-new Compadre imprint with Flowers And Liquor and then issued 2004’s Little Rock independently, declining overtures from Sugar Hill. He and manager Mike Crowley (who tended to Jimmie Dale Gilmore’s career for years) formed their own Highway 87 imprint, named for the first song on Carll’s first album, and sold, by Hayes’ count, 15-20,000 copies.
It is helpful to remember that Carll is still comparatively young, even at the ripe old age of 32. As we talk, he’s on the phone out in the garage or some other place away from the room where his not-yet-5-year-old son is supposed to be sleeping, settled into their third home over those four and a half years.
“I grew up in a community where everyone was expected to be the same,” he says easily, “and it just didn’t feel right to me, even though I probably went along with it just as much as anybody. I just felt like, through my limited travels, and the books I was reading — picking up On The Road and reading that — I need to get out and travel and meet people and live this life. And that wasn’t happening in The Woodlands, Texas, that’s for sure.
“And so my goal was to get out and go have these experiences. And that’s when I started sort of obsessing about all the guys who had done it, whether it was Bob Dylan or Jimmy Buffett or, you know, Ginsberg. Those guys kinda got me inspired, and they looked like they had lived and had done those things. To me that was all incredibly romantic, and the idea that you could put it down in paper, in song, and other people could experience it got me jacked up.”
So he went to Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas, and, at least, finished. There he ran into the music of Townes Van Zandt, which didn’t take.
“I had a friend who was from Texas who was a singer-songwriter, and his father was a minister. Anyway, we were sitting around one night trading songs, and he started, ‘I wouldn’t tell you no lies/You got pretty eyes.’ I thought, Jesus Christ, who is this guy? And then I went and bought some Townes records, and I didn’t get it.”
But after college he took those records and his guitar and whatever else might have mattered to a little place on the Bolivar Peninsula called Crystal Beach, a ferryboat ride from Galveston, Texas. Played covers in shrimper bars. Stumbled into the relocated Old Quarter, moved by co-owner Rex Bell, Townes’ old bass player, from Houston to Galveston.
“I lived in a really isolated place with no TV and no internet and no real kinda friends of any kind,” he laughs. “So all I’d do then was just sit on the porch every single night and write and play guitar. That was all there was to do. After I left the beach, life just kinda got a lot more hectic.”
But he learned what he needed to, out there on the edge of nowhere. “I walked in there [the Old Quarter] on accident one night, and there’s a Townes shrine on the wall, Blaze Foley’s wallet and pictures of Townes everywhere. A stripper and a lawyer were the two bartenders; everybody works for free. I walked in and sang a couple songs, and Rex and I hit it off, and I started hanging out there. It was sorta my home, and I became familiar with a lot of songwriters and saw that people did this — toured around and played and stuff.
“One night this guy I can’t remember his name — came in from Michigan. The bar was about closed, there were 10-12 people in there, and he started singing ‘To Live Is To Fly’. And the whole bar sang along, except me. I’m sitting there watching them and just blown away by, one, how beautiful this song is, and, two, all these people, several of whom knew Townes, are arm-in-arm singing, ‘We’ve got holes to fill/And those holes are all that’s real.’